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 Canada.
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. John’s 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 October’s 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 Hudson’s 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 Flats.

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 Alberta’s early Liberal government. The U.F. A. eventually formed a political wing and became the government of Alberta in the 1920’s. 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. Leedy’s 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 its contents.

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, Dave’s 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 Legion’s Honour Roll.

Arthur Metheun took up a homestead in Allendale in 1911 and is yet another of several early settler’s 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 area.

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 Torgenson’s 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 1920’s.

Other settlers who arrived and contributed to Whitecourt’s 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 Whitecourt’s lumber industry.

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 it.

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 Whitecourt’s 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 Olecko.