Ardrossan had been the territory of the Cree for centuries, long before the arrival of Europeans in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Blackfoot were located to the south, resulting in occasional conflicts but the Cree’s territory stretched throughout the area and into Alberta and Manitoba, all the way to Hudson Bay.
The bison would also migrate to the area in the summer, providing a valuable food source for the Indigenous that would aid them through the long winters of what would become Central Alberta.
Today, Ardrossan sits on Treaty 6 land.
By the turn of the 20th century, the area around Ardrossan was seeing the arrival of homesteaders, looking to start a new life in Canada. By 1900, what would become the Ardrossan District had been settled, and with it came schools, churches, post offices and eventually a community.
The founding of Ardrossan dates back to 1909 when the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway arrived through the area, springing up various communities including Ardrossan. As a new railway stop, Ardrossan needed a name and that was where a Miss Edmiston comes in. She came from Glasgow, Scotland with her family in 1887, who began to ranch in the area. The oldest of five children, she would help raise the children of the home after her mother died. She would eventually marry Inspector Snyder of the Royal North West Mounted Police and after time in the Yukon, she and her husband and children bought a farm near the future community.
She gave the name Ardrossan in honour of a resort town in Scotland whose name meant “height of the little cape.”
She would sell her farm in 1920, and moved back to Scotland, where she would live until her death in 1927.
A Reverend Dr. McQueen would say of her generous spirit quote:
“Wherever she was, she was always looking after people who needed help. She was a very fine character and her deeds will live after her.”
Since I’m talking about her in a podcast nearly a century after her death, I guess he was right.
In the early 1900s, a house would be built nearby to Ardrossan that became one of the most impressive buildings in the entire area. The Bremner House was built by James Charles Bremner and his wife Edith, and the couple would live there from 1912 to 1929. William Schroter would then move in with his wife Nellie and their 10 children. They lived in the home from 1930 to 1970. Throughout these years, the home served as a meeting place for the area due to its size. Both families were also very active in the community, further increasing the importance of the house in the area.
Today, the Bremner House is a rare example of an early Craftsman-style dwelling that has been constructed in a rural location. It continues to stand to this day, a 5,400 square foot example of a prominent rural home. In 2009, it was made a Municipal Heritage Resource.
Just to the northeast of Ardrossan, there is Elk Island National Park. This park, called an island of conservation, is the eighth smallest National Park in Canada but the largest fully-enclosed national park in the country.
Within those 194 square-kilometres, there is the densest population of hoofed mammals in Canada, including coyote, moose, lynx, beaver, elk and, of course, bison.
The area of the park had been used by the Indigenous for centuries, and over 200 archeological remains of campsites and stone-tool making sites have been found in the park. After Europeans arrived, the area was used for hunting and timber harvesting until a fire tore through in 1899. At that point, the federal government designed the area as the Cooking Lake Forest Reserve. The trees were now protected, but not the elk, moose or deer within it.
In 1906, five men from the area put forward $5,000 and petitioned the federal government to create an elk sanctuary. Called Elk Park, it was given federal park status in 1913 and became an official National Park in 1930.
In 1907, the Canadian government bought one of the last, and largest, remaining pure-bred bison herds from a herd in Montana. Soon after, nearly 400 bison were shipped to Elk Island and then moved on to Buffalo Park near Wainwright. Not all the bison made the journey and about 50 to 70 evaded capture and stayed within the park. These escapees are the ancestors of the 400 pure-bred plains bison and 300 wood bison that now live within the park. The success of bison in the park has allowed bison to be reintroduced to several places including northeastern Montana, Alaska and the Russian Federation.
While the bison history of the park is interesting, what I want to talk about is the Ukrainian home within the park.
In 1951, this replica pioneer cabin was built to honour the Ukrainian Canadians who pioneered in the area. The pioneer home is a one-storey rectangular log structure that has been covered over with white plaster. Its hipped roof is covered with thatch and features a centrally located chimney.
Ukrainian people came to the area in high numbers during the first few decades of the 20th century and the homes they built are quite similar to the one that was built in Elk Island Park. The heritage designation of the building states quote:
“The Pioneer Home is a very good and attractive example of the traditional form and plan of a Ukrainian homestead. This building also illustrates the settlement patterns of Ukrainians in Western Canada as this region developed at the turn of the century.”
The building has remained unchanged since its construction, the home has become a landmark of the area. The landscape around it includes aspen, poplar and spruce trees, with a view of Astotin Lake.
Another thing that makes this building historic is that it was the first museum or historic site ever dedicated to Ukrainian immigration in Canada. In 1993, it would be designated as a Classified Federal Heritage Building.