Driving west toward Jasper on “The Yellowhead” has you crossing over a breathtaking river gorge, and this is where our story begins.
Originally, this route to the mountains was part of the Foley Trail, one of the most important trails from Edmonton to the mountains. In 1863 the trail passed through thick forest much of the way, and was so rough that teamsters would seldom haul to our area more than once. In the early1900’s the route bent further north than the present Yellowhead Highway and passed through two lovely little villages, joined by a single lane bridge on a relatively gentle slope. This way still exists, linking two hamlets with connections reaching back almost 100 years. The single lane bridge has had to be replaced, but the route is the same.
The spectacular Pembina River Valley is geologically quite young, and only began to form around 13,000 years ago, upon the retreat of the glaciers. The valley at Evansburg/ Entwistle is 60 metres deep and over 350 metres wide. When the High Level traffic bridge on the main highway was built in 1962, it was said to be the highest traffic bridge in all of Alberta.
The formation of the Gorge is multi-layered, with the lowest deposits consisting of clays, shales, sandstone and the distinctive light grey of abundant bentonite. Then we have coal seams of varying thicknesses and the massive yellow sandstones of the Paskapoo Formation which was deposited in deltas and floodplains more recently than the 70 million years ago of the lower deposits. The sandstone is very resistant and in this area forms cliffs around 23 metres high.
At the turn of the century, both Entwistle and Evansburg were small settlements of homesteaders and First Nations Peoples located on a river used as a main thoroughfare between Fort Edmonton and Fort Athabasca. Then, in 1908, the railroad came as far as Entwistle and stopped because of the beautiful but intimidating Pembina River Gorge. As the “end of the line”Entwistle became a thriving little settlement, complete with businesses providing services to settlers making the move west to the mountains, and the Grand Trunk Pacific Railroad crew building the bridge over that imposing river gorge. This trestle was also used for foot traffic until after the Pembina Coal Company opened the mine on the Lobstick flats in 1911. Then the road that exists today past the park was built and a ferry installed for the summer months. The “Ferry Steps” down the hill through the bush from Evansburg to the bridge by Pembina Park are still used, especially by school kids on those hot June days. When the railroad continued its trek across the gorge, in 1910, the fledgling mining town of Evansburg became official.
This area was important at the turn of the century because of those extensive coal deposits, first noticed by travelers as early as 1862. Several mines operated, such as the underground Pembina mine at Evansburg and some open pit mines farther north. The coal seams throughout the valley formation are thickest near the top, occurring beneath the river through town, but outcropping further north in the valley (often used for heating by the earlier settlers), and is actively being mined southeast at the Wabamun Lake open pit mines to supply the electric power plants. Besides the coal, the massive cliff-forming sandstone of the Paskapoo Formation was considered of importance as a building stone. In the early 1900’s, Pembina Quarries of Edmonton began mining the Entwistle area near the railroad, shipping building stone to Edmonton.
So it was, that in 1910, the two communities – the railroad town and the mining company town – began their intertwined relationship. A building stone quarry on the east side and a coal mine on the west side. Miners settled on both sides of the river, lumbermen on both sides, quarry workers, and of course farmers and families.
Now we have a trail system that connects our towns through the river valley. in conjunction with Alberta Parks, Friends of the Pembina River Society, Evansburg/Entwistle Chamber of Commerce and the Tipple Park Historical Society, we had the Opening Ceremony on September 9, 2012 with our First Annual Walk-A-Thon to raise money for local improvements.