Over the years, what is now the County of Barrhead has been made up of many local improvement districts and municipalities. Prior to the formation of a local government, the area from Dunstable to Fort Assiniboine was served by two main access roads from the City of Edmonton. The two roads leading out of Edmonton were the Athabasca Trail heading northeast and the Klondike Trail heading northwest, which was used by gold prospectors in 1898.
Barrhead Centennial Museum:
Originally established in 1906, Barrhead's position as a major trade center on the historic Klondike Trail gave it a significant role in the settlement of northwestern Alberta. The rich history of the area can be explored at the Barrhead Centennial Museum
. The Barrhead & District Historical Society operates the museum on a volunteer basis, and a museum curator is hired part time. The museum features a vast collection of artifacts depicting the pioneering lifestyle of the settlers in Barrhead, and a complete collection of the local newspaper archive.
The museum is also home to the Barrhead Visitor Information Center from June to September.
The Klondike Trail Society has worked on mapping and locating historic sites in the County of Barrhead. The Strongheart Historic Site (located on Twp Rd 610 & Rge Rd 43) consists of a cairn, graves and a trail, as well as the remains of an old cabin. For information regarding this site, contact Ed Graham at 780-584-2211. The Pembina Crossing site is also marked by cairn, and there is trail access to it on Range Road 31A. These old trails can still be seen today, and run through to Woodlands County in the Fort Assiniboine Wildlands Sandhills.
Early European Settlement:
Settlement took place along the main access points of the Klondike Trail, and spread out to remote areas as settlers and farmers moved into the area. The majority of settlers were from Britain and the U.S.
In the early 1900's, the supply hub for the area was the City of Edmonton, eighty miles southeast. As the area developed, supply hubs opened in Morinville, Sangudo, and Onoway. In 1927, the Northern Alberta Railway built the Pembina Valley Railway to Barrhead. The area was heavily timbered, and numerous sawmill operations were subsequently established. The County struggled with establishing roads to serve the sudden influx of industrial activity.
First Municipal Government:
The periodic flooding of the Pembina and Paddle Rivers took their toll on local roads and bridges, as they do to this day. The demand for better roads led to the formation of the the first Local Improvement District in May 1910. The first elected authority was struck (ID No. 30-B-5), known as the Paddle River Local Improvement District (LID). The first meeting was held in Gordon McDonald's home at Dunstable.
McDonald later became the member of parliament for the constituency. The newly elected council comprised of Markus Basche, Ernie Steinert, C.F. Speck, R.D. Taylor, and Otis Johnson. Of these, Basche was elected Reeve and George Koffman was appointed secretary-treasurer at a salary of $225.00 per year.
The Municipal District (MD) of Barrhead was formed from part of Lac Ste. Anne, part of Westlock, and parts of LID No. 107. W. A. MacGregor organized the first election for the area. The first Council for the MD of Barrhead was elected in March 1955. There were five divisions, represented by the following Councillors:
- Division One: W.R.S. Wilson
- Division Two: E.N. Enders
- Division Three: WM. Olthius
- Division Four: George Schultz (Reeve)
- Division Five: Claude McKay
The municipality applied for permission to form a County in 1958, and took over School Division operations. At this time, seven divisions were formed (as it stands today).
Throughout its history, County elected officials and staff have overseen many changes and improvements, from horse-pulled graders to the new motor graders, from school buildings that cost $10 per sq foot to a cost of $200.00 per sq ft today. Many people have served the County as councilors or municipal staff through the years, and we extend our heartfelt thank you to all these dedicated citizens.