Bands of Brass & Bands of Steel
The Canadian Northern Railway arrived in Meeting Creek to the sound of a brass band in May of 1910. This typical rural branch line operation served the community well for 87 years until 1997, when the last elevators between Stettler and Camrose were closed, forcing the abandonment of the line. A short section of the original railway remains preserved with the depot and grain elevator.
The Meeting Creek depot was built by the Canadian Northern Railway in 1913 to a “Standard Third-Class” plan issued by the company. It is typical of many “combination” railway depots used throughout North America—providing facilities for passenger services, the handling of freight and express, and for the historical conduct of the telegraph and cable business offered by the railways. This design of depot included provision of an agent’s apartment to serve as living quarters for the company’s representative and his/her family.
Alberta Pacific Grain Elevator
This is a wonderfully conserved example of a wood-cribbed prairie grain elevator. Built in 1917, this elevator was designed to store 40,000 bushels of grain, and was used to purchase, store, and ship the crops grown by the local farming community until 1984. A classic “symbol of the grain belt,” there were once hundreds of these structures across the prairies—and the few that remain today are generally preserved or in private hands. All of the preservation activities conducted at this site are performed by a dedicated but small group of volunteers. We welcome donations of cash, time, or resources—as well as any new members.
The Healing Waters of Meeting Creek
Life in the community of Meeting Creek evolved around the businesses along Main Street—behind the depot. According to Herman Schultz’s story from the 1970s—in 1924 Meeting Creek was a lively place. There was Peterson’s department store, a grocery store, hotel, lumberyard, café, feed barn, blacksmith shop, three grain elevators, a poolroom, barber shop and the Canadian Northern Railway station with daily train service and a full-time station agent.
Directly behind the depot on the “south side” of Main Street was the Meeting Creek Hotel. There, the owners of the hotel took advantage of a Bentonite Clay mineral spring—evidently believed to have healing qualities. Jerry Bergstrom, a former railway employee whose family were settlers in the Meeting Creek area, remembers people visiting the community to soak in the “steam baths.” A bath house was attached to the side of the hotel where water was heated by a natural gas burner and poured over rocks to create the steam. Jerry reported that many local people would come to town on Friday or Saturday night and following a steam bath—spend the rest of the evening in the hotel tavern! The industrious hotel owners clearly saw value in the enterprise—and for a time, the water was bottled and shipped for out-of-town sale. The box you see on the wall in the station was an original box used to ship “Meeting Creek Mineral Water.” Today the Meeting Creek Hotel survives in Donalda, while the springs have disappeared!
Battle River Watershed
Meeting Creek is a tributary of the Battle River. The Battle River is the water supply for Wainwright, Alberta. Meeting Creek is a major contributor to the health of the Battle River Watershed. The water-flow from hills and springs run into the creek. The linear park trails, which include the rights-of-way along the abandoned railway lines, with their diverse flora and fauna including riparian areas hold the water and buffer the run-off, which may contain chemical pollutants prior to the water entering the creek. In this valley, the grassland and vegetation along the trails including virgin pasture land assist in absorbing run-off which in turn helps in drought control important to our future. The diverse vegetation including trees and shrubs prevent erosion. Holding of valuable soil with its soil organisms prevent loss of flora and fauna while preserving the area for migrating nesting birds and other animals.
As you hike along these trails you will begin to understand why Indigenous people found this valley a place to meet: the abundance of berries, wild game, water, medicinal plants, buffalo, edible wild greens and vegetables that were in this valley. The settlers who came here found the land to be rich and productive. The ecotourism project in the Meeting Creek Valley is an example of the greater community and the local community working together to save an important ecological system for future generations of which the watershed is a part.
Before European Settlers
In the mid to the late 1800s these lands were still the haunt of the buffalo, the Cree and the Blackfoot. These tribes rode their ponies over miles of succulent grasses and camped beside the numerous sloughs. Rivers were used as a canoe highway of commerce as they brought their furs to the trading posts of the Hudson’s Bay Company.
Legend suggests “Meeting Creek” was named in honour of this traditional meeting area for trade and communication between the Cree and Blackfoot. These nations however were traditionally at war with each other, hence the further descriptive name of the nearby Battle River. With traditional lands east and north of Meeting Creek, the Cree referred to themselves as Néhiyawak—”meaning people of the north.” Most of the Cree people in central Alberta spoke Maskwacis Plains Cree, or the “Y” dialect.
The Cree syllabic style was created by missionaries in cooperation with the Cree people in order to better interpret the Bible into Cree, and was used as a platform to interpret other aboriginal languages into written word as well, such as Dene and Blackfoot. Their lives often revolved around the buffalo—abundant in the Meeting Creek area, as it was the most significant source of food and life-giving materials. The hide of the buffalo became tipis, clothing, drums, shields, and bedding. Bones were used to make toboggans, tools, weapons, and utensils. Besides that, the buffalo spirit is also sacred to Plains Cree. The buffalo spirit also symbolizes strength, endurance, and protection.
A traditional hunting practice was chasing buffalo over the edge of a large cliff or steep hill, known as a buffalo jump. One such location is Boss Hill, south of Meeting Creek near Buffalo Lake.
Shaped from Moving Ice
The colossal weight and steady movement of the glaciers eroded and formed a distinct valley with a flat horizontal bottom known as a hanging valley. Erosion has also formed several small caves in the valley and has carried nearly all rocks in the creek leaving an exceptionally muddy creek bed. The headwaters of Meeting Creek flow from Little Beaver Lake at Ferintosh, Alberta, and wind sluggishly until joining the Battle River south of Hwy 53.
The Cree First Nations people were an incredibly resourceful society that understood the many relationships found in nature. They produced sophisticated tools, built houses, and had a vast knowledge of medicine. Using the topography of the valley they were able to build buffalo pounds and hunt bison until the 1900s. Many bison skeletons, stone tools, and artifacts, have been found in the Meeting Creek valley. Using rocks such as quartzite, sandstone, or granite, the Cree fashioned many tools such as hammers, scrapers, axes, and knives by chipping away and flaking stones, a process known as knapping.
Old As Rock
Lichen is a peculiar life-form that is a combination of two organisms, algae and fungus, which work together creating a symbiotic relationship. Lichen is believed to be one of the oldest living organisms on the planet and is sometimes used to date rocks or monitor air quality. Lichen are one of the first species to appear on newly exposed rock after heavy disturbance such as landslides and there are approximately over 20,000 known types of lichen species. Jewel lichen is just one of the many lichen found in the valley. As a crustose type of lichen, meaning “crust-like,” it forms tightly on rocks like a heavy coat of paint.
Alberta’s Past: The Valley of Meeting Creek
Buffalo were plentiful along both sides of the Battle River until 1875 after which their numbers decreased rapidly. The valley of Meeting Creek, now a prosperous farming district, was a favourite hunting ground for the shaggy monarch of the plains, and it was there that the Blackfoot Indians from the south and the Crees from the north met on regular hunts; the creek derived its name on that account. At times when the buffalo were not to be found in the valley, the hunters would move on thirty miles or more to the southeast, where they were reasonably sure of locating them along the Red Willow Creek.
Elk, or wapiti, could be found in considerable bands where there were large areas of wooded country, and surrounding Little Beaver Lake there are still evidences of such areas. The Dumonts claim that many elk were killed there until 1880. At the present time elk are not uncommon in a strip of country near the old settlement of Victoria, north of the North Saskatchewan River. Black-tailed deer were numerous in the woodlands but now they have become rare during recent times in this territory.
The Dumonts killed moose in the vicinity of Dried Meat Hill, 20 miles southeast of Camrose. Moose were commonly taken in the timbered country surrounding the Hay Lakes, where the occasional one is still seen. Antelope ranged the open prairie country north of the Big Bend of the Battle River about 1880, and the last of these animals observed there in 1903 were a male and female, about four miles west of Flagstaff Hill. Prairie dogs were common in that same territory at that time, but disappeared shortly afterwards. Timber wolves were fairly common at times when the buffalo inhabited the country. The Dumonts tell of poisoning seven wolves, three red foxes and five coyotes in January 1872 on Dried Meat Lake, where the creek of the same name empties into it. They used for their purpose the carcass of a dead horse, which had been treated with strychnine. For the pelts of these animals they received the following prices: wolves, $3; foxes, $1, and coyotes, 50¢ each all in trade.