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Woolford, Alberta

Chief Mountain Country" pages 80 - 81

Woolford, a small village, lies ten miles east of Cardston, between the St. Mary River and the Milk River Ridge. There are three distinct landmarks to show the location of Woolford, some high rolling hills to the northeast called Lumpy Butte, a lake called Butte Lake and just south of the village was Rush Lake.

Alberta at this time was a district in the Northwest Territories, and land was open to homesteaders. The prairie was covered with tall grass, and there were no roads or fences from Woolford to Cardston. Bill Aldridge was the first man to settle in this district and he built a cabin near Rush Lake in 1890. A devastating prairie fire swept the land and he moved to another location.

Ten years later in 1900, Thomas Woolford moved to the district with his family, and became the founder of the village which was named after him. He was a renowned wheat grower, civic worker and humanitarian -a very important man in the community.

Soon after his arrival the T. W. Ainscough, John Nelson, Alonzo Lamb, Leo Harris, J. A. Johansen, and Walter Pitcher families moved in. Later on the families of J. E. Steed, Bowden, Purnell, Eldridge, Green and others arrived, all contributing to the building up of this community.

In 1906 Woolford became a branch of the L.D.S. Church. W. T. Ainscough was called as Branch President, serving about ten years. J. A. Johansen became the first Sunday School Superintendent with Walter Pitcher and Alonzo Lamb as his assistants. Nellie Pitcher was the first Primary President, and on May 13, 1906 the Relief Society was organized with Eunice Harris as President, and Ella Nelson, Eleanor Eldridge, Margaret Ainscough and Hannah Woolford as assistants.

As soon as there were enough children in Woolford, a small one-roomed school was built. This building was the center of all activities, serving as church house, recreational hall and school.

In 1910 an elevator and store were built, the store being run by the elevator agent. A branch line of the C.P.R. was built from Raley to Woolford. There was a large turntable that was used to turn the engine around for the return trip to the main line. The plan at one time was to build the track to Kimball and then on to Cardston. Part of the road bed was built, but this was later abandoned and the railroad was extended to Whiskey Gap.

Before the railroad went to Whiskey Gap, the farmers hauled their grain to Woolford in grain wagons, pulled by four and six head of horses, some coming from a distance of 30 miles or more. The horses were bedded down in the livery stable and the men stayed at Hop Sing's restaurant and hotel.

Woolford was divided into two parts; the town of Woolford consisted of three elevators, a Chinese restaurant, livery stable, large storage granaries, oil tanks, a two storey store, lumber yard and office, blacksmith shop, United Church and eight houses.

A mile to the north east was called Woolford Flat and here was the school house, the L.D.S. Church and several houses.

During the early years of Woolford, water was hauled in barrels from the St. Mary River three miles away for cooking and drinking, and from the lakes for general purposes. Coal for winter supply was hauled from the Lethbridge mines by horses and wagons. To supplement the coal, buffalo chips were gathered in and stored in sheds. When the train came to Woolford, coal was brought in but sometimes there was such a small supply that it had to be rationed out to the families, allowing only a gunny sack full to each household. Wild berries were plentiful along the river banks, and the fruit was bottled for winter use.

Dr. Brant of Cardston was the only doctor, and it was difficult for him to visit the outlying districts, so the people had to depend on their own methods of curing ailments. Herbs such as yarrow, mint, dandelion, sage and others were gathered in, dried and used for medicines. Coal oil and sugar was a sure cure for croup, and sulphur and molasses cured any sickness. Woolford had two midwives, Susan Purnell and Ella Nelson, and they delivered many babies.

The road to Cardston was open prairie, and one could choose which route to take, so the prairie was marked with many sets of wheel tracks.

In 1915 Woolford was organized into a Ward, with W. T. Ainscough as the first bishop. After his release, Leo Harris became the second bishop, followed in succession by Arthur Pitcher, J. A. Johansen, J. E. Steed, W. W. Roberts, LeRoy Pitcher, Lorin Pitcher and Gibb Smith being the last bishop.

Woolford was a very active and progressive ward, engaging in such sports as baseball, basketball and other competitive sports with neighboring communities. Stampedes were held, which drew people from miles around. Jack Purnell was the outstanding cowboy at this time, and at one stampede he successfully rode Wildfire, a horse that had previously thrown cowboys at the Cardston Stampede. He was chosen to go to London to perform in a stampede which was attended by Queen Mary.

In 1930 the first elevator was burned to the ground, and later on the store, restaurant, lumberyard and office and the second elevator burned to the ground and Woolford began to decline. The United Church moved out and houses were moved away.

The school children were vanned to Cardston, the schoolhouse sold and used as a barn. Later many people moved into Cardston and Woolford became just a name.

In 1977 there are many empty houses and only four families living on the Flat. The church house is now a family home. A few people are building homes in the district. When the school and church are withdrawn from a community, it is never the same, it dies and only memories remain.

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Mary Tollestrup