Relatively speaking, Central Alberta is a new part of the world. While many places around the globe have hundreds, if not thousands, of years of written history, permanent settlement in this region generally commenced a mere 125 years ago.
Nevertheless, there are a number of communities and pioneer families who have been celebrating centennials in the past few years. One community that is celebrating its centennial this year is Ridgewood, a wonderful farming district located west of Penhold.
Montague Aldous, the Dominion lands surveyor who marked the fifth meridian in the summer of 1880, created one of the first detailed written records of the Ridgewood area. He was greatly impressed by the beauty of the countryside and its tremendous agricultural potential. However, he also optimistically predicted that steamboats would one-day travel up the Red Deer River to the area.
Unfortunately, there were some major impediments to settlement west of the Red Deer River. One serious problem was crossing the river. While the main ford, where Fort Normandeau was later located, was usually safe, those upstream often were not. There were a number of tragedies where settlers drowned trying to make their way across the river west of Penhold.
The Saskatchewan Land and Homestead Company was another problem. In 1882, the company bought 180 sections of land in Central Alberta, including some in the Ridgewood area. The Company wanted $10 an acre for its land. Many decided to go elsewhere for homestead land where 160 acres could be secured with a $10 filing fee.
By the late 1880s, some settlers began making permanent homes in the district. One of the first was the Angus Martin family, who came out while the Calgary-Edmonton Railway was being constructed. They found suitable homestead land on the western edge of Ridgewood. However, one of their horses drowned while they crossed the river and one of their wagons was swept downstream.
Other hardy pioneers followed, including the Bourne, Sigurdson, Kennedy, Anderson, Hollenbeck, Bickley, Tilden, Dunsmore, McCune, McDonald, McDougall, McGrandle, Rodgers, and Scott families, as well as many others.
In 1894, the settlers began holding church services in their homes. In 1901, a log church was built in the centre of the community. While nominally Presbyterian, people of all faiths attended the services.
By 1909, there were enough children in the area to form a local school district. An organizational meeting was held at the Presbyterian Church on November 29, 1909. John Bickley, Charles Hollenbeck, and William Rodgers were selected as the first trustees. The Bourne family submitted the name “Ridgewood” for the new school.
The schoolhouse was constructed at a cost of $1,187. Taxes were set at 6 ¢ per acre. On July 18, 1910, the school board was able to hold its meeting in the new school. Ella Parcels was hired as the first teacher at $50 per month, plus an additional $22 for carrying out the janitorial work.
The school quickly became the community centre. However, in 1922, a community hall was also built, to the north of the school, and provided more space for dances and socials.
In 1945, a new school was built. However, with the school consolidations in the 1950s, the school was closed in 1957-1958. The children were then bussed to River Glen School in Red Deer.
Nevertheless, Ridgewood has always remained a very active community. In addition to the church, which remained open until 1950, there was a strong Sunday School. There was a Women’s Missionary Society started in 1919, as well as a Red Cross local and Victory Club during the Second World War. There were also numerous sports clubs, youth groups and a strong 4-H program.
In 1947, the Ridgewood Women’s Institute was formed. The WI has remained an important community organization that has contributed to many projects and activities, locally and across the region.
On July 10 and 11, 2010, the Ridgewood community will be celebrating the 100 anniversary of the creation of the school district with a reunion weekend with a number of special activities. On Saturday night, there will be a potluck supper. On Sunday morning, there will be a pancake breakfast and outdoor church service.