Elk Point At the Crossroads of History
For thousands of years the Elk Point area was the domain of the Aboriginal Peoples who once freely roamed the northwest plains, after which the Cree became the dominant tribe with the coming of the fur trade to Alberta in the mid-1700s. In 1792 Fort George-Buckingham House was established on the North Saskatchewan River 13.6 kms southeast of the present-day town of Elk Point. For the better part of a decade it was the jumping-off point for the industry before the focus of activity shifted to newer forts up river. A depot called Dog Rump House also sporadically operated from 1817-1822 near the mouth of Atimoswe Creek, 6.4 kms south of Elk Point, but it too was eventually abandoned as the fur trade gradually lost its central role in the economy of the future province of Alberta.
The agricultural settlement of the countryside around Elk Point finally began in earnest in 1905-1906 with the arrival of waves of homesteaders from the United States, Great Britain, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. The 1907 establishment of the Hopkins Ferry, followed by a post office and store the following year, 4 miles west of today’s Highway 41 bridge, was one indication of the burgeoning size and vitality of the agricultural community that was developing in the region.
Meanwhile in 1909, another post office and store was opened on the farm of Mr. Charles Hood, east of where the Tempo station presently stands. It took the name Elk Point from a rural community founded in 1859 in the southeast corner of South Dakota and with a current population of 1,855 – making it 400 people larger than Alberta’s Elk Point. A second ferry was started on the Hood property in 1913, popularly known as “Hood’s Crossing,” and in time became the chief conduit for much of the traffic into northeastern Alberta. The town of Elk Point subsequently grew into the leading supply and service centre for surrounding districts, enjoying a mini-boom in 1927 when the CNR provided a rail connection that could speedily move people and goods to Edmonton and beyond.
By the Second World War, traffic volumes at the Elk Point Ferry were making it the busiest in the province, prompting the government to construct a bridge that opened in June 1950. This structure was eventually replaced in 1985 by a high span bridge that more efficiently linked Cold Lake and Bonnyville, through Elk Point, with Vermillion and points further south.
In the meantime, Elk Point evolved not only as a farming settlement, but as an important hub for the oil local oil and gas industry. Today, it is a bustling community with many modern amenities. However, Elk Point residents remain proudly aware of their rich heritage, formed at the crossroads of Alberta’s early history and reflected in a monument dedicated to explorer and fur trader Peter Fidler. It was erected to mark the Bicentennial of Fort George Buckingham House, greeting travellers on the west side of Highway 41 as they approach the scenically located townsite from the north.
Researched and written by Jars Balan for the Kalyna Country Ecomuseum