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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

No. 202: Calgary and Edmonton Trail: 1883 to Present

The arrival of the railway in Calgary in 1883 meant a dramatic increase in traffic going north along the Calgary and Edmonton Trail.

And according to historian Merrily Aubrey, the first regular mail service along this route was established in July of 1883.

John Coleman and Ab Macpherson had obtained the contract to carry the mail bi-weekly, along with some light freight, as well as passengers.

A month later, Donald McLeod established the first stage service. Now, fair each way was 25 dollars, and you were allowed a hundred pounds of luggage. And that's a heck of a lot of money for that time. You wouldn't want to be travelling too many times, and you could probably lose a few months wages that way.

By 1888, travellers could ride on the trail in the manner they preferred. They could chose from four different types of vehicles, from freighter wagons to closed light stagecoaches.

A trip on a freighter wagon took almost two weeks. The stagecoach was much faster, at five days.

And as traffic increased along the trail, stopping houses were established at least every 20 miles between Edmonton and Calgary.

In the January 2nd, 1884 edition of the Calgary Herald, someone who signed himself simply as "Traveller," described his journey:

On the morning of the 14th of December, three passengers started for Edmonton in wagons under the guidance of the experienced whip, Frank Borsfat, of Donald McLeod's Stage Line.

We started at 11 a.m., weather mild, and the cuyuses, with difficulty, held in.

We reached Scarlet's Hotel that evening, and although it boasts new spring beds, we slept soundly in our blankets on the floor.

Early in the morning, the sleepless Frank arose three hours before the sun lazily arose. We had to drive nearly 60 miles that day, and one of the horses obtained from the Hudson's Bay Company was useless.

In vain, Frank talked to him expressively in Cree, French and English. The horse understood none of these tongues. The whip merely kept him from getting cold.

But Frank's skill overcame all these difficulties, and we arrived at Red Deer Crossing in the evening. And we found our host Collins, ready to provide for all of our wants.

Here we took sleighs and fresh horses. The next evening we reached Battle River and pitched our camp.

Still, the traveller ended his letter on a positive note. The trip along the C and E Trail took only four and a-half days, making it in record time for the winter season.

He also concluded it was one of the most pleasant winter trips he'd experienced.

On the Heritage Trail,

I'm Cheryl Croucher.

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