Due its location, Alix often saw the Indigenous move through over thousands of years following the retreat of the glaciers. The Indigenous would follow the bison herds that migrated through in the millions, harvesting the animals for many different uses during that time.
When Europeans began to arrive in the area, the area was home to the Blackfoot, the Dane-zaa and the Cree. As Europeans and Canadians began to push from the east in the 1800s, the Metis would migrate into the area and set up settlements as they too hunted the bison.
By the end of the bison age, around the 1880s, the Indigenous were being pushed to sign treaties. Today, Alix sits on Treaty 7 land.
One Indigenous legend from the area apparently gave the nearby Haunted Lakes its name. Years ago, it was said that seven Indigenous hunters went out onto the lake after a deer that was caught in the ice. They soon fell through and died, haunting the lake ever since. According to the locals, a fissure will appear each winter in the lake, breaking through the ice, where the deer managed to break free and find its way back to shore. True or not, it makes for an interesting story.
Founding Of the Community
When the community was still in the early part of its formation it originally had the name of Toddsville, in honour of Joseph Todd, an early settler to the area. That would change on June 3, 1907 when Alix was incorporated as a village. On that day, the name was changed to Alix in honour of Alexia Westhead, the first white female settler of the community. That same year, the first post office was set up in the community. William Pettit would serve as the first postmaster, a role he would have until 1920.
Alix Westhead ran the Westhead Ranch for several years, one of the most prominent ranches in the area. She would move to England in 1913 and managed the Exbury Estate. Her story doesn’t end there though. According to an account by her niece, Alice Whitfield, Alix also captured two German prisoners of war and received a thank you from the government and Princess Beatrice and the War Office. She would remain in England, passing away in 1941.
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The first mayor of the new community was Robert Sanderson, who ran the local general store. He would also serve as the first president of the Alix Agricultural Society, which held its first show in 1909 in a building on main street, with races being conducted along Main Street. That organization would buy 14 acres near Diamond Lake, also known as Alix Lake for $564 in 1910 and they would build a large building there to conduct fairs that were quite popular and would continue to run until 1940.
Today, Alix is home to over 700 people.
Alix Wagon Wheel Museum
Local history is celebrated in Alix through the Wagon Wheel Museum. First formed in 1974, and earns its name from the fact that if one places the village of Alix as the hub in a wheel, the rim circles the historic region and the spokes divide the heritage school districts.
The building actually has a deep history in the community. It dates back to 1929 when it was a pool hall operated by Oliver Siddons, who built it when his previous pool hall burned down in 1928. The building contained living quarters for himself and his family, and even space for the Alix White Lunch café at the front restaurant, operated by his wife. The pool hall was a gathering place for many in the community, but at the time women were not allowed inside.
Eventually, the building fell into disrepair before it was sold to the Alix Wagon Wheel Museum in 1974. The museum and others renovated the building and began to stock it with artifacts from the community’s history. These included the rocking chair of Grandma Mitchell, Jimmy Wong’s abacus and coffee grinder, Lottie Bonham’s hand-made rug and more.
Today, the museum continues to house artifacts from the history of the community, as well as a section dedicated to its most famous resident, who I will talk about at the end of the episode.
The Alix Creamery
One of the most important businesses in the history of Alix was the Creamery building. The creamery was the main industry in Alix since nearly the founding of the community itself. Over the course of six decades, the creamery, which opened in 1916, was a focal point for the community. Opened by N.A. Larsen, a leading businessman in Alix, it did not take long for the creamery to become a place many in Alix wanted to work. The creamery also served as the first home for Larsen and his family. The family would continue to live in the creamery until 1935, when it had become large enough and successful enough that the family could move to their own land.
The creamery was doing enough business that it would have its own electricity generator in the form of a second-hand electric motor that Larsen wired himself.
When the Alberta Dairy Pool was formed in 1935, it began to ship cream to the community. When the Milk Condensery was opened on Sept. 5, 1936, Premier William Aberhart came out to officially open the building.
Sadly, on Feb. 16, 1976, the creamery burned to the ground when a fire started in the freezer room, and spread through the building. By the time the fire was discovered, the roof was collapsed and before long, the building would be destroyed. Within the building, there was 350,000 pounds of butter, as well as equipment, stock and the building itself valued at $1 million. The creamery was not rebuilt, and only the chimney remained and served as a landmark for several months before it too was removed.
At the time the creamery burned down, it was employing 16 people and had handled 8.5 million pounds of butter the previous year alone. The creamery had also gone through a $300,000 renovation just the previous year.
The Big Store Fire
Another terrible fire to strike the community happened on Oct. 4, 1972 when the George Dinnadge Grocery Store erupted into flames. On the top floor were apartments, where the family who owned the store lived.
As they sat down to eat their supper, they suddenly felt thumping in the building and then a slight shake of the building. They believed that a truck had struck the building but when the family went out to investigate, they saw the hallway was filling with smoke. The wife of George Dinnadge went to call the fire department only to realize the phone was dead. Her husband grabbed the fire extinguisher but was unable to get into the stairway as it was too full of smoke.
The family then pushed out the screen in the building window and the family began to drop out the window to an adjacent storehouse, calling for people to notify the fire department. George, before leaving the building, collected his shoes, the family’s cat and the till. By this point, the windows in the ground floor of the building had blown out. All of this happened within three minutes of the family first feeling the shake of the building.
As it turned out, that shake was caused by the ignition of the newly installed gas furnaces in the basement of the building.
The fire that burned was incredibly hot and a breeze was blowing sparks to the roof of the locker plant across the side street, and other buildings nearby. A power pole caught fire and electrical service to the town was quickly lost.
The Bashaw fire department came in to help and the local firefighters fought the fire throughout the night. Unfortunately, the building would be lost.
It was a historic loss for the community as it had stood for nearly 70 years. Through all those years, it had operated as an important store to the community.
On Oct. 5, a fundraiser was held to raise money for the family who had lost everything in the fire.
In 1978, the Parkland Savings and Credit Union opened up on the site of the store that was now long gone.
The Tall Spruce
It may seem odd to devote a part of this episode to a tree, but the tall spruce, as it was called, was one an important landmark in the community for many years.
Standing on a small sandy knoll in a pasture with some other trees, the tree was something that everyone in Alix knew about in the community, it was also quite large. Alice Nielsen would say in October, 1980, quote:
The tree would actually give its name to the local school district, Tall Spruce District.
It was believed that the tree was between 125 to 150 years by 1985 when a wind storm finally took the tree down in a thunderous crash and to the dismay of those in the community who saw it as an important part of their history.
In a letter to the editor of the Red Deer Advocate, Ward Barritt would say, quote:
“Now it is gone, as are so many of the people who knew it and depended on it always being there. As many as six generations of some families had lived or been born under its reign and its end leaves us, the remaining, with a great sense of sadness.”
St Monica’s Anglican Church
In nearby Mirror, you will find the St. Monica’s Anglican Church. Built in 1895, this church still sits on its original spot and has become a landmark of the area thanks to its gable-roofed roof with vestibule and the surrounding cemetery and parish hall.
It is the oldest church in Lacombe County and was constructed by Walter and Edward Parlby through work bees they had organized on their ranches. In 1897, the church was consecrated by Bishop Pinkham of Calgary and was furnished with the assistance of friends and relatives in congregations in England.
The church was the first of three churches to be built in the area and it would see several changes over the years. In 1911, it received new siding, and in 1915 a new bell tower with a wooden ball and iron cross was erected. In 1955, the vestibule was expanded.
The church would continue to operate until 1985 when it was closed due to declining population in the area and fewer members of the congregation. Today, the building has heritage significance due to its role in creating the identity of the area and helping the area become one of the earliest settled districts in Lacombe County.
Without a doubt, the most famous person to come from Alix is Irene Parlby, a trailblazer when it came to women’s rights in Canada.
Born in London England in 1868, Parlby came to Canada in 1896 and by 1913 she would found the first women’s local of the United Farmers of Alberta. Her work with the organization helped to raise her profile across the province. During this time, and for many years after, Irene lived in the Alix area and was a well-known and respected member of the community. Her talents as a hostess were widely commended. She would often host members of the Canadian Press, MLAs and cabinet ministers at her home in town.
That would culminate with her election to the Alberta Legislature in the Lacombe Riding, which she would represent for the next 14 years. During that time, she was appointed as a minister without a portfolio, making her the first woman cabinet minister in Alberta history.
Her most famous role in women’s rights would come as a member of the Famous Five, who took the issue of women being qualified persons to the highest court in the country. The group would win that case and help change women’s rights forever. Soon after its judgement, the first woman, Cairine Wilson, would sit on the Canadian Senate.
Throughout her life, Parlby was an advocate for rural Canadian women and children, and she pushed for public health care services and municipal hospitals.
She would pass away on July 12, 1965 in Red Deer, the last of the Famous Five.
In 2009, Parlby and the other members of the Famous Five were named Canada’s first honorary senators. A mural of Parlby also exists in Edmonton.
In 1966, Parlby was recognized as a Person of National Historic Significance by the Government of Canada and the plaque honouring that can be found in Alix.