After World War One, Whitecourt started to receive an influx of
returning soldiers and other veterans who opted to take advantage
of The Soldier Settlement Loan Act. This federal legislation provided
funds for veterans wishing to purchase land. They arrived by the
various arduous ways to Whitecourt as described in last months
Advisor. Despite a promise by Alberta premier Arthur L. Sifton
to have the railroad to Whitecourt by 1917, there was still no
In 1919, Capitol Lumber arrived on the scene, building a mill
near the junction of Beaver Creek and the MacLeod River. James
Miller preceded J. W. Millar, and also set up a sawmill, a little
further up the MacLeod. At last it seemed the Whitecourt lumber
industry was going to move beyond the small, sometimes portable
sawmills, operated by locals such as John Leedy and Dave Wartman.
In 1919, the Grand Trunk Pacific and Canadian Northern Railways
merged and became the Canadian National Railway. In August 1919,
about 100 cars of steel and construction material were delivered
to Sangudo. At last work began on laying the steel to Whitecourt.
Because of the delay, all the road bed which had been so carefully
prepared five years previous had to be redone.
The winter of 1919-1920 was the hardest one on record since 1907.
This and the stalled railroad made it tough going for both of
the new lumber businesses. After operating for a year, the Capitol
lumber company ceased operations and let its store of logs sit
in behind a dam built at the creek mouth, to wait for the train.
Miller continued to struggle along, with limited work.
Bud and Pete Cochrane had just arrived in the fall of 1919, with
a large number of animals from their Nevada ranch. They could
only watch helplessly as the long cold winter drove the price
of both oats and hay to astronomical levels. Pioneer and erstwhile
populist governor of Kansas, John Leedy, also made the point that
the financial policies coming out of Eastern Canada proved deadly
for many small farmers wishing to retain more of their crops.
He published his research in a 40 page tract published in 1920
entitled Whats the Matter with Canada.
As stated previously, Leedy, did not meet with electoral success
in Canada. However, he used his position as vice-president of
the United Farmers of Alberta (U.F.A.) to lend his political expertise
to the farmers and others. At the end of 1918, Leedy presented
the U.F.A. board with three options. They could: eschew direct
political action and operate as an interest group; become a politically
involved lobby group; or they could commerce independent political
activity. As historian Karel Bicha writes without a doubt
the decision of the U.F.A. board in January 1919, to commence
independent political activity,
owed much to Leedys
stimulus. Bicha also writes that a rift in the new U.F.A.
movement with potentially crippling implications, was blunted
by a faction that looked to Leedy for leadership.
The U.F.A. formed the government of Alberta in 1921 and governed
until 1935, when the even more radical Alberta Social Credit Party
came to power. Leedy did not hang around to wield the levers of
power, finding the U.F.A. had watered down its policies too much
towards the mainstream. Still, the U.F.A. kept this Whitecourt
pioneer on the membership roll until his death, and as late as
1934, when Leedy was 84 years old, sought his advice on banking
In any case, the Cochrane brothers saw the price of the cattle
drop from $100 to $25, which put paid to their plan of developing
a ranch in the area. Long time resident Frank Chaisson also felt
the bite of the weather and the credit situation, losing his cattle
business. The Cochane brothers looked for alternatives and did
manage to put several of their horses to work on the construction
of the railroad grade.
One of the settlers to come to the area in 1919 was Leo Baxter,
who had heard that Axel Olson had caught eighty trout in the Beaver
Creek. That was enough for this ardent fisherman to pull up stakes
and come to Whitecourt, where he settled near the banks of the
Beaver. The first thing Leo did was cast his line and land a beautiful
bull trout minnow, weighing a good two and a half
pounds. He proudly took his catch to the kitchen at Olsens
Hotel, where he was staying, anticipating a great breakfast the
next day. However, early risers at the Hotel made short work of
the fish, leaving poor Leo with egg on his plate, and his smiling
face, when they joked about it years later with him.
Other settlers to move to Whitecourt in 1919 included Mr. and
Mrs. George Jackson, who came straight from Toronto. George was
a veteran who had taken advantage of The Soldier Settlement Loan
Act to become the proverbial fish out of water in the backwoods
of Whitecourt. As daughter Peggy Jackson Plummer relates, neither
one of them knew which end of the cow was which. Mrs. Jackson
gamely put up with quips from the local bachelors on such topics
as her gardening and cooking. She even followed most of their
instructions on how to make bread, before hiding the results of
her failed experience in the outdoor privy. Later she found out,
when great blooms of bread dough came up through the seat, that
bread should not be put in a cool place to make it rise, and that
yeast was something to be used sparingly. The Jacksons moved to
B.C. for a respite for a year, before moving back and becoming
long term residents.
Tom Stewart with his wife Olive came out from Edmonton that year,
along with their sons, to work for the Miller and company sawmill
outfit. Tom was in his late 60s, having originally come
to Alberta in 1881 from Vancouver. His family endured a three
month pack saddle odyssey over the Mountains. Olive ran Whitecourts
first real milk route, using a horse and buggy in summer and a
cutter in winter.
During the summer of 1919, both the Bank of Commerce and the Imperial
Bank became interested in setting up branches in Whitecourt and
Rochfort. A flip of the coin resulted in the Imperial getting
Whitecourt and its future partner, the Commerce, getting Rochfort
as a new location. This flip of fate resulted in Mr. John Jerry
Graham, a WWI vet, engaging in a futile search of the railroad
schedules for the site of his new Imperial Bank post in Whitecourt,
Alberta. He finally ran into someone who had been through here,
and was informed to take the train to Sangudo, and drive
in for 50 miles. In 1920, driving was distinct from motoring
in that it involved a horse and buggy or sled. Picking up a suitcase
of cash at Sangudo, Jerry jumped on a cutter. He caught sight
of the railroad construction crew, nearing the location of present
day Mayerthorpe, before running into Pat Hardy at Greencourt.
Pat accompanied Jerry on a sled for his final leg of the journey.
In any case, Jerry Graham opened Whitecourts first bank.
He also wrote a piece called Sagitiwa to Whitecourt
A Salute to the Pioneers, which describes many of the other
characters who arrived in Whitecourt around this time, as well
as earlier arrivals. Jerry Graham ended up marrying a local, Dolly
Torgerson, and becoming a long time resident of Whitecourt, active
in many businesses.
It should be noted that historian Karel Bicha, in his article
on John Leedy, seems to have let his limited understanding of
monetary reform lead him to class Leedy as having the reputation
of being mediocre and being a person of limited
intellect. This is nonsense, according to both Leedys
accomplishments, and according to what Jerry Graham wrote regarding
the defining characteristics of early settlers. Banker Graham
described Leedy as a highly intelligent man with an extremely
ready wit. Moveover, his place was described as a
far cry from what the homesteaders were accustomed to, but no
homesteader felt out of place or ill at ease there, such
was the hospitality of the Leedy family.
Bicha also wrote that Albertans were capable in placing
their faith in more bizarre economic panaceas (than Leedys)
in reference to the eventually election of the Alberta Social
Credit Party. This can be contrasted with what might be deemed
a more mature analysis by eminent Albertan historian James H.
Gray. Gray states Socred Premier Aberhart was jeered for
promising everybody twenty-five dollars a month. Yet within ten
years of his first term, the federal government introduced the
"baby bonus", which provided five dollars a month for
each child. Since the average family then had between four and
five children, this amounted to approximately the same sum...
Aberhart said there was within the country sufficient wealth to
put all our farms and resources back to work. He was absolutely
right as the ensuing Second World War would swiftly prove. So
no, the Alberta insurrectionists of the 1930's were not fools.
They were merely, perhaps, a little premature."
The Advisor is in the process of obtaining more research material,
with the goal of further rebutting the negative description of
Leedy by Bicha, which resides in the Alberta historical archives.
With the few pieces of source material now on hand, Leedy appears
as an outstanding individual, who exemplified the concept of service
above self. He gave up the trappings of his governors office
to administrators, to sit out in the reception area where the
electorate came in. He also reworked the Kansas national guard
so that the troops could vote for their leaders and withstood
intense pressure ensuring that a battalion drawn from the black
community was led by black officers in the Spanish American war
of 1898. Even this last accomplishment was dismissed by historian
Bicha as a crass political ploy on Leedys part, although
Leedy predictably lost support for having such a stance in favour
of individual rights in 1898. In any case, it will be shown in
a future article that it is quite possible that the negative characteristics
attributed to Leedy might actually be a reflection of Bichas
very limited understanding about the ideas put forward by Leedy.
The Wagoners, father Frank, mother Anna, and seven children came
up from Nebraska in the spring of 1920. They eventually settled
on the Mink Creek flats, which gave its name to todays Mink
Creek Road. This road is located two short blocks from Wagoner
Crescent. During the next four years, the Wagoners had four more
children, while clearing the land and building up their homestead.
1920 saw the birth of Blue Ridge. The railroad track was being
laid north of the tiny hamlet of Lonira. You can see Lonira Road
just northwest of Cottonwood Corners. Store owner John Watson
decided to move his business north to be near the railroad and
opened a road. Because the area was covered with blueberries that
summer, the name Blue Ridge was coined by John. Long time residents
such as blueberry lips Norma would seem to attest
to this fact.
Several of the erstwhile soldiers in the area got together and
formed a district local of the Great War Veterans Association
(GWVA), which was the forerunner of the Canadian Legion. The meeting
minutes of January 1921 detail their plans to build the original
legion hall. The first fund raiser was a bit of fiasco, with the
comment made that it was suggested in some quarters that
the quality of the home brew interfered to some extent with the
business ability of the picnic committee. Future endeavours
were more successful.
Early in the spring of 1921, the Canadian Northern Town Properties
Company Limited sent in a crew to survey the townsite they had
purchased in 1912. They determined a the new layout for the streets,
to account for the location of the railroad. Several buildings,
including the hotels, were moved by stump puller and stone boat.
The log buildings couldnt be moved and were dismantled.
The business people affected quickly erected new lumber buildings
to get ready for the railway.
A station house and water tank were built and in December 1921
the first train whistled into Whitecourt. The engineer was Dan
Powers, who with his wife Margeret, became an integral part of
the Whitecourt community. It was still a full day to get to Edmonton
by train, but this was a big improvement over the three days it
took when the steel ended in Sangudo, which in itself was an improvement
over the four week trip from Edmonton Mr. and Mrs. Walter White
made in 1908.