History & Heritage

History & Heritage

Whitecourt’s history is rich in diversity and involves a long established tradition of working together.

Whitecourt - A History 1975-2010

Whitecourt's second history book is now available for purchase. The publication contains a comprehensive history of Whitecourt and the surrounding area, during the period 1975 to 2010. The growth of the community, industry and business during this time are portrayed, as a follow-up to the original history book, Sagitawah Saga – The Story of Whitecourt, published in 1976.

This history book is available for purchase for $20 (including GST) at the following locations:

  • Whitecourt & District Public Library
  • Whitecourt Town Office
  • Allan & Jean Millar Centre
  • Forest Interpretive Centre

The Town of Whitecourt recognizes the outstanding efforts of the Whitecourt & District Heritage Society for creating this legacy for our community. The history book was printed with support from the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation.

The Interpretive Gallery provides information in the areas of industry and logging and explains how the development of Whitecourt was influenced and shaped by local forestry activities. Admission to the gallery is by donation.

All funds raised through Admission Fees go directly to the Whitecourt & District Heritage Society to assist with its ongoing efforts to preserve Whitecourt’s history.

Visit the Tourist Information Centre in the summer and staff will take you on a guided tour of the heritage buildings located in Heritage Park. The Park features the old Blue Ridge Church, Baxter Cabin and a trappers shack. Staff provide guided tours through the heritage buildings and offer insights as to the significance the buildings had in the history and development of our community.

The original inhabitants, the Woodland Cree Nation, call this beautiful area Sagitawah – “the place where the rivers meet.” Located on the eastern border of the foothills of the Rocky Mountains , Whitecourt is nestled in a valley at the confluence of four waterways:

  • The mighty Athabasca River, winding east through the gap between the Swan Hills and House Mountain from the Columbia Icefield Glacier, a small precious remainder of the ice cover once so significant in sculpting our landscape.
  • The beautiful McLeod River, flowing northeast, down from the eastern slopes of the Rockies.
  • The Sakwatemau (Eagle) River, joining the Athabasca River from the northern glacial basin lakes, Carson and Pegasus.
  • Beaver Creek, flowing down from the springs of House Mountain in the south.

The rivers were crucial for transportation and sustenance for early residents. The soil is well-suited to support the typical flora of the softwood lumber which provides the primary resource for the area. The hills surrounding the lakes were home to a plentiful variety of wildlife and held invisible riches of energy resources that continue to support Whitecourt today.

In 1897, the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) recognized that Sagitawah had many of the advantages and opportunities required to operate a successful trading post. A seasonal post was built close to the present location of the Whitecourt Golf and Country Club. The rush for Klondike gold brought a steady stream of prospectors who found it a convenient stopping and staging point. After Treaty 8 was signed at Grouard in 1899, Alberta Abraham exercised his option to take a homestead and live off the reserve and became the first settler in Sagitawah.

As traffic through the valley increased, the HBC felt justified in employing a full time agent at the post. John Goodwin and his wife move to Whitecourt in 1904/05, took a homestead, and worked as the HBC agent.

The controversial name of Whitecourt was chosen when a post office was constructed in 1910. Settlers in the area apparently preferred the traditional names of “Sagitawah” or “McLeod Flats,” but according to one account, the Post Master in Greencourt registered the name as Whitecourt after Walter White, who carried the mail across the trail from Greencourt. Whitecourt became the official postal address and the name of the hamlet. And so began the “modern” saga of Sagitawah, or as we now know it: Whitecourt.

By the late 1920s, Whitecourt was a well-established settlement boasting two hotels, a restaurant, a resident doctor, a bank, a school, a pool hall, a livery barn, several general stores, a laundry and shoe repair business, a butcher shop and two churches.

After World War II, and through both boom and bust years of the last half of the 20th century, Whitecourt continued to thrive and grow at an average of three percent a year along with the services required to meet the needs of this vibrant community. In the year 1959 the community was incorporated as a village – and in the year 2009 celebrated its 50th anniversary.

Today the Town of Whitecourt provides a wide variety of urban amenities and numerous recreational and leisure opportunities.

Spanning generations, acknowledgement of the land is a traditional custom of Indigenous peoples when welcoming outsiders onto their land and into their homes.  To build respectful relationship acknowledging the land is an important part of reconciliation.  It honours the authentic history of North America, its original people, and tells the story of the creation of this country that has historically been missing.

In that spirit, the Town of Whitecourt acknowledges that we are on land covered by Treaty 6, with Treaty 8 just to our north, a traditional meeting ground and home to Nakota and Cree people of Alexis and Alexander First Nations, as well as the Metis peoples of Region 4.  We acknowledge the contributions of all nations.