A look at the life of local pioneer Alice Hall Westhead

A look at the life of local pioneer Alice Hall Westhead

Frontier communities are noted for attracting adventuresome people

Frontier communities are noted for attracting adventuresome, but also colourful and often eccentric people.

A person who is a very good example of that is Alice Hall Westhead who started a ranch with her husband Charles in the Buffalo Lake area of Central Alberta in 1892. The village of Alix is named in her honour.

Alice Charlotte Hall was born on Dec. 27th, 1863 at Lahore in the Punjab (Pakistan). She was the fourth of nine children of Charles Henry and Eliza Goldney Hall.

Her father was an officer in the Bengali Staff Corps, who eventually reached the rank of lieutenant general.

Her paternal grandfather was a member of the British diplomatic corps, while her grandmother was a member of the German (Wurttemberg) aristocracy.

Alice’s family later became known as the Byng-Halls as they were also members of the extended English aristocratic Byng family.

In November 1881, when she was still only 17, she married Major Arthur Mark Crofton, at Rawalpindi in the Punjab. Her husband was a member of a very prominent Anglo-Irish family and was the grandson of Baron Crofton of Mohill in Leitrim, Ireland.

Tragically, her husband passed away on April 13th, 1887.

There were no children. Alice subsequently remarried in July 1891 to Charles George Westhead, who was from Lamerton Parish, near Plymouth, in Devonshire, England.

There seems to have been some disapproval to her marrying a man who was seven years younger than her and who was not as well-connected as her first husband.

Shortly after their wedding, Alice and Charles went to visit the Goddard horse ranch near Calgary. While there, Valentine Neis suggested that they might consider establishing their own horse and cattle ranch in the Buffalo Lake district, east of Lacombe.

Consequently, the following year (1892) the Westheads acquired a sizeable piece of land at Prospect Hill. Shortly thereafter (1893), the new local post office was named Lamerton after Charles’ old home.

The Westheads prospered.

Their quality stallions were in great demand as breeding stock. They did well exporting polo ponies to England. The Westheads hired many young men from England, several of whom were from well-connected families. One of them, Tristram (T.I.P.) Willett, became foremen of the growing ranching operation, the Quarter Circle One.

Despite their success, the Westheads continued to have a sense of adventure.

Hence, in 1898, they and others from the ranch, decided to head for Dawson City, Yukon, for the Klondike Gold Rush. Unfortunately, they chose the ‘all-Canadian’ route north from Edmonton. After travelling 2,900 km the Westheads were forced to winter at Fort Norman on the Mackenzie River, before heading back to Alberta.

Only T.I.P. Willett made it to Dawson City.

However, shortly after his arrival, he became seriously ill with typhoid fever. He then had to head back to Alberta. He therefore did not strike it rich, unlike Francis and George Wilkins, (brothers of Annie Parlby of Lamerton) who arrived via Skagway and made a fortune with their claim on Hunker Creek.

Charles, however, still sought adventure. Consequently, in December 1899, a few weeks after arriving home, he enlisted in the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles and went overseas to fight in the Boer War.

While he was gone, Alice very capably managed the ranch.

Many nicknamed her Lady Golightly after a character in a Rudyard Kipling novel. Her close friends, however, called her ‘Di’.

In 1901, Charles returned from the war with permanent health problems. It is unclear if his war service and/or the failed trip to the Klondike caused an estrangement from his wife.

In any event, he went to the Okanagan in B.C. and to later Hong Kong. Ultimately, he moved to Nelson, B.C. where he worked as an engineer.

Meanwhile, Alice continued to run the ranch. In 1905, she went on a trip to England. During that trip, she met Sir William Van Horne, head of the C.P.R., with whom she shared a passion for bridge, among other things.

Van Horne was so smitten with his beautiful and vivacious new friend that he decided to name a townsite, on the new C.P.R. branch line near her ranch, after her. The name chosen was Alix, which was the Austrian-German version of one of Alice’s nicknames.

To be continued.