As covered in last months Advisor, the arrival of the railroad resulted in a new layout for the town, and the building of several new businesses. William Torgerson replaced his immovable log store with a larger lumber store. As Jerry Graham relates in his Salute to the Pioneers, Torgerson was a massive man, with a heart of gold, who “listened to more tales of woe and hard luck stories than most men, but unlike most men, he usually did something, or tried to do something.” There was also Henry Stewards Pool Room. Mr. Graham describes Henry Steward as a southern gentleman from Texas and cautions that the pool game “which went on almost unceasingly was no place for beginners or even average players”.

Nels Lyons also had a store in partnership with William Crasswell. Nels was known as much for his business ability as for his sense of humour. When liveryman Jim Hammond found a bone in some sausage Nels had prepared, he made a great show of pinging it down on his plate for the benefit of Nels and the others who were present. Nels slowly commented, for all to hear “you know, I could have sworn I took the shoes off that horse before I put it through the machine”.

Other businesses included the U.S. Café, Poon King Laundry, Kallbom’s Butcher Shop, Curly Moore’s Pool Hall, Labelle’s Store and Wong’s Restaurant. Unfortunately, fire was not long in destroying some of the newly built town. In 1922, a blaze wiped out a good section of one side of a block of Main Street. A bucket brigade did all as much as they could, saving Mr. Graham’s Imperial Bank at one end of the block, and the Whitecourt Hotel and Wong’s Restaurant at the other.

Shortly after the fire, the Imperial Bank closed its doors. Mr. Graham did not seem that interested in keeping it open and accepted a transfer to Edmonton. One can only wonder what conversations banker Graham had had with his friend, staunch monetary reformer John Leedy. At the 1921 U.F.A. convention, shortly before this party formed the government of Alberta, Leedy had co-sponsored a successful resolution with ex-American monetary reformer George Bevington which called for the nationalization of Canada’s banking and credit system. As a matter of interest, the Bank of Canada was nationalized in 1938, which made it possible for Canada to fight WWII, after previously not having the money to feed its population during the Great Depression.

Within two years, Jerry Graham had returned to Whitecourt and went into private business. The bank building had been rented by Don Underwood, who set up another pool hall. Further downtown development included the building of a new livery barn in 1924 by Jim Hammond, with partner Herb Wilson. Ray Kimzey set up a little blacksmith shop around 1925.

With the railroad finally in Whitecourt, the lumbering industry in and around Whitecourt at last became big business. The Capitol Lumber Co. was finally able to ship out its store of logs, but it had been harmed by the railroad delays to the point where it did not resume operations. Jim Miller continued his limited lumber operation until the mid 1920’s.

However, in 1922, James Millar came to Whitecourt to set up Western Construction and Lumber Co. He had cutting rights to several provincial timber berths and purchased land from the CNR at Millar Western’s present location. This was the same land where early settler Frank Selleck had driven in squatter’s stakes, when he arrived with a railroad survey party way back in 1904.

Western hired some local people, and brought others to the area to cut logs all winter and saw them in the old Capitol Mill for the first two summers. This mill was powered by two traction steam engines. During the winter of 1924-25, Western built a new mill on its present site, and installed a stationary steam engine. The company also opened a general store, where its employees could obtain goods on credit. A private ferry was put in at the foot of 47 Avenue or Millar Rd, so that Western could get supplies to the various lumber camps north of the Athabasca in the summer. Paul Linehan continued to operate the Allendale ferry across the Macleod.

Western brought many new citizens to Whitecourt. Population increased from 130 souls in the early 1920’s to over 300 in winter by the late 1920’s. Jack Dahl arrived in 1923, with his millwright friend who had been hired on at Western. Jack found employment as his friend’s helper, before working his way up to become a millwright himself. Wife Clara and two year old son Gilbert arrived a few months after Jack. The Dahls had two more children after coming to Whitecourt, Tina and John. John Dahl served as Whitecourt Mayor and was instrumental in getting the history of Whitecourt published. He is still active in the Whitecourt and District Heritage Society.
Clyde Feero arrived from Sangudo, when his father landed a sawyer position at Western. Clyde was still in high school, but was to be another leader in developing Whitecourt, once he graduated. Again, one can look at a map of Whitecourt, and see how streets were named after these builders.

Other companies that sprang up in the lumber industry were the McDonald Lumber Co. and the Whitecourt Lumber Company. The latter was formed by locals William and John Torgerson, Jerry Graham and former McDonald agent C. Greenwood, after McDonald ceased operations around 1926. The Northwest Lumber Company operated in the Greencourt area, and fought an unending battle to keep its railroad tracks above the muskeg it had been built on. The owner of this company, J. D. McArthur, only appeared on rare occasions, but his visits were interesting in that he arrived in a private luxurious railway car that had once been owned by U.S. President McKinley.

Logging was very much a manual business when originally established in the area. Skidding and hauling would be done over roads in the winter, when the muskeg was frozen. Special ice ruts were created in the roads by contraptions pulled by several teams of horses. This helped keep horse drawn loads of lumber from going off the road.
Camps would be constructed in the area to be logged, with wooden buildings being put up. Sometimes a poolroom was among the temporary structures set up. The logs were first pulled to a central area by horse and chain. This would often be a hill or uppercut in the road so that the logs could be easily rolled onto the sleds. It wasn’t until the late 20’s that Western purchased two big cats. They were used to both build roads and haul logs.

Policing was done by the Alberta Provincial Police (APP). As Jerry Graham relates, an officer originally came out from Rochfort about once a month, only to complain that he didn’t know why he bothered, since he was never needed. An exception involved WWI veteran Sid Skogman, who was suffering from what we now call post-traumatic stress. The term at the time was ‘shell shock’. As Sid’s ‘crazy bouts’ grew more frequent and bordered on violence, the Rochfort constable came out to take Sid away for hospitalization in Ponoka. Apparently, Sid was having a good day at the time of his departure, with the result that he and the constable stopped at Rochfort to take in a dance before continuing on to their destination.

In 1925, Ralph Crouch was posted to Whitecourt to open an A.P.P station. A jail was established near the corner of 50th Street and 52 Avenue. Mr. C.A. Stephens had resumed his duties as magistrate after he had returned from WWI.

As stated earlier, Dr. Wellwood passed away in the early 1920’s, as a result of injuries suffered from a poison gas attack in the WWI. Eventually, a delegate, Mr. O. G. Leary was sent to Edmonton to appeal for a replacement doctor. The newly retired Dr. Barrow and family responded, and set up a small office and dispensary at the corner of Main and 52 Ave in 1925. Mrs. Barrow later recalled in a letter that “we at once loved Whitecourt with its beautiful scenery, wild flows and fruit.

In the early 1920’s the odd car began to appear. Ray Kimzey brought a used 1916 Model T Ford in 1921, and apparently used it in a record breaking trip to Edmonton which only took seven hours. Because of the poor state of the roads, the cars were parked in winter, and often during the summers as well, when it was wet. William Governlock, with his wife and sons, Stan and Tom, were the first settlers to arrive by car when they came to Whitecourt in 1922.

Some mechanization became taking place in farming, with crude steam powered threshers appearing. Three or four men were required to operate the machine. The threshers would be hauled from farm to farm, everyone pitching in and helping one another. The technology improved in the late 20’s when threshing machines with self feeders and straw blowers became available.

There was one crop failure in the area due to drought in 1922, when only one third of the regular crop was harvested. This was in marked contrast to southwest Alberta, where the ‘dirty thirties’ came early. The drought had been building for some years in this historically dry area. Along with the credit situation, sawflies, wheat rust, cutworms many settlers found the going so rough that in one area, Tilly East, the population shrank from 2,380 farm families to less than 500.

The Drought Relief Act of 1922 helped some farmers stave off foreclosure, but many lost all they had worked so hard for. There was a movement for a provincial bank, but a study by the U.F.A. determined it to be ‘legally insuperable’ due to the Canadian Bank Act of 1871. Local Leedy had already broke with the U.F.A. in 1921, over its failure to implement policies that would more markedly improve the financial condition of the farmers. It is worth noting that the ‘populism’ concepts brought north of the U.S. border by those such as Leedy continue to reverberate in Alberta politics today, leading to significant western alienation from federal government policies.

Along with forest fires, floods also threatened the settlers on a fairly regular basis. In 1926, a tragedy occurred when an entire family perished in the Athabasca River overflow. Chris Presthlien, his wife and their four children all drowned while attempting to reach higher ground, down near present day Graham Acres. Ironically, the homestead they left remained above water.

In 1922 a new two room school was built to replace the log building put up in 1912. This school, with many additions, is the Central School in Whitecourt today. When Evelyn Merrifield Gunderson arrived to teach in 1925 she wrote “there were a total of twenty-five children in each room’. Most children, especially the boys, quit school after reaching the age of 15. Evelyn also recalled having to thaw out the frozen bottles of ink every morning in the winter.

With the influx of more settlers, the desire for church buildings grew. As Virginia Byfield wrote “the glue that bound together Alberta society in the 1920’s …was in fact the Christian religion”. A small Catholic church went up on the north side of 49 Street and 52 Avenue. In 1926, a United Church was completed to the point it could be used. Construction was finished in 1927, with the first baptism being Roy Merrifield on July 25, 1928. The structure is still sound today and is used as a rooming house.

Social life in the 1920’s continued much as before. There were frequent all night dances, along with picnics and social gatherings. A hockey team was formed in the early 20’s, with an outdoor ice surface maintained by volunteers where the fire hall now stands. A ball team took over in summer, many of the players being the same. The Homesteader’s Guide reported on one ball game: “After the game, horse racing was indulged in and the evening and most of the night was spent in dancing”.

For the ladies basketball was the biggest team sport, although Joan Barrow and Dolly Torgerson Graham also played on the hockey team with the men. Tennis was popular as well, with Whitecourt generally holding the district silverware from the contests. Dog races were a feature of most picnics, made the more interesting by placing all shapes and sizes of dogs in the same race. The Great War Veterans Association (GWVA) looked after the establishment of a ball diamond and race track facilities near present day Central School. In 1927, the GWVA became the 44th Branch of the newly formed Canadian Legion.
The downtown business section continued to grow between 1925 and 1928. The Harrop hotel was sold and turned into a store by the Traxlers. However, in the summer of 1928, another big fire occurred in downtown Whitecourt. In his memoirs, local Fred Harrison related that “one Saturday night we were dancing the farewell dance at midnight when someone opened the door and yelled ‘town on fire at the store’. Fred goes on to say “the fire burned the store, the pool room, an empty store and a restaurant before we got it stopped. There was a lot of ammunition in the store and it was going off like firecrackers.” The frequency and seriousness of fires in earlier days can give one an appreciation for advances in modern fire protection and construction codes.

After the fire, the poolroom was rebuilt on its original site. Jerry Graham took over the post office savings bank, land agency and Imperial oil agency, which he ran from the back of the Whitecourt Lumber Store. In 1927, the Tim Selleck family moved back to Whitecourt so that the boys, Frank and Ted, could take their high school. In 1929, the Sellecks started a milk delivery business to complement their farming income. Milk was 6 cents a quart delivered, or 25 cents for six quarts if picked up.

At the end of the 1920’s, Whitecourt could be said to have met the challenges caused by land, weather and the oft-delayed railroad, to grow and prosper. The future looked bright, with the U.F.A. government using the leverage of its Progressives allies in Parliament to get legislation passed on December 14, 1929 that gave Alberta control over its natural resources. However, the celebration over the anticipated prosperity was short-lived, as the effects of the Great Depression began to be felt.