History of Spirit River & How It Became the Oldest Town In The Peace Country.

In 1888, the Hudson Bay Company began a cattle ranch four kilometers to the southeast on the banks of the Spirit River to serve traders at Fort Dunvegan...

The History of How Spirit River Was Named

The Central Peace was initially inhabited by the Beaver First Nations and later on, the Cree.

In Cree, Spirit River translates to Chepi Sepe, which means Ghost River. Through different tribes there were many legends for why the river's name was chosen. One was the belief that when the wind whistled through the trees it was the voice of a deceased woman's spirit who was buried in a grove of trees.

The second legend was of an Aboriginal who thought he saw the lights of spirits in the river while he was washing his face, these lights turned out to be the sunlight reflecting off of the 'fool's gold'.

The third legend came about after an Aboriginal killed a deer and needed help. He called to his tribe for assistance and was shocked to hear his own voice echoing back. He believed this was spirits calling out to him so he ran back to camp where his tribe dropped everything and quietly slipped away.

From this, Spirit River gained its name; full of beauty and mystery.
Old SPirit River

History Of The Spirit River Settlement.

In 1888 the HBC began a cattle ranch four kilometers to the southeast on the
banks of the Spirit River (from "Chepe Sepe" Cree for Ghost or Spirit River -
recorded in the fort Dunvegan journal as early as 1854) to serve traders at
Fort Dunvegan.

In 1907 the Spirit River Settlement was surveyed using the old river lot system. In 191 5, to the northwest, on Section 22, the ED & BC RR subdivided a townsite called "Spirit River Station".

The residents and storekeepers at the old settlement then moved, creating a village in 1916. The name was shortened in 1920 and the Village became a town in 1950.
Fun Facts Of Spirit River
The First Church In Spirit River

St. Andrew's Anglican Church

In 1903 the Anglican Church opened St. Phillip's mission in the Spirit River
Settlement and started the first school using a Presbyterian building.

In August of 1920, the name was changed to Spirit River Anglican Mission, and then again changed to St. Andrew's Anglican Church in 1925.

The present Anglican Church was built in the years 1929 — 1931.

The Parish Hall, now on the grounds of the Spirit River Museum, was the Willowvale Church moved in 1959 from six kilometers south.

The Railway.

J.D. McArthur's company recieved a federal charter to build a rail line from near
Edmonton to Fort George, B.C., using a route north past Lesser Slave Lake. By
1916 the rail bed was completed to Dawson Creek but a shortage of steel meant
that the rails would end at Spirit River.

The Edmonton, Dunvegan and British Columbia (ED & BC) Railway secured Section 22 as a station and town site in 1915. The arrival of the railroad ended the old site on the banks of the Spirit River and brought an end to the the use of overland trails from Edson to the south and Grouard to the east.

The first train arrived in Spirit River on January 17, 1916. The arrival of rail service dramatically changed the lives of the settlers, as travel was now easier and businesses would get supplies in much more readily.

Falling profits and escalating costs eventually led to rail service to Spirit River
being abandoned in 1998. Just east of town the rails still remain, used primarily to park empty boxcars.
History of the SPirit River Railway

The Bank

A branch of the Union Bank of Canada was established in Spirit River in 1915.
It consisted of some space in a corner of Revillionts Trading Post. The bank was
given a compartment in the safe to start business.

Settlers were surprised and pleased to find that the bank had opened in town.
On September 1st of 1925 the Union Bank was absorbed by the Royal Bank.
It was not until 1944 that operations finally broke even.

The Royal Bank remains in operation to this day.

Main Street Fire.

Main Street Fire

1917 saw a serious fire when a blacksmith shop and hotel burned down.

On June 25, 1921 fire started in the general store and spread to consume businesses on both sides of the main street for two blocks.

A total of 21 businesses (3 hotels, 3 general stores, 2 hardware stores,
2 meat markets, 2 restaurants, barber shop, confectionary, harness/furniture store,
candy/toys/book store, notary public, * ? * implement dealerships, shoe repair shop
and one residence were destroyed.

All commercial outlets supplying the town went up in flames. Damages were pegged at about $300 000.00, a significant amount at that time.
History of SPirit River Main Street Fire
History of Spirit River Grain Elevators

The Grain Elevators

The Gillespie Grain Company built the first elevator in Spirit River in 1915.

Grain was hauled to the "end of steel" from the west with horses and wagons
using the completed railroad bed. All but one annex were destroyed by fire
in 1948. They were re-built and eventually six served area farmers.

There were three owned by the Alberta Wheat Pool, two by United Grain Growers and one owned by National (later Cargill). Rail service to Spirit River was cut in 1998.

Four of the elevators were dismantled and two burned down. Farmers from the area now haul their grain to any of the three large terminals that have replaced the elevators that once existed in every town.

Just east of Rycroft is the Cargill grain terminal. United Grain Growers and the
Alberta Wheat Pool built terminals two miles south of Rycroft.0

Today they are operated by the Pioneer and Lois Dreyfus Companies.
Copyright © 2024 Town of Spirit River