For centuries, the land that Hinton sits on today was home to the Plains Cree, the Nakota, Denesuline and Saulteux. Due to Hinton’s location near the Yellowhead Pass, it was an important place for the Indigenous to journey through in order to trade with the Indigenous of the interior of British Columbia.
Today, Hinton sits on Treaty 6 land.
In 1810, David Thompson arrived in what is now Hinton and he would camp for two days while preparing to journey into the interior of British Columbia. He would then camp for another 25 days just to the west of present-day Hinton before journeying on to reach the Columbia River.
Originally, the community was nothing more than a station house, built at Mile 978 west of Winnipeg. It was in this spot that an Indigenous group had left members stricken with smallpox in 1870, while the rest of the group travelled to Lac Ste. Anne to get medical aid. For some time after, this area was known as Smallpox Camp. In 1888, a trading post was established nearby by Jack Gregg, but settlement would kick into high gear when the railroad arrived.
Hinton is unique among many communities in how it was formed from several communities. A construction camp was built in the area on the flats at Prairie Creek in 1908. In 1912, a second town was built near where a coal mine was expected. Then, in 1914, the Canadian Northern Railway created a station called Bliss. Then, one year later Dalehurst was built and was known as the official post station for Hinton and was named for the timekeeper who operated the main store during the construction of the railways. There was also a settlement named Entrance near to where the entrance to Jasper National Park is now.
From these communities, Hinton would be formed but it would take some time. It was named for William P. Hinton, the vice president and general manager of the railway. Despite its formation, it would not be until 1928 that the Alberta Directory would even recognize the existence of Hinton. Over time, the various communities faded but by 1955 there was Drinnan and Old Hinton. These two communities would be amalgamated in 1957 and the new town of Hinton was formed.
In 1917, a series of cabins were built along the edge of what is now Jasper National Park. These cabins were built for surveyors and forest rangers and were typically one day’s journey apart. One cabin that still stands and is located south of Hinton is the Gregg Cabin, named for John Gregg, one of the earliest surveyors in the area. The cabin was the primary picnic shelter in the area for many decades, and while it still stands to this day, a larger picnic shelter was built on site in 1999 to protect the cabin from overuse.
An interesting place to check out is Brule Mine Landscape, located west of Hinton near the entrance to Jasper National Park. Brule was established by the Mackenzie and Mann Coal Mining Company in 1912 and it would operate until 1928 when the coal mine shut down. Today, little remains but there are still several of the mining building that stand and can be explored to this day.
In 1928, to the west of Hinton, the Mile 58 Forestry Cabin was built by forest ranger Jack Glen. The process took two years, with help from other rangers. Built for its isolated and rugged area, it is a simple structure built of logs harvested from the area. The Dominion Forestry Branch, which was formed in 1899, used the Mile 58 Forestry Cabin until October 1930 when the forestry reserves and their facilities were transferred to the Government of Alberta. After this, the cabin was used by the Alberta Forest Service for decades until it was replaced by the nearby Grizzly Cabin in 1960. Unlike most of the other cabins, the Mile 58 Forestry Cabin was not demolished or abandoned. Since it was closed as a ranger cabin, it has been maintained, voluntarily, by hikers and trail riders in the area. The cabin continues to stand today and in 2019, it was made a Provincial Historic Resource.
Hinton would begin to boom in 1931 when the Hinton Coal Mine was opened, but The Great Depression would cause the population to fall to just 100 people and Hinton seemed to be fading away and into the category of a ghost town. I’ll talk about what brought it back from the brink in just a little bit.
On March 30, 1938, tragedy would strike the mine when an explosion took the lives of five miners. About 800 feet below the surface, 10 men were working when an explosion erupted. William Aitken, the fire boss, was injured but he would rescue four injured men out of the area, saving their lives. Aitken had been badly burned on his hands but he still fought through flames to rescue the men. Four of the men who were killed died instantly but a fifth man lived long enough to be taken 200 feet away from the room where the explosion occurred, where he too sadly died. The miners had been drilling holes to prepare to fire shots of dynamite to dislodge the coal in the mine and it was believed one of these shots caused the blast that killed the five men. This was the first disaster for the Hinton coal mine. Later investigation would find that the men had died from suffocation in the blast. It was also believed upon the investigation that the drill had caused an ignition of the gas, which caused the explosion.
In 1952, a child named Bob Nystrom was born in Stockholm, Sweden. When he was four-years-old, his family moved to Hinton and it was there he would grow up. In his youth, he would play minor hockey in the community and prove to be one of the best hockey products ever produced by the community. After starring with the Kamloops Rockets and Calgary Centennials, he would be drafted by the New York Islanders in 1972, 33rd overall. While the team was terrible when he joined it, the Islanders would continually improve and by the end of the 1970s, they were one of the best teams in the league. Considered one of the hardest working players on the team, Nystrom was an integral part of the Islanders Dynasty that won four straight Stanley Cups in the early-1980s. In fact, on May 24, 1980, he would score the Stanley Cup winning goal in overtime to begin that dynasty run of Stanley Cups. Devoted to helping the community and charitable organizations on Long Island, Nystrom gained the nickname Mr. Islander. From 1972-73 to 1985-86, Nystrom played in 900 games with the Islanders, the only NHL team he ever played for, recording 513 points. He had actually finished with 899 games when an eye injury ended his career but his coach, Al Arbour, asked him if he wanted to dress for one more game to reach 900. He accepted the offer and took to the ice as the Islander fans cheered him on. He would play for five seconds, then return to the bench, never to play again. In 1991, the Islanders created the Bob Nystrom Award, presented to the player on the team who best exemplifies leadership, hustle and dedication. On April 1, 1995, his number 23 was retired by the Islanders. In 2003, he was inducted into the Nassau County Sports Hall of Fame, followed by the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.
This boom that hit the community was described as the third in the history of the community to that point. The first boom had been in 1910 and 1911 when the railroad construction came through, creating prosperity for the community for two years before that boom ended. The next boom came in 1928 when the Hinton coal mine started up and more than 2,000 people were living in the area. After the mining disaster, the mines would begin to close and Hinton once saw itself moving towards being a ghost town. Hinton was essentially a whistle stop along the railroad until the pulp mill came along.
In 1955, a pulp mill was constructed near to Hinton, now a place with only a few people in it. This brought rapid growth to the area and a new village was developed and named Drinnan in 1956. The two communities amalgamated into one town on April 1, 1957, forming the present Town of Hinton.
Upon its construction, the Hinton pulp mill was producing 400 tons of pulp per day. This pulp was then shipped out in 500 pound bales on the railroad. Each year, it was estimated that the pulp mill would export timber from two million acres, producing 150,000 tons of pulp, with a future capacity of 350,000 tons.
With the $50 million pulp mill, Hinton saw its population reach 3,000 people in what was described as the third, and greatest, boom in Hinton’s history. Part of the $50 million was $10 million towards building up the community with new services and homes for its workers. In 1957, 216 homes were built, along with 66 new apartments, to accommodate 1,500 new people coming to the community. Trailer camps were also set up to accommodate the increased population who were looking to work at the new pulp mill. The town was also investing in a full serviced natural gas, water and sewer utilities. New stores were popping up everywhere and the community was well on its way to becoming one of the most important towns in Yellowhead County.
On Feb. 8, 1986, Hinton would suffer through one of its most tragic days in its history. It was on that day that a freight train was leaving Edson at 6:40 a.m., heading to the east. Around the same time, the Super Continental was at Hinton and left late from the track, heading to the west. At 8:40 am., the lead locomotive of the freight train collided with the Super Continental. On the passenger train, one coach was crushed by the freight car after it was thrown in the air by the collision. Two sleeper cars were thrown on their sides, while the mid-train locomotive was severely damaged.
A bartender in the dining car would say quote:
“All hell broke loose. It kept coming, it hit, then it hit again. All of a sudden, the windows started coming in. I was looking out the window and I fell out that window.”
Macdonald would be treated for broken ribs.
Perry Warniski would be saved by grain in the crash. he would say quote:
On the train was Martin Pederson, who led the Saskatchewan Progressive Conservatives from 1958 to 1968. He would say quote:
“When the explosion hit, the car I was in buckled. A cascade of wheat came by the window. I leaped about 10 to 12 feet through this pile of wheat and landed in it. I think it was the only thing that saved me.”
Pederson was injured by a pane of glass exploding in front of his face.
The disaster killed 23 people and injured 71, making it the deadliest rail disaster in Canadian history at the time. After 56 days of testimony, it was found that the collision was caused by the freight head end crew failing to stop their train due to unknown factors, and the conductor failing to use the emergency brake to stop the train. The inquiry also highlighted serious flaws in Canadian National Railway’s culture and safety practices.
One of the most recognizable parts of Hinton is found in the form of beautiful woodworking on the Welcome to Hinton sign. The wood statue depicts a cougar and two kittens reclining under the sign. The idea for this went back several years and the cougar has been the unofficial mascot of Hinton for years. Finally, in 2014 Roger Roy, a local craftsmen, pitched an idea to create a statue in a public space. With the community’s ties to the timber industry, it was decided the best option was a wood carving. The task then fell to Pioneer Log Homes, who had a show on HGTV, to make the statue a reality.
On Oct. 27, 2016, in an event attended by many people in the community, the local MLA and all of town council, the cougar statue was installed and even filmed for an episode of the Timber Kings television show. On Sept. 14, 2017, Mayor Rob Mackin, town administration, town council, community members and sponsors gathered at the statue to dedicate it as a Legacy Project Statue. Today, the cougar statue is a great place for a photo, especially a selfie for Instagram, or a video for TikTok.
You can also learn about the history of the area at the Northern Rockies Museum of Culture and Heritage. Located in Hinton and housed in the original Grand Trunk Pacific Railway Station, you can immerse yourself in the history of the area through its portable tablet displays, and tactile displays that look at the human, industry and natural history. There are also many artifacts from the community’s history to explore in this wonderful museum.
Forestry has always been an important part of the history of Hinton and is literally tied to the prosperity of the community. The history of forestry in the area is celebrated in the Alberta Forest Service Museum in Hinton. The museum was established to preserve a history of forestry in Alberta and is located off the environmental training centre campus for the Environmental Training Centre. The school had started in 1951 in Kananaskis and continued in Hinton beginning in 1960. Within the museum, you will learn about forestry in the area, the rangers who kept the forests safe and the men who worked in the forestry camps, away from their families, for weeks and even months on end.