East Central Alberta – Historical and Multi-Cultural

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vegreville pysanka

Vegreville Pysanka
Photo and article by Bob Kenyon

East-central Alberta is located north and south of the Yellowhead Trans-Canada Highway (Hwy. 16). It’s part of Alberta, west of the Saskatchewan border and east of the provincial capital city, Edmonton.

This part of Alberta, has a strong Aboriginal, Metis history, as well as being the area earliest settled by Europeans. There is a large influence of Eastern European culture, that’s primarily Ukrainian. Much of the French influence, is from the fur trade.  Further south of the Yellowhead, there’s a large Scandinavian influence in Camrose and Viking.

For travelers, if you’re in Edmonton a short drive east on the Yellowhead would take to the must see Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village. A visit to the Village, can take the better part of a day.

mundair kovbasa

Mundair Kovbasa
Source: ChrisStubbs

If you’re seeking Ukrainian Culture, head further east to Mundare, north of the Yellowhead Highway. Mundare is best known locally, for making Ukrainian kovbasa sausage and even have a giant kovbasa statue in the town!

Mundare is also home to the Basilian Fathers Museum, that hosts a magnificent collection of historical Ukrainian artifacts and documents.

Vegreville. In addition their giant pysanka (i.e. Ukrainian Easter egg), shown in the top image of this article. It is known as an engineering marvel, the first physical structure designed entirely with computer-aided geometric modeling software.

Every July Vegreville plays host to their Ukrainian Pysanka Festival. The Festival offers visitors the opportunity to buy, experience and sample Ukrainian cultural music, food and crafts. As well there is a program that helps people discover their Ukrainian roots!

In addition to Mundair Kovbasa and the Vegreville Pysanka, travelers can also experience Ukrainian culture, in a statue, with the world’s largest perogy (i.e. stuffed dumpling) , on giant fork, at Glendon.

glendon pyrogy

Glendon Perogy
Source: Village of Glendon

From this part of the Yellowhead Highway, travelers can visit one of the earliest settlements in Alberta. Go north via Mundare, on Highway 855 through Lamont County to the town of Andrew. From there go west on Highway 45 and watch for signs directing the the Victoria Settlement. Strangely enough you go north on Highway 855, again!

victoria settlement

Victoria Settlement
Source: Alberta Culture & Tourism

The Victoria Settlement, as described by their website:

“…on the North Saskatchewan River along the Victoria Trail, where Reverend George McDougall founded a Methodist Mission to the Cree in 1862. This is where the Hudson’s Bay Company also established Fort Victoria, in 1864, to trade with the local natives. The Mission and Fort became the nucleus for a Métis community whose river lots extended six miles along the bank of the river”.

In the same vicinity you can visit Métis Crossing, the first major Métis cultural interpretive centre in Alberta. Both the Victoria Settlement and Metis Crossing are designated National Historic sites.

If you are wanting to drive back, in the direction of Edmonton, you can travel back by the Victoria Trail. Similar to our Ya’Gotta article the French History Of The Edmonton Area, that describes how the St. Alberta Trail, was the trail from Ft. Edmonton to Catholic mission at St. Albert…The Victoria Trail provided transportation to the Methodist mission. at the Victoria Settlement.

pumpkin judging

Smokey Lake Pumpkin Judging
Source: Smokey Lake

If the Fall, for some great fun and Ukrainian food, continue north, from the Victoria Settlement, to Smokey Lake for the annual Great White North Pumpkin Weigh-off and Fair. Not only do they weigh giant pumpkins, to determine the years biggest, they also weigh squashes and watermelons. The “contestants” are auctioned for baking, cooking and getting seeds from a winner.

There’s also an excellent “show-and-shine” car show, Ukrainian dinners of pyrogies (stuffed dumplings), Holubtsi (cabbage rolls), kovbasa smothered in fried onions and sour cream!

The big event, for the day, is when they take and old car and drop a giant pumpkin on it…crunch!

Through out the area there a large number of Russo and Ukrainian Orthodox Catholic churches. The Russo-Orthodox Church of the Transfiguration, at Star Edna, near Lamont is a National Historic site.

The church is described in the previous link as being:

“…a wood-frame structure on a cruciform plan with a central dome constructed in 1913 in the Star district of Lamont County in Alberta. Located at the junction of gravel range and township roads, it faces west on a site that has tree plantings on the south perimeter. The associated two-storey square bell tower with pyramidal roof is located immediately southwest and the cemetery lies to the north.”

Lamont County has 47 churches; more per capita than anywhere else in North America. Travelers interested in churches, can download a PDF of the County’s Self Guided Tour of the their churches.

ne alberta churches

North East Alberta Churches
Image: Jerry Iwanus

This are of what now known as Alberta, was opened to European contact by the fur trade. One of the first explorers, for the English was Anthony Henday, the name sake of Edmonton’s extensive outer ring road. Working for the Hudson’s Bay Company, in 1754 -55 he traveled from York Factory, on the southwest shores of Hudson’s Bay. Like many of the future explorers and fur traders, travel with aboriginals into the area by the connecting route into Saskatchewan River System. There a good possibility, that traveled far enough west to see, but not travel into the Rocky Mountains.

Eventually forts were established along the North Saskatchewan River, by the Hudson’s Bay Company and their Montreal rival The Northwest Company. An excellent place to visit, is the Fort George (NWC) and Buckingham House (HBC) Provincial Historic Site, 13 km. southeast of Elk Point.

Not related to the fur trade, but a very ancient traded product; there is an operating K+S Windsor Salt Ltd. plant at Lindbergh, near Elk Point (Highway #646).

East of Elk Point, travelers interested in the Northwest Rebellion, of 1885, can visit the site where violence broke out at Frog Lake. Frog Lake is now a National Historic Site. More sites related to the Rebellion, are in Saskatchewan including the final battle at Batoche.

There was very little violent influence in what was to become Alberta, because the Siksika Chief Crowfoot. As explained in the Canadian Encyclopedia:

“Though he mistrusted the motives of the newly formed Department of Indian Affairs, he refused to allow his people to join the 1885 North-West Resistance — less out of loyalty to the government than from the belief that it was a losing fight. Nevertheless, he was celebrated for his loyalty to the Crown and brought on tours of eastern Canada”.

For those interested in Aboriginal tourism, there are several Pow Wows in the area. Always remember, these are not tourist attractions. If you attend a Pow Wow, you’ll be able to experience great competitive dancing, drumming and maybe a bannock and bison burger.

There are lots opportunity for camping, fishing and of course winter activities in East-Central Alberta. Trekkers may want to experience The Iron Horse Trail. The trail has been made from a former railway bed and travel east from Smoky Lake, with a fork in the trail at Ashmont.

The southeast route goes  though St. Paul and Elk Point and ending at Heinsburg. The northeast route, goes through Glendon and Bonnyville to Cold Lake, the home for the 4 Wing of the RCAF.

rcaf snowbirds

RCAF Snowbirds – 2016 Cold Lake Air Show
Image: Cold Lake Air Show

Cold Lake is the busiest fighter base in Canada and operates as a training base. It’s also the home the Cold Lake Air Show, every July, which is an exciting event!

Ya’Gotta believes that trip to East Central Alberta is great for all ages.

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