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Alberta, Past and Present, Historical and Biographical
Vol 2
John Walter


John Walter could well be classed as one of Edmonton's builders and promoters. He resided in the city for a half century and was a potent force in promoting its growth and progress along many lines. He aided in advancing the work of pioneer times and in the later period of progress and improvement and the worth of his labors can scarcely be overestimated.

John Walter was born at Stenness, in the Orkney Islands, August 12, 1849, and in the year in which he attained his majority he joined the service of the Hudson's Bay Company and sailed from his native town in the Hebrides to York Factory on Hudson Bay. He traveled westward by way of Norway House oil Winnipeg and the Saskatchewan river to Edmonton, proceeding by York boat until, when the river was frozen over, the journey had to be continued by dog train. Before leaving his native country Mr. Walter had learned the boat builder's trade and it was at Edmonton that a large number of the York boats from the Hudson's Bay Company were built. These had a cargo capacity of five tons and the boats were sharp at both ends. These boats could carry sail when circumstances permitted and for nearly a century they were used by the company as a means of transportation oil rivers through Canada. About the time of Mr. Walter's arrival there was a change in the method of transportation from York boats to team and wagon across the plains, while later steamers oil rivers were utilized and in the '80s railways supplanted the earlier methods of transportation. Buffalo robes constituted the principal source of trade of the Hudson's Bay post when Mr. Walter came and buffalo meat largely supplied the larder. It was not until four years later that the mounted police force established the authority of Canada in the western country. Mr. Walter bore his part in the work of early development and improvement and met unfalteringly the hardships and privations of pioneer life. One of the local papers at the time of his death said of him: "Mr. Walter fitted into the scheme of things throughout all the changes that took place. Quiet, unobtrusive, efficient, reliable, never assuming to lead but always well to the front in the march of progress, he bore his part at all times in the work that brought about the transformation of this country." Because of his light hair he was known by the Indians as Wapstiquan, meaning whitehead.
For five years Mr. Walter remained in the service of the Hudson's Bay Company and at the end of that time took up his abode on the river flat on the south side opposite the Hudson's Bay fort, now known as Walterdale, there continuing to reside until his death. He established the first cable ferry across the Saskatchewan at that point and he was also engaged in boat building at Edmonton and at Athabasca Landing. For a time he was associated in the enterprise with John Irvine but later the partnership was dissolved. When Mr. Walter removed to the west he brought by cart from Wininpeg one of the first coal stoves ever used in Edmonton and at that time it was an open question as to whether Edmonton coal was useful for fuel. With the building of the railroad to the south side of the river in 1891 Mr. Walter recognized his opportunity for the development of his business and established a sawmill in Walterdale, being associated in this undertaking with William Humberstone of the Humberstone coal mine. Mr. Walter also opened a coal mine on the property in the rear of Walterdale and he made considerable investments ill estate in what was then the town of Strathcona, now a part of Edmonton, erecting there a number of dwellings and business houses. He continued to develop and expand his lumber operations with the growth and settlement of this section of the province, building a second sawmill on Ross Point oil north side of the river. He likewise built a steamboat on the Saskatchewan and he was actively interested in prospecting for oil in the Pelican Rapids. His entire course was marked by constructive business methods and his efforts constituted an important element in the steady growth and progress of the city, as well as in the up- building of his own fortune. He suffered considerably in the collapse of the boom ill but the hazardous financial blow came to him with the flood of 1915, which carried away a large stock of sawn lumber piled at the mill on Ross Point and in the flood the mill itself was destroyed. Although he was no longer able to continue his lumber manufacturing business he retained a valuable equity in his large interests and never was his reputation for honest dealing, foresight and determination questioned.

On the 21st of October, 1886, Mr. Walter was united in marriage to Miss Elizabeth Newby, who went to Morley, Canada, in 1884, as assistant matron at the Indian Orphanage and afterward became a guest at the Hardisty home at Edmonton, Mr. Hardisty being chief factor of the Hudson's Bay Company. In the big house of the chief factor the marriage of Mr. Walter and Miss Newby was celebrated and they traveled life's journey happily together for more than a third of a century, until death separated them on the 25th of December, 1920, Mr. Walter passing away at that date and leaving two sons: John William and Stanley, who are engaged in farming. His life was indeed an active and useful one. He was a member of the first city council of Strathcona, thus serving for six years and he declined to become mayor of the city. He ever stood for progress and improvement in everything that pertained to the material, intellectual, social and moral welfare of the community and his life record constitutes an integral chapter in the annals of Edmonton. When he passed away Harry V. Laughy, an old-time friend, under the caption of "Rest. in Peace," wrote the following poem to the memory of John Walter:

"Today we break the sacred sod
That grows above our old-time dead;
Another one would join the host
That long our early conquest led.
While herald angels sang on high
He laid aside his load of care
And faced the last, long, sunset trail,
To meet the others, waiting—there.

"Old friend—tried friend of back-flung years—
Whose hand was ever wont to give,
Thou 'rt dead today, they'd have me think,
But long thy kindly works shall live.
The settler's child, in years long past,
Oft knelt to bless thy hand that gave;
That settler's child—a way-worn man—
Shall kneel today beside thy grave.

"Thou 'rt passed, thy just reward to claim,
In realms beyond the set of sun;
Thy monument—already reared—
A thousand kindly deeds well done;
Upon the stone that marks thy grave—
Oft blessed by friendship's un-shed tear—
May hands of Love inscribe the words:
'Here sleeps a whole-souled pioneer.'


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