Entwistle’s History

The village of Entwistle started as a railway town. In 1908 the grade for the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway was under construction and several hundred men were employed at various places in the area. When the rails were laid from Stony Plain as far as Entwistle in the fall of 1909, construction of the railway trestle over the Pembina River began. Entwistle was then the “end of steel” until the bridge was completed.

Because of the many men employed in railroad construction and also because many new settlers were filing on homesteads in the surrounding districts, Mr. James G. Entwistle, a railway man with the foresight to claim a homestead himself, built a general store on his homestead in the spring of 1908. This was the first business established in the village and it was followed by other businesses that same summer.

Later in the summer of 1908 it was decided that a Post Office should be opened. Up to this time the village was called “Pembina” after the river which is its western boundary. However, the name of the new Post Office had to be different. Several names were suggested, honoring early settlers, and “Entwistle” was the name that was finally accepted.

In the spring of 1909 the village was incorporated under Provincial charter, the “said area containing not less than twenty-five occupied dwelling houses”. A special Grand Trunk Pacific edition of a newspaper called “The Alberta Homestead” described the village this way: “Entwistle has the most progressive class of people in the Province: a board of trade, village council, land office, four general stores, one doctor, one drug store, three real estate offices, one hardware store, one blacksmith shop, post office, two clothing stores, auctioneer and commission broker, Royal North West Mounted Police barracks, one hotel newly fitted containing fifty modern rooms in every detail, one laundry, two barber shops, six restaurants, P. Burns meat market with fresh killed meat always on hand, two feed barns and one shoemaker. A school district has been formed, a site chosen for school grounds, and school opened. Methodist and Church of England services held regularly.” The paper went on to say that Entwistle had the best prospects of any place on the Grand Trunk west of Winnipeg of becoming a large commercial centre. The village was already collecting taxes.

Prior to the building of a Royal North West Mounted Police barracks in 1909 there had been no police in the village, and it was described as the “toughest town in the Canadian Northwestern Frontier”. There were four houses of ill repute running wide open, gambling joints, moonshine stills and the open sale of that moonshine, which was illegal as the Government had decreed that no alcoholic beverages were allowed within a certain distance of railway construction camps. Five policemen, with their saddle horses and pack horses, were stationed in Entwistle in 1909. They patrolled the district all the way to the Yellowhead Pass and kept reasonable law and order in the village. At least there were no murders or knifings, though minor offenses were overlooked. The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway bridge over the Pembina River was completed in the spring of 1910, and the construction gangs then moved west. The gamblers, prostitutes, and some of the moonshiners moved with them. Also, some of the merchants just closed their businesses, or picked up and moved west too. Those that remained began catering to the large influx of new settlers that came with the railway. In 1909 it was estimated that there were from two to three thousand homesteaders within a thirty mile radius of Entwistle, all of whom got their mail and traded there. However, by this time another railway, the Canadian Northern, was approaching Entwistle and another steel bridge was built over the river. The Canadian Northern Railway was short-lived. In 1917 eighty miles of track near Obed were taken up as the steel was needed in the war effort. In 1923 the C.N.R. steel bridge at Entwistle was dismantled. The eight concrete pilings which supported it may still be seen along the day use road in the Pembina Provincial Park. By 1922 both railways were bankrupt and were taken over by the Dominion Government. They were amalgamated into the Canadian National system, which is in operation today.

From the beginning the water supply of the village had been from hand dug wells which tapped a water vein below the sandstone. In 1957 a water and sewer system was installed, also tapping the vein beneath the sandstone, and so the wells were no longer used. This was also the year that Northwestern Utilities installed natural gas in the village, putting an end to most of the wood and coal stoves.

Fire services were started in 1915 with the purchase of a small chemical fire wagon, now on display in front of the village office. This was the only fire protection for 42 years, until a pumper truck was purchased following the installation of water and sewer lines. Today, the Entwistle and Evansburg departments have amalgamated into the Pembina Fire Service and located in Evansburg.

The first school opened its doors in the fall of 1909 in a temporary building until 1910 when a regular school house was built. The course of Education went from five grades in one room to eleven grades in one room, then to a two room school, then to four, as the population of the village increased and the small rural schools were closed and students bussed to Entwistle. Now each grade gets its own classroom until after grade nine when students bus to Grand Trunk High School in Evansburg.

In the early years a sandstone quarry operated on the river bank south of town. Lumbering in the area was also quite active for some years, and of course the Evansburg coal mine contributed to the economy. At present the only industry in the Entwistle area is farming, some contribution from the oil and gas activity in Drayton Valley, and tourism.

In 1909 there were two churches in the village, Anglican and Methodist, and then in 1915, a Catholic church was built. Currently the only church building in Entwistle is the Entwistle Community Church, and other services are sometimes held in the Entwistle Community Hall.

After the construction crews left town, the population of Entwistle dropped significantly, times were hard and money scarce. Then the First World War started, the Evansburg coal mine became a busy place and Entwistle benefited as well from the jobs created and the money being spent.

In 1912, the Entwistle Village Council began urging the Department of Public Works for the province to build a low level traffic bridge over the Pembina where the ferry was located. That single lane bridge was finally built in 1922 and lasted until 2004, when it had to be replaced. Fortunately, local citizens correctly advised the survey crew that the original bridge needed to be higher than they were planning, or the bridge would have been destroyed during the flood of 1944, or when the river flooded again in 1986.

Power came to the village in 1949, the Pembina Power Company started by a few local men and in 1952, the power plant was moved down to the river bank and a line was run to Evansburg. In 1954, Calgary Power bought the franchise for both towns. On August 20, 1957, Northwestern Utilities celebrated the turning on of natural gas to the Village of Entwistle. A flare was lit, and a short ceremony was held. The telephone central office was moved to Evansburg in 1955. The RCMP barracks moved back to Entwistle in 1948 and then in 1959, new barracks were built in Evansburg.  A new building was built in 2011 for the RCMP in Evansburg.

In 1965, a large sum of money was bequeathed to the village with the request that it be used for something that would benefit everyone In the village. In 1973, most of the money was used to construct the J.D. Read Memorial Building housing the Public Library, the Post Office and the Credit Union. A number of years later, the balance was put towards the construction of the Public Swimming Pool.

The Village of Entwistle became a Hamlet in 1942 under the jurisdiction of the Municipal District of Pembina, essentially due to the high cost of running things, especially looking after the poor and displaced during the depression years. In 1955 it was reincorporated as a Village, but became a Hamlet again under Parkland County as of December 31, 2000.

Over the years, there have been many changes in the village. Its appearance today bears no resemblance to what it looked like in the early years of its life. Hardly any of the old buildings are left. Fire claimed many, some were torn down, or were moved away. The pioneers had great hopes for the future of Entwistle, firmly believing that it would grow into a large city. Their dreams did not materialize, but if they had not had faith in the future, the modern conveniences of this small hamlet would not exist.

More history of Entwistle and surrounding area may be obtained from the history book, Foley Trail, available at public libraries, and Tipple Park Museum in Evansburg.