The History of Keephills

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The area of Keephills, Alberta, to the southwest of Edmonton, was the land of the Cree for centuries, and the upper reaches of the Blackfoot. The ample resources in the area with flora and fauna made it an important place for the Indigenous peoples.

Today, Keephills sits on Treaty 6 land.

According to legend, the Indigenous people were offered land in the area for a reserve but the chief of the band stated keep hills, as they did not want the hills and instead wanted to stay along the shores of Wabamum lake. From there, the name apparently emerged.

In reality, the name came from an early settler, Harry Collins, who named it after a place in Buckinghamshire, England.

In 1900, Charles Cropley was looking for timber when he spotted a flat, clear area at a bend in the North Saskatchewan River. He would establish a sawmill there and had a large group of workers who came from the area that began to work for him.

Harry Collins set up a general store in the community and in 1909, the post office was opened and Collins served as the first postmaster.

The farmers who worked for Cropley lived on one side of the river, while the post office was on the other side. Crossings were done by foot in the winter, and the use of a ferry for the rest of the year.

The same year that Keephills got a post office, residents decided that it was time to build a school for the children in the community. At this point, there was 160 people in the area. The school district was formed that year, but there was still no schoolhouse. To build a school, debentures were sold and with $675 raised, a 24 by 28 foot school was built on one acre of land that had been donated. The first teacher at the school would be Otto Roberts, who taught only during the summer months. By all accounts, no one knew where he came from, or where he went. August Kreye was hired as the second teacher for the school the following year.

As with so many other schools in those early days of prairie communities, the building was used for many other things beyond education. The school was where the first concerts, church services and community meetings were held. An organ was placed in the school to handle the church services, which were held for several years in the building.

The school would continue to operate for decades. In 1954, two classrooms, washrooms and staff rooms were added to the new building that had been built. At this point, the original building was retired.

Eventually, Keephills would move from its original location to accommodate a nearby mine that had sprung up. The new community, which was established by TransAlta, included a school, which is now a community centre, and a community hall.

For decades, the major employer in Keephills has been the Keephills Generating Station. This station, which is a low emission station that replaced the older Wabamum station, was built in 1983 by TransAlta and Capital Power. The facility generated 800 megawatts of power for the province of Alberta.

There are three units in the station. Unit 1 was used for several years but was retired on Dec. 31, 2021. Unit 2 is a 420 megawatts, while Unit 3 is a 463 megawatt unit that came onstream in 2011. Both units are operated by TransAlta.

The facility also has two smokestacks that rise 455 feet into the air.

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