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The Town of Bonnyville: built on hardwork and determination

(Use this story to find the answers for November's Canada 150 trivia contest, which can be found under the 'contests' tab) Every community has a beginning.
An early photo of Main Street in Bonnyville.
An early photo of Main Street in Bonnyville.

(Use this story to find the answers for November's Canada 150 trivia contest, which can be found under the 'contests' tab)

Every community has a beginning.

For Bonnyville, it goes back to 1907 when the lakes were untouched, the railroad had yet to extend north, and the rolling fields were a treasure trove just waiting to be cultivated for farming and drilled for oil.

It was that spring, in Beaumont, that Reverend Father Joseph Adeodat Therien challenged three men to travel to the Moose Lake area. After a nine-day long trip, 25-year-old Philorome Ouellette, 45-year-old Wilfrid Ouimet, and 21-year-old Albert Dargis decided to return and settle the area. With them, Aime Marcotte, Hormidas Boisvert, Joseph Mercier, Oliva Martel, and Come Ouimet made up Bonnyville's first eight pioneers.

Not long after their arrival, in 1908, the first post office was established in a store west of the town's current location. Originally named after Moose Lake, it was soon discovered that there was another post office in Alberta already under that name. The settlers decided instead to name it after their newly arrived, first resident priest, Reverend Father Francis Bonny. That's when Bonnyville was born.

The year 1908 proved to be a pivotal point in the early development of Bonnyville. In addition to the first post office and store, the early Catholic church was established.

According to Charlene Rachynski, curator of the Bonnyville and District Museum, the first framed house in the area was also built that year by Wilfred Genereux. It became the property of Omer Croteau in 1909, and is still standing today on the grounds at the Bonnyville museum.

However, the first structure in the area is believed to have been erected many years prior.

"On Oct. 7, 1789, Angus Shaw, fur trader for the North-West Fur Trading Company, ascended the Beaver River in search of a main waterway to transport furs. On Nov. 1, Shaw finished his house on the north-west corner of Lac l'Orignal (Moose Lake)," Rachynski said in an email. "It is believed that the house Shaw built on Lac l'Orignal was one of the first permanent structures built by a white person in Alberta. He lived there for three years and, in 1972, followed the Thin Lake Creek, which began very close to his house. By following several lakes and creeks, he arrived at the North Saskatchewan River (Elk Point), where he established Fort George."

Recognizing a need for healthcare in the new community, Reverend John E. Duclos, who had travelled from Edmonton to answer Bonnyville's call for help, started the original Duclos Hospital in November 1917. The hospital was initially called the Katherine K. Prittie Hospital and was run out of a small two-storey frame house.

A year later saw the creation of the St. Louis Hospital as Bonnyville welcomed its first medical practitioner, Dr. Moise-Severin Sabourin. Sabourin, who passed away in April 1944, was an influential man in the settlement's early years.

Incorporated September 1929 as the Village of Bonnyville, Sabourin also served as the first mayor and chamber of commerce president.

That winter, residents decided to bring organized recreation to the village and for the 1929-30 season, Bonnyville's first hockey team was formed, using Jessie Lake as their rink.

Another man who certainly made his marks in the history books of Bonnyville was Joseph Napoleon (J.N.) Vallee. After arriving in 1915, Vallee is credited with starting a general store, becoming the first International Harvest and Model T-Ford agent, and organizing a committee to build the first creamery in 1923.

Of course, it wasn't always easy-going building up a community from nothing. There's no doubt the town has seen both good times and bad over the years. Thankfully, there is a long list of dedicated and determined men and women who endured everything from fires to financial disasters, to help make Bonnyville what it is today.