It had taken some time but by 1890, the Calgary and Edmonton Railway Company was incorporated and ready to begin laying down track between the two communities. At the time, it was taking five days by stage coach to travel between the cities but with a railway that trip would become mere hours.
It had taken some time to get the railway built because of strong opposition from Eastern Canada. This was because those in Ottawa felt that the population of the region was far too small for a railway. In 1890, the population of Calgary was bout 3,500 people. Edmonton only had a population of 2,500 at the time.
Despite the opposition, John A. MacDonald insisted that a railroad was needed for the transportation of cattle and produce from the west.
Within two months of stating there would be a railway, 150 men in 60 work teams began grading out to the west from Winnipeg. On April 24, 1891, the first train of the season arrived in Red Deer from Calgary with materials an everything needed to build the rest of the line to the north. Every ten miles there was a siding and every 20 miles there would be a station and water tank.
In June of that year, the 16th siding north of Calgary was spiked down. The men continued on but that siding would one day have a name. For now, it was just a stop in the middle of nowhere between Edmonton and Calgary.
On July 15th, the rail tracks reached Edmonton and the first train to go over those tracks would run on July 27 at 11 p.m. That rain would run past that siding 16, which at the time was just a quiet stop with not much to it.
As settlers began to arrive in the area, they decided that Siding 16 needed a name. It would be Father Lacombe who would suggest the name Wetaskiwin. In Cree, it means ‘the place where peace was made’.
While Wetaskiwin was nothing more than a railway stop with no services in 1891, people quickly began to arrive and settle in the area. Once L.T. Miquelon set up the first store in the new townsite that had just been laid down, growth was off and running for the community of Wetaskiwin.
If not for John A. MacDonald and his insistence of a railway in Alberta, Wetaskiwin’s history may have been very different or at least delayed somewhat.
The Wetaskiwin Bottling Works
I would also like to mention the Wetaskiwin Bottling Company in this column. While I was unable to find too much on it at this point, Jackie and Eldon Grinde provided me with a picture of one of the bottles from the old company. The company had been established around 1904 when Wetaskiwin was beginning its booming growth. With the new works, it would bring the soft drink industry to the community. Also related to that name, I found a humorous story regarding Bob Edwards, editor of the Wetaskiwin Freelance in the 1890s. When he arrived in Wetaskiwin and started the Freelance in 1897, he had wanted to call it the Wetaskiwin Bottling Works, because he said it would be a ‘corker’ but his friends convinced him Freelance was a better name.
Suggestions for columns or questions? E-mail Craig at firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen to his podcast by searching for “Canadian History Ehx” on your podcast platform. Find his show on YouTube by searching for “Canadian History Ehx”.
Information for this column comes from Siding 16: An Early History Of Wetaskiwin to 1930 and Wetaskiwin.