History of the Sylvan Lake pier

Michael Dawe

Although it has often not felt like it, spring and summer 2011 will soon be upon us. People will begin flocking to the Central Alberta resorts to enjoy the sun and summer.

One of the most popular resorts in our region, and in the province of Alberta as a whole, is Sylvan Lake. On a good summer’s day, literally thousands of tourists flock to the main beach along Lakeshore Drive.

To help accommodate these vast crowds, over the past years, a number of amenities have been developed at the site.

One of the first of those amenities was a pier to provide better access to the water for swimmers and boaters. In 1913, Joe McCluskey, who owned a large boathouse and ran a motorized touring boat, built a large pier into the Lake.

Many people freely used the McCluskey pier, but it was not without its challenges. The pier was made in sections and was often quite wobbly. At times, one of the sections would come lose and drop those walking across it into the water.

As Sylvan Lake became more and more popular, the newly formed Women’s Institute began a push to have a sturdier, public pier constructed. A key person in this effort was Mrs. Catherine Dingwall, who operated a boarding house with her husband James on what is now 46 (Sesame) St. (the current Hazzard County Inn).

The Dingwalls were well-connected politically. They were able to elicit support for the proposed W.I. pier from R.B. Bennett, national leader of the Conservative Party and a member of parliament from Calgary.

Normally, the leader of the opposition in Ottawa does not have a large influence on the decisions of the federal government. However, in the 1920’s, the national Liberals were governing in a minority.

Thus, Bennett, along with Alfred Speakman, Red Deer’s MP and a prominent member of the Progressive Party, were able to get the federal government to contribute funding to the project.

Nevertheless, with another federal election pending, Bennett was not going to pass on an opportunity to make political points with the completion of the new pier. Consequently, at the official opening ceremonies on July 18, 1928, it was R.B. Bennett who cut the ribbon.

Assistance was also provided by George Wilbert Smith, the local MLA who represented the provincial government and Alfred Speakman, the local MP.

In 1938, another pier was built out from the end of Main Street. It was connected to the W.I. pier with a cross pier, lined with benches so that people could sit and enjoy the views of the lake.

Ice damage was an ongoing problem. In 1951, the piers were badly damaged in the spring break-up. While interim repairs were done, the federal government constructed a new pier in 1953.

This new structure also frequently suffered ice damage.

A major portion had to be rebuilt in 1958 and 1959. On-going damage and the continuing problems of rot finally resulted in only one section of the pier remaining.

In 1971, a decision was made to remove the last of the old pier.

To many people’s surprise, instead of constructing a new traditional pier, a large “landfill” was constructed instead.

Work was completed in 1973 by the North American Road Company at a cost of $150,000. Funding came from both the provincial and federal governments.

While the landfill pier was controversial, it has proved to be much more permanent than the traditional wooden piers that preceded it.

Almost 40 years later, it remains intact and a well-used attraction.

Moreover, this summer, an extensive reconstruction and refurbishment of the provincial park, along the main beach, is scheduled for completion. Thus, there will be a brand new set of amenities for the tens of thousands wishing to enjoy Sylvan Lake this summer.

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