The turn of the last century was a dynamic time in Central Alberta’s history. The steady flow of new settlers into the region turned into a veritable flood. In May 1905, the Red Deer Land Titles Office recorded the largest percentage increase in homestead entries of any land office in Canada.
As the available land near the burgeoning Town of Red Deer was taken up, the new settlers began taking up homesteads farther out. Those who liked open prairie land headed east. Those who preferred forested areas, with its plentiful supply of wood for building materials, fuel and shelter, headed westwards.
Many of those who were attracted to the west country were Scandinavians who were used to that kind of countryside in their former homes. Several came directly from Norway, Sweden and Denmark as well as Iceland and Finland. Others had initially settled in such places as Minnesota and Wisconsin and then headed to the new frontier of west Central Alberta.
A number settled southwest of Sylvan Lake and Eckville. A particularly favoured area was north of the Raven River. So many Swedish settlers chose land in the district that it became known as Nya Bachen, a Swedish phrase meaning new land or hillside. However, in 1908, when a post office was established, the postal authorities decided to use New Hill as the name instead of Nya Bachen.
The story of John Falk, the first postmaster, indicates some of the challenges faced by these early pioneers. He had to walk 23kms south to Markerville to deliver and pick up the mail. This trip had to be made once a week, regardless of the weather.
By 1911, there were enough families in the district that a decision was made to build a school. Nels Linneberg got the contract to construct the building for $600. However, even with money being worth much more than it is today, the sum was very low. Hence, Mr. Linneberg, with his helpers John Holmgren and John Lauder, used fieldstones for the foundation. Floor joists were made from hand-hewn tamarack, while hand-hewn spruce was used for the studdings.
Once the schoolhouse was finished in 1912, it quickly became the community centre, as well as the place where the settlers’ children were educated. Hence, many dances, socials, church services and meetings were held there.
The early years were hard and cash was very short. The early settlers faced the backbreaking work of clearing the land and creating their first fields and pastures. However, many were excellent craftsmen who were able to erect snug log homes that were so well built that some still stand today.
Moreover, most were excellent gardeners, which helped keep food on the table. Several were skilled dairymen. The ‘cream cheques” that they got at Markerville and other local creameries proved a welcome source of cash in the early days.
The challenges of creating a new home in a frontier area built a very strong sense of community and helping one’s neighbours. The New Hill Ladies Club was created when two women dropped by to visit a neighbour who was suffering from a broken leg and they decided to organize a group to help the community and their neighbours.
In 1918, the residents created the New Hill Telephone Company to provide phone service. This was later reorganized as the New Hill Mutual Telephone Co. Power arrived just after the Second World War with the creation of a rural electrification association.
Conditions began to change dramatically in the 1950s. In 1950-51, one of the very first oil wells in West Central Alberta was drilled on the farm of Henry Linneberg. Soon, there was a great deal of oil patch activity in the district.
As the roads improved, there were changes to the school. First, the schoolhouse was moved to a new location and put on a cement foundation. In 1956, the New Hill School closed and the students were bussed to Condor and Spruce View.
After the school closed, the schoolhouse was converted into a community centre. Thus, the strong community spirit continues. So does the well-earned pride in the wonderful success of the pioneer families in turning a frontier wilderness into a magnificent agricultural heartland.