You can support Canadian History Ehx with a donation at https://www.buymeacoffee.com/craigU
Stony Plain holds a special place for me because it is my hometown. It is where I went to junior high and high school and my parents still live near the community to this day. So, being able to make a sponsored episode about my hometown was special.
In 2018, an Aboriginal Medicine Wheel was created and installed at Heritage Park. The wheel was made with different participants making pieces of the wheel, with the wheel representing North East South and West, along with the Circle of Life and the wisdom of the buffalo, the eagle, the bear and the wolf.
The Stoney people who occupied the area, along with parts of what would be Saskatchewan and Montana, were descendants of the Dakota, Lakota and Nakota bands, as well as western groups of the Assiniboine, becoming their own independent group around 1744. The Stoney who occupied the Stony Plain area were termed as the Wood Stoney, made up of two bands. The first was Alexis Band, which included the Stoney, Metis and Woodland Cree, while the Paul’s Band, was made up of the Danezaa, Iroquois, Woodland Cree and Stoney.
They would sign Treaty 6 in 1877, just prior to the arrival of the first settlers in the area. Today, Stony Plain sits on Treaty 6 Land.
Two of the first settlers in the area were John McPherson and Alex McNabb, who picked up land where Stony Plain would eventually be located, with the two helping each other build up their homes and plant the first crop. MacPherson would have a long impact on the district and was elected as the Liberal candidate for the Stony Plain district in the first Alberta election. He would serve until 1913 until he was appointed as the sheriff of Red Deer. He would eventually retire to B.C. and die in 1944 just before he turned 89.
One thing that all school children in Stony Plain know is that the community used to be called Dog Rump Creek. You can actually see a sign for Dog Rump Creek on the Tourist Information building at the Rotary Park in Stony Plain, which is a great place to visit for a nice walk through a beautiful park.
So, how did Dog Rump Creek become Stony Plain?
Before the area became developed by settlers, the area around Stony Plain was heavily wooded with brush and some open plain. The open land was perfect for buffalo and cattle, and with the Indigenous of the area being called the Stoney People, those two things came together to form Stony Plain.
In 1892, when John McDonald applied for a post office, he wanted to call it Stoney Plain, with an e but he was told that he was not situated in Stoney Plain and could not use the name. The area around Spruce Grove was called Stoney Plain at the time, and the creek going through the area was called Dogrump Creek, or sometimes, Dog Creek. Around this same time, settlers from Medicine Hat came to the area and gave it the name Hoffnungsau, which means Hopeful Meadow. This name was never officially registered but some baptism certificates actually mention the name. McDonald though, was not going to be denied his name and he pleaded his case. He said that only bachelors lived in the Spruce Grove area and his area, which he wanted to call Stony Plain, was full of families. Eventually, perhaps because of the persistence, the official gave in and allowed him to call the post office Stoney Plain, and over time the e was dropped to just be Stony Plain without an e. Interestingly enough, Spruce Grove applied for a post office called Stony Plain East but were denied, so they went with Spruce Grove as the communities name.
As for Dog Rump Creek, the bend in the creek south of Dog Lake looked like a dog’s rump, and that is where that name came from.
There is another story that Dr. James Hector, who came through with the Palliser Expedition, saw boulders scattered through the area and that was where the name came from.
As is incredibly common with communities in Alberta and Saskatchewan, there is the old site and the new site to the community. When John McDonald made the decision to donate part of his land for a townsite, he thought the Grand Trunk Railway would be coming through his land. He was wrong as the railroad would go through just to the north of his property. Three businesses began operating on the property before the railway came through, with a general store, a blacksmith and a hardware store. Eventually though, the new Stony Plain settlement would be built next to the railroad. The CNR would arrive in 1905 and erect an excellent station in the new community and connect it to the telegraph, connecting Stony Plain with the world. The buildings in Old Stony Plain would move in the winter of 1905-06, using 20 teams of horse, rolling buildings over the frozen ground. This move is celebrated in a mural in the community, painted in 2008.The blacksmith shop, owned by Jacob Schram, was moved to the new townsite and today the history of that business is celebrated in a mural painted in 2003.
The community would eventually grow enough that in 1908, it moved from being a village to a town, which it remains to this day. In 1908, the population had increased to 1,000 people and an application was put forward to incorporate into a town. The village would officially become a town on Dec. 10, 1908 after approval came from the provincial government. At the time, A.M. Brown, the manager of the Bank of Commerce, was elected mayor. At that same time, Israel Umbach, someone we will talk about later, was given the contract to build the first town hall. That town hall opened with a dance held on Dec. 31, 1909. That town hall would exist for half a century when it was demolished in 1958. A bell would ring every day at noon at that town hall, and was also used to ring in the New Year and to summon the volunteer fire brigade.
Within Stony Plain you will find the Multicultural Centre, which has some of the best ice cream you can find. The centre is situated in the Red Brick School, which was built in 1925 and served as the senior high school. The school was built, as you can expect, from red brick and was situated across the lot from the original school. The land that the Multicultural Centre sits on was actually a Demonstration Farm that was established in 1912, covering 480 acres. Until the 1940s, the high school was surrounded by open fields for the most part. The high school grounds would see several important events in the community. On May 12, 1937, the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth was held on the grounds of the high school, where a tree planting ceremony was held.
Memorial Composite High School, where I actually attended but which is now gone, was built in 1949 nearby to the original high school. From that point and for the next 25 years, the building was used as an overflow and storage area for the school division.
On Sept. 15, 1974 the Multicultural Centre was officially opened by Horst Scmid, the Minister of Recreation, Parks and Wildlife for the province. The building has a place to eat, lots of artifacts and the Cornelia Wood Library on the top floor. Cornelia was born on April 14, 1892 in Missouri and came to Canada in 1904 with her family. In her personal history, she also stated she was a descendant of Sir Walter Raleigh and Thomas Jefferson. Her father obtained land south of Stony Plain and moved out just after Christmas of 1904. Wood had served on the school district’s board of trustees and was devoted to helping the community. In 1963, when the Stony Plain Women’s Institute was commemorating its 50th anniversary, Wood provided 1913 costumes for everyone from her own collection. Wood was the original secretary-treasurer of the organization when it was formed, holding the position until 1918. In 1940, she would be elected to the Legislative Assembly of Alberta, serving until 1955, and then again from 1959 to 1967. In 1981, she was a recipient of the Governor General’s Awards in Commemoration of the Persons Case, one of only five women. In 1982, she was given the Most Honored Citizen award from the Stony Plain and District Chamber of Commerce. She would pass away at the age of 93 in 1985.
At the Multicultural centre you can find a replica of the wheel and chain used by Israel Umbach. Who was that you ask? Stay tuned because I will be getting to that incredible story later in this episode.
The facility has programs throughout the year and speaking from experience, I highly recommend the ghost tours held in October.
Stony Plain Pioneer Museum
The history of the community is highlighted in one of the best rural museums I have ever come across in Alberta. The Pioneer Museum features 23 buildings spread over 14 acres including several buildings from the past of the community, a former school house and the teacherage, which is relatively rare to find these days. Among the 10,000 artifacts located at the museum, there is also a trapper cabin, a church, blacksmith shop and a rural town street recreated to show what the community was like in the small towns of Alberta in the 1930s, called Legacy Street.
There is also The Tea House, which was opened in 2002 on the museum grounds, featuring homemade lunches, desserts, soups and more.
Stony Plain has two festivals that have been going on for several years now, drawing some of the best in their fields to the community. In 1985, the Blueberry Bluegrass Festival was held for the first time at the Golden Spike Community Hall, located nearby to Stony Plain. Over the course of the next 35 years, the festival would feature some very well-known musicians including Jerusalem Ridge, members of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Petticoat Junction and Ricky Skaggs.
Another festival, the Stony Plain Cowboy Gathering, has been going on since 1993, with cowboy poets, musicians and more coming out to perform at the Pioneer Museum.
Growing up in Stony Plain during the 1990s, every year there seemed to be new murals popping up around the community. Across the community, you will find 39 murals located throughout the community, painted by 23 different artists from across Canada.
I won’t go through all the murals you can find in the community, but I will highlight some of my favourite. In 2007, Drive Thru Time was painted to showcase the history of Main Street as it was in the 1950s. In the mural, you will see Wing’s Café, a popular lunch spot and inside are Victor Hochdorfer, owner of Bud’s Men’s Wear and Shoe Repair. J.H. Kulak and Val Kotch, well-known local businessmen from that time, can also be seen in the mural.
In 1992, The First People was painted to celebrate the Indigenous history of the area. The mural features teepees on a snowy landscape. The entrances to the teepees face east to greet the rising sun, while a bald eagle sours above, serving as a symbolic messenger closest to the creator. Wildlife can be seen in the painting as well and the colours used in the mural highlight honesty, Mother Earth, wisdom, the sun, faith and power. In addition, Welcome to Stony Plain is written in the Cree language.
In 1990, The General Store was painted, showing the history of Jacob Miller’s General Store and Post Office. This was an important landmark in the early history of Stony Plain, with Miller serving as the postmaster for the community. He was also the second mayor of Stony Plain from 1909 to 1912.
On Main Street, near one of my favourite restaurants, the Uptown Grill, there is a mural that showcases the history of the Alberta Government Telephones building, which lasted from 1906 to 1963. Tilly Zucht would start working at the building when she was 13-years-old and would be the chief operator from 1923 to 1943. She is portrayed in the mural with her daughter Charlotte.
Dr. Richard Oatway and his wife Grace are depicted in The Country Doctor mural painted in 1992. The couple came to Stony Plain in 1908 and together would raise three children in the community, and practice medicine in the community for 45 years. Their home can still be found in the community, north of the railway tracks.
No mention of Stony Plain can be complete without talking about Glenn Hall, also known as Mr. Goalie. Hall had been born in 1931 in Humboldt, Saskatchewan Hall would buy a farm from David and Della White in the 1960s near to Stony Plain. Hall would go on to win the Calder Memorial Trophy in 1956 with the Detroit Red Wings. He would then play in 13 NHL All-Star Games, win the Vezina Trophy three times, the Conn Smythe Trophy once, and the Stanley Cup in 1952, 1961 and 1989, the last time as a goalie coach with the Calgary Flames. He holds the NHL record for most consecutive games started by a goaltender with 502 games and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1975. IN 1998, he ranked 16th on The Hockey News list of the 100 Greatest Hockey Players and in 2017, he was named one of the 100 Greatest NHL Players ever.
In 2008, a mural was painted to honour Glenn Hall and his legendary hockey career. Hall still lives in the area on a farm near to Stony Plain. The arena in the community is also named for him.
It was in 1907 when an early pioneer to Stony Plain, Alberta, Israel Umbach, was elected as overseer and sheriff of the community. Before we get into his legendary story, we should talk about the railway coming to the community first.
The first railway station was built when the railway came through Stony Plain in 1905, with R.B. Sparkman serving as the first station agent. Stony Plain served as the western terminus for the CNR, helping to make the community a focal point of activity during those early years.
Back to Umbach and his duties as the sheriff of the area. After being appointed on April 25, 1907 to the position of overseer and sheriff, he got down to work with his duties. One of those duties was collecting the taxes from both residents and businesses. This raised a problem with the Canadian National Railway, who decided they were not interested in paying their share of the taxes to the community. Umbach corresponded with the company extensively but to no avail.
Eventually, it reached a point where Umbach decided to take matters into his own hands. When the CNR train arrived one day, he decided to go down to the hardware store and get the heaviest and strongest logging chain that the store sold. With a huge padlock and the chain on his arm, he walked to the locomotive and wrapped the chain around the engine drivers and the track. He then secured the chain with a padlock and told the crew that the train had now been seized and would not move.
This helped to spur along the CNR once the CN agent informed the company of the seizure of the train. The CNR officials and Umbach exchanged some quick telegraphs and they agreed to pay the taxes. Umbach then unlocked the chain and the crew went on their way with their train.
Today, a statue stands in Stony Plain honouring Umbach and his train-chain story, as well as a replica of the driver with a chain wrapped around it. There is also a mural, painted in 1990, that showcases this interesting story from the community’s past.
No mention of Umbach would be complete without talking about the many ways he impacted Stony Plain beyond the train incident. He was a carpenter by trade, and would build the community’s first livery barn, school, bank, an addition on the Royal Hotel, the Glory Hills Reform Church, several homes and the town hall. Israel and his wife Louisa would have 13 children together, and he would pass away on June 6, 1948. Umbach Road is named for him.