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COUNTY OF RED DEER NO.23 - 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


County of Red Deer was formed largely within its present borders, December 31, 
1943, with the amalgamation of several small municipal districts to set up what 
has been described as the 'Big Red M.D.'

Gathered under the broad shield of the Municipal District of Red Deer were the 
municipal districts of Arthur (headquarters Innisfail); Poplar Grove 
(Innisfail); Pine Lake (Red Deer); Golden West (Sylvan Lake); and Hays 
(Delburne). At the beginning, there was some controversy as to where the Big Red 
M.D. seat would be, lnnisfail vying vigorously for the honor but losing out to 
the City of Red Deer, then showing signs, in the war years of becoming the main 
urban centre of the parkland region. Apparently a quarrel also raged about the 
title of the new municipality temporarily named M.D. of Penhold, that small 
village being roughly the geographic centre of the fledgling political district.

Elected at-large, the first council was comprised of 11 councillors, including 
Messrs. Christensen, Kelly, Brewster, Parsonage, Ryrie, Pearson, Hillman, Edgar, 
Domoney, McPhee and Wilton. Elected as reeve by the brethren was R.H. Edgar who 
farmed west of Red Deer and who had been a leading member of the dissolved M.D. 
of Pine Lake. Deputy reeve was M.L. Kelly. Appointed secretary-treasurer was 
WH. Stringer. His assistant was H.K. Allison. Immediately on discharge from the 
armed forces, based on prior agreement, J.M. Rear was appointed assistant 
secretary-treasurer. Mrs. Rear and R. McMakon aided the administration during 
the organizational period.

Made co-terminus with the Red Deer school division in 1955, the M.D. saw 
reduction of its council from 11 members to seven and under the revised 
jurisdiction, these members were elected as divisional representatives: A.E. 
Prudhomme, Division 1; WHoweIl, Division 2; C.L. Doan, Division 3; A. Ryrie, 
Division 4; D. Pearson, Division 5; L. Erickson, Division 6; and C. Braithwaite, 
Division 7. Mr. Doan soon emerged as reeve and was consistently re-elected to 
that position until his retirement to enter provincial politics in 1971 when he 
was elected PC MLA for lnnisfail riding. Several other members of the changed 
council went on to become prominent in Alberta rural municipal affairs. Dave 
Pearson, at his retirement in 1973, was the acknowledged dean of rural municipal 
councillors having first entered local politics as a Spruce View district school 
trustee in 1927.

Chalking up one of the longest tenures as a rural government employee was Victor 
Bjorkeland who joined Pine Lake M.D. in 1922, came into Big Red as road foreman, 
fieldman and constable to retire in 1972 after 50 years before the mast!

In 1963, the M.D. changed again with blending of the municipal territory with 
Red Deer school division to form the County of Red Deer No. 23.

The first council under that joint heading was: Messrs. Prudhomme, Howell, Doan, 
Sheets, Pearson, Erickson, and Braithwaite. Together with urban trustees John 
Wilson, Jr., lnnisfail; WO. Johnston, Penhold; and G.R McMillan, Delburne, they 
formed the necessary school board.

Current members of Council are: Reeve William Mills, Division 4: Councillor's 
William Greenwood, Division 1; Jim Williamson, Division 2; Jack Wagers, Division 
3; Harold Rhodes, Division 5; Stanley Swainson, Division 6; and William Hazlett, 
Division 7. In order to reduce the workload on Division 7, 259 which surrounds 
the burgeoning City of Red Deer and contains a large and important cluster of 
commercial and residential sub-divisions, council recently reduced the area of 
the division by transferring territory to Division 6. Other growing urban 
centres within the county, such as lnnisfail and Sylvan Lake, also are exerting 
pressures on adjacent rural districts.

With a generally buoyant economy and accounting the dramatic growth of the urban 
points, planning, zoning and development has become the salient business of 
meetings. Like other rural municipalities adjacent to progressing cities and 
towns, the county is constantly responding to annexation moves. While 
essentially rural in character, the county must deal with some of its residents 
in an urban way.

County of Red Deer is the eighth largest organized rural municipality in 

Early records reflect the western part of the county was settled by homesteaders 
concomitant with the progress of the Calgary-Strathcona railway in the late 
1890's. Settlers realized that the soil was fertile with a thick chernozem 
profile in most parts. Game such as deer, buffalo, elk, moose and rabbit 
abounded as a ready supply of meat while pelts of weasel, skunk, coyote, 
muskrat, beaver, some mink and fox yielded a good trade for a largely cashless 
society. Rivers contained edible species of fish such as perch, pike, goldeye 
and trout which fortified larders.

Prolific stands of timber served as handy building material when the few 
sawmills of the district could buck it up. While waiting for construction, 
homesteaders often lived in sod huts; but the good news was that those primitive 
houses could be kept warm with an almost limitless resource of poplar.

Extensive grasslands provided adequate fodder for the horses and oxen that were 
the chief motive powerforclearing,cultivation and harvesting, which included 
basic machinery such as plow, seeders, mower, rake, harrow, a disk and jerry-
built floats.

Chief crop of the western portion was oats which was hardy and yielded as much 
as 100 bushels per acre, or more. Before the more resilient cereal grains were 
developed by the federal agricultural department, those crops were plagued by 
frost and fungus and were graded poor by the commodity dealers.

The east country was settled much later due to distances between trading centres 
and the lack, until 1912, of a railroad. With the advent of the Grand Trunk 
Trailway, connecting Calgary and Edmonton, hamlets and villages went up at 
intervals of about one every eight miles. Only the villages of Elnora and 
Delburne and the hamlet of Lousana survive as railside centres, even though the 
stations have long since vanished. Still, with places to trade in, settlers 
began development and while breaking and cultivation was much more difficult due 
to the hilly topographical nature, many of the present flourishing farms got 
their beginnings at that time. Where the land was not amenable to grain farming, 
a thriving meat industry built gradually on well covered pasture land. Largely a 
result of the last glacial melting of the Red Deer River basin, the area has 
many creeks, large sloughs and small lakes providing one other element for 
successful ranching. Because of their decided ranching flavor, the district- 
Pine Lake and east to the Red Deer River- has produced many sons who became 
famous in the national and international rodeo theatre.

Compensating the district for its thin agricultural gifts was the water, of 
course, and the same wildlife that supported the western townships, plus King 
Coal, discovered in large and, as yet, far-from-exhausted reserves. Recent coal 
prospecting has determined strong possibilities that coal deposits extend 
muchfurtherafieldthanthe proven mining locus north of Delburne. In any event, 
coal, as a fuel, was easily accessible to east district farmers and some created 
mining and coal transport businesses that augmented the cream cheque.

Clam beds in the same area, varied the Friday diet of the region's entire Roman 
Catholic faithful.

Early trails through the county formed the foundations for the modern rural road 
system that now laces the municipality. Not unnaturally, these trails are 
strongly connected with the early history of the whole region.

The C & E Trail, for a long time the territory's main street, is the primary 
historical route of the west, linking as it did Calgary and Edmonton. In the 
east, the Rosebud Trail was a connecter between Fort McLeod and Tail Creek. Both 
these major paths were used extensively by the Alberta Field Force to move 
militia to deal with the 1885 Saskatchewan Rebellion and its leader, Louis Riel.

Earliest white man's view of the region is believed to be that of the explorer-
trader Anthony Henday who is known to have crossed the Red Deer a few miles 
south of Tail Creek in the year 1754.

Among the great resources enjoyed by the county, its cities and towns and the 
agricultural industry is a reliable water supply by way of the streams and lakes 
evenly distributed within its borders. The major river is the Red Deer which has 
glacier origins in the eastern slopes and blends on the Alberta-Saskatchewan 
border with the drylands prairie system. Reflecting its importance to Alberta, 
the province has undertaken a $100 million dam construction project at Dickson, 
west of innisfail. The government hopes that the completed project will 
guarantee water supply to users throughout the region and control flooding that 
now and again rises between Garrington in the southwest and Red Deer (city) in 
the north central district.

Other important streams are the Blindman River, three miles north of Red Deer, 
the Little Red Deer River, famous for its Red Lodge Provincial Park, nine miles 
west of Bowden; the Medicine River which cuts north to south through the far 
western townships to join the Medicine Flats confluence of rivers (Medicine, Red 
Deer, Raven and Little Red Deer).

Once called Snake Lake, Sylvan Lake has a large town of the same name on its 
southern shore and is one of the major resort waters of the province. It rests 
in the central northwest of the county, just west of the fifth meridian. 
Similarly, Pine Lake, on highway 42, is growing in importance as a recreation 
lake and fishery. This lake and its famous old stopping house, soon to be 
demolished, was an early rest-up for travellers. Though much frequented by 
Indians up until the First World War period, the lake seldom sees those first 
Canadians now.

Mentioned before were the lakes of the east country. Unfortunately, many of 
these, like Quill and Mikwan lakes, are large but unsuitable for recreation due 
to their alkalinity.

Scenery along the Red Deer River is matchless, particularly east of Elnora where 
a viewer is thrilled by the hues of its banks and the first traces of the 

The county is fortunate to have within its borders, many fine parks. In 
addition to the parks mentioned above, there is also the county-maintained parks 
and campgrounds at Garrington; Penhold Bridge park, 3.5 miles west of the town; 
Petro Beach Park on the east side of Sylvan Lake, Balmoral Heights Park, east of 
Red Deer; and the Provincial parks at Sylvan Lake (town); Jarvis Bay, northeast 
side of Sylvan Lake; Pine Lake; Raven, on Highway 54; and Dickson park.

A new park, is being built east of Elnora on the Red Deer River - a joint effort 
of district service clubs, private donors and the county. A committee has been 
formed to advise the government on the feasibility of an important recreational 
water park on the eastern rim of the Dickson Dam reservoir, currently under 

It is remarkable that where an unsophisticated hospital was established back in 
the homestead period,they mostly survive today as modern facilities. Having a 
humble beginning, the Red Deer hospital has grown to massive proportions as the 
Red Deer Regional Hospital, offering as good or better patient-care as the large 
teaching and general facilities of the metropolitan centres. Red Deer has 
gradually gained eminence in the medical spectrum through the desire of 
specialists to locate in the parkland's principal city.

Well equipped and staffed hospitals also grace the centres of Innisfail, Elnora, 
and Eckville. Though the latter town is just outside the county, it serves the 
people of the northwestern area of the municipality. Elnora, atthis writing, is 
costructing a modern 10-bed facility to replace one that has seen better days.

One-room schools were built by volunteers under a skilled carpenter who acted as 
czar of the job, often for $1.00 per day. While sections 11 and 29 were set 
aside for school purposes in the dominion land survey of the late 1800's, the 
trustees fixed school sites more in line with how far a pupil would have to 
travel to reach the school in the worst weather. With a deal of magic, the crown 
reserves were swapped for more suitable natural locations. In the county, many 
of the names of the school districts survive as community flavoring since the 
original structures have been reincarnated as district halls. The histories have 
served to revive interest in these place names, even the ones with no tangible 
proof they ever existed.

The hills and valleys of economics constantlythreatened survival of the one-
roomers. The nub of the problem was getting good teachers to come to districts 
with few amenities; and when they came, raising the money to pay them. Though 
even the really effective teachers were paid a pittance by today's standards, it 
frequently was a desperate business raising salary and operating capital in what 
was largely a cashless society. Still, many of the teachers remained, married 
into the district and inspired their students and children to follow in 
theirfootsteps. Though basic economics always loomed large in rural affairs, it 
was ultimately the logical progression of schooling that finally made the little 
red schoolhouses cherished memories.

Consolidation - the provision of a broader curriculum in centralized plants - 
was completed within the county by the early 1960's. In the space of 20 years, 
and despite the agony of initial change, consolidation - by and with efficient 
transportation systems - is firmly entrenched in the county. The same central 
plants created to accommodate consolidation flourish as educational 
achievements, notably at Bowden, lnnisfail, Elnora, Delburne, Penhold, Sylvan 
Lake, River Glen (in Red Deer), Benalto, and Spruce View. Indeed, the county 
school payroll and purchasing forms an important economic building block in 
those mostly urban-organized points.

Some pupils of the first schools have lived to serve trusteeships on the 
succeeding consolidation, righ up to the present. They express astonishment that 
so much was taught and learned with so little resources, in so short a time, but 
are convinced that it was the lack of amenities, the singleness of purpose of 
the teachers and a parental yearning for education that pushed even the most 
recalcitrant student along. There is also a strongly held notion that since a 
pupil might only be held to grade six, the teacher had to get quickly on with 
arming the student with the ability to self-learn; one good reason why teachers 
placed great emphasis on the communicative arts -grammar, spelling, reading and 
composition. Equally amazing was the graduation of girls who seemed to have been 
finished at expensive private schools when, in fact, their life's orbit was 
never more than a 10-mile journey. Spartan school programs however, were 
augmented by mothers who not only expertly taught the culinary and other 
domestic arts, but insisted on a good foundation in the social graces.

The rearing of sons formed the other dimension of country life. Seemed like they 
couldn't be gotten out of school soon enough to take their place in the farm 
operation. One exception was the husky young fellow who spent the happiest four 
years of his life in grade six, was given a piece of the family farm on his 21st 
birthday and promptly married the teacher!

An overly long stay in a grade was not unusual and certainly didn't reflect on 
the intelligence of the pupil. Problems that might keep a student in say, grade 
eight for several years would include the shutdown of the school during 
particularly cold and heavily-drifted winters; mid-term plight, death or 
sickness of a teacher, or the pregnancy and subsequent child-rearing of a 
married pedagogue, and the inability of the trustees to secure a replacement.

All able-bodies males participated in community and public road construction 
chiefly because it was an efficient and logical way of cleaning off taxes when 
cash was scarce. There were no strikes.

Some of the main market arteries of the county still rest on the foundations 
constructed with fresno, slip, wheelscraper and drop-wagon. Using the hand-
operated, horse-drawn chief-item of municipal equipment, the grader man had the 
choicest of jobs. Crossing sloughs was accomplished by corduroying the ice in 
winter, putting straw or manure on the brush and when it settled in the spring, 
covering it with earth.

Horse-drawn elevating graders with eight to twelve horses in trace were a common 
sight. Smaller graders could be pulled by four horse, a far cry from the new 
machines that cost $250,000.00.

As it should be, county councillors take on a heavy responsibility with the win 
at the polling stations. Unlike their brothers of long ago, today's rural 
government representative must dedicate a great deal of his time to his 
constitutents, and while that close, direct approach with the electorate is 
still demanded, a councillor must also be better informed about municipal 
affairs. Though he has many regular meetings to attend, the modern rural elected 
official is required to devote much of his working day, and night, Monday 
through Sunday, learning his craft, both in his home territory and beyond -
wherever seminars, symposiums and conventions are set up to improve his 
knowledge of the civilized system he administers. In County of Red Deer, the 
seven councillors have each division roughly three-quarters the size of the 
municipalities that formed the big jurisdiction in 1943.

Apart from provincial highways 2, 2A, 11, 20, 21, 42 and 54, the county
has under its control about 3,000 miles of road including the major secondary 
highways 590 (lnnisfail - McKenzie Crossing); 592 (Penhold to junction 781); 495 
(Red Deer to junction with Provincial 21); 596 (Burnt Lake Trail from Red Deer 
to junction with 781); 587 (Bowden to Garrington Crossing); 781 (Sylvan Lake to 
junction with Provincial 54); 766 (Provincial 11 at EckvilleDiamond Valley to 
junction with Provincial 54); 805 (SR590 junction Wimborne Road to the border 
with M.D. of Kneehill).

Some other vital statistics: The total county land area is about 1,000,000 acres 
with current land assessment valued at $19,949,530. Other assessments such as 
pipelines, powerlines, refineries, commercials, non-farming acreages and 
Improvements, other utilities, trackage and institutions amounts to $25,225,960. 
for a total of (1982) assessment of $45,175,490.

County plants and shops (municipal and educational) have a value of 
$13,903,000., while the machinery inventory for the public works, and field 
services departments have total a worth of $5,670,000. Owing to the expertise of 
the mechanical branches of these departments, repair costs are kept to a 
minimum. Most of the county's D8 bulldozers have been in service for more than 
20 years, due mainly to the mechanical aptitude of the journeymen and operators 
at the Innisfail shop.

First school centralizations began at the close of World War I, enabling rural 
children their first chance for unbroken secondary education. Several of the 
smaller school dsitricts were joined together in what they called a consolidated 
school district. In these, three or four teachers at first taught grades 1 to 
11. Later grade 12 was added.

Children were picked up in horse-drawn vans, some that could be changed from 
wheels in the summer to runners for winter travel. The latter season saw the 
fixing of a small stove in the front where it could be stoked by the driver. A 
sort of live coal relay took place, keeping the small foot warmers on the 
floorboards at tolerable levels of comfort for pupils. As roads improved, small 
motor buses were introduced to the rounds. Motor transport rapidly developed 
along with consolidations. Buses of the several private systems serving the 
county today carry upwards of 50 students per trip.

Two small schools, served by four to six teachers at Benalto and Lousana 
Consolidated, have successfully resisted dissolution of their plants and carry 
on in a way that is reminiscent of the earlier educational experience. In 
addition, three modern elementary schools, supported by the Seventh Day 
Adventist Church are located near Sylvan Lake and Red Deer.

As they did in the beginning, the pre-consolidation clapboard schools go on 
serving their districts as community centres, an astonishing number of them 
still stoutly eminent on the prairie horizons at Valley Centre, Calder, Big 
Bend, Woods Lake, Craig, Hillsdown, Hill End, Cumberland, and many others. Still 
others have been converted to handsome private dwellings.

An early seat of education and, for its time, a bold experiment, was the Indian 
Affairs school immediately west of the City of Red Deer, just south of the Burnt 
Lake Trail. Teaching basic arts, the school featured industrial training as well 
and achieved a great deal of success with native youths. The records are spotted 
however, by frequent kicking of the traces by eloping students who couldn't 
endure the discipline of dormitory surroundings. The industrial school ceased 
classes in 1920, the historically important (and for a long time the most 
prominent) structure fell into decay, its sandstone walls finally crumbling to 
bulldozers a scant few years ago.

Its loss is only partly compensated for the fact it is a well documented and 
photographed story of the archival section of the Red Deer Museum.

Standing out among the industrial school's workers, was a fellow named Domoney 
who, because he lived on the opposite side of the river to his place of work, 
crossed on horseback when the Red Deer was low, and swam across the sometimes 
turbulent stream when it was broad and high. Almost alone in the district, he 
saw the onset of winter as a most convenient time.

Counting among their ancestors, some of the pre-1900s settlers are the families 
Allison, Herbert, Pierce, Lawrence, Doan, Braithwaite, Erickson, Greenwood, 
Gaetz, Hepburn,Thompson, Grimson, Schrader, Morris, Phillips, Cunningham, 
Swainson, Johanson, Forss, Vandaele, Lewis, McKain, Bjarnason, Chandler, 
Budvarson and Dallaire, to name but a few, who flourish today in the established 

Numbered among the few but eminent men of Icelandic letters, one of that small 
republic's poets is a man whose greatest output occurred while he homesteaded 
near Markerville on the Medicine River. Stephan Stephansson settled near Hola 
Bridge. In the modest settler's home, the poet turned out the poems that have 
made him immortal in the hearts of his countrymen who read a mixture of 
reverence for the island nation and find appealing his reflection of the new 
land that welcomed so many of his countrymen before and during the turn of the 

The Alberta government, recognizing the international importance of the 
Markerville farmer's literary fame, has re-created the farmstead, aptly 
preserving its essential rustic modesty. To this place annually, come hundreds 
of citizens of both Iceland and Canada who pay th~ir respects to a man who saw 
and penned the best of the two countries.

While completion of the Dickson Dam on the Red Deer River is several years off, 
it is already a major provincial attraction where sightseers are adequately 
accommodated. In the planning for 10 years, the dam is an engineering wonder and 
has been designed to stablize water flow for downstream users, including two 

Immediately west of the City of Red Deer, on the old Red Deer Crossing, Fort 
Normandeau has been preserved, incorporating the original lumber of the stopping 
house which was already in place when the Northwest Rebellion broke out in the 
spring of 1885.

Part of a line of communication strongpoints established by the government in 
preparation for a protracted civil war, the fort was erected under the command 
of Lt. Bedard Normandeau of the 75th Quebec Regiment of Foot. Like Normandeau, 
the string of forts established for the Alberta Field Force are named after the 
French-Canadian officers who oversaw their construction.

Another point of interest is the Content Bridge flats, north of Delburne, on the 
Red Deer River. A heavily-used provincial park now marks the spot where Indian 
tribes are said to have rested in their migrations through Rupert's Land. It has 
been the site of recent archaeological diggings which are yielding valuable data 
on the first inhabitants of Alberta. It is said that even warring tribes could 
find peace and reconciliation, for a time, on this sacred meadow.

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