The History Of Entwistle

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CraigBaird

The Indigenous

For thousands of years, after the glaciers retreated from the area, the Indigenous occupied the land that would one day be Entwistle. They would move through the area, following wildlife depending on the seasons, and even today artifacts from that past can still be found in the form of arrowheads and other items.

The area was primarily the territory of the Tsuu T’ina, the Stoney and the Cree. In later years, the Metis would arrive as Canadian settlers pushed them in from the west. Nearby to Entwistle is the Kelly Lake Metis Settlement.

Today, the entire area sits on Treaty 6 land. 

Founding Of The Community

The start of Entwistle comes, as with most places on the prairies, thanks to the railroad. Specifically, it was the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway that was coming through. James Entwistle knew that the rail line would not be able to pass the Pembina River, at least for a few years, and by creating a community nearby on the line he would be able to develop it into a boomtown.

That is exactly what happened. As work on a bridge slowly began, John Entwistle watched as the railway construction crews began to camp along the Pembina River in 1908. He built a general store on his land to cater to them. When construction on the bridge began so that the railroad could be extended, the community began to boom around his store.

With enough people now arriving, the decision was made to get a post office. Up until this point the community was called Pembina, but there was already a Pembina and the federal government rejected the name. Other names such as Burke and Hammer were suggested but these were also rejected due to duplication. Eventually, residents started to suggest the community be named Entwistle, something John Entwistle was embarrassed by. His wife, Mary, submitted the name anyways and it was approved.

Entwistle would often say after about having his name on a map, quote:

“It wasn’t me who put it there, it was Mary.”

On March 26, 1909, the Village of Entwistle was incorporated and one month later, John Entwistle became its first mayor.

While the bridge was finished in 1910, and workers began to move west, some stayed in Entwistle to work in agriculture and the local coal mines.

The same year the bridge was finished, the Grand Trunk Pacific decided that since Entwistle and Evansburg were so close to each other, they only needed to have one train station. The company decided to put the train station in Evansburg but the people of Entwistle were furious over this choice, as can be expected. The company then decided to build the train station one mile east of Entwistle, the minimum distance allowed from the other train station. The company then bought up all the land around the train station, stating it was the future site of Entwistle, in a bit of a shady move to make money off the town moving to the train station. Instead of moving the town, the people of Entwistle just decided to walk to the train station rather than move the town.

On Feb. 16, 1942, the village became a hamlet as its population had declined, but would once again become a village on Jan. 1, 1955. On Dec. 31, 2000, it again reverted to being a hamlet.

Before we move on, I want to talk about Old Entwistle. Less than two kilometres to the east of Entwistle, there is the hamlet of Old Entwistle. With a population of only 20 people, it is easy to miss but those who live there claim that their hamlet is all that remains of the original village of Entwistle. There is little proof to this beyond the fact that they have the name Old Entwistle.

Diamond Capital Of Canada

Diamonds are not something that Alberta is known for, but for a brief time, Entwistle was a hub for diamonds. It all began in 1958 when Einar Opdahl, a resident of Entwistle, was prospecting along the banks of the Pembina River when he found a diamond of .83 carats. He had dug four holes into the river bed, and in the largest he found the diamond.

Skip Schaning would say later, quote:

“He was a dreamer and he was convinced there was a diamond pipe in Alberta. He didn’t find a pipe, he just found the one diamond.”

Described as a perfect octahedron with eight faces, he sold it to a gem cutter for $500, or $4,600 today.

Schaning continues, quote:

“Then he sold it, got some money for it and a pocket watch, with chips from the diamond on the balance staff.”

Little happened after this point, until the diamond company De Beers staked a claim in the Peace River area in 1990 and everyone remembered the diamond that was found in 1958 in Entwistle.

Several Alberta-based companies began to stake diamond claims around Entwistle in 1992, and a mini boom in diamond prospecting happened, and Entwistle claimed itself as the Diamond Capital of Canada.

As for Opdahl, he died in poverty in 1988.

Yellowhead Highway Bridge

One of the most impressive bridges in the area is the Yellowhead Highway Bridge, which runs along the Pembina River Viaduct and was built between 1961 and 1962, the year it opened for traffic. It would close in the spring for some added maintenance and then one year after it opened, on July 23, 1963, a crowd of 1,500 people gathered on the bridge to watch the grand opening. The mayors of Entwistle and Evansburg were on hand, as was the chief bridge engineer. The ribbon was cut by Gordon Taylor, the Minister of Highways for the province.

The bridge is impressive, especially as you drive over it, since it is 207 feet high, and 900 feet long. Its construction cost $1.7 million or $15 million today. When it was built, it was the highest bridge in the entire province.

Residents of the town turned the entire day into a festive occasion, with children riding across the bridge on decorated bikes. Ed Neighbor, a longtime resident of the area, drove across in his antique automobile.

The construction of the bridge also meant that Highway 16 would no longer go through Entwistle or Evansburg, but would pass just to the south of the communities, something that would impact them both for years to come.

Tipple Park Museum

If you venture over into Evansburg, which is right next to Entwistle, you can visit the Tipple Park Museum. At this small museum facility, you can tour through the Mazeppa House, one of the most historic buildings in the area

In addition to touring the various historic buildings that are located on the grounds, you can tour through the exhibits in the main building, which highlight the history of the area, the settlers who built up both communities, the railroad construction and the Indigenous heritage that stretches back for thousands of years.

The name itself honours the coal mining history of the area. A coal mine tipple was a major component of the coal mine, and Tipple Park, where the museum is located, sits on the site where the infrastructure for the original coal mine once stood.

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Pembina River Bridge

One of the most stunning structures in the area is the Pembina River Bridge, and it also happens to be one of the most historic. Construction on the bridge began in 1908, and it was the construction of this bridge that would influence John Entwistle to build a store nearby. There were no cranes big enough to carry steel, so the false bridge and scaffolding were all built from wood. The bridge itself was built in pieces in Scotland, assembled and tested there, and then dismantled and sent to Canada in pieces. 

The pieces then arrived in Entwistle via the railroad and was reassembled in 1909. The measurements made the engineers of the bridge were so accurate, that no modifications at site were needed. The bridge rises to 214 feet and runs 910 feet. It is the fifth highest railway bridge in Western Canada.

The bridge is still in operation today, connecting Canada to the Pacific Ocean through the Canadian National Railway. On average, the bridge sees 20 trains a day cross it.

1918 Business District Fire

I often like to cover fires that happen in a community because it helps to show how a community has changed over the years. A fire is something that can lead to changes in structures, safety and much more and they often serve as watershed moments in a community’s history.

The worst fire to ever hit Entwistle happened early in its history on May 15, 1918 when most of the business section of the town was completely destroyed. The fire had started at the Farmers’ Hotel and quickly began to spread. While there was plenty of water available for use to put out the flames, the hand engine was not adequate and a fire break could not be made because there were no fuse caps for the dynamite that was in town. The fire break would have created a buffer between the hotel and the other stores, but this plan was abandoned.

By the time the fire had burned through, it had destroyed a general store, a flour and feed store, a pool room, a barber shop, the barracks for the Royal North West Mounted Police, the Farmers Hotel, and several other buildings. In all, $40,000 in damages was reported, would amount to roughly $652,000 today. There was some good news. A barn and residence, along with several other buildings were saved thanks to the hard work of firefighters.

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