Alliance - A History
By Muriel Fankhanel
The Village of Alliance site was laid out in 1914 because Canadian Northern had title to the residential area known as ‘the hill’, Canadian Pacific had title to 400 acres of slough including the present Main Street. Because of these two ownerships the settlers couldn’t form a hamlet or a village so they had to be governed by a Board of Trade, which in due time informed the railroad they would make no more payments until the area was drained.
Eventually, this was done and Tom Edwards, who had succeeded in the task of buying the slough land from Canadian Northern requested for his efforts in settling the land issue to have the town named oger his hometown of Alliance, Ohis. The request was granted. As we say “there is nothing small about Alliance except the number of people who live here.”
Alliance was severely hit by the flu of 1918. On November 2nd of that year the Provincial Board of Health issued a notice that said:
- No person could enter or leave Alliance by train
- All public gathering places were closed
- All premises having the flu had to post a sign announcing it.
- All persons in the village and province had to wear a mask when outside his residence.
The Alliance School was closed and turned into an Isolation hospital. The Hotel loaned the beds, bedding, and personnel services. The newly built cemetery buried its first flu victim in November. Then in March, 1919, influenza hit Alliance and District again. This time a rural resident, Alfred Smith lost his wife and five children. Many within a few days, all buried in the Alliance Cemetery. The killer seemed to be pneumonia setting in.
Alliance Cemetery may be the site of the first columbarium in Alberta. A columbarium is a room or building with niches for funeral urns to be stored. Designed and built by John Spady. Sorry there is no space left in it. If you are dying to get in there you will have to take a space in the new one.
The elevator saga is an interesting one. For a while, in 1916, farmers weighed their loads of grain at a local weigh scale and then shovelled the grain directly into the railway cars. Shortly thereafter, two elevators, Imperial and Alberta Pacific, were ready for business. Not long after that the track had to be extended to make room for additional elevators–that way no one had to build in the slough.
In the fall of 1972, Pioneer Grain moved an elevator from Mile 4, just out of Camrose to Alliance. The history book does not say how long the trip took. It does say 9 miles were covered on the first day. At its peak Alliance had 7 or 8 elevators. Today, we have a first class loading facility. Alliance Grain Group Limited was formed and they have built storage bins.
Media (in Muriel’s notes she said to leave this one out, but it’s too good to do so)
For a small community, Alliance has had its share of media coverage. Gold Slink, of Global News, did an Alliance Program for his Our Town series. His focus was the museum before it was home to its estimated 1000+ dolls. As well, he interviewed local artists and took footage of the village’s public art. Later some of our local ladies were featured on TV, out of Lloydminster, showing off the dolls in their new museum building.
There were plenty of cameras around when two village Councillors died due to a car accident, when the arena roof collapsed due to an overload of snow, and about a year later they were back when the hotel burnt to the ground.
CFCW promoted and was on hand with its critters hockey team who took on the local Rockets in a fundraiser for the new arena. The community was told that it was the largest monetary return they had ever had for their show. The Community Press, along with its local reporter, do a super job of promoting Alliance.
Alliance’s Memorial Arena was opened December 29, 1948. Local carpenter “Forgie” drew up the plans and supervised the work crews who were mostly volunteers. It was the second such structure in Alberta at that time. It was destroyed by a snow overload a few years ago. The “Forgie” done was unrepairable.
Once a decision to rebuild was made. Funding and building committees were struck and the work began. The fundraising was kick started by a huge donation from Peacock Energy, a very successful dinner and auction, which included many jerseys from professional hockey persons or clubs, and numerous other donations. The Critters Hockey Game and many hours of donated labour means the Alliance Community Multiplex is in operation and is debt free.
So now you know, that the only thing small about Alliance is the number of people that live there!
Ankerton - A History
By Muriel Fankhanel
Thanks to the foresight of a few local residents, who produced a history book, we have a few tidbits to share about the community of Ankerton. Building of the community started in 1915, with the construction of a General Store. At its peak, Ankerton had two elevators, a fuel supply facility, a post office and all the amenities needed for an active community.
You might wonder why the communities are so close together. The answer is so the horses and drivers could make the trip, with a load of grain and return home on the same day. As a means of transportation improved, less communities were needed, resulting in their slow disappearance from the landscape. As for Ankerton, by 1965, both elevators were closed as was the post office. The last mail delivery was made in 1971.
The result was pretty much the end of the community. In fact, I can’t locate Ankerton from the railway even with the help of conductor, Jerry Weller.
I have a couple of personal memories of the community. One is playing ball there. They always had a good ladies team–almost good enough to beat the Heisler crew. They also had a good Senior baseball team, and they always hosted the first sports day of the season–May 24th.
Another memory was in those days road signage was uncommon. When strangers came into the store asking for directions, our teasing reply would often begin with “Well first you have to go to Ankerton.”
Caboose - A Definition
By Muriel Fankhanel
Caboose - according to the dictionary, the definition of a caboose is a car on a train, usually at the end, for housing the crew etc. Well, our caboose is close to or far away depending on the weather, we are pushing or pulling our load. When the Friends of the Battle River Railway are using the caboose, we use it for passengers. There is a great view from the uppermost seats.
The Conductor uses it as well, especially when we are pushing the passenger car. Our interactive theatre actors use the caboose for those train excursions that we have interactive train experience, like the Murder Mystery excursions in November.
Forestburg - A History
By Muriel Fankhanel
Like most of the communities along the line, Forestburg began at Duxbury with a general store about two miles south of Forestburg. Built by Asa and Gus Hastings in 1908, the family gave their name to the Hastings Coulee District west of Forestburg. If you were to travel out of Forestburg to the Battle River Bridge crossing you would pass the Hastings Coulee School which is a two-room school. This gives us some indication of the large size of the community.
Train service began in the community of Forestburg in January 1916, and their station was very close to the location of our present station, which was moved to its location several years ago from Heisler. Forestburg Post Office was officially registered in 1917. The nearby power plant and coal mining operation has had a major impact on the positive development of the community.
A common explanation, which I accept, is that the Canadian Northern Western Railway avoided all the existing settlements and created its own townsites instead. The Railway received land grants as part of the deal for developing the railway. Thus, as townsites developed, the railway received the revenue from the sale of lots.
The name Forestburg was suggested by Bidwell Thorton, after his hometown of Forestburg, South Dakota. The train came through Forestburg from Edmonton to Alliance on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and returned on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. The passenger car would be attached to the end of the line of freight cars with the caboose at the end.
Forestburg has been a winner of Communities in Bloom and they continue to put on a great showing each summer.
Friends of the Battle River Railway - A History
By Muriel Fankhanel
Someone once said “The Rule of nature is living for others. The sun doesn’t keep its own heat, the trees don’t keep their own fruit, and flowers don’t keep their fragrance to themselves. All of these things are given for the benefit of others.” So we (Friends of the Battle River Railway) don’t keep the passenger car to ourselves, we share it with you.
Short History (for recounting on the train)
A short while after Battle River Railway came into existence a group of thirteen people, from the communities along the line, activated their dream of operating a tourism train on the line. On March 29, 2012 Shortly after the Friends of the Battle River Railway Society was formed, our stated goal was to promote and encourage participating, support and community involvement in a tourism railroad. Our second objective was to purchase a passenger car.
To this end a silent and live auction, and a dance were held in Alliance on April 3, 2013. We did it! Result - the car you are riding in today. In June of that year (2013) the building that the train departed from in Forestburg is now our Station, meeting place and our planning and function place. A CFEP (Community Facilities Enhancement Program) Grant allowed us to make much needed major renovations to the building.
We enjoy showing off our beautiful communities, our wildlife, sharing our history and activities. Our rail line is continuous welded steel and has about 60 crossings.
Full and detailed history
A few years after the formation of the Battle River Railway NCC a group of interested people started dreaming of teaming up with them (BRR) to run tourism trains on their line. On March 29, 2012 thirteen people from the surrounding communities met to discuss the feasibility of such a venture.
On March 6, 2013 this group formed a not for profit society called Friends of the Battle River Railway Society. Our first objective was to promote and encourage participation, support and community involvement in a tourist railroad. Our second objective was to purchase a passenger car. To this end a supper, silent and live auctions and dance was held in Alliance, Alberta on April 13, 2013. Through the hard work of the group enough money was raised to purchase the passenger car.
In June of 2013, the group was able to purchase a building for a reasonable price in Forestburg. After a great deal of cleaning and fixing we have a building which we have named “The Station”. This is where we hold our meetings, do the planning needed in running a successful business and hold our functions. The Station also functions as a museum for train memorabilia, a gallery for train related artwork and a conference and banquet facility for both public and private events. We applied for and received a CFEP (Community Facilities Enhancement Program) grant for our first stage of major renovations.
We are now in our third year of operating train excursions for people of all ages, from near and far. We enjoy sharing our beautiful countryside and wildlife, our history, and the uniqueness of our individual communities.
Information about our excursions or how you can charter our train or rent The Station can be found on our website (www.battlerivertrain.com), on Facebook and Instagram, brochures and in Go East of Edmonton Travel Guide & website.
Galahad, Alberta - A History
By Muriel Fankhanel
At one time, the Galahad Post Office, named Love Land, was closer to Alliance than Galahad. A small community grew up around the Post Office. However when the rail line was laid out that little community wasn’t included so in 1911, the community moved and was renamed Galahad, after the fabled King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table.
It was incorporated into a village in 1918. Gahada had one of the first hospitals in the area. It opened in a 6-room teacherage, and was staffed by four nuns and two doctors. One each from Galahad and Alliance. A year after it opened it was donated to the nuns by the owner. In 1954, a new hospital opened with 40 bed capacity. In 1958, the hospital admitted 1400 patients. I know patients who were admitted from as far away as Heisler. Both my tonsils and appendix were removed in the Galahad Hospital. Later a shortage of nuns forced them to turn the hospital over to the Hospital Ministry of Alberta. Active treatment no longer exists, but they still had a top notch long term care facility until 2021.
Several years ago, the community decided to take advantage of its name to promote itself by giving their streets Mediaeval names. They have a Knight in Shining Armour and had at a time a nice collection of gargoyles. The last time I checked there was only one left.
Galahad is now administered by Flagstaff County as a hamlet, but that does not stop them from being a very active community. Galahad has a community of dedicated people who work very hard at holding patron oriented functions like pub afternoons at the hospital and interesting and enjoyable functions in their great community hall. And for those who are up to it might like to try out their open air skating rink.
Galahad was named after the fabled King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table.
- So the first thing I want you to look for is a knight on his horse.
- Look at the names of the streets. I’ll have questions to ask you later.
- I want you to look for gargoyles. You have to look up on buildings to see these as they are carved humans on animal faces or figures projecting from the gutters (eavestroughs) of buildings. Their job was to act as a spout to carry the water away from the wall.
- (On Easter Run) look for the Easter Bunny and see how many eggs you can find!
Village of Heisler
By Muriel Fankhanel
Heisler is unique among the communities on our line in that it began where it stands today. What is not unique is that its brith saw the death of two well established communities. Spring Lake to the north and Wanda to the south. Homesteaders came to the area in 1907. As soon as the railway company had decided it's route a quarter section of land was purchase from Mr. Martin Heisler and he was given the privilege of naming the new community. He selected Heisler and Alma. I guess you know which one was not chosen. Later, then a piece of land was needed for a church, Mr. Martin Heisler donated the land and Mr. Begonick donated the land for the cemetery. Thus the name of St. Martin’s Church.
In 1915, Thomas Heidmiller moved the first building into Heisler. He opened a general store in the area where the community hall now stands. The second building to arrive was soon to be a hardware store. My grandfather, Bill, was the second person to move in his house, putting it on two lots. Quite recently it was demolished. Bill brought these buildings from Spring Lake to operate a garage and a much needed blacksmiths. Later, he added a few dealerships including Overland Cars.
The village grew to having all the necessities and more – a pool hall, drugstore, telephone office, a hall (built in 1919, called the Opera House and the Chautauqua, when it was was in the area) and a livery stable, which provided shelter for weary horses after long trips for supplies and coal.
Before water wells were drilled in the settlement, the water was hauled from a mile away on a stoneboat and barrels. As with other communities, Heisler had a small jailhouse with small barred windows.
The first school, 1918, I quote from the History Book:
“Heisler is the center of one of the best agriculture, mixed farming districts in the Province of Alberta. Had an abundance of coal mines.”
The community CWL was organized in 1923, and two years later my grandmother was the first person, from Heisler, to attend the CWL convention in Edmonton. She went by train–how else!
Heisler is home of one of Alberta’s most successful authors, Robert Kroetsch. He has written a delightful short story about his attempt at playing baseball, saying the only reason he was allowed to play was because most of the older men were away helping with the war effort. Robert was a teen at the time. Two stories - none of his books in the local library and hold water.
In 1915, the first Hotel was built and operated by the Schores Brothers. Robert’s father (Paul) and Ambrose Kroetsch supplied the financing. The Heisler School was staffed by Catholic teachers and nuns. It was not a separate school, it was a public school.
Heisler has always been a baseball community and the huge baseball glove advertises what the community is all about. The plaque lists the names of the people who were instrumental in promoting the sport. Recently, the Heisler Sports Grounds were dedicated to Doug Walbeck, who coached the men’s baseball team for years.
Heisler Hotel - A History
By Muriel Fankhanel
In 1915, Heisler's first Hotel was built and operated by the Schores Brothers. Mike was the chef and dishwasher. The same year as the street went through. The first station house was built in 1916. Ten years later, 1925 the hotel was on fire. The fire protection unit arrived with two barrels of water and buckets of sand. Not enough deterrent as the building burned to the ground. A new brick building was constructed and the village of Heisler could boast about one of the finest brick hotels in Central Alberta.
My best memories of the Hotel were from 1950-1958, when it was managed by the Kantens. Partially because Mrs. Kanten was a great cook who measured her baking ingredients on our store scales and thanked us by sharing her delicious baking.
From 1968-1973 it became Heisler Holdings and was operated by a numbered company. During this period a modern motel was built and the hotel was remodelled to contain a larger bar and a dining room where meals could be served. When my father died my mother was left with a Junior high aged son to raise. How thankful we were that she was able to obtain employment with compassionate hotel owners.
A quote from the Heisler History book:
“The town of Heisler can boast of the finest brick hotels in Central Alberta built in 1925”.
The new owners purchased the building in August of 2012, because they admired it. In 2013, the building was designated a municipal heritage site. The main brick clad facade, window frames, original stairwell and the front balcony are all part of the presentation and protected aspect of the building. Three years after the date of possession the hotel reopened for business.
Kelsey - A History
By Muriel Fankhanel
Activity in preparation for the building of this rail line started in Camrose in 1913. The hamlet of Kelsey was established in 1902, and the railroad came through in 1915. As with many of the communities along the line, a STation was built, beside the tracks, more or less in line with the community hall.
A church was built as were four grain elevators along with all the other amenities needed in a community. One of these necessities was a post office, which was still in operation until 2021, when the last postmaster retired. The mailboxes were relocated to the entrance area of the Community Hall, so residents can still pick up their mail locally and post a letter.
Community halls in rural communities are a centre for gathering and community activity. Kelsey is no different in this respect. In their Community Hall, they put on a very popular Dinner Theatre in the 1940s. It was re-started several years ago and turned 25 years old in their 2017 season. It is inactive now but we are pleased that they rent it to us when we load our train at Kelsey. Through the encouragement of Battle River Railway, blue fertiliser bins were built.
Ever wonder why so many little communities spaced out about 14-15 km apart, both along this short line railway and Highway 13 (which runs parallel to CN line)? The distance between communities is the same distance a horse-drawn grain wagon can make in a day. This area has long been a grain producing region, and the communities grew up around the main economic activity – agriculture.
Rosalind - A History
By Muriel Fankhanel
During the years of 1915-16, the village of Rosalind was laid out. Mr. MacDonald built his general store. Liebings shopped their first grain and since the elevator was not finished the grain was shovelled from a loading platform direction into the train cars. At this time many farmers sold their grain directly to the port terminals as they were not with the then system of buying and grading used by the elevators.
This disenchantment led to the forming of the first cooperative grain company. By March of 1917 enough shares were sold locally to allow for the building of the United Grain Growers elevators. Alberta Wheat Pool opened in 1928 and Pioneer in 1929. Unfortunately Rosalind lost its school a few years ago. Students are now bussed to Bawlf. The school was repurposed in the 2020s as a local brewery, opened by the Languille Family, who attended the school as students themselves. The Detention Brewery officially opened in spring of 2022. Bringing new life and offerings to this community, as well as opportunities for FBRR and excursions to visit the brewery.
In my early days Rosalind had a good ladies softball team and to my knowledge they still have a men’s baseball team. I appreciate that years ago they took the step of planting spruce trees along the track for our viewing pleasure now. They have a nice community hall and lots of new homes feeding the Camrose market I suspect.
Ankerton is next. You might wonder why so many communities were established so close to each other. The answer is that they had to be close enough so that a farmer and his team of horses could make the trip to the community with a load of grain and be able to return home in a day. As the means of transportation improved there was less need for all these communities so they slowly began to disappear, as did Ankerton.
St. Martin’s Catholic Church - Heisler, Alberta
By Muriel Fankhanel
The Village of Heisler grew very quickly and soon had all the necessities except a church. Those that had moved from Spring Lake continued to attend their church for a time. However, many other settlers were also of the Roman Catholic faith.
About 1918-1920 they felt it was time to have a parish of their own. They began the process of requesting the bishop to approve a church for them. By this time many of the people from the St. Peter’s district had moved to Heisler, and they were very instrumental in obtaining a church in the new village.
Heisler’s first church had been a restaurant. Most of the furnishings were homemade. The priest, from Spring Lake, ministered the new church. Two years later the congregation grew to the point where a large building was needed. The land for the new church was donated by Jacob Heisler, in memory of his father, Martin. Thus, St. Martin’s Church came into being, along with its large cemetery. The land for the cemetery was donated by Charlie Breganek.
The materials for the church came by horse and wagon from Daysland, and the construction was in the hands of the parishioners. Money for all the inside furnishings were provided by the parishioners. The organ was donated b y the John Tarnowski family and was used until 1952. I (Muriel) sang many a mass with accompaniment of that organ. While the first organist was Franceis Niehaus (nee Tarnowski) most of my years of singing were accompanied by a nun. In 1952, an electric organ with amplifiers was donated by the Clarence Hauck family. The first organ went to Wanda, and the last I know of it was stored in the St. Peter's Church.
The Church belfry was added in 1924. Heisler didn’t have a resident priest until 1923 and he was also in charge of the Rosalind and Bawlf churches. Frank and Mary Badry were the first couple to be married in the new church. In 1924, a steeple was added (in my opinion, a much needed addition given the plainness of the Heisler Church in comparison of the inner grandeur of the Spring Lake Church, and the majesty of the two steepled churches of St. Peters.)
1930 - St. Mary’s at Wanda became a mission of St. Martin’s. Rosalind and Bawlf ceased to be part of the group. Father Martin baptized Muriel. Reverend Rolheiser came to Heisler in 1951. During his stay, the Church was enlarged. A new bell tower was also created. Father McCarthy took over the parish in 1955. He and my father were great friends. They met during the years when Hickey was a seminarian and returned to Heisler for the summer. My dad was employed by Paul Kroetsch. Hickey spent his summer break working for Paul as well., and teaching catechism for the priest of the time. When he returned to Heisler, he and dad renewed their friendship through their love of baseball by coaching the two teams. Couldn't do it nowadays.
The Short Line Railway Story
By Muriel Fankhanel
In 1915 or 1916, a rail line was built from Camrose to Alliance, Alberta, 59.7 miles of track. Eight new communities were built along this line. Many years later, the line was upgraded to 132 lb steel. Many elevators were situated along the line.
Around 2003, in response to a threat by CN Rail to begin abandoning or decommissioning the line, a group of farmers banded together to form a new gen cooperative and counter CN’s plan.
In 2009, CN advertised the line was for sale for commercial use, the group bid on it as they believed it represented a valuable community asset, and could not be allowed to disappear. An active campaign to raise the funds was undertaken through several types of shares which allowed any interested person or group to buy in.
They were successful! Shortly after they were loading grain cars and the line communities became active in using the rail line.