[1-Slough near Smoky Lake (Victoria Settlement)-click to enlarge]
In July 1874, Samuel Steele began his trip west in service with the North West Mounted Police with the rank of sergeant-major from Fort Garry, Manitoba. The cavalcade that left Manitoba had assorted wagons, Red River carts, oxen, cattle, farming equipment, provisions and horses.
During the NWMP's stay at Fort Victoria, arrangements were made to leave the cows, calves and weak oxen for the winter months with a contract of $15 a head for the oxen and cows, and $10 each for the calves.
Once they left the Victoria Settlement, their progress to Edmonton was slow over difficult terrain and their horses had to be helped along whenever they fell. The problem with the horses pulling the wagons was that they were overloaded, there was insufficient grain to feed the horses and they were not acclimatized to the weather or area.
[2-Swampy marsh, typical of the parklands - click to enlarge]
When a messenger arrived with instructions to bring the division into Fort Edmonton that same day, a distance of twelve miles, they were unable to comply as some of the horses could not go on. Two men were left to pitch a tent where the horses could be sheltered from the elements, while Steele and the other horse teams continued on.
The trail was the worst they had encountered: “knee-deep in black mud, sloughs crossed it every few hundred yards, and the waggons had to be unloaded and dragged through them by hand….The poor animals, crazed with thirst and feverish because of their privations, would rush to the ponds to drink, often falling and having to be dragged out with ropes from where they fell. One of the men would hold up their heads while I placed the hitch. It mattered not how often they were watered, the same performance had to be gone through time after time.”
Determined to carry out his orders, Steele and the men kept going even during the night with some wagons veering off the road into extensive marshes only to have to return. At 5:00 a.m. the next morning, they reached Rat Creek (just south of where Norwood Public School is at 9520-111 Avenue, Edmonton, the rat in the name refers to muskrats), a small stream about four miles from Fort Edmonton. Steele informed the oxen driver, Gagnon, that the men and horses would not be able to go on as they were exhausted from being on the move for the last 21 hours. Steele set up camp while Gagnon proceeded on to Fort Edmonton.
Later that day they continued, and once they reached the first dry piece of trail were able to reach the fort (at that time located where the Alberta Legislature is now).
Fort Edmonton , also known as Edmonton House, was one of the many Hudson Bay Company’s trading posts and located at the end of the Carlton Trail. In 1915 it was dismantled after the new Alberta Legislative Building was erected.
[3- Alberta Legislature and Fort Edmonton in 1914. The train tracks are on top of the High Level Bridge crossing the North Saskatchewan River]
In 1969 a reconstruction of Fort Edmonton was begun five km upstream from its original location and Fort Edmonton Park was born.
[8- Rowand House was a three storey house built by John Rowand, administrator for the Hudson’s Bay Company, for the sole use of himself and his family]
[9- Note this barn has fitted log corners, quite the engineering feat]
TO BE CONTINUED
For previous posts on this series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.
Forty Years In Canada by Col. Samuel B. Steele (1915) [1-pp. 73]
Illustrated History of Canada, Edited by Craig Brown (2007)
Alberta Online Encyclopedia - Historic Trails 
Photo Credits:  benjicarson CC=nc-sa-flickr, -Wendy Cooper CC=nc-sa-flickr, -wikipedia, -CanadaGood CC=nc-nd-flickr, -Evan CC=nc-nd-flickr.
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