The Village of Mannville History


Mannville Historical Telephone Exchange a traveler coming into the Mannville District in 1900 would doubtless have come from the direction of Chailey on what was known as the Battleford trail.

There was nothing at that time to indicate there would ever be a Village of Mannville. The whole country side was a vast wilderness.

There were quite large lakes in those days which since dried up. One example of this is the Mannville Lake which must at one time have covered 100 acres. It is now practically dry and has never at any time reached the level of the early 1900’s.

In 1903, the railroad survey came through and traffic abruptly swung from the Battleford trail to the line of stakes that was destined to become the Canadian Northern Railway.

If one could go back from the present day to the Mannville of 1904-05, what a vast difference would be seen. There would be no cultivated fields, no roads, no fences, and no buildings. All transportation was by prairie trails and the trails followed the path of least resistance.

The area is situated 110 miles by rail east of Edmonton in what is known as the parklands belt: large expanses of prairie interspersed by bluffs of poplar, balm and willow.

The buffalo had been gone for 20 years and the prairie wool, following the extremely wet years of 1902-03, was over a foot high and as thick as it could grow. Only on the trails was it possible to walk with any degree of comfort. The tall grass gave rise to many disastrous prairie fires and many settlers were wiped out before becoming established. Settlers soon learned that if they wished to preserve their property, fire guards were a must.

The hamlet of Old Mannville, never having been surveyed, was a squatter’s town. Although the railway survey had been completed in 1903, the townsites were not surveyed until 1905. It was known that the name of the village was to be Mannville, the name having been chosen by Davidson and McRae, C.N.R. land agents at Winnipeg. It was chosen in honour of Mr. Mann, one of the partners in the firm of McKenzie and Mann who held the contracts for the grading. The line came in from the east reaching Edmonton in the fall of 1905.

Application was made for a school and a charter was granted. The school, however, never was built at Mannville. When it was eventually built it was located 2 miles farther west and was called “Birch Creek”. It did, however, have the effect of causing the new town to name their district the “New Mannville School District”, a name they kept for many years.

Nineteen hundred and six saw the greatest rush of settlers into the Mannville District, and by the end of 1907, nearly all the available homesteads were taken. As it takes 3 years to “prove up” a homestead it naturally followed that many were abandoned and some were canceled when the homesteaders failed to live up to the terms. Some of these canceled and abandoned homesteads were retaken as late as 1910, but by this time the settlements were back by 10 to 18 miles from the village.

Most of the homesteaders were hard up. About the only cash crop was butter and eggs, and the market for these was very limited. There was the odd settler coming in from the Old Country or Eastern Canada with money who provided work for some of them. Many worked on the railroad during 1905. Some had trades, at which they worked in Edmonton during the summer, and put in the six months required to prove up the homestead during the winter. However, it was mostly bachelors who were able to do this, the married men having to stay with the homestead year round and take what work was offered locally. Generally speaking, the homesteaders were slow in getting started through having to quit their own work to earn money to carry on.

“You have to know the past to understand the present.”

Carl Sagan

But they were a happy lot; most of them were young and full of enthusiasm. They were generous and shared what they had with their neighbours. Their loneliness and isolation generated great hospitality and the welcomed all and sundry to their doors

Without boundless faith, I am sure that none of them would have stayed. Settlers were not able to accomplish much in the way of breaking land during 1905 and 1906. In 1907, when most of them had a few acres of crop, a disastrous frost hit the district in August, causing a complete failure.

Then on August 8th, 1908, one of the worst hail storms ever to hit the district, came through from the southwest. It cut a path 12 miles wide from the vicinity of Camrose to Elk Point. It passed directly over Mannville and will not soon be forgotten by the old timers.

However, stay they did, and the course of events have proved that their faith was not too badly misplaced. Mannville has provided a standard of living which compares favourably with most centres of the province.

The above is only a small sample of the rich history of the Village of Mannville, which, along with the comprehensive history of the Village, can be found in the book, Trails to Mannville and District, published by the Mannville and District Old-timers’ Society.