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Paradise Inn & Suites Valleyview Blog

October
25

Discover the rich history of the Edson to Grande Prairie Trail

posted by: Paradise Inn and Suites Valleyview on: October 25, 2013 8:06:28 PM


Valleyview has played a vital role for travellers heading north for well over a century. From as early as the 1880s, it was a transportation hub and offered multiple stopping points along the Edson to Grande Prairie Trail – a route many Canadian homesteaders came to rely on.

Today, there are highways with every convenience a traveller could want, but pioneers on the road back then faced many hardships. Read on to find out more about the Edson to Grande Prairie Trail and the role that Valleyview played in its brief but fascinating history.

Opening up the north
The Edson to Grande Prairie Trail was opened by the Alberta government to encourage homesteaders in northern Alberta. The trail was only used from 1911 to 1916 because, by early 1917, a railway had been built from Edmonton to Grande Prairie making the trail obsolete.

By 1909, homestead areas were offered and the northern land rush was on. During the winter of 1910 -11, labourers battled steep hills, freezing weather and thick forests to create the trail, which included bridges and ferry crossings. 

The trail opened in March 1911 and the first prospective homesteader was Harvey Switzer who set out on March 5 and arrived in late April, a trip that takes less than four hours today. In 2005, the Edson Trail Historical Society filmed a docu-drama re-creating the making of the trail to show a new generation the challenges their ancestors faced.

Valleyview was site of many stopping places


No one knows exactly how many people travelled the 400-kilometre Edson Trail during its brief lifespan, but historians estimate 13,000 people braved the rough track through forest and muskeg.

There were no hotels, but Valleyview included more than a dozen stopping places such as Fatty Smith's three-tiered bunkhouse, the Hudson's Bay Company post and Marshead Creek where many travellers left their heavier belongings as the track got steeper. Those belongings eventually sunk into the muskeg, lost forever. Once the trains started, the trail fell into disrepair and the forest reclaimed its territory.

Today, there are only a handful of old stopping points that still show evidence of the past, including the St. Francis Xavier Mission. This site houses a functioning Catholic church and historic cemetery. 

One way to travel the trail is by using an interactive map that includes downloadable GPS points, historic photos, diary entries from the pioneers and other information.

Remembering the hardy pioneers
In 2011, to mark the trail's centennial, the Homestead Rock Cairn Project was dedicated near what had been the Calliou stopping place in Kleskun Hills Provincial Park. The cairn honours the homesteaders who settled in Valleyview. Many of the stones in the cairn came from the early homesteads and are carved with names, dates and the homesteads' original locations.

If you're staying in Valleyview and want to learn more about the trail, the public library includes a gallery of historic photos or you can use the interactive map to plan out visits to these pioneer spots in person.
 
And the perfect base for anyone interested in reliving the area's history is the Paradise Inn and Suites Valleyview. Located just five minutes from the town centre, we offer affordable hotel accommodations and top notch amenities including a heated pool with waterslide, fitness centre, hot tub, meeting rooms and a 24-hour Tim Hortons restaurant.
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