Excerpts from Footprints of yesterday & today, St. Walburg & Surrounding Districts, Vol.1
History Of St. Walburg
by Reverend Michael Williams
The history of this community can be traced back to two decisions made outside this region. One was the immigration policy of the Federal Government between 1885 and 1914 which strongly encouraged people from the United States and Europe to immigrate to western Can ada. By 1908, this policy had resulted in people beginning to settle the area north of the North Saskatchewan River. Many of these settlers would eventually help in the foundation of St. Walburg. The second decision was made by the officials of the Canadian Northern Railway (now part of Canadian National) to extend their rail way line in a northwesterly directio11 to the point where it would link up with their line at St. Paul’s, Alberta . This meant that the region would have a direct link with Edmonton .
In this modern age, when we can travel easily and comfortably to distant locations by means of cars or buses, it is easy to forget what the coming of the railroad meant to the early settlers. In a word, it meant that they would prosper .At a time when good roads were nonexistant in the area, and the most dependable form of transportation was a horse and wagon, and oxen, the railway offered great advantages. It meant that farmers in the area could ship their produce to market more efficiently and cheaply. Local merchants also could import goods into their stores more cheaply and easily. The railway would attract other residents into the area because of these features . So the area which received the railway would flourish. This was why the small settle ments in the area looked forward to the coming of the railway with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation. As we have seen a community would flourish if the railway came through it. At the same time if the settlement was bypassed, it would wither as its residents moved to be closer to the tracks.
These small communities bore names such as Clansman, Glenbogie, Red Cross, Bright Sand, Charlotte and St. Walburg. Each of them had developed to serve the needs of the residents of their area. They offered a place to buy food and hardware, while at the same time selling the pro duce of their farms. Typical of these settlements was St. Walburg. Since our community traces its descent from this settlement, it is appropriate that we take a closer look at its history.
History Of Old St. Walburg
Old St. Walburg was located on Section 22-53-22, W3rd, or about three miles south and two miles east of the current town. This community began with the arrival of Rudolph and Walburga Musch in the fall of 1907 from Minnesota. The next year they opened a general store which quickly became the focus of the surrounding area. Homesteaders could go there to buy sup plies and to visit. This socializing was important because the people were isolated from the outside world. It had taken the Musch’s three days to travel from the nearest rail connection at Payn ton to their homestead. Life was also very rough in those early days. Mrs. Musch recalled how the settlers would set grass fires in an attempt to discourage the mosquitoes from entering their cabins. Given this situation, it is not surprising to learn that one of the first things done in the new settlement was to build a sports ground . A ball team was organized , which old timers will remember as one of the best in the region.
However Old St. Walburg was more than a place of entertainment. It gradually expanded its services for the region. A blacksmith shop, a cafe and a poolroom were set up. In 1919 it even acquired a bank when the Canadian Bank of Commerce was set up in a tent. Residents tried to build up the community even more by construct ing a flour mill on the Englishman River. How ever the poor quality of the wheat and transportation problems in getting the flour to the railway led to its failure. So Old St. Walburg was gradually growing. Then in 1919, word was received which sounded the death knell to the residents dreams about the future of their com munity: the oncoming railway would bypass them. Instead the railway station would be built in an area three miles north of them. Quickly the retailers of Old St. Walburg and the other settle ments began to arrange moves to the new com munity. Soon Old St. Walburg and the other settlements would be left with their dreams of what might have been.
The Founding of St. Walburg
Ultimately, it was the officials of the Canadian Northern Railway who decided where our community would be established. Their reasoning was based on economic factors rather than in meeting the desires of the areas residents. One factor was that the station had to be about ten miles distance from the last one. This would allow for the most efficient collection of grain from the surrounding area. Also it met the needs of the steam engines for refueling. This explains why the community was established on a poor site for settlement purposes. There were many sloughs here which would cause problems for many years to come.
The second reason it was established here, was that the area was not densely settled. This meant that the Railway could buy the land relatively cheaply, survey it into lots, and sell the lots to create a profit for itself. Since the Railway was creating its own market it could dictate where the community would go and everyone would have to listen if they wished to benefit from the line. So for these reasons the Canadian Northern Railway did not seriously consider any of the existing settlements.
However they did have to acquire the desired site. For the past five years it had been owned by Mr. Mike Malech, who had homesteaded there in 1914. Title was soon acquired to 5-54-22-W3rd. However, after all these years, what actually happened remains obscure. The records indicate that the land changed hands several times before it was finally acquired by the Canadian Northern Realties Company, the real estate arm of the Railway. Whether this meant that some persons with inside information were taking advantage of the situation to make a prophet, or if it was sheer happenstance is unknown at this late date. However, it happened, the Railway bought the land and had it surveyed into town lots. These were put up for sale.
Many of them were quickly purchased. There was a rapid influx of people as soon as the site of the new community was announced. Within a year the population would climb to 216. It was a young population too. Most of the adults were between twenty and forty years of age. The oldest inhabitant was sixty five. So they had the energy needed to build a new community.
Among these original pioneers were some persons who were to play prominent roles in the new community: Rudolph and Walburga Musch, whom we have already met, Dr. John Finlayson, Leon Jeanotte , Joseph Marsh all , A. N . Schneider, and Andrew Willy. Most of these persons had played leading roles in creating the small settlements in the area. They would now offer this leadership to their new home.
Quickly, the foundations were laid for a thriving community which would serve the needs of the residents of the region . By 1922, the com munity had three general stores, a hardware store, a drug store, a garage, two livery stables, and a restaurant. In addition, a hotel of thirty rooms was under construction .
One of the economic foundations of this new community was the farmer. He was given a local market for some of his produce through Taylor’s Meat Market. Of more importance, was the establishment of the Northland Creameries, under the management of Mr. W. Leison. This dairy provided a ready market for the farmer’s milk , and it was soon shipping butter by the railway carload to eastern Canada.
Another industry of early importance was fishing. Railway cars were carrying out some one hundred thousand fresh water fish at a time. Other cars would carry out loads of fur pelts. These two industries would soon shrink in importance as their source of supply dwindled. However, another industry would continue going strongly for over twenty years. The lumber industry already had five sawmills in the area.
Thousands of ties were cut down by hand and hewed with a broad axe and hauled to town with horse and sleigh. Old-timers still talk about the vast piles of ties stored near the railway tracks. To give solace to the hard working employees of these industries, a more unofficial industry also existed -the production of home made ”brew”. Old timers have many stories to tell about its distillers and their brushes with the law!
A community can not live by making profits alone. It needs other forms of nourishment as well. Providing educational nourishment to the many children of the community, were the teachers of Fish Pond School. Spiritual nourishment for the community was provided by St. Paul’s Union Church (now the United Church). In 1925 it was joined by the Roman Catholic Church of the Assumption. Over the coming years they would be joined by other denominations which would also help in proclaiming the gospel. Some denominations would disappear while others continued in existence. Among these churches were the Russian Orthodox, the Lutherans, the Seventh Day Adventists, the Baptists, the Pen tecostals, and the Jehovah Witnesses. Each one helped to meet the spiritual needs of our commu nity’s residents .
One of the first problems that the new community faced was the question of what to call itself. In other parts of the province, the railways had taken on this task, but in our case, the Canadian Northern Railway allowed the residents to choose the name. Several suggestions were brought forward. Persons from the settlement just north of the village suggested it should carry their old community’s name of Clansman. Some people, no doubt tongue-in-cheek , suggested that it be called St. Brew, in recognition of its unofficial industry. Others suggested that it take the name of the settlement south of the village, St. Walburg. Eventually a plebescite was held and St. Walburg was chosen as the name of the new community .
Over the years, people have wondered where the name originated. The original St. Walburg was an English nun who was created a saint due to her ministering to the German people. With many German residents, the name was a natural selection. However, residing in our community was a woman who bore the Saint’s name, and who was well known for her work in support of her church and the people in the area. The story goes that the town was actually named in honour of Walburga Musch. Typically, Mrs. Musch was very reticent about discussing this subject so no one knows for sure!
In 1921, the real estate agent, A. N. Schneider,set in motion the process of seeking legal recognition for St. Walburg. A broker named A. E. Jacobs was appointed by the Minister of Munici pal Affairs to oversee the process. After a great deal of consulting within the community and filling in a lot of forms, St. Walburg was for mally declared to be a village on January 18, 1922. Rudolph Musch was elected its first Overseer (Mayor) and William McDowell, as its Secre tary-Treasurer. They were the first of many ded icated persons to hold these positions.
While this was going on, an event occurred which was to have a profound impact on the future of this community. The Canadian Northern Railway reached St. Walburg in the fall of 1921. As you will remember, it was planned that this line would continue in a roughly north westerly direction to what would become Loon Lake, and then westward to link up with St. Paul, Alberta. However the economic slump of the early 1920’s left the railway without the funds to continue the line. It announced that construction would be postponed until conditions improved. In 1924-25, it graded the line up to Loon Lake, but no further track was laid. So in a totally unplanned way, St. Walburg became the ‘end of steel.’
The economic impact of this decision was considerable. It meant that the village became the terminus for a much larger economic zone than was usual. Lumber ties, fish, and grain would be hauled into St. Walburg to be shipped out by rail instead of being picked up further along the line. It meant that railway crews would be based here instead of further on up the line. In a word, it increased the prosperity of the community. Despite this, the dream of an extended railway line would not die. As late as 1939, the St. Walburg Board of Trade was urging what was now the Canadian National Railways to extend the line to Prince Albert.
Despite what was seen as a setback, the pioneers of the village continued to have visions of future greatness for their community. There is a strong sense of this in their advertisements for settlers in the North Battleford newspapers of the time. There is a cartoon in the North Battleford News which also suggests this vision. It shows a prosperous Mr. Musch walking down a St. Walburg street surrounded by skyscrapers.
In practical terms, the community tried to get this dream started by hosting the St. Walburg Stampede in 1922. It was held on the land just south of First Avenue East. From all reports it was a great success. Thousands of people appeared to take part in the celebrations, and St. Walburg became a city of tents. Unfortunately after a couple of years of success, financial difficulties led to its ending.
Despite this failure, the economic basis of St. Walburg was firmly laid by the mid 1920’s. It was on this basis, rather than on the basis of some scheme that the community’s future growth would depend.