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So They Called it Whiskey Gap

Heritage of the High Country
A History of Del Bon
ita and
surrounding Districts Pages 45 - 46

The following article appeared in the Lethbridge Herald on Monday, May 8, 1961.
by Fraser Perry
Herald Staff Writer

"Whiskey Gap" is what they call the place. There seems to be some doubt about the whiskey, but the townsite is in a pass through the Milk River range of hills which suggests the name "gap" at first glance.

The whiskey story is that a party of liquor runners in the early days, hard pressed by the police, cached three barrels of whiskey on the south rim of the gap, overlooking the present settlement.

But no whiskey has ever been found.

The history of the place abounds in tales of that kind, and many of these are to be recalled when the CBC television network will carry a National Film Board production entitled "The Days of Whiskey Gap.

The film includes interviews with such people as 104-year-old Harry Walden, who was once a NWMP scout, and Mrs. Sarah Card, wife of the founder of Cardston. These old-timers tell the story of the early days from their own recollections.

Even the producer of the film is a native of the district. He is Colin Low, whose father is well known as manager of the Mormon Church Ranch near Cardston.

But neither natives nor old timers are easy to find in the Whiskey Gap area. The man now longest resident at Whiskey Gap itself is J. J. Secretan, who arrived shortly before the First World War.

Mr. Secretan, of course, has no first-hand knowledge of the old days, but he can recount a good deal of Whiskey Gap history from tales the original settlers told. And the place is alive with history.

Just two miles east of Whiskey Gap is the ford over the Milk River which was used by the bull team freighters from Fort Benton. Here a party of North West Mounted Police camped after crossing into Alberta from Montana (the boundary is only two miles south) in 1874. Here was a well-used stopping place on a well-travelled road.

The excitement of the early days gave way to optimism about a more stable kind of future during the late 20's, when a railway branch line reached Whiskey Gap, and a store was established.

Soon wheat was being hauled from a 25-mile radius - including even part of Montana - to the Gap's three elevators. In 1938 one elevator handled 364,000 bushels. But this year that same elevator will not ship 50,000.

For the railway never went any farther. Now the store has been closed for five years and several houses have been moved away. A small loading establishment for crude oil has been partly dismantled.

Train service is reduced to about a one-way freight per month, or as often as there are half a dozen cars of grain to be moved.

Whiskey Gap's one unchanging claim to distinction is that it stands on the watershed between Hudson Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

The Milk River Ford is now occupied by a bridge, and water metering station. The settler's cabin which stood over a spring above the road east has disappeared. Only "possible" vestiges of the once well-travelled bull team tracks are visible here and there.

The days of Whiskey Gap are gone, and only the colorful name remains to remind South Albertans of the colorful past when this sleepy hamlet was on the main road to everywhere, travelled daily by traders, Indians, police and others.

Whiskey Gap is alone with its past.

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Mary Tollestrup