Beginnings in Central Alberta
Central Alberta, what is now roughly the Red Deer-Edmonton
region, also had lumbering interests, some of which pre-dated the Eau Claire
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
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
of Reynolds-Alberta Museum.