John West: Wetaskiwin-area store owner, mayor and much more

West came to Wetaskiwin area and bought homestead in 1892

Born in Moscow, Idaho on Sept. 13, 1869, John West was the youngest of eight children. The family, which included three sisters and four brothers, had come to Idaho on a covered wagon and settled on a homestead.

Feeling the need to carve his own path, West came to the Wetaskiwin area and bought a homestead in 1892. He spent the winter working in Winnipeg before coming back to his homestead in the spring of 1893. His parents came up that year with a team of horses and several useful items to help their son with his new land.

It was not an easy start for West, and he would tell friends and family later in life about the “rabbit diet” he lived on.

Arriving in 1893 was the family of Norman Newsted, who came from Michigan and settled nearby. One of their daughters was May, and in 1899, she would marry John and move to his homestead. Three years later in January of 1902, Marjorie May was born. Over a year later in March of 1903, the family moved into Millet and built a store with living quarters upstairs.

Times continued to be tough for the family, with money being short. Often, settlers would bring in willow posts and trade those posts for groceries. Before long, John had a large collection of fence posts and did not know what to do with them. Thankfully, as more settlers arrived, there was a greater need for posts. This is when the Alberta and Revelstoke Lumberyards came calling and many carloads of posts were bought. This allowed John to invest the money in more groceries and dry goods.

Things blossomed from this point and the business began to thrive. Unfortunately, on May 30, 1921, the store and the family’s home was burned to the ground.

The newspaper said after the fire, “John West’s store and home, and other buildings at Millet destroyed in fire which threatened village…

Through the almost super human efforts of the men of the village, assisted heroically by the women, who joined the bucket brigade, the fire was brought under control, but this was not accomplished until the pioneer store of John West, his home which was above the store, and his garage and warehouse were totally destroyed. Mr. West was ill in bed at the time of the outbreak and had to be removed.”

Not letting that stop them, John and his family rebuilt the store, with brick this time, and continued offering goods to the residents of the area.

John would be a storeowner for over 40 years, but he was also heavily active in the community. He served as postmaster from 1909 to 1913, and had the first telephone toll office in the community. He was part of several organizations, and served on the school board. John also served on Millet town council as both councilor and mayor from 1908 to 1909, in 1913, from 1915 to 1916, from 1928 to 1930 and from 1932 to 1934.

May was also a big part of the business and the community. She often drove to Wetaskiwin to buy supplies, and served as both a clerk and the bookkeeper of the store. She was a member of the choir, Ladies Aid and the Methodist Church. She was also an active member of the Rebekah Lodge for five decades.

John would pass away at the age of 83 on Oct. 22, 1952, followed by May seven years later in August of 1959.

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 Tales and Trails of Millet Volume 1.

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