Edson was incorporated as a town on September 21st, 1911. The community came into existence as a result of the Grande Trunk Pacific Railroad laying track through the Canadian west to the Rocky Mountains. As the steel pushed on, land speculators felt the Mountain Divisional Point would be located at a spot called Wolf Creek. They moved in and purchased all available land. Upon learning of the land speculation, Grande Trunk officials moved the purposed site eight miles west and planted their flag in the muskeg, thus establishing the location of a new community which was initially known as Heatherwood. A petition, by the residents, to the Post Master General, requested that the name of the post office be changed from Heatherwood to Edson in recognition of Edson J. Chamberlain, General Manager of the Grande Trunk Pacific. When the rails reached Edson in August of 1910, the population had climbed to eight hundred people. By March 15th, 1912, the population had jumped to one thousand, two hundred and thirty-nine.
Edson was the center of its own small universe. The railroad provided access to the rich Alberta Coal Branch and the Edson area acted as a supply depot as the railroad was pushed west. Edson was also the jumping off point for the many people who travelled over the Edson - Grande Prairie Trail to homestead in the Grande Prairie region. The Trail was opened up by the Alberta government to encourage settlers to make their way to this northern Alberta region and use of the Trail commenced in 1911. The Edson - Grand Prairie Trail did not see a long history of use, as by 1917, a railway had been built from Edmonton to Grande Prairie, thus rendering the Edson Trail obsolete.
During the same period of time the Grande Trunk Pacific was moving west, a second company, the Canadian Northern Railroad was seeking a northerly route across the Canadian west. It duplicated track and in some places parallelled the G.T.P. within yards. The Canadian Northern track bypassed Edson by a few miles and went through the town site of Tollerton.
Following World War I, the Grande trunk Pacific and the Canadian Northern declared bankruptcy. The Canadian government stepped in and consolidated both companies into the Canadian National Railway. As the Grande Trunk Pacific had constructed a large depot and other installations in Edson, and the citizens had assumed a dept of $60,000.00 for the newly constructed "Red Brick School", it was decided that Edson would become the Mountain Divisional Point rather than the Canadian Northern location of Tollerton. The old Tollerton town site is near Willmore Park, southwest of Edson. The remains of the Canadian Northern bridge across the McLeod River can still be seen.
The advent of the automobile served to emphasize Edson's isolation from the outside world, as its' only access was the railroad. The abandoned road beds of the two railroads offered a solution to the problem and citizens worked together to remove the remaining ties. A road west to Jasper was passable in the early 1920's, but a road east existed in theory only and was barely usable until the mid 1930's. Much of what is now Highway 16 was constructed over the original rail beds.
In the 1930's the railroad still played a major role in Edson's economy. Carloads of bituminous coal, from the Coal Branch, rolled through Edson on their way to Canadian and world markets. The continuing development of this resource in the Coal Branch gave the economy an additional boost until after World War II, when oil became the preferred fuel. During this same period of time, railroad locomotives were being converted from coal to oil fired engines. This contributed to the decline of the coal mining industry in the Coal Branch. As the mines gradually shut down, people moved elsewhere and the railroad fell into disrepair and a very colorful era in this part of the country came to a close.
The forest industry has always played an important role in Edson and District. In the early 1950's North Western Pulp and Power (now Weldwood of Canada Limited) began to survey in this area for a site on which to construct their pulp mill. While they finally located in Hinton, they were able to secure the rights to much of the timber around Edson and many small timber operators were forced to leave the district. In 1984, a resource-based plant went into production with the opening of the Pelican Mills (now Weyerhaeuser) oriented strand board plant. Weyerhaeuser makes use of the abundant supplies of aspen and white popular and manufactures a wood product which rivals the use and performance of plywood.
Edson is located on one of the largest gas fields in Alberta. The first wet gas discovery was made in the Edson area in 1955. Petroleum headlined the 1960's. Exploration, drilling, collection, transporting and servicing of the oil and gas industry brought prosperity to Edson and surrounding district. Today, producing oil and gas wells, gas processing plants and pumping stations are easily visible throughout the area.
In the 1970's coal once again became a viable product and strip mining was commenced around the old Luscar and Coal Valley town sites.
Natural resources in West Central Alberta have provided and will continue to provide an excellent economic base for our community.
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