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The Heritage Trails are presented courtesy of CKUA Radio Network and Cheryl Croucher

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Reverend Forbes Homestead in Grande Prairie

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Among the oldest log buildings still standing in northern Alberta are those on the Reverend Forbes homestead at Grande Prairie.

Both Reverend and Mrs. Forbes were Scottish missionaries for the Presbyterian Church.

They came to Canada in the late 1890s. And, after serving at Fort Saskatchewan for a number of years, they were sent north to establish a Presbyterian Church at Grande Prairie.

As historian Dorothy Field explains, without a railroad, the only route north was overland.

So they hauled their belongings up in what was called a caboose. And it did sort of look like a railway care in a way, but it was smaller and was pulled by horses or oxen. It could have wheels, or if they went in the winter, it would have skis on the bottom.

Once on the homestead, Reverend Forbes and his wife went to work building their Presbyterian mission.

Well, the first thing they built was a hospital, and then a church. They lived in their caboose until the following year, when they built a manse, which is residence for a minister, which was attached to the original hospital they'd built. Mrs. Forbes was a trained nurse, and she provided medical care at the hospital. In 1913, another hospital, rather larger and more elaborate, was built on another site.

The manse was named Montrose, after the Scottish birthplace of Mrs. Forbes.

The tine log building is a testament to the great resolve of two missionaries with limited resources, determined to forge a mission out of the wilderness.

The hospital and the manse were built of spruce logs that were fastened at the corners using saddle notches, which is really the simplest form of log construction. They weren't square or finished in any particular way.
And the result was a rather rough looking building. The hospital was only one story high. The manse, which was attached to it, was one and a half stories tall. Over the years, though, they gained a more refined look when larger windows were put in and clapboard siding was put on the outside.

Unfortunately, the north proved too much for Mrs. Forbes. She died in 1917. Reverend Forbes was made an honorary doctor of divinity by Robertson Theological College in Edmonton before he left Grande Prairie in the mid-1920s.

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I'm Cheryl Croucher.

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            For more on the history of settlement in Alberta, visit Peel’s Prairie Provinces.