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Early Industry Case Studies

Beginnings in Central Alberta

Logging at Poplar CreekCentral Alberta, what is now roughly the Red Deer-Edmonton region, also had lumbering interests, some of which pre-dated the Eau Claire efforts.

In 1887, the residents in the area of the St. Albert mission petitioned Bishop Vital Grandin and Father Lacombe to have a new gristmill constructed in the district to replace the very primitive mill then in use. The Catholic Church had been approached by local farmers because it was the only organization in the district with the resources necessary for the undertaking. The clergy agreed, and in 1878 a new mill was constructed along the banks of the Sturgeon River approximately 24 kilometres from present-day St. Albert. It was water driven and to facilitate its use, a 30-metre dam was built across the river. It produced a two-metre waterfall, which turned the turbine the mission had bought in the United States. A shaft connected the turbine to a large wheel that provided the power to grind the grain.

The residents found the mill a great help and soon came up with other ways to use it. In October 1878, they obtained machinery to saw timber. Equipment included a circular saw, a planning machine and a shingler.

Repair costs resulted in the mission becoming the sole operator of the mill in 1882. The mill continued in operation until 1890 when a grass fire swept through the area destroying everything. The extent of the mill's operation can be seen in its losses. Over $25,000 worth of sawed lumber and machinery was destroyed. The mission decided against rebuilding the mill because it felt that there was now enough commercial investment and development in the area to make its mill unnecessary. The dam and flume were salvageable and reused by a number of parties who rebuilt the mill and operated it until its closure in 1899. Seasons tended to dictate its use: it was a sawmill in the summer, and a gristmill in winter.

The history of the St. Albert mill gives a good indication of the local demands that formed the basis for the lumber industry in central Alberta. Settlement was the fuel for the lumbering industry, and as it expanded, so did the industry. Between 1882 and 1884, 88 timber limits were granted along the North Saskatchewan and Red Deer river valleys. The vast majority went to eastern Canadian and American lumber interests, with only nine going to local interests. Because settlement proceeded more slowly than anticipated in this area, most of the timber berths granted in the 1880s in central Alberta were not worked immediately.

Kelly Buziak. Toiling in the Woods: Aspects of the Lumber Business in Alberta to 1930. n.p.: Friends of Reynolds-Alberta Museum Society and Alberta Culture and Multiculturalism, Historic Sites and Archives Service, 1992. With permission from
Friends of Reynolds-Alberta Museum


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