Ferry Crossings in Kalyna Country: Capsule Histories
- The Victoria / Pakan Ferry (1863/1875, 1892-1972). The ferry crossing at the Victoria settlement is probably the oldest in Alberta and the longest-running in the Kalyna Country Ecomuseum. By 1863, a scow was being used at the Victoria Mission to shuttle people and goods across the North Saskatchewan River. Although not operated as a full-fledged ferry service, the scow nevertheless represented a distinct improvement over forging the river on foot or horseback. The next reference to a ferry at the Victoria settlement dates from 1875, when Samuel Whitford is said to have established a crossing method that was similarly rudimentary. Apparently his craft had to pushed with some difficultly half a mile upstream after each run, so that it could then be negotiated across the current to the landing on the opposite side. A more sophisticated and permanent service was finally established at the site of Fort Victoria in 1892, when Superintendant A.H. Griesbach of the NWMP approvingly noted that “It is a great convenience to settlers at Victoria and Egg [i.e., Whitford] Lake, and also to the travelling public.” Initiated and run by Louis Thompson for the first thirteen years, Samuel Whitford is identified as the ferryman for 1906, after which there is a seventeen-year gap in the registry of operators. During its final years the ferry service was maintained by three local residents, Metro Krawchuk, Nick Repchuk and George Alexandiruk. In 1962, it was listed as operating between 25 April to 6 November, from 7 am to midnight. It is possible to see two of the former Pakan ferries: one at the Smoky Lake Museum, which was restored in 1999; and the other at the Historical Village and Museum at Shandro, which had been originally built at Pakan.
- The Fort Saskatchewan Ferry (1875-1905). Because of its strategic location on the eastern approach to the city of Edmonton, the ferry at Fort Saskatchewan provided an extremely important service to the pioneer inhabitants of modern-day Strathcona, Lamont and Two Hills counties. Joseph Lamoureaux, who with his brother Francois founded a settlement opposite Fort Saskatchewan, is known to have provided a rowboat ferry service as early as 1875. In 1880, this was replaced by a cable ferry that was installed under licence of the government of the North-West Territories. This operation experienced numerous difficulties over the years: in 1886 the cable snapped and the ferry had to be retrieved from downriver, while in 1887 an errant scow from Edmonton so severely damaged the ferry and its guide wires that both had to be replaced. In 1894 the new craft sank with a load of bricks and lumber, along with roughly a dozen horses. The following year, heavy rains washed away the ferry and its cables, a similar situation also occurring in 1902. These disruptions were keenly felt by residents on both sides of the river, who came to depend on the service for both trade and travel.
- St. Paul / Brosseau Ferry (1901-1930). Situated in the very heart of Kalyna Country, the Brosseau-Duvernay crossing was on an important transportation route linking the St. Paul de Cris district with Edmonton. The first ferry was apparently started by Mathias Lambert under licence to the Territorial Government, but in 1907 the newly-created Province of Alberta established its own operation at what by then had become known as the Brosseau settlement. This service was subsequently identified in annual reports as either the St. Paul or Brosseau crossing. The popularity of the site is indicated by the fact that in 1929 a survey revealed that the ferry was being used by 35,000 vehicles. That same year, one of the trips over the river ended in tragedy for a local farmer named Ferdinand Lord, who drowned after he accidently backed his car off the ferry. The mishap resulted in a petition being circulated locally calling for the government to build a bridge to accommodate the growing volume of traffic. It is also thought that the ferryman from 1925-1928, Basil Theroux, may also have played a role in motivating the province to take on the construction project.. In 1928, Basil refused to allow Premier Brownlee to jump the queue at the crossing, where long line-ups had become quite common. The ferryman is said to have subsequently lost his job, but no doubt took some pleasure when a short time later the cable broke and the ferry drifted some six miles downriver. Be that as it may, work on a steel and concrete bridge began in 1930, and when it was officially opened the following year the Brosseau ferry was left to rot on a nearby riverbank. The former landing can still be seen just east of the bridge, which today conveys traffic along Highway 36.
- Desjarlais Ferry (1901-1962). The Desjarlais Ferry used to run north of the Boian district and east of today’s Secondary Highway 857. Operated initially by the Saddle Lake Indian Agency, it likely acquired its name from David Desjarlais, who had a nearby post office and general store. The ferry seems to have functioned under its North-West Territorial Government licence until 1909, after which the Province of Alberta established its own service at the site, described as being “east of Whitford”. According to a long-time inspector, two of its early ferrymen, Fred and Alex Melnychuk, had “only two legs and three hands between them.” Whereas the former had lost both legs in a railway accident, the latter had lost a hand operating a power machine. Regardless, they were said to have performed their duties efficiently In the course of its long history, the Desjarlais Ferry witnessed two fatalities. In 1936, a girl named Lena Shapka fell from the craft and drowned (her body was eventually found two miles east of Duvernay), and in 1944 a man met a similar fate after his truck accidently rolled off the ferry while disembarking. In 1962, when the Shandro bridge was opened, the old Desjarlais ferry was sold by tender. During the last year of its operations, four ferrymen were providing service on a twenty-four basis from 24 April to 3 November.
- Beaver Creek (1902-?). Only scant details are available about the Beaver Creek Ferry, which briefly operated over Beaverhill Creek west of Mundare and north of today’s Yellowhead Highway. While an initial report in the Edmonton Bulletin on 13 June 1902 announced that “…we are informed that Joseph McCallum intends putting a ferry on the creek soon,”a follow-up note published two weeks later indicated that “…the ferry on Beaver Creek is working well. Charge for teams is 50 cents.” The ferry provided a useful service on the trail west of Edmonton because at the time Beaverhill Lake extended north of Higway 16, and its outflow through Beaverhill Creek was substantially larger. The ferry operator, Joseph McCallum, was a gifted entrepeneur and community leader who subsequently became a prominent businessman in Mundare, where in 1915 he published a Ukainian-language newspaper called Postup (Progress). From 1913-1921 McCallum served as Vegreville constituency’s Liberal representative to the provincial legislature.
- Shandro Ferry (1906- 1962). Like most of the government ferries on the North Saskatchewan River, the original craft used at Shandro was built in Edmonton then floated downriver to a prepared landing site. The steep approaches to the crossing were cleared of brush by area residents mobilized for the task in the spring of 1906 by local community leader Andrew Shandro – who subsequently became the first immigrant of Ukrainian descent to be elected to the Alberta legislature. The first ferryman was Nykola Moisey, who lived in a small shack on the north bank. Shandro ferry, like all crossings, was affected by fluctuations in conditions on the river, with periodic floods (such as one which happened in 1914) affecting service and bringing a variety of debris, including dead animals, trees, and even small buildings. Probably around this time, a runaway ferry from Pakan was successfully snagged at Shandro with the help of extra rope and cables. However, these quickly broke, and the loaded ferry with its terrified passengers continued for several miles downstream before it was finally brought safely to shore. Thanks to the high levels of water in the early years of the Great War, a riverboat service was established which made twice-weekly trips between the Shandro landing and the John Walter flats in Edmonton. The only fatality to occur at Shandro crossing was the drowning of a ferryman, Gordon Haines, in 1925. As the ferry saw a growing volume of traffic, it was designated a Class A service in 1930, meaning it operated with three shifts working around the clock. The operation was closed after the construction of the Shandro bridge on Secondary Highway 857 in 1962.
- Eldorena Ferry (1907-1967). The Eldorena Ferry, also sometimes called Skaro, was installed in 1907. It linked an offshoot of the North Victoria Trail, due east of Redwater, with the Skaro district, northwest of Lamont. Prior to the establishment of a government ferry, a primitive crossing service was provided by two farmers on opposite banks, John Domshy and Nick Kuchmak. Utilizing a cable that they obtained from the government, the two men attached it to a raft which they then pulled across the river with oxen. In 1908 an old ferry from Victoria was redeployed for use at the site. Little information is available from these early years, but records for the 1926 season indicate the following traffic: double vehicles, 3,838; single vehicles, 303; saddle horses with riders, 141; animals not drawing vehicles, 541; passengers, 3,451; automobiles, 2,450; and engines, 14. In 1936 the aging ferry was replaced with a larger one, and in 1938 the crossing was elevated from “B” to “A” status. This meant that the ferryman was entitled to an assistant. At the time the monthly salary for the former was $100, the latter receiving $86. By 1950 the same positions paid $150 and $106 respectively. In 1962, service was being provided at the site between 7 am and midnight, from 27 April to 6 November. The only known accident at the crossing occurred in 1963, when David Kuchmak lost four fingers while attempting to clamp the winding cable. Four years later the crossing was closed aftger the construction of the Vinca and Waskatenau bridges. In its final month of operation by ferryman Mike Melnyk and his assistant, Steve Sekersky, the traffic count had dwindled to forty-seven. The ferry was subsequently dismantled, the ferry shack sold, and the road and approaches closed to traffic.
- Hopkins [A] (1908-1919). The Hopkins Ferry, southeast of Elk Point, took its name from Marshall Willard Hopkins, who surveyed the St. Paul area c. 1903-4 and subsequently had a local settlement named after him. There is little documentation about the early years of this crossing, though the first ferryman is said to have been John Ross. The ferry enabled farmers north of the river to get access to the Canadian Northern rail line to the south. One of the unusual stories associated with the crossing occurred in 1916, when high water swept a barn downstream with three Jersey cows inside. Although the ferryman and a couple of helpers attempted to corral the structure midstream, it merely glanced off the ferry and continued on its way with the three cows placidly looking on. According to local historian, Steve Andrishak, in 1919 someone deliberately cut the Hopkins ferry loose, and it eventually drifted to a site approximately ten miles east of Elk Point. Rather than being returned to its original location, the ferry apparently was instead put into service at the Mooswa crossing.
- Mooswa / Lindbergh (1911-1963). A crossing was first established at Mooswa in 1911, when a ferry constructed in Edmonton was delivered to the site of the old Moose Telegraph Station. The service was important for the growing number of settlers in the area east of Elk Point, who needed to get their grain and livestock to the Canadian Northern rail line at Kitscoty, twenty miles to the south. As is the case with many such operations, few details are known about the early years of this crossing. It is said that when the original Hopkins ferry was cut from its moorings in 1919, it was simply put into use at Mooswa instead of being hauled back upriver. Be that as it may, for several years the Mooswa ferry saw use during cattle drives before a railway line was built north of the Saskatchewan River. These drives usually took place in the late fall, with some of the cattle riding on the ferry, and others swimming behind it. In 1928 Mooswa was renamed Lindbergh, and this designation was then applied to the ferry crossing. At that time the ferryman was Archie Andersen, who was both preceded and succeeded by Henry Andersen. The year before the Lindbergh ferry closed, it was operating between 7 am and 9 pm from 26 April to 24 October. With the construction of the bridge at nearby Heinsburg, there was no longer any need for a ferry at Lindbergh.
- Elk Point (1913-1950). Before the establishment of a full-fledged ferry service, a scow was used for several years to shuttle settlers across the river south of Elk Point. Operated by Charlie Hood, the owner of a general store in Elk Point, the name “Hood’s Crossing” continued to be used by area residents for some time following the initiation of a government service. This occurred after an unanticipated delay in 1913, as the first ferry floated down from Edmonton sailed past its designated landing and was instead put into service downriver. After a second ferry was successfully installed, it soon saw heavy use, especially during harvest times when farmers needed to get their grain to the railway at Vermilion. Stock days were also extremely busy, with line-ups more than a mile long being formed by bellowing and restless animals. In the early 1930s, ferryman Alf Monkman and a local doctor devised a aerial platform that could be utilized for medical emergencies in the spring and fall, when it was impossible to cross the river by foot or ferry. Dubbed the “Jigger,” the platform required those using it to first glide and then pull themselves across by hand. In 1935, the government built a larger and safer cage to handle such emergency crossings, and to transport mail, supplies, as well as passengers. Called the “go-devil” by local inhabitants, the cage provided a windy ride for those who couldn’t wait for spring break-up or freeze-up. In 1939, a near-tragedy occurred when an anchor gave way on the south shore as the cage was mid-way across the thawing river. Although the container with its cargo of eight teenaged boys plummeted nearly six meters toward the ice-filled waters below, no one was seriously injured and the boys were successfully rescued by boat. The Elk Point ferry service was closed in 1950 when the bridge on Highway 41 was officially opened at an event that was celebrated by close to 12,000 people.
- Vinca Ferry (1913-1966). Established in 1913, the Vinca or “North of Bruderheim Ferry” was initially referred to locally as “Manchuk’s Ferry” after the owner of the property on the southern approach to the original landing. The name Vinca is said to have been derived from the pet name that a farmer – Nicholas Piche, who lived near the north end of the crossing – gave to his wife, a play on her maiden name of Letwin. The crossing was known locally as being by “Letvynka’s” (i.e., Letwinka’s) place, which in time became shortened to the Vinca Ferry. It is said that when an early ferryman, William Puchalik, took his brand new car over the ferry for the first time, the vehicle slipped off the end and sent his little daughter, Annie, tumbling into the water. Luckily, she was wearing a straw hat securely fastened by ribbons, which helped to keep her afloat until her father was able to rescue her in a rowboat about a mile downstream. Although detailed accounts are unavailable, there were apparently other similar accidents over the years at the crossing, two of which resulted in drownings. The ferryman from 1930-1933, John Koziak, was paid $115 a month to provide free service between the hours of 7 am and 9 pm daily. However, in the off-hours there was a charge of 25 cents per vehicle to compensate for the on-call duties of the ferryman. With the discovery of oil in the Redwater area, traffic at the Vinca crossing increased dramatically. Consequently, a new ferry was built in 1952 and put into service the following year. The larger craft, which could carry six cars, needed to operate in deeper water, and so the crossing was moved three miles east of its original location to a site that was also better suited to the traffic flow. At the same, a motorized cage was installed for use in the early spring and late fall. The Vinca Ferry crossing was eventually closed when a 1000 ft. bridge was constructed nearby and officially opened in 1967.
- Heinsburg (1914-1963). A ferry was installed to serve the Heinsburg district a year after John Heins established a post office for the growing community east of Elk Point. The service was used extensively in the spring to transport cattle herds to their ranges, and at other times to move grain, cream and agricultural supplies. Just two years after it started operating, the ferry broke loose and was swept downstream with the ferryman’s wife on board. As it drifted past Lea Park, ten miles to the east, the anxious wife is said to have shouted to the ferryman there, “Never mind the ferry … save me!” The craft was subsequently abandoned, and a new ferry had to be built in Edmonton and floated to Heinsburg the following year. An indication of how important the crossing could be for travellers was demonstrated by an incident that occurred in 1918. When a car bearing four passengers arrived at the site before the ice was sufficiently thick to bear its weight, the group had to drive more than 100 miles to North Battleford to reach the nearest bridge – a detour which at the time took more than a week! By 1929, the crossing was sufficiently busy to be given Class A status, holidays and weekends seeing especially long lines as residents south of the river liked to picnic at nearby Whitney Lake. Sadly, the crossing saw a number of drownings over the years, including a young boy who fell from the south landing in the early forties, and two young girls who met a similar fate in 1943 when the car they were traveling in rolled off the ferry and sank in about twelve feet of water. Just as in Elk Point, a pulley-drawn platform that initially provided a shuttle service in the shoulder seasons was eventually replaced by a crossing “cage” powered by a motor and clutch. In its second last year of operation, before being retired due to the completion of the Heinsburg bridge, the ferry was providing twenty-four service between 25 April and 9 November.
- North of Myrnam Ferry (1914-1970). The inauguration of ferry service north of Myrnam in 1914 filled a large gap in the developing regional transportation grid. Prior to its initiation, area farmers had to travel to the Brosseau or Hopkins crossing, or else forge the river when conditions permitted it. Originally listed in records as “North of Mannville,” annual reports began identifying the ferry as “North of Myrnam”in 1928. Later this was simply abbreviated to the Myrnam Ferry. As at other crossings, ferrymen lived in a shack on the shore, and were alerted that someone wanted to cross by various means – initially a shout or toot of a car horn, and eventually a bell. To combat the boredom that ensued with the breaks in traffic, ferrymen typically drank coffee, read, played solitaire, or looked out the window in anticipation of someone requiring their services. For spring and fall crossings first a cable chair and then a “cage” were used to carry passengers and cargo over the partially frozen river. These trips over were sometimes frightening for everyone involved, particularly if the winds were high. Reclassified Type “A” in 1938, in the early 1950s, the ferry was motorized, reducing the crossing time from 10-15 minutes to three minutes. By then, the Myrnam Ferry was operating around the clock. Although the service was free between 8 am and midnight, there was a fifty cent charge per vehicle after hours, as well as ten cent cost for each passenger. The final run made at the crossing took place 14 October 1970, after which the service was no longer needed due to the subsequent opening of the Myrnam bridge. The last ferry used at the site, which had been previously relocated from Beauvallon, eventually found a permanent home as an exhibit at the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village.
- Warspite [A] (1920-1924). Little is known about the operation of the first Warspite ferry, which was started in the spring of 1920 opposite river lot one of the Lobstick Settlement. The ferryman in the early years are said to have been Alfred Woodward and Tom Stapley. Regardless, the Warspite Ferry enjoyed the distinction of bearing an appropriately nautical designation, the nearby town of Warspite having been named after the famed British warship.
- Hopkins [B] / Spencer’s Crossing (1920-1970). The second Hopkins Ferry, which came to be known locally as “Spencer’s Crossing,” was situated nine miles upriver from the original Hopkins landing. The move seems to have occurred in the wake of the first ferry having been lost due to an apparent act of vandalism. It is likely that the existence of the Elk Point ferry a short distance downstream from the first Hopkins site, prompted the 1920 relocation of this service further west. As was the case with most of the other operations along the North Saskatchewan, the crossing was used after freeze-up for foot and vehicular traffic since the approach roads to the landings provided good access to the river. Sometimes these trips had unfortunate consequences when people or heavy vehicles fell through ice that was not thick enough for the load. Such an accident occurred at either the first or second Hopkins Crossing, despite appropriate precautions having been taken. This happened when a herd of horses, which had been spread out to distribute their weight, was suddenly spooked after the ice loudly “boomed” – a phenomenon that was part of the freezing process. The startled horses first bolted and then bunched up together, all of them drowning when the ice gave way under their combined weight. The second Hopkins Ferry operated for five decades, its last ferryman, Leon Kobel, working for twenty-five years at the site. In the 1962 season it was open between 7 am and 9 pm daily, from 27 April to 4 November.
- Waskatenau (1921-1963). A private service, run by local farmers south of the river who had organized themselves into the Waskatenau Ferry Board, seems to have been initiated around 1919-1921, with George Moshansky spearheading the venture The first ferryman is thought to have been Fred Henson, who built a small cabin at the crossing. According to the annual report on government ferries for 1924, “the ferry was taken over from the Waskatenau Ferry Board,” though this may have occurred a year or two earlier. Nonetheless, the ferry that had been originally built by area residents continued to be used until a larger scow – capable of carrying four teams with wagons, or six cars – was provided for the operation in 1928. At that time the ferryman was Asher Warr, who later became the Provincial President of the United Farm Workers of Alberta. As sometimes occurred when the water on the North Saskatchewan was high and difficult to navigate, the Waskatenau Ferry once broke loose and drifted downriver as far as the Warspite crossing. It took mule-power two days to pull the ferry against the current to its original location, horses being reluctant to go into the water. Besides providing a necessary service to communities on both sides of the river, the ferry also played an important role in the social life of area inhabitants. Not only was it a place where people inevitably gathered and exchanged news, but the Warskatenau Ferry was also the site of corn and potato roasts, and even dances. On summer evenings the planks of the ferry would sometimes be transformed into a make-shift dance floor, any travelers using the service being welcomed to join the party! From 1928 onward the ferry operated twenty-four hours a day, tolls only being charged at night and for Sunday service. The operation was closed in 1963 after the completion of the Waskatenau bridge on Secondary Highway 831, immediately west of the crossing.
- Warspite [B] (1924-63). Around 1924 the first Warspite ferry was moved about two miles downstream from its original location. Few details are available from these early times, though Robert Sinclair is known to have been the ferryman in 1925, after which he was succeeded by Nick Osadchuk. The longest-serving ferryman was Mike Melnyk, who worked on the operation from 1944 to 1963. He witnessed numerous improvements to the service, starting with the addition of a pilot wheel in 1951 and the construction of shelter over it to provide protection from the elements. Around 1954 a motor was installed, making the job of the ferryman much easier. The Warspite service was heavily used on Saturdays by people attending functions at the nearby Delph Hall. Often passengers without money were transported on credit, almost all of which was subsequently repaid. Although free service was provided from 7 am to midnight, there were weekends when the ferryman got very little sleep because of the numerous requests for nocturnal crossings. No serious accidents are thought to have occurred at Warspite, though Mike Melnyk did tear his ligaments when he was struck by a pick-up and knocked into the river in July 1962. The following year the service closed due to the construction of the Waskatenau bridge to the west and the Shandro bridge to the east.
- Beauvallon (1932-1958). A ferry service began at Beauvallon at the relatively late date of 1932. Although lobbying efforts were made to have a ferry installed on the river between Myrnam and Two Hills as far back as 1920, area residents only succeeded after a bridge was constructed at Durvernay in 1930. This apparently made possible the subsequent relocation of the abandoned Brosseau ferry and ferryman’s hous to the Beauvallon crossing. Cable towers were then built, and roads and approaches were improved, enabling a new service to be inaugurated on 17 September. As the Depression years had already begun, there was fierce competition for the job of ferryman. After a mix-up in 1933, when the government inadvertently appointed two different ferryman, Moise Donie got the job, which he then kept for fourteen years. After the original ferry had outlived its usefulness, a new one was constructed at the site which could carry six cars or two wagons with horse teams. Nevertheless, the Beavallon Ferry never had a motor, and always remained a Class “B” (single operator) service. As traffic on the ferry gradually dwindled in the 1950s, it was eventually closed and the craft relocated to the Myrnam crossing downriver. The Beauvallon-built ferry was then subsequently moved to the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village.
Researched and written by Jars Balan for the Kalyna Country Ecomuseum