by Sherry Pelech
In 1670, King Charles II of England granted fur trading rights in the Alberta region to the Hudson's Bay Company. The region was part of a vast territory called Rupert's Land, so called after Prince Rupert, the first governor of the H.B.Co. This was the great part of Canada drained by rivers flowing into Hudson's Bay.
In 1754 the H.B.Co. sent Anthony Henday to promote trade with the Blackfoot Indians. He was the first white man known to visit the Alberta region. The journeys of Henday and the French-Canadian fur trader La Verendrye stimulated a change in the policies of the H.B.Co. and independent traders. Instead of waiting in the eastern posts for Indians to bring in furs, they started to move westward, establishing trading posts and forts as they went.
The North West Company, which was an amalgamation of numerous small trading companies, established a fur trading post on the North Saskatchewan River, just southeast of our present day Elk Point, in 1792. It was called Fort George. In the same year the H.B.Co. established Buckingham House adjacent to it. These two forts were in direct competition with each other, but the threat of violence from warring Indian tribes imposed on the traders the necessity for keeping peace.
Both forts depended on the Plains Indians to provide them with much of their meat, but at the same time feared attack from them. The destruction of a number of outposts to the south and east of them caused much uneasiness. Many times the occupants of Fort George remained closely con-fined within their stockades and the people of Buckingham House abandoned their fort and took refuge with them. There were places on the North Saskatchewan at which the two companies even built their forts within the same palisade It was a precarious balance between co-operation and competition. Eventually, because of over-trapping, the two companies moved westward. In 1800 the forts were abandoned.
Gabriel Franchere traveled the North Saskatchewan River in 1814 and described the river as one of the most beautiful the world:
'The banks are perfectly charming and offer a diversified scene. Hills in varied form, crowned with superb groves, embrowned at evening and morning by the prolonged shadows of the hills and of the woods which adorn them. How comes it to pass that so beautiful a country is not inhabited by human beings?"
In 1828 Sir George Simpson, Governor of H.B.Co. made a journey across Rupert's Land. He agreed the country was rich and fertile, but did not advocate settlement. He desired that Rupert's Land should remain a fur producing domain of the Hudson's Bay Company.
Such were the reports of the suitability of the North Saskatchewan River Valley for agriculture that when the H.B.Co. applied for renewal of their license in 1857 there was strong opposition. A committee was appointed to investigate the suitability of Rupert's Land for settlement. The hearings lasted for more than four months. Sir George Simpson, called to give evidence, contradicted his previous description by saying that the poverty of the soil would not support a population, that the scarcity of fuel, the swarms of locusts and the ravages of the spring floods which often drowned the country, would prove detrimental and disastrous to settlement. To gain more satisfactory knowledge, Captain Palliser, a geologist and explorer, was instructed to explore the territory between Lake Superior and the Rocky Mountains. With a group of assistants, he left England in the spring of 1857. After nearly four years in Canada, Palliser strongly recommended the suitability of the North Saskatchewan River valley, among other areas, for agricultural purposes. His report was the boost that settlement of western Canada needed.
In 1870, the H.B.Co. gave up Rupert's Land to the newly formed 'Dominion of Canada'. The Dominion paid the company 1 1/2 million dollars and permitted it to keep large areas of the plains. Later in 1870, Canada established the North West Territories, which included the Alberta region and the rest of Rupert's Land. In 1882, this area was given the name of 'District of Alberta' in honor of Queen Victoria's daughter Princess Louise Caroline Alberta. When the district became a province in 1905 the name 'Alberta' was retained.
Parliament in February 1881 granted to the Canadian Pacific Railroad a cash subsidy of $25,000,000 and a subsidy in the form of land amounting to 25,000,000 acres. Only 5,255,870 acres were found to be fairly fit for settlement. More than 12,000,000 acres had to be found elsewhere. (7,000,000 acres were returned by the C.P.R. to the government in payment of an emergency loan from Ottawa.) It was not until 1903 that the federal commitment in this respect was completely discharged. All these land transactions were dependent upon accurate surveys and reliable reports of surveyors.
By 1882 many townships were laid out from Manitoba to the Rockies along what was expected to be the route of the C.P.R. The C.P.R. wanted all lands received by the railroad as a grant to be surveyed, and made strong representation to Sir John A. MacDonald that it obtain concession to do the survey itself. Edward Deville, Chief Inspector of Surveys, induced the Minister of the Interior to leave the surveying in the hands of the state.
In 1883 the huge task of surveying 27,000,000 acres was accomplished. It was the greatest job of land subdivision ever done in one season in the world, so far as is known. The man who did the surveying in our particular area was G.B. Aubrey. Dr. Deville said, "I would not say it was surveyed with the same degree of accuracy that we are used to today,-anyway it was done." In 1884 it was necessary to start a re-survey, because many of the old wooden stakes had vanished. Edgar Bray, who later became the secretary treasurer of the Dominion Land Surveyors, and Charles A. Magrath did the surveying in the Elk Point area in that year.
Riel's Rebellion hampered survey operations on the prairies in 1885. It was not until October, 1896 that T.W. Chalmers again began surveying in this area.