Dating back thousands of years, the Indigenous people lived in the Beaverlodge area along the Beaverlodge River, which they had named Uz-i-pa, meaning “temporary lodge” by members of the Beaver First Nation. The Beaver people, whose original name was the Dunne-za, which means “those who live among the beaver” originally had lands farther to the east as well, and inhabited to the west towards Fort St. John. In that area, artifacts from their ancestors have been found that date back 10,500 years.
In the late-1700s, the area began to open up to fur trading and Alexander Mackenzie was one of the first Europeans to arrive in the area, where he would establish Rocky Mountain Fort in 1794.
The Beaver name for the Indigenous of the area comes from an English translation of the name used by neighbouring tribes to the Dunne-za.
Prior to the 1820s, bison were found as far north as Beaverlodge and the upper Peace River area and Indigenous traders would sell bison meat and grease to traders to use on their expeditions. By 1823 when the Hudson’s Bay Company was operating in the area, the bison were too scarce to be a viable trading commodity for the Indigenous of the area.
The First Settlers Arrive
As the west was opening up to settlement, people began to come to the area in droves looking for great land and better lives than they were living elsewhere in Canada or Europe. One of the earliest groups of settlers to arrive were part of the Bull Outfit, which was named for the oxen that were part of the driving teams bringing settlers to the area. Coming from Ontario, they brought farm implements, goods and supplies to begin building lives in the area. Traveling from Ontario to Edmonton in 1909, the Bull Outfit was made up of the several families including the Sherks, Smith, Crabb, Walton, Lossing, Flint, Cranston and Miller families. All members of a religious group, they would travel along the Athabasca Trail, which was common for settlers to use.
Once the families arrived, they would establish a post office under the name of Redwillow, although some sources say it was called Redlow, in 1910 with R.C. Lossing serving as the postmaster. The first store was opened one year earlier and the children were educated out of a shack with nine students being taught by a Mrs. C.A. Drake. Soon after the community began to form in those early years, the name would be changed to Beaverlodge. The name was changed because of all the lodges that were built along the river by the Beaver Indigenous.
Two more schools would built to accommodate the growing number of children. The community was booming enough that
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In the late 1920s, something would happen that was important to a community’s survival. The railroad would arrive, but for Beaverlodge it didn’t come through the community that was already there. After almost two decades of existence, relatively long in a situation like this, typically a community is only a year or two old when it happens, the community moved. The railway was only two kilometres away, but the entire community was moved over to where the railroad was coming through. When the railroad reached Beaverlodge, 200 people attended a banquet, with a brass band, bonfire and banquets to celebrate the arrival of the new connection to the world.
By 1929, the Grande Prairie Herald published an article about Beaverlodge and its rapid growth, stating, “August 1928, a bare field. September, a railroad grade, October a hum of building activity, November, the construction today, January, a regular passenger service. Today, a bright, clean, solid town drawing traffic from 35 miles of wonderful country.”
At the time that article was printed, Beaverlodge was booming with six elevators being built, seven stores, two lumber yards, two garages, one hotel, three restaurants, several offices and homes, along with a brick public school.
From there, the community would grow to a population of 2,500 today and has become one of the most important communities in northwest Alberta.
The Beaver Statue
When you go to Beaverlodge, the first thing that you notice is the giant beaver statue that has become a centrepiece for the community and one of the most popular attractions in the area.
The idea for what was called The Beaver Project was started by a local man named Alex, whose name I don’t actually know how to say and I don’t want to mispronounce it but it is spelled Lojczyc. He wanted to give Beaverlodge something to lift the spirits of the town and bring tourists to the area. In February 2004, the idea began to take shape and grant applications were submitted, while donations were canvased through the area.
On July 16, 2004, the Beaver Sculpture, which had been hauled in by truck from Calgary, arrived in the community. It would be unveiled on July 21, 2004 to mark the 75th anniversary of the incorporation of the community. Surrounding the statue is interpretive signs that detail the history, habitat and behaviour of the beaver. It will also one day have murals around it highlighting the history of the community, but more on that later.
The beaver weighs 1,500 pounds and is 18 feet long, 10 feet wide and 10 feet high. The beaver sits on a log, which itself weighs 1,500 pounds, is five feet high and 20 feet long. It took 90 gallons of polyurethane to coat the statue, with 13 gallons of paint and 18 blocks of foam to build the structure, which was built by Heavy Industries in Calgary.
Located next to the giant beaver statue, the centre is situated within the building that had served as a hospital in the community beginning in 1937. It was used as the local hospital for many years until it was replaced. In 1992, after extensive renovations, it was opened as the cultural centre for the community.
The Beaverlodge Research Station
The station was founded in 1917 by W.D. Albright. He had begun experimenting with grain varieties in the area in 1914, which would transition into the establishment of the Dominion Agricultural Research Sub-Station.
W.D. Albright had been born in Ontario on Aug. 15, 1881 and the family would move to a fruit farm near Beamsville, Ontario when he was 13. In 1903, he graduated from the Ontario Agricultural College and began to work for The Maritime Farmer, a farming magazine, until 1905. In 1913, Albright and his new wife left Ontario and moved to Beaverlodge. Impressed by the agricultural potential of the area, he began to conduct agricultural experiments on his own land.
In 1917, the government rented 20 acres of land to establish the aforementioned substation, which he was paid to operate on a part-time basis. In 1919, he became superintendent of the station and in 1940, the entire farm became an experimental substation. One year later, it was designated as a full-scale experiment station, the northernmost one in Canada, with Albright serving as director until 1945. Through his work, he was able to find lucrative cereal crops to grow in the area, as well as new farming practices. He would also promote the region heavily around Canada, encouraging farmers to move to the area. He would pass away on April 29, 1946 in British Columbia and in 1954 was named a Person of National Historic Significance.
Today, it exists as the Agriculture and Agri-Food Research Farm.
Sometimes called Saskatoon Hill, there is evidence on this mountain of human habitation going back 9,500 years. One of the more interesting facts about the hill is that it was the only site in the area not to be subjected to the effects of glaciers during the last ice age. The plants found in the area were not found anywhere else in the area.
The first homestead on the mountain was owned by Fred Grier.
Due to this history, the provincial government would turn the area into a provincial park where people could come to gather berries and picnic.
Everything would change when the site was chosen for a new radar site and 214 acres of Saskatoon Mountain were leased to the federal government, restricting access to the area for the citizens of the area. The provincial park was removed but parts of the remaining area of the provincial park not being used by the radar site was leased to farmers to graze their cattle. The radar site itself would be built on the former homestead of Fred Grier, where a forestry tower had been set up as well. Under the Department of National Defence, the area had a Pinetree radar station that acted as part of the Early-Warning Radar System that was set up by the United States and Canada in the case of a nuclear attack from the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Things began to change in 1985 when an announcement of the closure of the site came. Among the 49 civilian workers at the site, 26 were eligible for transfer but 80 per cent of those workers wanted to stay in the area if they could find suitable jobs.
By the 1980s, 105 military and 49 civilian workers were at the site. Several proposals were put forward but Beaverlodge would submit a proposal to return the mountain to its natural state. Their proposal for CFS Beaverlodge would state: “Our mountain belongs to the community. It was bad enough to give up the site to the Department of National Defence. We do not want the view, the wilderness and beauty to be denied us forever. Beautiful natural areas are disappearing all too fast. If this should happen, we would rather see the site restored to its natural state.”
In June 1988, the military began packing up and by the end of June nearly everyone was gone from the site. On Aug. 31, 1988, the gates closed for good on the radar site. Over the next year, all evidence that a radar base had ever been there were removed except for the radar tower. The site was then seeded with grasses and allowed to regenerate to its natural state. In 1992, the site was returned to the Province of Alberta. The main radar tower would stay in place until 1994 when it was finally demolished. On July 26, 1995, Saskatoon Mountain was designated as a Natural Area that covered 1,766 acres and today is an Alberta Provincial Park once again.
One of the first homesteads set up in the Peace Region was the McNaught Homestead, set up by Charles and Eliza McNaught in 1911 when they were part of the second group of Christian Association settlers to come from Ontario to the Beaverlodge area, although they were not affiliated with the group. In those early years, the farm consisted of six buildings that still stand at the site including a two-storey log house, a pump house, two barns, a schoolhouse and a chicken coop. This is one of the most complete collections of buildings dating from the first wave of settlement into the Peace River Region. Another important aspect of the homestead is that the daughter of Eliza and Charles was Euphemia McNught, who came to the region with her parents in 1912. She was a highly gifted artist and would attend the Ontario College of Art in 1929, where she was instructed by J.E.H. MacDonald and Arthur Lismer, two members of The Group of Seven artists. She would come back to the homestead of her family and set up a studio in the former schoolhouse on the property. She would gain national renown for her work, including have it displayed at the 1931 Calgary Stampede. In 1942, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King would commission her to document the construction of the Alaska Highway. She was a founding member of both the Grande Prairie Art Club and the Beaverlodge Art Club and was made a lifetime member of the Alberta Society of Artists in 1985. In 1977, she was awarded the Alberta Achievement Award of Excellence in Art and in 1982 she was the first recipient of the Sir Frederick Haultain Prize. She would pass away in 2002 at the age of 100, and after her death many of the pieces painted at that schoolhouse on the McNaught Homestead were featured in the National Gallery of Canada.
South Peace Centennial Museum
Within the 40 acre museum you will find many amazing structures including a trading post, church, community hall, general store, blacksmith shop, barn, as well as a large collection of antique tractors, steam engines, horse drawn wagons and antique automobiles. The museum itself was established in 1967 with the mission of preserving the past of the area.
The museum also features a grain elevator that was built in 1929 and located at Albrite, near to Beaverlodge. Originally owned by Federal Pacific Grain and then the United Grain Growers, it was sold to Fosters in 1964. Originally, the plan was to move the grain elevator already located in Beaverlodge to the museum, but it was in poor condition and could not be moved as a result. In the spring of 1996, the two United Grain elevators in Beaverlodge, which had both been built in 1928, were demolished.
The Beaverlodge Murals
I come from Stony Plain, where there are dozens of murals, so for me murals have always been a great way to show a community’s history.
In Beaverlodge, there is a project underway to bring murals to the community and I had the pleasure of interviewing Jim Drabble about the Beaverlodge Mural Project, so let’s go over to him.
Unlike many campgrounds that just have facilities and camping stations, the Beaverlodge Campground actually features a historic site. The Lower Beaverlodge School, which was built in 1912 and used as a school from 1912 to 1947. It was eventually restored and moved to its present location 1986 where it was dedicated to the pioneers of the Lower Beaverlodge and District. For a period of time, it was the tourist information booth until the cultural centre was built.
Jerry Holland was born in Beaverlodge and would go on to be selected in the third round by the New York Rangers in the 1974 NHL Amateur Draft, and in the second round by the Cincinnati Stingers of the World Hockey Association in the WHA Amateur Draft. Choosing to play with the New York Rangers, he made his NHL debut in 1974-75 when he played one game, scoring one goal for the team. That same year, he would have 79 points in 67 games with the Providence Reds, earning the Rookie of the Year award for the AHL. He would return to the NHL in 1975-76 when he played 36 games with the Rangers, scoring seven goals and recording four assists. While that would be the end of his NHL career, he would play 72 games in the AHL the next season, 11 games in the CHL in 1977-78 and 22 games with the Edmonton Oilers of the WHA in 1977-78, earning three points. His last year of hockey would be 1978-79 when he had 61 points in 52 games with the Spokane Flyers of the PHL.
Mel Knight was born in Beaverlodge on July 30, 1944 and would work as a roughneck and journeyman mechanic, founding his own firm that would eventually employ 55 people. Retiring in 1996, he would be elected to the Legislative Assembly of Alberta in 2001, serving until 2012. During that time, he served as the Alberta Minister of Energy from 2006 to 2010.
Geoff Walker was born in Beaverlodge on Nov. 28, 1985 and began curling at a young age, joining the Charley Thomas rink out of Grande Prairie that would go on to win the Canadian and World Junior Curling Championships. Over the course of his curling career, he would appear at the Brier nine times, winning in 2017, 2018 and 2020, and finishing second in 2016. He would play in the World Championships twice, winning gold in 2017 and silver in 2018. In addition to these wins, he has 10 Grand Slam victories, beginning in 2014 and continuing to 2018.
Matt Walker was born on April 7, 1980 in Beaverlodge and would be drafted by the St. Louis Blues in the third round of the 1998 NHL draft. He would alternate between the Blues and their AHL affiliate teams over the next ten years. After one season with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2008-09 when he had 14 points in 65 games, he signed a four-year $6.8 million deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning. In 2010, he was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers and would finish his career with the team in 2011-12. Over the course of 314 games in the NHL, he had 30 points.