Fort Ethier, Wetaskiwin’s link to North West Rebellion

The fort featured three loopholes, or gun points, on various elevations

by Craig Baird for The Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer

Recently when I was driving with my wife Layla through the Wetaskiwin area, we hit the back roads as we enjoy doing to see what we could find. Along the way, we saw an interesting building on a property north of the community. After some digging and searching, I found out it was called Fort Ethier, and it has an interesting story to tell.

When we think about the 1885 North-West Rebellion, we think about Saskatchewan as that was where most of the action took place. Thanks to the efforts of Father Lacombe, Alberta, or what would one day become Alberta, avoided much of the trouble that the rebellion would bring up.

No discussion about the fort would be complete without talking about Samuel Brigham Lucas. Lucas was employed as a farm instructor in the area in 1879, before serving as the agent of the Peace Hills Agency for several First Nations bands in the area. As the architect of Treaty 6, he would eventually buy the property he had been working on as a farm instructor and use it to produce food to help feed the First Nations in the agency in the first years after the treaty was signed. It was his hope that he could use the farm to teach the farming techniques to the Indigenous people.

When the Hobbema reserves were established, the agency farm was moved there instead but Lucas would retain ownership of the farm with his family, as well as Fort Ethier.

Now, back to the fort.

During the 1885 Rebellion, Major General Thomas Bland Strange oversaw defending the Alberta District of the North-West Territories and keeping the peace in the area. In order to do this, he created three very small forts, also known as block houses. There was Fort Normandeau at Red Deer, Fort Ostell in Ponoka and Fort Ethier, located north of Wetaskiwin. Fort Ethier was then built on the farm of Lucas in order to protect the people of the area and keep the First Nations people in the area from joining in the rebellion.

When it was built, the fort site consisted a blockhouse, a palisade, trenches and some of the buildings already on the farm of Lucas. The fort featured three loopholes, or gun points, on various elevations, as well as a pyramid roof that was crowned by a flagpole. Blockhouse B is still standing, the only piece of the former fort that still survives. Building A was the barracks, while Building C was the interpreter’s house. Building D was the stables and Building E was the home of Lucas.

While the fort was built, the peace was never broken in the area and the fort was never attacked. The Indigenous people in the area never attempted to join the rebellion and once the danger was over, the fort was abandoned in June of 1885.

On Dec. 18, 1997, the fort was made a historic site.

Suggestions for columns or questions? E-mail Craig at crwbaird@gmail.com. Listen to his podcast by searching for “Canadian History Ehx” on your podcast platform. Find his show on YouTube by searching for “Canadian History Ehx”.

Information for this column comes from HistoricPlaces.ca, Siding 16: An Early History of Wetaskiwin to 1930.

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