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Grouard Boom and Bust

rouard was a long-established community located at the west end of Lesser Slave Lake. Its strategic location as a major transfer point from water to land conveyance contributed to its prominence as the final entry point for settlers moving into the Grande Prairie and Peace River areas.

Spurred on by the general optimism and expansion of 1912–13 and by its own aggressive promotional efforts, Grouard quickly prospered. The promotional material emphasized that four railways would serve Grouard, thereby securing its position as a distributing and commercial centre.1 Land companies stimulated interest by advertising town lots as excellent investment opportunities.2 The town borrowed $60,000 based on a bylaw for a cemetery, town hall, fire hall and fire equipment.3

Grouard traces its commercial development to 1801 when it became the site of Blondin’s fort, a tiny Northwest Company outpost.4 The rival Hudson’s Bay Company established its post at the west end of Lesser Slave Lake in about 1815. When the two companies merged, only one fort was maintained in this location. The Hudson’s Bay Company invited the English Wesleyan Missionary Society to place four missionaries in the northwest. One stopped briefly at Lesser Slave Lake Fort in late 1841 on the way to his mission station at Norway House.5 The first Roman Catholic missionary arrived in 18456 and the St. Bernard mission was opened in 1870. In 1889 an English Protestant mission was established.7

The opening of the Athabasca Trail in 1877 placed Fort Lesser Slave Lake on the supply route to the Peace River and New Caledonia forts.8 Klondike gold prospectors brought a significant stimulus to the commercial life of the community in 1897–98.9

The Dominion government opened a lands sub-office a the settlement in 1908. A year later the office became a full agency in anticipation of an influx of settlers following the subdivision of 30 townships on the Grande Prairie. On September 27, 1909 the settlement became incorporated as a village and took the name Grouard10 after Msgr. Émile-Jean-Baptiste-Marie Grouard, an oblate priest from France.11

By 1913 the population of Grouard had reached 1,201.12 Confidence turned to alarm, however, when the rail lines projected to pass through Grouard were not being built. As the Edmonton, Dunvegan and British Columbia Railway approached the area, it sought and received approval in September 1913 to alter its original 1911 line location in the area west of Lesser Slave Lake.13 The town appealed to the Board of Railway Commissioners to have it consider yet another alignment that would bring the ED&BCR line closer. This line location would see the railway pass close to Grouard and the long-established settlements of Salt Prairie and Big Prairie before turning west to connect with the approved line location at mile 256 (Kathleen).14 The Board rejected Grouard’s proposal, and the railway passed six miles south of the town.15 When the railway reached Peace River in 1916, lake and overland freighting facilities at Grouard became redundant, and by 1915 Grouard’s population had fallen to 200.16

Although the railway brought prosperity to the larger Grande Prairie-Peace River area, Grouard represents only one of a number of established communities across western Canada that disappeared or declined when a railway bypassed it.


1. Public Archives Canada, RG 43, Volume 497, File 14635.2, Brochure, The Capital of the North, 1913, p. 16.
2. M. Zaslow, “A History of Transportation and Development of the Mackenzie Basin from 1871–1921” (Dissertation, University of Toronto, 1948), p. 235.
3. Ibid., p. 240.
4. R. Babcock, Lesser Slave Lake: A Regional History (Edmonton: Provincial Archives of Alberta, 1975), p. 74; Provincial Archives of Alberta 971.321 L566.
5. Ibid., p. 133.
6. Ibid., p. 137
7. MGR. S.G. Grouard, Souvenirs des mes Soixante Ans d'Apostolat dans l'Athabasca-Makenzie, Oeuvre Apostolique de M.I. Lyon, France, La Liberte, Winnipeg, Canada n.d. (circa 1922), p. 248.
8. H.A. Innis, The Fur Trade in Canada (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1930), p. 348.
9. Zaslow, “A History of Transportation,” p. 55.
10. Ibid., p. 150.
11. Grouard, Souvenirs des mes Soixante Ans, pp. 2, 13, 14.
12. Zaslow, “A History of Transportation,” p. 326.
13. PAC, RG 43, Volume 497, File 14635.2, Report of W.R. Smith, Acting Chief Engineer, Edmonton, Dunvegan and British Columbia Railway, to Board of Railway Comissioners for Canada in the matter of the appeal of the town of Grouard to the Honourable Minister of Railways, April 1914.
14. PAC, RG 43, Volume 497, File 14635.2, Report of survey proposed main line location of the ED and BCR via the town of Grouard by R.W. Jones, Consulting Engineer for the town of Grouard, 23 April 1914, to support the letter of A.T. Kerr, Assistant Engineer, BRC, 2 May 1914, to George A. Mountain, Chief Engineer, BRC Ottawa, Canada.
15. Letter to George A. Mountain, Chief Engineer, Board of Railway Commisioners for Canada to the Honourable Minister of Railways and Canals, Ottawa, 7 May 1914.
16. Zaslow, “A History of Transportation,” p. 329.