The town of Peace River lies close to the point where the Smoky River runs into the Peace River. The rivers provided access to the north and its wealth. As historian Don Wetherall points out, this drew Aboriginal people as well as Euro-Canadians into the region.
And among the earliest of those was the fur trader and explorer Alexander Mackenzie who built a fort called Fort Fork at the juncture of the Smoky and Peace Rivers in 1792. Then, in 1888, an Anglican mission was established on the north bank of the Peace River near that same site. A Roman Catholic mission was also located there and the area became known as the Shaftsbury Settlement, and it's still called the Shaftesbury Trail for those people who know the area.
By the late 1890s, the settlement consisted of several houses and farmsteads, which were strung out along the north bank of the river. Another settlement was also beginning across the river where the trail from Lesser Slave Lake, or Grouard, ended. This became known as Peace River Crossing, and this settlement expanded gradually. When the railway arrived in 1916, Peace River Crossing became, for a time, the end of the line.
The coming of the railway created a land boom, which brought a great influx of people to the Peace Country. In many ways, Peace River developed like other Alberta towns. In other ways it was much different.
Although Prohibition was lifted in the Northwest Territories in 1892, it remained in force in what would become northern Alberta, and this condition was only repealed in 1923. So, unlike towns in places outside northern Alberta, there were no bars or beer parlours in northern Alberta, including Peace River, until 1923.
And, as well, Peace River had a northern orientation that was unique. It was a major fur-buying center for northern Alberta and trappers came there from north central and northwestern Alberta to sell their catches. And there was a pattern in the 1920s; there were established fur trade posts there. But traders would come up from Edmonton as well on the train during the trading season.
As well, Peace River was a center of navigation, shipping, and shipbuilding. And that remained an important part of the town's economy until 1952, when shipping goods by river was abandoned.
On the Heritage Trail,
I'm Cheryl Croucher.