Note: This installment was published in the November issue of
the Whitecourt Advisor, hence the numerous references to the WWI.
Our summary of the history of the Whitecourt area to date has
taken us through the earliest inhabitants, from the Clovis people
to the Beaver Then there was the Woodland Cree and their Assinboine
or Stony allies. The latter peoples had better weapons, having
been in more contact with early European fur traders in eastern
Charlie Bill Williams seems to have been the first
person from the European peoples to settle in the area. He operated
a trading post around 1897, near where the present day Trading
Post Trail is. John Goodwin and his wife are credited with being
the first settler family in Whitecourt, when they put down stakes
around 1904. Johns brother Bert joined the community shortly
afterward. A railroad survey member, Frank Selleck, brought his
wife Louise and brother Tim to settle in Whitecourt around 1905.
The August and September issues of the Advisor, available online,
covered other early settlers in the area, up to 1908. At this
time the land was finally surveyed so that the settlers could
file on the quarter sections that they had squatted on. (As mentioned
in Octobers Advisor, there is some discrepancy as to the
date of the first Whitecourt settler family, and the establishment
of the fur trading post around 1897. There is new information
available, such as Hudsons Bay records for the area, that
hold promise for local researchers seeking to expand knowledge
about the area).
After the land was surveyed into quarter sections in 1908, the
settlement of the Whitecourt area picked up. The old Sagitawah
name for Whitecourt gave way to the appellation of McLeod River
One of the more interesting characters to arrive was Governor
J. W. Leedy of Kansas, with his wife and family, daughters Clara
Leedy and Alice, with her husband Walter White. Mr. Leedy had
been elected governor of Kansas in 1896 on a monetary reform populist
ticket. As the Whitecourt history book Sagitawah Saga relates,
the U.S. populist ticket resembled social credit, which later
formed the government of Alberta for many years.
Mr. Leedy later was later elected Vice President of the United
Farmers of Alberta (U.F.A), which heavily influenced the policy
of Albertas early Liberal government. The U.F. A. eventually
formed a political wing and became the government of Alberta in
the 1920s. Mr. Leedy himself did not meet with electoral
success. Still, he held steadfast to his beliefs about the necessity
of his banking and the farmer reforms. Its interesting
that a modern day farmer now heads the Alberta Social Credit Party.
Governor Leedy has recently been honoured by having Leedy Drive
named after him. The street is near the original Leedy and White
homesteads, down by the golf course. As a matter of interest,
a reader of this story will likely recognize several Whitecourt
streets as having been named after Whitecourt pioneers.
Mr. Leedys son-in-law, Walter White was the postal carrier
for the area. He became involved in a bit of controversy when
the name Whitecourt was chosen to designate the town in 1910.
An official name was needed for the establishment of a post office.
Apparently there was supposed to be a vote on which name to choose
for the hamlet, with Saquatemau and Sagitawah being other choices.
When Whitecourt was announced as the name, many early settlers
were quite upset they did not get to vote on the matter. Concerned
about throwing a monkey wrench into the post office approval process,
residents reluctantly accepted the new name. Two Whites are listed
on the Whitecourt Legion Honour Roll as having served in WWI.
Travel time from Edmonton to Whitecourt varied with the weather,
but the condition of the roads can be surmised by the fact it
took four weeks for the White family to make the trip. The Leedys
were close behind, and had their wagon careen out of control down
a hill for a couple of hundred feet, before tipping and spilling
Another early settler who arrived around 1908 was Dave Allen,
who was one of those who came by river. He rafted down the Athabasca
from Hinton and settled just across the McLeod in an area that
became known as Allendale. From accounts of the time, Daves
abode became one of the early party houses of Whitecourt.
There were many others. As Sagitawah Sage relates the oldtimers
played almost as hard as they worked and any excuse at all was
good enough for a celebration. There was local talent galore
for music and singing and the pioneers were not adverse to quenching
the thirst surely to arise from such activities with various spirits
and other beverages.
Pat Hardy was a well known character from the very early years
of Whitecourt and at first squatted on land that was filed on
by a Cappy Gibbs in 1911. Pat then moved up the hill, where he
raised timber wolves with an eye to crossing them with dogs for
sleigh animals. This was but one of many businesses the enterprising
Pat came up with. He also spoke fluent Cree and thought nothing
of living off the land for weeks at a time. P. I. Hardy is listed
on the Legions Honour Roll.
Arthur Metheun took up a homestead in Allendale in 1911 and is
yet another of several early settlers whose name can be
found on the Honour Roll at the Whitecourt Legion. Arthur had
originally immigrated to Greencourt, along with an eccentric group
of English gentlemen who had great dreams of establishing a fur
trading empire. Although the empire never materialized, the pioneering
spirit did. The result was that many of those who were known as
the Canterbury Contingent made a good life for themselves in the
Cyril Reay was another one of those dubbed those crazy Englishmen
by some locals. He also moved from Greencourt to the Allendale
area of Whitecourt in 1911. He married Gertrude Atkinson, who
was the first teacher in Whitecourt.
Ivor, Mike and Andrew Presthlien moved to the area , with Ivor
and his younger brother Andrew becoming excellent raftsmen, ferrying
settlers and supplies down the MacLeod from Peers, where the railroad
passed through. Henry Steward and Gus Chaisson were two more settlers
who came down the McLeod River to Whitecourt, where Henry opened
a pool hall. Both of these men also fought in WWI and can be found
on the legion honour roll, along with Andrew Presthlien.
The Ward family, with father Ben, Mother Tessa, and ten children
arrived on May 2, 1911. They made good time, taking only fifteen
days to travel from Stoney Plain to Whitecourt. Alfred, the oldest
son, was killed overseas in 1918 at the age of 21, being one of
five from the Whitecourt area to die in the first world war conflict.
Oskar Torgerson came in 1910. His son, Harold, eventually homesteaded
on House Mountian and taught at Central School. Two Torgensons
are listed on the WWI honour roll.
Oskar Kallbom, Erik Hedin and Fred Karlzen hiked in from Morinsville
with what they could carry on their backs. All took up homesteads
and supplemented their income through working on the railroad
and logging. Oscar and Erik also served in WWI.
Dr. J. Wellwood was hired as Doctor for the C.N.R. crews working
up and down the line. He liked Whitecourt and filed on a quarter
section in 1911. His wife was a talented singer, which was a boon
in towns as isolated as Whitecourt was before the railway and
highway were built. Dr. Wellwood built a house on Main Street
before going overseas , where he became a victim of early chemical
warfare. Although he returned to Whitecourt, he never recovered
from the poison gas he had inhaled and died in the 1920s.
Other settlers who arrived and contributed to Whitecourts
development around 1911 were Billie Meere, William Ury, Cappy
Gibbs, Theo Grue, D. Underwood, D.J. Wartman, Sam Haines, William
B. Craig and Adolph Moe.
As stated, the transportation network around Whitecourt tested
the mettle of the early pioneers. A proposed road through to Grande
Prairie around 1911 was put on hold, despite backing by an Alberta
government agent on the scene. Much of the road work was done
by the pioneers themselves, under a tax rebate system where work
done on the roads could be deducted from their taxes. The lack
of good transport slowed development of Whitecourts lumber
The railroad, which had driven early settlement of the area as
far back as 1904 was still nowhere in sight. Grading had been
done by the C.N.R. as far as the Athabasca River by 1911, but
economic conditions, and then WWI stalled the laying of the steel.
The C.N.R. did have a major influence on the area when it formed
a Townsite company to purchase land on the McLeod Flats, to form
the foundation for present day Whitecourt. The $50 per acre price
offered at the time was generous, and all but Jack McCoy sold
their holdings, with only Frank Chaisson and Herbert Williams
taking advantage of the option that allowed them to keep 10 acres
from their quarter section sale. All but Frank Selleck leased
their land back from the C.N.R. so they could continue farming
In any case, by 1912 the townsite location was chosen. On May
10, 1912 the Whitecourt School Division was created to preside
over a one room log schoolhouse, situated out in the bush
by present day 47th Street and 51st Avenue. Next month the Advisor
will summarize Whitecourts history from the townsite formation
in 1912 to the end of WWI. Photos of early pioneers, along with
the Whitecourt Honour Rolls for veterans, can be found at WhitecourtWeb.com/seniors.htm
. This history is largely summarized from Sagitiwah Saga, by Doreen