Victoria Trail –
Take a Scenic Drive Through Alberta’s Past
In late 1999 directional and interpretive signs were installed along the 58 kilometre length of the historic Victoria Trail, the oldest road in Alberta that is still in regular use. Begun as an Indian trail running along the banks of the North Saskatchewan River, it winds through picturesque farmland from Secondary Highway 38, southeast of Redwater, to the Victoria Settlement Provincial Historic Site in south Smoky Lake County. Eventually becoming the chief overland route linking Fort Garry (Winnipeg) with Fort Edmonton (2nd), the trail was known by various names depending on the stretch being referred to, the “Victoria Trail” being used to describe that portion between Edmonton and Fort Victoria. Further east, it was known as the Fort Pitt or the Fort Carlton Trail, after the next major trading posts along the North Saskatchewan River. It was also summarily identified as the “Winnipeg” or “Saskatchewan” Trail in some early maps and documents, the larger parts of which have disappeared with time, while much of the Victoria Trail has been largely preserved.
The first white man to walk on the ancient Indian paths along the Saskatchewan River was the explorer Anthony Henday in 1754-1755, then he travelled upriver with some Cree associates on a trailblazing mission for the Hudson’s Bay to encourage tribes further west to come and trade at York Factory in Manitoba. Later, Peter Fidler, David Thompson, and Alexander Henry the Younger were among the other well known fur traders who made use of the wandering track that provided a cross-country alternative to paddling against the current or seasonal ice floes of the swift-running Saskatchewan River.
With the establishment of the Methodist Mission at Victoria in 1862 by George McDougall, and the subsequent founding of an adjacent Hudson’s Bay Company outpost two years later, what had long been a track suitable for walking or for pack horses, gradually evolved into a primitive road capable of conveying carts and wagons. Thus, when the North West Mounted Police made their historic trek through Kalyna Country to Fort Edmonton in 1874, they were able to follow - sometimes with great difficulty and genuine hardship - what was essentially a crude road with an already colourful past. A few years earlier the trail had been traversed by engineer Sandford Fleming, who was familiarizing himself with possible routes to be taken by the new Canadian national railway to the Pacific Coast.
With the growth of both Edmonton and the Victoria Settlement traffic naturally increased, especially after east central Alberta was opened up to homesteading in the late 1880’s and 1890’s. With the huge influx of Ukrainians and other immigrants at the turn of the century, the Victoria Trail saw heavy and regular use that resulted in its further evolution into an important rural road. Although it fell out of favour when first railways and then paved highways came, the Victoria Trail continues to be used by local farmers as well as area residents who prefer a more leisurely and scenic trip to their destination.
Now tourists, too, can enjoy its charms by taking the interpretive drive developed by the Kalyna Country Ecomuseum. Along the way you’ll see a host of fascinating reminders of the past, such as the historic Victoria Park Cemetery which was recently restored and reconsecrated on the initiative of the Victoria Home Guard Society. You will also see a monument commemorating the famous 1874 trek of the Mounties.
To learn more about the Victoria Trail, obtain a copy of the self-guided driving tour, which is available at Fort Victoria and select outlets within Kalyna Country.