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  C & E trail stagecoach - Glenbow Archives

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The Calgary and Edmonton Trail (C & E Trail)  Revised May 2022

Photo descriptions and credits at bottom of page.

ice free corridorWhat eventually became known as the Calgary and Edmonton Trail (C&E Trail) was developed along a relatively ancient natural north-south glacial corridor several kilometres wide on the western margin of parkland located between the dense forest to the west and the hilly land to the east. It is likely that a large number of people migrated to North America from Asia using this corridor during the latter part of the last glacial period 14,000 years ago and continued their migration southward (although there is evidence that the earliest people were on the continent prior to the last ice age possibly from along the west coast, across the Pacific or Atlantic oceans or an ice corridor prior to the last glacial period that started about 25,000 years ago).

Natural pathways, along with the rivers and their many tributaries, were used by different First Nations tribes for several centuries before Europeans set foot in Western Canada. There is evidence that the Cree, Blackfoot and other tribes used parallel pathways along the corridor crossing the Red Deer River at various points including shallow fords at 'the Crossing' west of present-day Red Deer, a point west of present-day Innisfail and close to the mouth of the Blindman River near present-day Blackfalds. Early European explorers, fur traders and some early settlers also used those ancient pathways.

Cree & Metis at Antler Hill 1890 - Glenbow ArchivesThe central corridor east of the Rocky Mountains was part of the ancient Old North Trail that for 10,000 years and possibly longer was used by inhabitants of the continent to settle and trade from Alaska south to Mexico. Early European settlers and traders in Montana and southern Alberta often referred to the corridor as the Old North Trail.

Other names were used according to who used the pathways or where the primary destination point was. Names that have been used for portions of the Old North Trail corridor in Alberta include the Bow River Trail, the Fort Benton Trail, Overland Trail, Morley Trail, Cree Trail and the Middle Black Foot Trail. In 1800, David Thompson referred to the northern portion of the central pathway as the Wolf's Track (from Fort Edmonton south to present-day Lacombe and west to Rocky Mountain House).
Cree encampment near Innisfail 1898
In 1873, the Methodist missionary John McDougall, his brother David, and his father George, blazed a crude 450-km cart road from Fort Edmonton (originally established in 1795) south to the Peace Hills near present day Wetaskiwin, past the Bear Hills near Hobbema, over the Red Deer River at 'the Crossing' to Lone Pine south of Bowden and southwest to a mission at Morley, about 80 kilometres upstream on the Bow River west of present day Calgary. This 'built' portion of the Old North Trail between Fort Edmonton and Lone Pine was briefly referred to as the Morley or McDougall Trail with the portion between Lone Pine and Morley retaining the name much longer.

The Old North Trail crossed the Red Deer River at a natural and relatively safe ford about six kilometres upstream from the current city of Red Deer where a replica of Fort Normandeau is now located.

Fort Calgary 1878 - Glenbow ArchivesIn 1875, the North West Mounted Police established Fort Calgary and they carved out a wagon trail from there to Lone Pine to join up with McDougalls' trail north to Fort Edmonton. At that time there were no recorded inhabitants other than aboriginals between Calgary and Edmonton although hunter and trapper Addison McPherson had reportedly built a log cabin at the Red Deer River Crossing in 1872.

This new trail became known as the Edmonton-Calgary Trail and was the northern portion of the commercial fur trade and whiskey trail linking Fort Benton in Montana (the head of navigation on the Missouri), with Fort Whoop-Up (Lethbridge) established in 1869, Fort Macleod, Fort Calgary and Fort Edmonton.
C & E Trail stagecoach drawing - The Little Village That Grew
In 1882, a number of former freighters, land surveryors and other pioneers took up claims, mostly on the south side of the Red Deer River, between the ford, referred to as 'the Crossing', and Waskasoo Creek, where the current city of Red Deer was established years later. (Waskasoo is the Cree word for elk or wapiti. Early fur traders misinterpreted the word as meaning red deer.)
The Crossing at Red Deer River c1887 - Red Deer Archives

Early settlers at 'the Crossing' included John T. Moore, Jack Little, William Kemp, George and Jim Beatty, 'Addy' McPherson and Robert McClellan. The Saskatchewan Land and Homestead Company was granted 180 alternating sections of land around the Crossing and further downstream.

More settlers were attracted to the Crossing in 1883. The McKenzies built a sawmill, G.C. King a store and M.P. Collins a stopping house. Ed Barnett was the first settler between the Red Deer River and Fort Edmonton locating at what was later to become Lacombe.

map of Calgary & Edmonton Trail, other trails, stopping houses and railway between Calgary and Red Deer Freighters loading wagons at Calgary for Edmonton 1988 - GlenbowThe arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway in Calgary in 1883 meant a dramatic increase in traffic going north along the Calgary and Edmonton Trail. The first regular mail service along this route was established in July of 1883. John Coleman and Addy Macpherson had obtained the contract to carry the mail bi-weekly, along with some light freight, as well as passengers.

Crude stagecoach on Calgary & Edmonton Trail - Glenbow ArchivesA month later, Donald McLeod established the first stage service, a rather crude adaptation of a freight wagon with a canopy and seats. The fare each way was 25 dollars, a considerable amount of money at the time considering a good wage was $2 a day, allowing a hundred pounds of luggage.

In 1884, Rev. Leonard Gaetz moved his family from Ontario to the abandoned Jack Little claim near the mouth of Waskasoo Creek. Hired by John T. Moore, he came as the land agent for the Saskatchewan Land and Homestead Company and bought the store at the Crossing from G.C. King.

The Crossing townsite was surveyed as Deerford but never developed. Sage Bannerman started a ferry operation at the Crossing, purchasing McPherson's claim.

restored stopping house 'the Spruces' at Innisfail 2006 - PettypieceAs traffic increased along the trail, stopping houses were established at least every 20 miles between Edmonton and Calgary. Travellers and freight and stagecoach crews could receive food and shelter; horses could rest; and, in some cases, settlers could rent temporary housing.

C&E Trail stagecoach at Barnett's near Lacombe 1880s - Glenbow ArchivesStopping houses included Dickson's (Airdrie), Scarlett's (east of Carstairs), Lone Pine (east of Bowden), Content's at Poplar Grove (now Innisfail), Millers' at 'The Spruces' formerly called Cache Camp (west of Penhold), McClellan's at Red Deer Crossing, Blindman Crossing (south of Blackfalds), Barnett's (Lacombe) and Barker's (Battle River, later Ponoka - Ponoka being the Blackfoot word for elk or wapiti).
reconstructed Fort Normandeau at Red Deer Crossing 2006 - Pettypiece
In 1885, as a result of the Riel Rebellion, the Alberta Field Force moved soldiers and police from Calgary to Edmonton. Lieut. Normandeau and 20 men stayed at Red Deer Crossing to guard the trail and river, commandeering the stopping house and building a fort around it (replicated later as historic Fort Normandeau). At the same time, Fort Ostell was built at the Battle River (at present-day Ponoka).
Drawing of Fort NormandeauIn 1886, the North West Mounted Police set up a detachment at Fort Normandeau. The following year, the first log school house was built east of 'the Crossing' and the Alberta Lumber Company built a mill on the Red Deer River near Innisfail.
Calgary and Edmonton Trail with stopping houses and railway towns
By 1888, travellers along the Calgary-Edmonton Trail could choose from four different types of vehicles, from freighter wagons to closed light stagecoaches. A trip on a freighter wagon took almost two weeks. The stagecoach was much faster at four to five days.

The role of the trail took a dramatic turn when the Calgary and Edmonton Railway was constructed in 1890-91. Although the overall route of the railway was to follow the general C & E Trail corridor, the railway decided on its own route to reduce the grade of the railway or to accommodate their preferred locations for communities. North of Poplar Grove (renamed Innisfail) to south Red Deer, the railway was built a couple of miles east of the C & E Trail.

The settlement at Red Deer Crossing generally expected that the railway would cross the river there. In fact, a townsite had been laid out in anticipation of the railway going through the community.

However, as a result of a deal between the Calgary and Edmonton Railway and landowner Rev. Leonard Gaetz, the Red Deer townsite and the railway crossing of the river was located a few kilometres downstream, resulting in the Crossing settlement no longer being viable and most of the settlers ultimately relocating to the new townsite.

Once the rail line was completed to South Edmonton in 1891, travel time between the territory's two largest centres was reduced to 12 hours by train from 4 days by stagecoach. The new railway obtained the mail contract marking the end of the Calgary-Edmonton Trail stagecoach service.

During the 1890s, a new gravel road was built linking the communities that the railway went through, displacing the C & E Trail as the primary transportation route. The new road was eventually paved to became Highway 1 in the 1930s. It was renamed Highway 2 when the east-west Trans Canada Highway was conceived in 1945. It was later renamed Highway 2A when a newer four lane expressway was built in the late 1950s to early 1960s.

The newer Highway 2 was built over some segments of the old C & E Trail. Other segments of the original Calgary & Edmonton Trail still exist as country roads.

An ancient natural corridor has evolved to become one the most dynamic economic regions in North America.

Photo descriptions and credits:
Header: Stagecoach along the Calgary and Edmonton Trail (Glenbow Archives, date unknown);
Ice-free corridor map (source unknown);
Cree and Metis at Antler Hill near Innisfail 1890 (Glenbow Archives NA-1709-43);
Cree encampment near Innisfail 1898 (via Michael Dawe);
Fort Calgary 1878 (Glenbow Archives);
Illustration of Calgary Edmonton Trail stagecoach
     (The Little Village That Grew: A History of North Red Deer by Red Deer & District Museum Society 1987);
Red Deer Crossing settlement west of current city ca 1887 (Red Deer Archives);
Freighters loading wagons at Calgary for trip to Edmonton 1988 (Glenbow Archives NA-3489-42);
Stagecoach along the Calgary and Edmonton Trail (Glenbow Archives, date unknown);
Illustrative Map of Calgary Edmonton Trail and Calgary & Edmonton Railway, Calgary to Red Deer portion
     (Proud Beginnings: A Pictorial History of Red Deer by Georgean C. Parker published by Red Deer & District
     Museum Society 1981 - map courtesy Red Deer Archives from Frontier Book No. 29);
'The Spruces' stopping house between Innisfail and Penhold at Innisfail Historical Village (Paul Pettypiece 2006);
Calgary & Edmonton Trail stagecoach at Barnett's stopping house near Lacombe 1880s (Glenbow Archives);
Reconstructed Fort Normandeau at Red Deer Crossing (Paul Pettypiece 2006);
Illustration of Fort Normandeau (source unknown);
Illustrative Map of Calgary Edmonton Trail and Calgary & Edmonton Railway
     (Historic Trails Alberta by Mark Anderako 1985, Lone Pine Publishing Edmonton with permission)



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