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COUNTY OF RED DEER NO.23 - Excerpts taken from the "Story of Rural Municipal
Government in Alberta 1909 to 1983" by the Association of the Municipal
Districts and Counties
Contributed for use in Alberta Digital Archives by Darlene Homme
County of Red Deer was formed largely within its present borders, December 31,
1943, with the amalgamation of several small municipal districts to set up what
has been described as the 'Big Red M.D.'
Gathered under the broad shield of the Municipal District of Red Deer were the
municipal districts of Arthur (headquarters Innisfail); Poplar Grove
(Innisfail); Pine Lake (Red Deer); Golden West (Sylvan Lake); and Hays
(Delburne). At the beginning, there was some controversy as to where the Big Red
M.D. seat would be, lnnisfail vying vigorously for the honor but losing out to
the City of Red Deer, then showing signs, in the war years of becoming the main
urban centre of the parkland region. Apparently a quarrel also raged about the
title of the new municipality temporarily named M.D. of Penhold, that small
village being roughly the geographic centre of the fledgling political district.
Elected at-large, the first council was comprised of 11 councillors, including
Messrs. Christensen, Kelly, Brewster, Parsonage, Ryrie, Pearson, Hillman, Edgar,
Domoney, McPhee and Wilton. Elected as reeve by the brethren was R.H. Edgar who
farmed west of Red Deer and who had been a leading member of the dissolved M.D.
of Pine Lake. Deputy reeve was M.L. Kelly. Appointed secretary-treasurer was
WH. Stringer. His assistant was H.K. Allison. Immediately on discharge from the
armed forces, based on prior agreement, J.M. Rear was appointed assistant
secretary-treasurer. Mrs. Rear and R. McMakon aided the administration during
the organizational period.
Made co-terminus with the Red Deer school division in 1955, the M.D. saw
reduction of its council from 11 members to seven and under the revised
jurisdiction, these members were elected as divisional representatives: A.E.
Prudhomme, Division 1; WHoweIl, Division 2; C.L. Doan, Division 3; A. Ryrie,
Division 4; D. Pearson, Division 5; L. Erickson, Division 6; and C. Braithwaite,
Division 7. Mr. Doan soon emerged as reeve and was consistently re-elected to
that position until his retirement to enter provincial politics in 1971 when he
was elected PC MLA for lnnisfail riding. Several other members of the changed
council went on to become prominent in Alberta rural municipal affairs. Dave
Pearson, at his retirement in 1973, was the acknowledged dean of rural municipal
councillors having first entered local politics as a Spruce View district school
trustee in 1927.
Chalking up one of the longest tenures as a rural government employee was Victor
Bjorkeland who joined Pine Lake M.D. in 1922, came into Big Red as road foreman,
fieldman and constable to retire in 1972 after 50 years before the mast!
In 1963, the M.D. changed again with blending of the municipal territory with
Red Deer school division to form the County of Red Deer No. 23.
The first council under that joint heading was: Messrs. Prudhomme, Howell, Doan,
Sheets, Pearson, Erickson, and Braithwaite. Together with urban trustees John
Wilson, Jr., lnnisfail; WO. Johnston, Penhold; and G.R McMillan, Delburne, they
formed the necessary school board.
Current members of Council are: Reeve William Mills, Division 4: Councillor's
William Greenwood, Division 1; Jim Williamson, Division 2; Jack Wagers, Division
3; Harold Rhodes, Division 5; Stanley Swainson, Division 6; and William Hazlett,
Division 7. In order to reduce the workload on Division 7, 259 which surrounds
the burgeoning City of Red Deer and contains a large and important cluster of
commercial and residential sub-divisions, council recently reduced the area of
the division by transferring territory to Division 6. Other growing urban
centres within the county, such as lnnisfail and Sylvan Lake, also are exerting
pressures on adjacent rural districts.
With a generally buoyant economy and accounting the dramatic growth of the urban
points, planning, zoning and development has become the salient business of
meetings. Like other rural municipalities adjacent to progressing cities and
towns, the county is constantly responding to annexation moves. While
essentially rural in character, the county must deal with some of its residents
in an urban way.
County of Red Deer is the eighth largest organized rural municipality in
Early records reflect the western part of the county was settled by homesteaders
concomitant with the progress of the Calgary-Strathcona railway in the late
1890's. Settlers realized that the soil was fertile with a thick chernozem
profile in most parts. Game such as deer, buffalo, elk, moose and rabbit
abounded as a ready supply of meat while pelts of weasel, skunk, coyote,
muskrat, beaver, some mink and fox yielded a good trade for a largely cashless
society. Rivers contained edible species of fish such as perch, pike, goldeye
and trout which fortified larders.
Prolific stands of timber served as handy building material when the few
sawmills of the district could buck it up. While waiting for construction,
homesteaders often lived in sod huts; but the good news was that those primitive
houses could be kept warm with an almost limitless resource of poplar.
Extensive grasslands provided adequate fodder for the horses and oxen that were
the chief motive powerforclearing,cultivation and harvesting, which included
basic machinery such as plow, seeders, mower, rake, harrow, a disk and jerry-
Chief crop of the western portion was oats which was hardy and yielded as much
as 100 bushels per acre, or more. Before the more resilient cereal grains were
developed by the federal agricultural department, those crops were plagued by
frost and fungus and were graded poor by the commodity dealers.
The east country was settled much later due to distances between trading centres
and the lack, until 1912, of a railroad. With the advent of the Grand Trunk
Trailway, connecting Calgary and Edmonton, hamlets and villages went up at
intervals of about one every eight miles. Only the villages of Elnora and
Delburne and the hamlet of Lousana survive as railside centres, even though the
stations have long since vanished. Still, with places to trade in, settlers
began development and while breaking and cultivation was much more difficult due
to the hilly topographical nature, many of the present flourishing farms got
their beginnings at that time. Where the land was not amenable to grain farming,
a thriving meat industry built gradually on well covered pasture land. Largely a
result of the last glacial melting of the Red Deer River basin, the area has
many creeks, large sloughs and small lakes providing one other element for
successful ranching. Because of their decided ranching flavor, the district-
Pine Lake and east to the Red Deer River- has produced many sons who became
famous in the national and international rodeo theatre.
Compensating the district for its thin agricultural gifts was the water, of
course, and the same wildlife that supported the western townships, plus King
Coal, discovered in large and, as yet, far-from-exhausted reserves. Recent coal
prospecting has determined strong possibilities that coal deposits extend
muchfurtherafieldthanthe proven mining locus north of Delburne. In any event,
coal, as a fuel, was easily accessible to east district farmers and some created
mining and coal transport businesses that augmented the cream cheque.
Clam beds in the same area, varied the Friday diet of the region's entire Roman
Early trails through the county formed the foundations for the modern rural road
system that now laces the municipality. Not unnaturally, these trails are
strongly connected with the early history of the whole region.
The C & E Trail, for a long time the territory's main street, is the primary
historical route of the west, linking as it did Calgary and Edmonton. In the
east, the Rosebud Trail was a connecter between Fort McLeod and Tail Creek. Both
these major paths were used extensively by the Alberta Field Force to move
militia to deal with the 1885 Saskatchewan Rebellion and its leader, Louis Riel.
Earliest white man's view of the region is believed to be that of the explorer-
trader Anthony Henday who is known to have crossed the Red Deer a few miles
south of Tail Creek in the year 1754.
Among the great resources enjoyed by the county, its cities and towns and the
agricultural industry is a reliable water supply by way of the streams and lakes
evenly distributed within its borders. The major river is the Red Deer which has
glacier origins in the eastern slopes and blends on the Alberta-Saskatchewan
border with the drylands prairie system. Reflecting its importance to Alberta,
the province has undertaken a $100 million dam construction project at Dickson,
west of innisfail. The government hopes that the completed project will
guarantee water supply to users throughout the region and control flooding that
now and again rises between Garrington in the southwest and Red Deer (city) in
the north central district.
Other important streams are the Blindman River, three miles north of Red Deer,
the Little Red Deer River, famous for its Red Lodge Provincial Park, nine miles
west of Bowden; the Medicine River which cuts north to south through the far
western townships to join the Medicine Flats confluence of rivers (Medicine, Red
Deer, Raven and Little Red Deer).
Once called Snake Lake, Sylvan Lake has a large town of the same name on its
southern shore and is one of the major resort waters of the province. It rests
in the central northwest of the county, just west of the fifth meridian.
Similarly, Pine Lake, on highway 42, is growing in importance as a recreation
lake and fishery. This lake and its famous old stopping house, soon to be
demolished, was an early rest-up for travellers. Though much frequented by
Indians up until the First World War period, the lake seldom sees those first
Mentioned before were the lakes of the east country. Unfortunately, many of
these, like Quill and Mikwan lakes, are large but unsuitable for recreation due
to their alkalinity.
Scenery along the Red Deer River is matchless, particularly east of Elnora where
a viewer is thrilled by the hues of its banks and the first traces of the
The county is fortunate to have within its borders, many fine parks. In
addition to the parks mentioned above, there is also the county-maintained parks
and campgrounds at Garrington; Penhold Bridge park, 3.5 miles west of the town;
Petro Beach Park on the east side of Sylvan Lake, Balmoral Heights Park, east of
Red Deer; and the Provincial parks at Sylvan Lake (town); Jarvis Bay, northeast
side of Sylvan Lake; Pine Lake; Raven, on Highway 54; and Dickson park.
A new park, is being built east of Elnora on the Red Deer River - a joint effort
of district service clubs, private donors and the county. A committee has been
formed to advise the government on the feasibility of an important recreational
water park on the eastern rim of the Dickson Dam reservoir, currently under
It is remarkable that where an unsophisticated hospital was established back in
the homestead period,they mostly survive today as modern facilities. Having a
humble beginning, the Red Deer hospital has grown to massive proportions as the
Red Deer Regional Hospital, offering as good or better patient-care as the large
teaching and general facilities of the metropolitan centres. Red Deer has
gradually gained eminence in the medical spectrum through the desire of
specialists to locate in the parkland's principal city.
Well equipped and staffed hospitals also grace the centres of Innisfail, Elnora,
and Eckville. Though the latter town is just outside the county, it serves the
people of the northwestern area of the municipality. Elnora, atthis writing, is
costructing a modern 10-bed facility to replace one that has seen better days.
One-room schools were built by volunteers under a skilled carpenter who acted as
czar of the job, often for $1.00 per day. While sections 11 and 29 were set
aside for school purposes in the dominion land survey of the late 1800's, the
trustees fixed school sites more in line with how far a pupil would have to
travel to reach the school in the worst weather. With a deal of magic, the crown
reserves were swapped for more suitable natural locations. In the county, many
of the names of the school districts survive as community flavoring since the
original structures have been reincarnated as district halls. The histories have
served to revive interest in these place names, even the ones with no tangible
proof they ever existed.
The hills and valleys of economics constantlythreatened survival of the one-
roomers. The nub of the problem was getting good teachers to come to districts
with few amenities; and when they came, raising the money to pay them. Though
even the really effective teachers were paid a pittance by today's standards, it
frequently was a desperate business raising salary and operating capital in what
was largely a cashless society. Still, many of the teachers remained, married
into the district and inspired their students and children to follow in
theirfootsteps. Though basic economics always loomed large in rural affairs, it
was ultimately the logical progression of schooling that finally made the little
red schoolhouses cherished memories.
Consolidation - the provision of a broader curriculum in centralized plants -
was completed within the county by the early 1960's. In the space of 20 years,
and despite the agony of initial change, consolidation - by and with efficient
transportation systems - is firmly entrenched in the county. The same central
plants created to accommodate consolidation flourish as educational
achievements, notably at Bowden, lnnisfail, Elnora, Delburne, Penhold, Sylvan
Lake, River Glen (in Red Deer), Benalto, and Spruce View. Indeed, the county
school payroll and purchasing forms an important economic building block in
those mostly urban-organized points.
Some pupils of the first schools have lived to serve trusteeships on the
succeeding consolidation, righ up to the present. They express astonishment that
so much was taught and learned with so little resources, in so short a time, but
are convinced that it was the lack of amenities, the singleness of purpose of
the teachers and a parental yearning for education that pushed even the most
recalcitrant student along. There is also a strongly held notion that since a
pupil might only be held to grade six, the teacher had to get quickly on with
arming the student with the ability to self-learn; one good reason why teachers
placed great emphasis on the communicative arts -grammar, spelling, reading and
composition. Equally amazing was the graduation of girls who seemed to have been
finished at expensive private schools when, in fact, their life's orbit was
never more than a 10-mile journey. Spartan school programs however, were
augmented by mothers who not only expertly taught the culinary and other
domestic arts, but insisted on a good foundation in the social graces.
The rearing of sons formed the other dimension of country life. Seemed like they
couldn't be gotten out of school soon enough to take their place in the farm
operation. One exception was the husky young fellow who spent the happiest four
years of his life in grade six, was given a piece of the family farm on his 21st
birthday and promptly married the teacher!
An overly long stay in a grade was not unusual and certainly didn't reflect on
the intelligence of the pupil. Problems that might keep a student in say, grade
eight for several years would include the shutdown of the school during
particularly cold and heavily-drifted winters; mid-term plight, death or
sickness of a teacher, or the pregnancy and subsequent child-rearing of a
married pedagogue, and the inability of the trustees to secure a replacement.
All able-bodies males participated in community and public road construction
chiefly because it was an efficient and logical way of cleaning off taxes when
cash was scarce. There were no strikes.
Some of the main market arteries of the county still rest on the foundations
constructed with fresno, slip, wheelscraper and drop-wagon. Using the hand-
operated, horse-drawn chief-item of municipal equipment, the grader man had the
choicest of jobs. Crossing sloughs was accomplished by corduroying the ice in
winter, putting straw or manure on the brush and when it settled in the spring,
covering it with earth.
Horse-drawn elevating graders with eight to twelve horses in trace were a common
sight. Smaller graders could be pulled by four horse, a far cry from the new
machines that cost $250,000.00.
As it should be, county councillors take on a heavy responsibility with the win
at the polling stations. Unlike their brothers of long ago, today's rural
government representative must dedicate a great deal of his time to his
constitutents, and while that close, direct approach with the electorate is
still demanded, a councillor must also be better informed about municipal
affairs. Though he has many regular meetings to attend, the modern rural elected
official is required to devote much of his working day, and night, Monday
through Sunday, learning his craft, both in his home territory and beyond -
wherever seminars, symposiums and conventions are set up to improve his
knowledge of the civilized system he administers. In County of Red Deer, the
seven councillors have each division roughly three-quarters the size of the
municipalities that formed the big jurisdiction in 1943.
Apart from provincial highways 2, 2A, 11, 20, 21, 42 and 54, the county
has under its control about 3,000 miles of road including the major secondary
highways 590 (lnnisfail - McKenzie Crossing); 592 (Penhold to junction 781); 495
(Red Deer to junction with Provincial 21); 596 (Burnt Lake Trail from Red Deer
to junction with 781); 587 (Bowden to Garrington Crossing); 781 (Sylvan Lake to
junction with Provincial 54); 766 (Provincial 11 at EckvilleDiamond Valley to
junction with Provincial 54); 805 (SR590 junction Wimborne Road to the border
with M.D. of Kneehill).
Some other vital statistics: The total county land area is about 1,000,000 acres
with current land assessment valued at $19,949,530. Other assessments such as
pipelines, powerlines, refineries, commercials, non-farming acreages and
Improvements, other utilities, trackage and institutions amounts to $25,225,960.
for a total of (1982) assessment of $45,175,490.
County plants and shops (municipal and educational) have a value of
$13,903,000., while the machinery inventory for the public works, and field
services departments have total a worth of $5,670,000. Owing to the expertise of
the mechanical branches of these departments, repair costs are kept to a
minimum. Most of the county's D8 bulldozers have been in service for more than
20 years, due mainly to the mechanical aptitude of the journeymen and operators
at the Innisfail shop.
First school centralizations began at the close of World War I, enabling rural
children their first chance for unbroken secondary education. Several of the
smaller school dsitricts were joined together in what they called a consolidated
school district. In these, three or four teachers at first taught grades 1 to
11. Later grade 12 was added.
Children were picked up in horse-drawn vans, some that could be changed from
wheels in the summer to runners for winter travel. The latter season saw the
fixing of a small stove in the front where it could be stoked by the driver. A
sort of live coal relay took place, keeping the small foot warmers on the
floorboards at tolerable levels of comfort for pupils. As roads improved, small
motor buses were introduced to the rounds. Motor transport rapidly developed
along with consolidations. Buses of the several private systems serving the
county today carry upwards of 50 students per trip.
Two small schools, served by four to six teachers at Benalto and Lousana
Consolidated, have successfully resisted dissolution of their plants and carry
on in a way that is reminiscent of the earlier educational experience. In
addition, three modern elementary schools, supported by the Seventh Day
Adventist Church are located near Sylvan Lake and Red Deer.
As they did in the beginning, the pre-consolidation clapboard schools go on
serving their districts as community centres, an astonishing number of them
still stoutly eminent on the prairie horizons at Valley Centre, Calder, Big
Bend, Woods Lake, Craig, Hillsdown, Hill End, Cumberland, and many others. Still
others have been converted to handsome private dwellings.
An early seat of education and, for its time, a bold experiment, was the Indian
Affairs school immediately west of the City of Red Deer, just south of the Burnt
Lake Trail. Teaching basic arts, the school featured industrial training as well
and achieved a great deal of success with native youths. The records are spotted
however, by frequent kicking of the traces by eloping students who couldn't
endure the discipline of dormitory surroundings. The industrial school ceased
classes in 1920, the historically important (and for a long time the most
prominent) structure fell into decay, its sandstone walls finally crumbling to
bulldozers a scant few years ago.
Its loss is only partly compensated for the fact it is a well documented and
photographed story of the archival section of the Red Deer Museum.
Standing out among the industrial school's workers, was a fellow named Domoney
who, because he lived on the opposite side of the river to his place of work,
crossed on horseback when the Red Deer was low, and swam across the sometimes
turbulent stream when it was broad and high. Almost alone in the district, he
saw the onset of winter as a most convenient time.
Counting among their ancestors, some of the pre-1900s settlers are the families
Allison, Herbert, Pierce, Lawrence, Doan, Braithwaite, Erickson, Greenwood,
Gaetz, Hepburn,Thompson, Grimson, Schrader, Morris, Phillips, Cunningham,
Swainson, Johanson, Forss, Vandaele, Lewis, McKain, Bjarnason, Chandler,
Budvarson and Dallaire, to name but a few, who flourish today in the established
PLACES OF INTEREST
Numbered among the few but eminent men of Icelandic letters, one of that small
republic's poets is a man whose greatest output occurred while he homesteaded
near Markerville on the Medicine River. Stephan Stephansson settled near Hola
Bridge. In the modest settler's home, the poet turned out the poems that have
made him immortal in the hearts of his countrymen who read a mixture of
reverence for the island nation and find appealing his reflection of the new
land that welcomed so many of his countrymen before and during the turn of the
The Alberta government, recognizing the international importance of the
Markerville farmer's literary fame, has re-created the farmstead, aptly
preserving its essential rustic modesty. To this place annually, come hundreds
of citizens of both Iceland and Canada who pay th~ir respects to a man who saw
and penned the best of the two countries.
While completion of the Dickson Dam on the Red Deer River is several years off,
it is already a major provincial attraction where sightseers are adequately
accommodated. In the planning for 10 years, the dam is an engineering wonder and
has been designed to stablize water flow for downstream users, including two
Immediately west of the City of Red Deer, on the old Red Deer Crossing, Fort
Normandeau has been preserved, incorporating the original lumber of the stopping
house which was already in place when the Northwest Rebellion broke out in the
spring of 1885.
Part of a line of communication strongpoints established by the government in
preparation for a protracted civil war, the fort was erected under the command
of Lt. Bedard Normandeau of the 75th Quebec Regiment of Foot. Like Normandeau,
the string of forts established for the Alberta Field Force are named after the
French-Canadian officers who oversaw their construction.
Another point of interest is the Content Bridge flats, north of Delburne, on the
Red Deer River. A heavily-used provincial park now marks the spot where Indian
tribes are said to have rested in their migrations through Rupert's Land. It has
been the site of recent archaeological diggings which are yielding valuable data
on the first inhabitants of Alberta. It is said that even warring tribes could
find peace and reconciliation, for a time, on this sacred meadow.