Lousana celebrates its centennial this weekend

The prairies of East Central Alberta in ancient times were a wonderful paradise. There were lush grasslands with many springs and small lakes. As a result, the region teemed with enormous herds of bison or buffalo.

Consequently, the region became a favoured hunting area for the First Nations and later the Métis. One of the major routes linking northern and southern Alberta, often known as the Blackfoot Trail, crossed the area. In the 1860s and 1870s, large buffalo hunter camps sprang up in the region.

Tragically, the vast herds of buffalo rapidly vanished and were gone by the mid-1880s. However, over the next three decades, a new activity, cattle ranching, began to develop in these rich grasslands.

One of the early ranchers attracted to the region was Judge William Biggs of Missouri. A veteran of the Civil War, he had settled in Louisiana, Missouri where he practiced law. He then moved to St. Louis where he became a judge on the Court of Appeals.

After his retirement from the bench, he decided to try his hand at ranching in the Quill Lakes district of East Central Alberta. Together with his brother-in-law, William Caldwell, he acquired several sections of land at Quill Lake, and also in the Hand Hills, near what is now Hanna, Alberta.

Biggs and Caldwell brought up several hundred head of long-horned cattle from Missouri. Soon they were amongst the biggest ranchers in the region.

The hard winter of 1906-1907 dealt a devastating blow. Many of the cattle either starved or were frozen to death.

In the aftermath, Judge Biggs concentrated on the holdings at Quill Lake while his brother-in-law took over the Hand Hills operations.

Things changed dramatically in 1910-192 when the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway was constructed as a new rail link between northern and southern Alberta. A deal was struck with Judge Biggs to establish a townsite on part of his land.

Judge Biggs wanted to call the new community Louisiana, after his old home in Missouri. However, the postal authorities vetoed the proposal. The name Lousana was adopted instead. One wag once quipped that although the fledgling hamlet had lost both of its ‘I’s, it still had a good view of the future.

The new community quickly sprang to life. Eventually, there were a couple of stores, a bank, a boarding house, a livery barn, a restaurant, a pool hall, a hotel and a number of residences. Ultimately, the community had a population of more than 70.

The great settlement boom largely collapsed with the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. However, Lousana continued as a regional trade centre. Also a big change for the community came in October 1917 when the Quill Lake, Long Lake, West Lousana and, initially, the East Lousana school districts were amalgamated to form the Lousana Consolidated School District.

At first, the Long Lake and Quill Lake school buildings were merged to create a new schoolhouse in the Lousana townsite. In 1929, this structure was replaced with a new, two-storey schoolhouse. This new school was often viewed as the heart of the community.

In the years following the War, Lousana continued as a small, quiet but quite stable community. In 1919, an Alberta Pacific grain elevator was built, followed by an Alberta Wheat Pool elevators in 1929.

The last few decades have seen many changes to the community. Train service ended. The two elevators closed. More and more students were bussed to nearby Delburne and eventually the school closed. Most of the businesses in the hamlet shut down, with many of the old buildings eventually being torn down or destroyed by fire.

Despite these changes, there is still a strong sense of community in Lousana. One of the most important buildings is the large community hall that was built in the 1980s, replacing the one which had been built in 1928.

On Sept. 1, Lousana will be celebrating its centennial. A great many activities are planned for that day and over the long weekend. All current and past residents, and anyone else interested in the rich history of the community, are invited to attend.