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With an unnerving faith in its manifest destiny, however, the Town of Grouard soldiered on, daring both the railway company and the government to ignore the facts of the matter. Here was, after all, a thoroughly modern community, ideally situated in the agricultural heartland, replete with yeoman industriousness and ingenuity, a town site reminiscent of the ideal cities proposed by the ancient architects. Imagine what it would be like, thought the citizens of Grouard, with the railways running! Through the autumn of 1913, the town kept up a steady stream of correspondence to Ottawa, besieging the minister with demands for a fair hearing of its case. To advocate its position, C.F. Newell, of the Edmonton firm of Newell, Ford, Bolton & Mount, was despatched east, and evidently his pleas for justice were viewed in a sympathetic light. Somewhat unexpectedly, and much to the consternation of the railway company, after listening to Mr. Newell and after consulting with the Board of Railway Commissioners and its chief engineer, the minister rescinded the federal government's approval of the original route and called for a formal hearing. Further, the town would be permitted to conduct its own independent engineering survey of the overland approach to Grouard and have local affidavits sworn to be placed in evidence. In the meantime, Assistant Engineer Kerr of the Board would similarly "look into the question of the route of the Edmonton, Dunvegan and British Columbia Railway in that vicinity."
As it turned out, this concession on the part of the Ministry merely delayed the inevitable. On August 26, 1914, after three days of testimony in the minister's West Block office, it was concluded that "the Railway Company's proposition was the right one," and the town's objection to the EOBCR's route application was overruled. Shortly thereafter, most of Grouard picked up and moved, buildings and all, to High Prairie, the new "boom town" situated on the railway ten miles to the west. Embers were kept aglow with EOBCR president J.O. MacArthur's rather lame promise to construct a spur to the town "sometime in the future," but these were crushed out finally in 1918 with a note from the minister to the mayor of Grouard, which stated that MacArthur found it impossible to do further work on the railway, owing to the currently unfavourable economic circumstances. Nothing further was said on the subject.
This remarkable episode in Albertan history does, however, merit further attention. Of special interest are the components of the nearly successful campaign mounted by the town to convince the federal government to force the EDBCR into its urban precincts, in particular a series of photographs likely taken during the autumn of 1913, and the affidavits sworn out by local landowners, all of which were placed in evidence before the Board of Railway Commissioners. Two sets of Grouard photographs were discovered in a file held by the National Archives of Canada (RG 43, vol. 497, file 14635.1), which forms part of a series of records comprising the surviving operational documents of the Railway Branch of the Ministry of Railways and Canals dating from 1879. Evidently, these are the copies the minister must have examined during his deliberations upon the validity of Grouard's challenge to the intentions of the EDBCR. One of the sets is adhered to foolscap and labelled, helping us to identify individual buildings and the landscape of the urban topography as it was in 1914. The enclosed affidavits also provide interesting details of pioneer farm sites, identifying families, mapping out terrain, tallying livestock, and generally setting down evidence of local agricultural endeavour.
But perhaps more than anything else, we have in this file dramatic testimony to the importance of the railways in the settlement of the Canadian West. Everything depended on the ribbons of steel that forged the commercial and communications linkages between the pioneer towns - so much so that the mere suggestion of a railway depot was sufficient to spur into action a whole range of capital resources, create a market-place for the land speculators, entrepreneurs, traders and shopkeepers, and attract to the site hundreds of settlers like iron filings to a magnet. This is the story of Grouard's rise to prominence, its brief but dazzling moment in the sun, and eventually its rapid tumble into obscurity. Today, Grouard is a quiet little village ten or so miles north of Highway 2, and celebrated as an Albertan "ghost town," a colourful curiosity of the past. As we head into the 1990s, one wonders whether the gradual disappearance of our railways will eventually have a similar effect elsewhere.