The County of Athabasca No. 12: Alberta GenWeb Digital Archives

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Excerpts taken from the "Story of Rural Municipal Government in Alberta 1909 to 1983" by the Association of the Municipal Districts and Counties

Contributed for use in Alberta Digital Archives by Darlene Homme.

The County of Athabasca No. 12 is situated between townships 62 and 69, ranges 17 to 25, 
west of the 4th meridian. The land area within the county is 1,137,752 acres with 
approximately 4,394 kilometers of local roads and 224 kilometres of secondary roads, and 
an area of approximately 2,000 square miles.

The Athabasca River runs through the northern part of the county, and many lakes with
excellent fishing are located in the area. Big game is abundant throughout the county.

The economy of the county is based primarily upon mixed farming, although mineral 
resources, gas fields and lumbering are important.

The county was formed in January, 1959, combining the M.D. of Athabasca No. 103 and 
the Athabasca School Division No. 42. Previous to this, the M.D. of Athabasca was 
incorporated by the consolidation of the M.D. of Cartier No. 637, M.D. of Nelson 
No. 638, M.D. of Grosmont No. 668, parts of the M.D's of Tawatinaw and Westlock and 
ID's No. 102 and No. 122.

During these times municipal offices were in various places throughout the county; 
places such as Athabasca, Tawatinaw, Meanook, Boyle, etc. Many reeves and councillors 
served these smaller districts as well as the larger ones. Councillors are too numerous 
to mention, but each supplied his knowledge, time and a great deal of energy to provide 
local government to the residents of the area.

The larger municipality, M.D. of Athabasca No. 103, was formed in 1947 with offices in 
Meanook. Two reeves who served the M.D. were Messrs. Aloisio and Breckenridge. Both 
gentlemen provided the area with over 25 years of service. Mr. Aloisio served 32 years 
along with being a member of the legislative assembly.

Many others served the area as reeve, previous to the formation of the larger 
municipality, such as Messrs. Anderson, Smith, Jack, Aloisio, Meyers, Wilt, Olson, 
Redden, Minns and Curtis.

In 1945-1946 things started to move in the rural municipality as far as road building 
was concerned. The M.D's of Nelson, Cartier and Grosmont co-operated in the purchase 
of a Caterpillar R60 gas tractor and Letourneau scraper in order to build a standard 
of road required. Each M.D. was allocated a number of hours in which to operate the 
unit. Roads were getting their first taste of gravel. The gravel was loaded out of the 
pits with fresnos pulled by horses and then loaded onto loadlifters, deposited into 
trucks and spread on the roads. Graders of all types were pulled by tractors and 
horses and operated by gears, motors and mainly muscles. Ratepayers were allowed 
to do various types of roadwork to pay their rates or taxes. Assessing was done by 
bicycle, horseback and automobile. Since this time, many miles of road have been 
constructed and graveled with the ultimate in construction and earthmoving equipment.

In 1959 when the county was formed, administrative offices were at Meanook and Colinton. 
It was decided that a central location should be provided so a large school from Perryvale 
was moved to Athabasca for the county office, and is still used for administrative offices 
to this date.

Athabasca in the early days was known as Athabasca Landing. "Athabasca" is a Cree Indian 
word meaning "a place where there are reeds". The area played an important part in the 
early history of Canada's northwest. David Thompson, the noted explorer, surveyor and 
trader, passed through Athabasca in 1799.

In 1848 the Hudson's Bay Company established a post at Athabasca Landing as a 
distribution centre rather than a trading post. Supplies were freighted overland 
and stored at the post during the winter to await the opening of navigation in 
the spring. Flatboats carried cargoes to Lake Athabasca, thence up the Peace River 
to the northwest or up the Slave River to the far north. The Hudson's Bay Company 
operated a fleet of sternwheeler steamboats, and the Northern Transportation Company 
also operated a fleet of sternwheeler boats between Grouard, on Lesser Slave Lake, 
and the Grand Rapids, approximately 125 miles downstream from Athabasca.

With the arrival of the settlers, schools and churches were built. The Anglican Diocese 
of Athabasca was formed in 1874, with the Right Reverend W C. Bombas as the first Bishop. 
St. Matthew's, the first church, was opened on June 1, 1894, and two hostels were erected 
by the church to accommodate rural students. Reverend Father Beaudry took charge in 1905, 
and the following year built a small church. Methodist Church missionaries were active in 
the early 1900's, but it was not until prior to World War I that a church was constructed.

In 1904 the name of the town was changed to Athabasca. It was incorporated as a village 
on May 18, 1905, and as a town on September 11, 1911.

Hamlets which dotted the county during these days were Rochester, Perryvale, Colinton 
and Meanook along the Landing Trail, and Ellscott, Boyle, Grassland and Atmore along 
the Lac La Biche Trail and other trails leading north.

Many tales are told of the endless wagon trains which plodded along the Landing Trail 
with numerous hills, creeks, stopping houses and hazards along the way.

Many homesteaders first arrived prior to 1905. French, Scots, English, Ukrainians, 
Germans, Negroes (from the U.S.A.) and various other nationalities followed. They 
carved their farms out of a wilderness filled with muskeg, buckskin, spruce and 
poplar. Many hours, days and months were spent providing shelter for themselves and 
their livestock. This was not unique to this area. What fortitude, ambition and 
strength it must have taken.

Drainage ditches were dug by hand in order to drain some of the sloughs and muskegs. 
Delegation upon delegation was sent to Edmonton to attempt to secure grants and monies 
in order to keep local government alive and flourishing within the smaller rural 

The Athabasca School Division was formed in 1938, and 86 school districts were 
officially absorbed to form the first division. Several other districts were added 
to the list in 1939, and some were transferred in 1944 to form the Lac La Biche 
School Division No. 51. It would take many pages to review the history of these 
smaller school districts, many of them being formed in 1908.

In his annual report to the ratepayers in 1939, Mr. Edwin Parr, Chairman of the 
School Board, made the following observations:

* Teachers' salaries for 143 teachers were $30,789.59.
* Buildings were in a dilapidated condition.
* Teachers were being paid regularly.
* Repairs had been made to over 40 schools.
* Twelve schools were being operated in temporary buildings, and many others 
  were overcrowded.
* There were still 47 log school houses.
* One-third of the pupils sat on homemade desks, many not fit for use.

The following are further extracts from later reports.
	1941:	100 school rooms still in operation of which 79 are one-room, 8 are
		two-room and 2 are three-room schools. Difficulty in securing teachers.
		The total enrolment was 2,516.
	1942:	Volunteer labor from the people can be a very valuable assistance in
		keeping the schools operating in good condition.
	1943:	The Department of Education pays isolation bonuses ranging from
		$100.00 to $200.00. The minimum salary is $900.00 per year.
		Centralization occurred when seven districts were combined to alleviate
		the teacher shortage.
	1948:	10th Annual Report - comparisons between 1939 and 1948 - 1939
		- 99 rooms in operation. Salary bill: $64,000.00; average annual salary:
		$750.00; conveyance for one month: $20.00; grant from Department of
		Education: $69,000.00; 64 high school students. 1948 - 80 rooms in
		operation. Salary bill: $144,000.00; average annual salary: $2,142.00; 19
		buses in operation; grant from Department of Education: $180,000.0; 200
		high school students.
	1949:	Teachers' salary schedule referred to the Board of Arbitration for

Construction began on Edwin Parr High School in Athabasca. Some of the school 
superintendent reports contain interesting highlights as follows:

J. J.	LeBlanc (1923-1929): "Many of the settlers came from areas where regular yearly
schools were in operation. As soon as they were settled on the land, they took early 
action to organize into school units."

W. H.	Swift (1930-1935): "The Athabasca Inspectorate was one of infinite variety. 
I remember my years there with much nostalgia. The Inspector of Schools saw and 
participated in the establishment of education in and throughout Alberta. He saw its 
transformation from a simple pioneer service into one of complexity and sophistication."

Eric Hodgson (1941-1948): "With the large number of schools and the shortage of 
teachers, I decided to introduce a bus system. This movement necessitated the 
holding of many meetings with much opposition from parents. When Dr. Swift came up 
one time, I took him out to visit some of the schools. When we would come to a hole, 
he was the one that got out to sound the depth and decide whether we could get 
through or not."

B. Facey (1948-1952): "The Division, of course, was far from wealthy, and although 
some of the centralized schools were of sound frame construction, many log schools 
were still in use, although some were covered with siding. Not a single school in 
the area, even the Town of Athabasca, had inside toilet facilities. The result was 
the construction of some of the largest privies I've ever seen in my life. I remember 
travelling up river on the Athabasca ice on a one-way road, the only means of access 
to one new school district north of Larvert, and also ploughing mud, mud, mud on 
many occasions. Then for relaxation, the eight and one-half miles from my office in 
the provincial building in Athabasca to the divisional office in a converted one-room 
school building in Colinton consisting primarily of forty-three curves and seventeen 
bridges. To get to Mercury or Richmond Park, one patiently waited for the ferry across 
the river connecting with some fairly well maintained roads under the jurisdiction of 
a capable French-Canadian councillor. I remember one local trustees' convention which 
filled the hall at Meanook. All school buildings had been built from current revenue 
and the main issue of the afternoon was a debate on my proposition that it was now 
time to begin the construction of better quality school buildings financed by debenture. 
After much discussion and a close vote, the meeting recommended the continuation of 
a pay-as-you-go policy. Probably the most important development during my years in 
Athabasca Division, when about twenty-one rooms were closed, was the continuing 
centralization of school facilities at Athabasca, Boyle, Colinton, Perryvale, Rochester 
and Smith. Getting somewhat larger groups of pupils in a centre resulted in long-term 
improved educational opportunity for many children in this area."

C. G. Merkley (1952-1954): "Much controversy was held concerning the merits of rural 
centralization as opposed to bussing students to the larger towns. Many a heated 
meeting debated the placement of schools. The closing of the small schools produced 
some of the most controversial reasoning ever recorded. Schools with historical 
background such as George Lake, Laura, Silver Fox, Forfar, Toles and many others 
will always be remembered by students and parents who pioneered in these areas 
and who, through diligent labor, provided the initial educational facilities for 
many prominent Albertans. One of the treasured memories of the two years spent in 
the Athabasca area was the calibre of people contacted. In no other place have there 
been citizens who were more ready, willing and able to "call a spade a spade", but in 
no other place were the people more helpful after an issue had been resolved, more kind 
to strangers or more dedicated in making their part of Alberta a choice land for 
families to mature. Surely the saying of the pioneers, "that anyone who drinks the 
water of the Athabasca River will always have a warm spot in his heart for the 
Athabasca area", has been proved to be true on countless occasions."

The 1950's and 1960's were marked by increasing activity within the county for 
natural gas wells resulting in population growth.

The 1970's saw a decline in this activity and the school population started a slow 
but steady decline. In the early 1980's the population basically stabilized, but 
the school population continued to decline along with the national trend toward 
smaller families.

The early 1980's also were marked by the province's decision to locate Athabasca 
University in the area - a decision made following extensive lobbying and 
submissions from all local municipalities and many community organizations. Site 
work on the university was started early in 1983.

The county's population took a 10% jump to more than 5,900 in the 1981 Federal 
census, but the municipality lost considerable assessment area early in 1983 when 
six new summer villages were incorporated around Baptiste, Island and Skeleton lakes.

In the mid 1970's the county assumed operation of a co-operative natural 
gas distribution system basically covering the eastern half of the jurisdiction. 
In 1982, faced with mounting system deficits, the county sold the system to a 
private company providing some relief to local ratepayers.

The late 1970's saw the county participate in major funding of an indoor swimming 
pool and a performing arts centre in the Town of Athabasca, and the provision 
of artificial ice in the arena in the Village of Boyle.

Progress also was made in the provision of water and sewer systems in the hamlets of 
Grassland, Colinton and Rochester.

In education, major renovations were completed at the Smith and Rochester schools in 
1982 with large modernization grants provided by Alberta Education. A similar 
upgrading at Edwin Parr Composite High School in the Town of Athabasca was delayed 
pending the allocation of provincial funds. The two modernization projects were 
completed at a cost of about $2.5 million.

Three of the six schools in the jurisdiction approved plans to become designated 
as community schools in 1982-83.

The 1 970's and early 1980's saw considerable emphasis on the area's primary industry 
with the Agricultural Service Board mounting one of the province's largest and most 
active programs.

The start of 1983 also saw work commence on a new $14 million municipal hospital 
to replace the building destroyed by fire in October 1980.

It is difficult to record the various events, personalities and places in a short 
essay. A definition of history in a dictionary states, "to decorate with a historical 
record". To decorate personalities involved in the total system would be an endless 

People such as reeves, councillors, school trustees, agriculturists, engineers, 
teachers, superintendents, maintenance personnel, janitors, students, grader 
operators, school bus drivers, ratepayers, to name a few, have all contributed. 
To decorate events, school openings, bridge openings, new roads, gravelled roads, 
centralizations, annual meetings, council and school board meetings, to name a 
few, would be an endless list. To decorate places such as the Landing Trail, 
Peace River Trail, Athabasca River, hamlets and school districts would again 
be an endless list.
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