Sylvan Lake citizens celebrate 100 years

This coming weekend, during the annual 1913 Days, the Town of Sylvan Lake will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of its incorporation.

There are a number of family-friendly events planned to mark this important historical occasion.

Originally Sylvan Lake was known as Snake Lake, due to the large numbers of green garter snakes which used to be found there. However, many early residents, particularly those interested in promoting the area as a resort, felt a different name would be appropriate.

Consequently, in 1904, the name was changed to Sylvan Lake, as much of the area was heavily wooded.

Because of the thick forest, travel to the Lake was initially very difficult. It was not until 1899 that the first permanent settlers, the Loiselle family, arrived. Originally from Michigan, they started a farm and a sawmill.

They soon also established a store, hotel and post office.

Development of the area as a resort began in 1901 when families from Red Deer began coming out to camp along the Lake for the summer. In 1904, the first summer cottages were constructed.

The period between 1910 and 1914 saw tremendous growth. Two railroad lines, the Alberta Central and the Canadian Northern, were built through the community. People began to flood in to start farms and businesses or to construct summer cottages along the lakeshore.

Many of the early settlers around Sylvan Lake were French speaking. Consequently, first newspaper, The Times, was printed half in English and half in French.

In 1913, the year that Sylvan Lake was incorporated as a village, the C.N.R. announced plans to construct a mammoth summer hotel, similar to the ones built at Banff and Lake Louise. Unfortunately, with the outbreak of the First World War, the proposal was abandoned.

Following the end of the War, Sylvan Lake was a small, quiet farming centre and summer resort with only 300 permanent residents.

The 1920s and 1930s were generally hard times economically in Alberta.

However, Sylvan Lake enjoyed a period of relative prosperity. People found the Lake to be a more economical place to have a holiday than other more pretentious resorts. As a result, the permanent population jumped to more than 500 with more than 3,000 living at the Lake in the summer.

Sylvan Lake’s growth as a resort was boosted when the federal government helped build a large new public pier in 1928. Moreover, the provincial government purchased large sections of beach to ensure free public use in 1929 and then again in 1936.

Sylvan Lake became famous for its dance halls.

Among the noted halls were the Varsity Hall (originally the Trianon), Alexander Pavilion (later called the Prom) and the Oriental Gardens.

Famous bands such as Sonny Fry’s Orchestra and Mart Kenny’s group played to large crowds throughout the summer.

In 1946, the village was incorporated as a town.

There was more growth in the 1950s after Hwy 11 was improved and upgraded. The 1960s and 1970s saw even more growth as increasing numbers of people decided to build their homes and raise their families in the town while commuting to jobs in Red Deer.

The cottage areas also continued to grow and expand.

Some areas developed to the extent that summer villages such as Norglenwald, Jarvis Bay, Half Moon Bay, Sunbreaker Cove and Birchcliff were established.

In 1965, Jarvis Bay Provincial Park was established. A new public pier was built in the town by the provincial and federal governments in 1972-1973. In the 1970s and again in the early 2010s, the provincial park along the main beach was significantly improved.

Today, Sylvan Lake is one of the most popular resorts in all of western Canada. Such is the demand for lakefront lots that real estate prices are now amongst the highest in Canada.

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