Myth Busted! Grouard & The Bad Water Sample.
I was once asked to write a story on how Grouard failed to become the capital of Alberta because the Edmonton, Dunvegan & British Columbia (E.D. & B.C) railway bypassed the community. They instead chose McClennan to be the divisional point based on a bad water sample.
I had to pause. I have read, with few details, that Jim Cornwall was promoting the area to become the capital of the province. I could not find the reference and am not sure how serious of a contender the community was, if it was at all. Regardless, Alberta became a province in 1905. The community was not named Grouard until 1909, and the railway came around 1913/1914. The dates do not tie this 'story' together.
It is true that the railway bypassed Grouard, selecting McClennan as a divisional point, in part based on a bad water sample. Water was of vital importance to running steam engines; very specifically you needed good water so that it would not corrode the various pipes, boilers and other machinery.
The officials of the Edmonton, Dunvegan & British Columbia Railway wanted a water sample from a large lake near McLennan, locally known as “Stinking Lake.” They sent an old-timer, Hughie Hunter to collect their samples for them.
After collecting his samples he headed back towards Edmonton. His return route took him to Grouard, to board the steamer the Midnight Sun for the trip across Lesser Slave Lake. He discovered that somewhere between McClennan and Grouard the stoppers had come out of the bottles with his water samples. Instead of going back to McLennan to refill the bottles, he just reached over the side of the boat, and refilled them.
The analysis of the water was satisfactory so all the equipment needed for the divisional point was sent to McLennan. It did not take long before water was being hauled into McLennan in tank cars!
I wonder if Hughie would have fessed up if perhaps Grouard would have been thriving today, but I can say that the selection of the divisional point on the railway had nothing to do with the selection of the capital of Alberta. Myth busted!
For more information on the railway go to South Peace Historical Society - 16-001