Article published in the Sherwood Park Strathcona County News on April 18, 2008
First form of local government hits 115-year mark
Though Strathcona County is an area ripe with community and opportunity, it was born from very humble beginnings, the anniversary of which was exactly 115 years ago.
In April 1893, an area just east of Edmonton, which was known as Clover Bar, was designated as Statute Labor and Fire District Number Two by the North-West Territories government, which was the territorial legislature of the time.
Its official zoning was out of dire necessity, not as a proactive step toward establishing a prosperous community as we know it today. It was decided that self-governance would be the only way settlers could maintain stable life in the area, as wandering livestock and wildfires were each becoming major problems, directly attributed to a lack of usable trails and roadways.
Though 89-year-old George Jenkins wasn't born until 1919, he remembers the days where every resident was a part of the solution.
"We lived out of the cream can," he said with a laugh while looking over an old book, in which his father recorded the hours he spent working on county roads.
Though the Jenkins family was in the dairy business, as were most families at the time, he and his father helped build some of the first rural roads in the area. In exchange for building roads and trails, residents were given relief from paying land taxes, which were $8 each year per quarter section.
To say that wages paid to county employees are a bit more attractive today would be a gross understatement. In 1913, workers in the area known as the "improvement district" were paid 25 cents an hour for manual labour and 30 cents an hour for work as a foreman. Men that operated a team of horses, like Jenkins' father, were paid 50 cents an hour for their labour. No money ever exchanged hands. Residents worked purely to pay land taxes for the year.
In addition to helping build roads and trails, residents were obliged to help douse fires and herd wandering livestock.
"I remember rounding up cattle when I was 12 years old," Jenkins said, adding that he personally was never involved in extinguishing a fire.
The district was the first of its kind in Alberta, the only that operated by self-governance at the time. It wasn't until 1962 that the area was known as the County of Strathcona.
Though now bustling with commercial and industrial activity as part of the Industrial Heartland, long-time area residents remember a time when life was much different in what eventually became Strathcona County.
"Nobody knew the area would get so large. When Sherwood Park was built, it was a residential subdivision -- it just never stopped growing," said 78-year-old Ed Marsh, a former Strathcona County councillor.
"The growth is unbelievable," agreed 80-year-old George Wunderly, who is also a former county councillor.
Each of the men, who play active roles at the Strathcona County Museum, agree that the incredible changes that the area has seen through the years are positive, but not without their flaws.
"We didn't have modern conveniences whatsoever," Wunderly said. "No power, no running water, no gas, but then the economy started to grow and get a little bit better, and we started to get those things to make life easier," he said, adding that now, residents can get anything they need right in Sherwood Park, without having to travel to Edmonton.
"The changes were really good for the people, especially us old-timers," he said with a laugh.
Though there were no modern conveniences at the time, Marsh said he feels life was a bit better, as there weren't as many pressures.
"I'd just as soon live back then," he said. "We depend completely on industry now and don't live off the land. Now, we barely even know our neighbours. It was a hard life back then, but I think it was easier than it is today."
Each of the men agreed that having grown up in the area has been a privilege, but that the history of the area needs to be maintained and cherished for future generations to enjoy for another 115 years.
"Here we have a tendency to destroy history and the beautiful buildings that define the area," Wunderly said. "We need to preserve our history for as long as possible."
Strathcona County's history can be traced through recollections of the past. To share your story of Strathcona's history, contact us at 780-416-6762 or firstname.lastname@example.org.