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Grouard is a hamlet at the west end of Lesser Slave Lake. It was originally called Stony Point, after the Cree word with that meaning. As historian Don Wetherall points out, the settlement has a long and important history in the north.
It’s a low-lying shoreline, and has rich fish and waterfowl resources, and there’s good timber and hunting close by.
And by the early 1800s, this district had been drawn into the fur trade. And by at least 1820, there was an established Métis population at the west end of the lake.
And the economic importance of that end of the lake was confirmed in the 1880s, when the Hudson’s Bay Company moved its district headquarters from Dunvegan to the Lesser Slave Lake settlement, where the Oblates had set up a mission in 1872.
Soon, Anglican missionaries and independent fur traders settled in the community. By 1900, the population had grown to 300.
In 1911, the town grew dramatically as the coming of the railway spurred development.
By 1912 its population had reached about 500, and promoters were calling it the Edmonton of the North. It had a couple of banks, a number of stores. It had telegraph service, three churches, a newspaper, and even a town band.
And in the first six months of 1912, 25 building were put up in the town and construction was so rapid that local sawmills couldn’t keep up with the demand.
By 1914, 1,200 people lived in Grouard. But the boom turned to bust when the railway bypassed the town. The town council was outraged and protested, charging the railway was deliberately trying to destroy Grouard.
The railway, which was the Edmonton, Dunvegan, and B.C., responded that it had no such motives, and it had avoided Grouard because the area was prone to flooding and that engineering difficulties of building into the town made it too costly.
The town responded by hiring an engineer to show that the railway’s arguments were false, and it lobbied federal and provincial authorities to force the railway to build into the town.
None of these tactics were successful in the end, and by 1915 Grouard had been completely by passed. And without railway connections, the town lost its economic function.
By 1915, Grouard’s population had dropped by two-thirds. The buildings were torn down or moved to other towns that grew up along the rail line.
Grouard fell into such decline it ceased to exist as an incorporated town.
On the Heritage Trail,
I’m Cheryl Croucher.
Related Articles : Missions / Communautés - Grouard
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