The railroads

The coming of the railways heralded a new era of settlement for the West. The CPR to South Edmonton from Calgary (1891), the Mackenzie & Mann Great Northern from Winnipeg, Lloydminster, Vegreville, Bruderheim, Fort Saskatchewan to Edmonton (1905). Next the Grand Trunk Pacific (Wainwright, Tofield, Ardrossan, Clover Bar and Edmonton) (1909).

The railway established stations in small communities, from hamlets, to villages, towns, to even cities in what later became the County of Strathcona. There were eleven of them plus two sidings including Ellerslie (Canadian Pacific Railroad), Bruderheim (Canadian Northern Railroad), Fort Saskatchewan (Canadian Northern Railroad or Railway.), Deville, North Cooking Lake, Uncas, Ardrossan, Bremner, Clover Bar (all Grand Trunk Pacific) and the two sidings of Oliver and Aikenside (Canadian Pacific Railroad). These stations later attracted grain elevators, general stores, post offices, lumber yards and often feed mills, dairies, cheese factories or flour mills.

Bretona, a station in the Colchester district, was unique in that the station, post office and store all went by separate names. There was the Bretona Station and Elevator, the Hercules Post Office and finally the Halfway Stores. The community eventually had a lumber yard, a local blacksmith shop (F. Hildebrand) and even a toy factory (1960-1970s).

The coming of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway from 1908 to 1909 also brought employment for the farmers in the district, providing ready cash to invest in their homesteads. Two hundred and twenty-five men were kept working during the height of employment. They worked 11-hour days and received a wage of 17 cents an hour, while the foreman was paid 23 cents an hour.

The Cooking Lake Seaplane Base

In November 1905, Mr. Charles Upright and family of London, England, arrived at South Cooking Lake and took a homestead. They settled between McFadden Lake and the present Highway 14. In 1928 they sold this land and used the money to buy lakefront lots on Cooking Lake. Here they built nine cottages and in 1929 put in a store and tea room.

Meanwhile, the part of the lake in front of the cottages had become an air harbour; a seaplane base for bush pilots flying their pontoon-equipped planes into Canada's North. Mr. Upright provided a filling station for refuelling the planes. Many of the pioneer bush pilots flew out of this site on trips to the North including Punch Dickens, Wop May, and Leigh Brintmell.

Leigh Brintmell, in the late 1920s, became Assistant General Manager of Western Canadian Airlines (later Canadian Airlines), and in August 1929 he flew Gilbert Labine, the famous prospector, into Great Bear Lake. They flew from the Cooking Lake Air Harbour, and on this trip uranium was discovered.

Leigh formed the MacKenzie Air Service with administrative offices in Edmonton. Its primary purpose was to fly uranium concentrate from Great Bear Lake to world markets by way of Edmonton. The Cooking Lake Airport provided important access at this time, and quickly opened up northern Canada.

The Upright Tea Room was used by passengers and pilots alike, as they awaited a flight into Edmonton. This was often provided by Les Upright without charge. One day an emergency flight from the north arrived with an expecting mother and her husband. On landing, the baby could not wait, so Mrs. Upright became the mid-wife, delivering a beautiful baby girl.

The airport remained on the Grandview side (south) of South Cooking Lake until 1935, when receding waters forced a move to Wellington Beach. After two years, it was moved to its present location.

The Air Harbour saw the coming and going of the northern bush pilots. In 1935, Wiley Post and Will Rogers stopped off here on their ill-fated trip around the world. Oil exploration companies, as well as mining companies used the South Cooking Lake Air Harbour.

Last updated: Tuesday, November 01, 2022
Page ID: 40157