1912 TO 1918

Settlement in Whitecourt accelerated, after the Canadian Northern Railway purchased the town site land in 1912. At long last it seemed that Whitecourt would finally get its railway. However, despite government assurances, the delays continued, first due to poor national economic conditions, and then because of WWI. Since there wasn't even a good road into the hamlet, the settlers came by sled, by wagon, on foot, on horseback and by scow on the river.

The account of the Kimzey family of their trip in 1912 is indicative of the relative isolation of Whitecourt in this period. A boxcar load of their household effects, along with a wagon, team of horses and a cow, were shipped by rail to present day Wildwood. The family, George and Rosa Kimzey, with son Ray and daughter Myrtle, then trekked cross country to Greencourt. Continuing on to an area homesteader, Billy Meeres, Mr. Kimzey attempted to hack his way in to his House Mountain homestead. He gave up on this route after a few miles and turned back to follow Beaver Creek instead. There was overflow water on the ice of this waterway, in addition to the usual dams and fallen trees. Rosa ended up with soaking feet at one point, which necessitated using the family dog as a 'living heater' to keep her feet from freezing. The family continued down the ice on the Macleod River to another access point, and hacked a trail along a creek into the homestead.

Mr. Kimzey went back to get the rest of the household goods. He reloaded them onto the train at present day Wildwood to take them as far as Peers, which would hopefully lead to an easier route into his homestead, down the MacLeod. By the time this was done, the ice on the Macleod was unsafe, necessitating the building of a scow. He teamed up with fellow pioneers and reached Whitecourt without mishap. Unfortunately, overflow waters had risen over the trail cut by the creek into the homestead, meaning that another trail had to be cut. This became known as the Kimzey Trail to others who took up land on House Mountain. Kimzey senior shortly thereafter left the area, never to return. However, his son Ray and daughter Myrtle managed the homestead well and became long time members of the Whitecourt community. After serving in WWI, Ray opened a blacksmith shop.

Another family to arrive in 1912 was the Olsons, who like many Whitecourt pioneers hailed from south of the border. Axel Olson, and his wife Anna built one of two hotels in the area. This hotel has been incorporated into newer buildings through the ages, so that the original building still exists inside the present day main street downtown hotel.

The Harrop family also put up a hotel. Although two hotels might seem excessive for a small hamlet, a steady arrival of new settlers, along with the various traders, government agents and so on kept both places going. Jim Harrop used lumber that was rafted down the river from Edson. It was claimed that Harrop house was the first lumber house in Whitecourt, the rest being constructed of logs. Both Jim and Axel worked at other jobs, while their wives ran the respective hotels in town.

Ben and Katherine Stuckey, with their family of six girls and one boy arrived in 1913, from Hyanis, Nebraska. They homesteaded south of the Beaver Creek, and laboured long and hard to clear their heavily timbered homestead. It should be remembered that in the days before easy travel, many homesteads were filed on without being seen first. The Stuckey home was one of the places that became a social gathering spot for the locals.

William Torgenson had arrived in Whitecourt earlier, but brought his family to the area in 1913 from Fargo, North Dakota. He chose the rafting route, only to get hung up on a rock a few miles after setting off. The current was such that sure enough his scow overturned. It took three days to gather all the goods again from the water, and dry out the flour and other household goods. Torgenson became one of the hamlets early businessmen, buying a store from a Chisholm and Williams, which also housed the land agency and post office.

When the C. A. Stephens family arrived in 1913, the missus came direct from New York, where she had met and married C.A. Needless to say, 1913 Whitecourt provided quite a contrast to her erstwhile home. Once the culture shock wore off, she got down to appreciating the natural beauty of the area and the pioneer life.

Mr. Stephens became Justice of the Peace for Whitecourt in that same year. Mrs Stephens died in 1918, while her husband was still serving in WWI. It is possible she was one of only two people from the area who succumbed to the deadly flu pandemic of 1918. This disease outbreak eventually killed more people than WWI around the world.

Another family to come by river in 1913 were the Linehans. Husband Paul operated the Ferry starting in 1915, until 1935. Paul also homesteaded and repaired shoes, while his wife ran a laundry. She was also the first to greet many new arrivals to Whitecourt in her role as a midwife. Paul was one of those who had filed on his homestead without seeing it, and was lucky enough to trade it in for a more desirable one, which had not yet been filed on.

Homesteaders would look for land that was relatively flat, had some trees for building material, along with a grassy area and a nearby source of water. By eyeballing which type of trees were growing on the land, they could get an idea as to the type of soil in the area. The first job was to erect a temporary living structure, before clearing and breaking the land. Stoneboats, usually a low wooden platform on log rollers, were used to transport heavy stones to a dumping point. Sometimes blasting powder was used for the larger rocks. Harrowing was done with a pole with spikes in it constructed by a blacksmith. Seeding was done by hand. Grain was threshed with a flail, usually home made.

The lack of good transportation into Whitecourt meant machinery was in short supply. An attempt was made to bring a tractor in as early as 1909, but a mechanical breakdown slowed the attempt. The lack of gasoline in the area limited its use after the parts finally arrived from England to fix the machine. Ben Stuckey had a binder, which was moved from farm to farm to help with that chore. When Emil Cohen moved his sawmill and planer outfit to the Whitecourt area in 1913, it took eight teams of oxen, harnessed four abreast to move the seven ton boiler case 30 miles.

Permanent homes were built of split logs and were put up during 'house raisings' which were a community effort. Lighting was done with coal oil lamps or tallow candles. In winter, mattresses could be hauled out by the woodstove, which would require feeding every few hours.

The effect of World War I on many Whitecourt settlers was covered in November's Advisor, along with the Legion Honour Rolls of those who served. In any case, the railway was put on hold, with some steel even being tore up to be shipped overseas and used in troop movements. Sangudo was the furthest point on the line out of Edmonton. There was a brave attempt at a newspaper, the Whitecourt News Record, which published from 1914 to 1917, with only semi-weekly mail delivery for a regular newsfeed.

Highway building was also put on hold, although settlers still in the area could work on the roads and still receive tax credits for their labour. The big transportation event of the year was when the ferry Peter Gunn was launched on June 23, 1915, to provide summer transport across the MacLeod.

For social events, it seemed almost everyone performed in one way or another. For major dances, supper would be at midnight, with dancing until 4 or 5 a.m., when it was time to go home and do the chores. Walter White was one of the callers for the square dances and had great fun timing his calls so that people in town on unfriendly terms had to dance with each other. Whitecourt's first school teacher, Gertrude Reay, recalls keeping up with the locals when liqueurs were served in tumblers. She writes "in my innocence, I quite enjoyed them. Unfortunately the rest of the celebrations are extremely vague to me."

Cappy Gibbs and Billy Meeres were popular violin players, while Mrs. Ward played a small reed organ. Hazel Stuckey White would play piano, accompanied by Larry Shaw on the Trombone and H. D. Pritchard on the Clarinet. Mrs. Wellwood was a trained concert singer, while Miss Clara Leedy had been a concert pianist. The local talent was such that the Christmas Concert Program in the 1914 News Record listed 23 separate presentations.

When the trappers came to town around the new year, poker games would start that would sometimes last for days. Ball games, pool and picnics were other popular local recreational activities. For the 1915 24th of May Picnic, The Whitecourt News Record listed ball games, foot races, jumping, hay kicking, pole vaulting, wheel-barrows, hurdles, sacks, three legged races, old man's and fat man's , ladies hammering and a bachelor pie eating contest. These activities were but a prelude to the ensuing dance that night.

A debating society was another activity for the cold winter months. As school teacher Reay related, "we took ourselves quite seriously. Topics were discussed that would do justice to the most advanced groups today. During 1916-1918 the debating society issued resolutions cautioning that peace should not be made with Germany too soon. Despite the patriotic fervor, the peace at last came, and area soldiers began returning to their homes and families at the end of 1918.