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HISTORY OF THE RURAL MUNICIPALITY OF MILTON #292
The Rural Municipality of Milton # 292 was organized in 1911. The name of the Municipality was suggested by Bert Muirhead, who delivered mail from Kindersley to Marengo before the arrival of steel. Mr. Muirhead had immigrated from Scotland in 1908 and filed on his homestead in 1909. The name “Milton” was after a small town in his native Scotland.
Some homesteaders started taking their homesteads out as far back as 1906 but the majority came in 1909 and 1910. Following the arrival of steel in 1911 and the availability of coal, wood and groceries, settlement speeded up and was completed by 1912.
The original members of council were Richard I. Martin (Division 1), Scott Brown (Division 2), Maxwell Hall (Division 3), James McKeown (Division 4), Angus Morrison (Division 5), Oscar Roberts (Division 6) with the Reeve being A. Miller Skea and Secretary Treasurer being Louis W. Atkinson. The first meeting of council was held in the Balmoral Hotel, Marengo, January 8th, 1912.
The Municipality contains seven and one half townships and takes in Townships 28, 29, and 30 in Ranges 27, 28 and 29, West of the Third Meridian. The West boundary is the fourth Meridian and buts against the Province of Alberta border. The North boundary meets the R. M. of Antelope Park #322. The East boundary meets the R.M. of Kindersley #290 and the south boundary meets the R.M. of Chesterfield #261. Within these boundaries are the villages ofAlsask and Marengo. In earlier days the hamlets of Merid and Greene Siding existed; but both hamlets have since disappeared. It is worth noting here that the R.M. office was first located in Merid, but was moved to Marengo in 1927. The office was also the dwelling of Louis Atkinson, the first secretary-treasurer. A picture of the building ready to move can be found in the Alsask and district history book “Captured Memories” on page eighty-nine. The mover was Norman Stewart, a 1906 homesteader, whose daughter Helen still lives on a farm in the Alsask district. A motion in the minutes of November 27th, 1927 approves the payment of $45.00 for this work.
At one time there were two railroad lines running through the Municipality, both C.N.R. Rail service to the R.M came in 1909. They served the communities already mentioned. There were grain elevators located at four places, where several grain companies were on the market. Today in 2004,the main line of the C.N.R. passes through the south part of the Municipality and only one elevator company is left, that being, the newly formed. Meridian Grain located at Marengo. Number 7 highway crosses the southern half of the municipality and joins with Alberta’s number 9 highway.
The road system that has evolved within the municipality now includes, forty miles of Primary and Grid road, an additional twenty-eight miles of Main Farm Access as well as one hundred and sixteen miles of local access and one hundred and fifty-eight miles of land access road allowances.
This Municipality, like all Saskatchewan Municipalities, went through the problems of organization, followed by the depression, war and into the fifties when all weather roads were starting to be constructed. There were sixteen school divisions in the municipality, which have been absorbed into the Kindersley School Division and we now have a uniform mill rate over the whole area and students are bussed to the Westcliffe Composite School in Marengo. Some of the country schools in the Municipality included – Alsask, Merid, Wolf Willow, Marengo, East Side, Roslyn, Magnum Bonum, Grattle, Clow and South Loverna.
At one time the municipality supported the only hospital in the area, which was located in the town of Alsask. This eventually evolved to no hospital in the R.M. and tax support went to the newly formed Kindersley Union Hospital. The situation at present in respect to health care (2004) is a Clinic with six Doctors, a hospital, a long term care facility and dentists all located in Kindersley and serving a number of Municipalities. It was under the guidance of our agricultural representatives that participating municipalities constructed the present Kindersley and District Veterinary Clinic.
Starting about 1980 the council of the municipality began a serious road building and improvement program. During the next two decades existing roads were rebuilt or improved and new ones built using government grants to assist in financing the cost. Secondary roads and trails were improved by filling low areas and building grades with culverts where needed. Land access roads are flat graded and patrolled regularly through Spring and Fall. To do all this the R.M. also launched into equipment upgrading. A TX14 earthmover was purchased and regular purchasing of new graders, mowers and utility tractors keep the machinery all relatively new. It must be mentioned here that the municipality was fortunate in having as a foreman, Bob Carpenter. Because of his ability to repair and overhaul the equipment, as well as being able to engineer some of the road building jobs, that great progress was achieved. Bob Carpenter has since retired after serving more than twenty-five years. As well the R.M. was able to retain long term employees such as Kevin Rea, motor grader operator since 1986, Jack Olson, scraper operator since 1993 and Bill Rea (now retired) mower operator for more than fifteen years. Building all weather roads requires graveling them as well. Although at one time there were some good deposits of gravel in the R.M., highway construction earlier had taken a lot of it. Still, the R.M. was able to crush and stock pile the necessary amount for each year, for a long period of time. Eventually these deposits gave way to mostly sand and the pits were closed. This action resulted in acquiring gravel elsewhere and the only possible source was from deposits along the South Saskatchewan River. This would require a long haul of some forty miles. There was no other source available so about 1995 a gravel contractor was engaged to deliver to Marengo and stockpile gravel requirements to last two years. This is a costly exercise but has proved to work out well and is now an annual undertaking. Although Milton R.M. was one of the first municipalities north of the river to import gravel, several other R.M/s have been forced to do likewise, as thei own pits play out. These require even longer hauls than Milton faced. One wonders what the future holds for these gravel poor municipalities.
For a time, in the mid-eighties, the Provincial Government tried to encourage the amalgamation of municipalities. This was met with resistance in most places, however some municipalities had already amalgamated with their neighboring R.M. for any number of reasons. The neighboring R.M/s of Milton #292 and Antelope Park #322 had talked briefly about joining forces but to date have never officially done so. Never- the – less, when they agreed in 1957 to share the old office in Marengo under one administrator and an assistant, they were in effect amalgamating to that extent. Council decided to build a new home for the administrator as a joint effort. The house was built in 1954 at a cost of $5000. In the early 1970’s it became obvious that a new office was required. Not all favoured this idea, but when Reeve Goldsmith stated that he was too old to be jumping over snow banks to get to the outhouse, opposition to the new office ceased. Again this was a joint venture of both R.M/s and the result is a modern office building with lots of space and light. The two R.M/s cooperate when extra equipment is needed on some jobs and so although official amalgamation has not yet occurred, there are savings in the sharing they have done.
Along the development journey of the R.M. some significant events occurred. These events would greatly change the living conditions and the economic wellbeing of the residents. Telephone service came as early as 1916 to the Marengo area when North Marengo Telephone Co. Ltd. was formed. South Marengo Telephone Co. also was formed about the same time and in 1924 the two companies agreed to amalgamate. Similarly, the Alsask Rural Telephone Company came into being in June of 1917. These companies, Marengo and Alsask, served their respective customers for many years. Mostly they were plagued with problems of broken lines, downed pole lines, and financial problems. Collecting long distance charges and arrears was an ongoing concern. In spite of all the problems, the rural phone companies connected neighbor to neighbor in good times and bad. Eventually Saskatchewan Government telephones took over the rural systems and upgraded them with buried lines. Rural telephone companies in the R.M. were disbanded after fifty years of service.
One of the greatest improvements for the citizens of Milton was the installation of electrical service in 1956. Electrical power meant the opening of the door to modern living. Six years later in 1962, natural gas was made available to Alsask and Marengo and shortly after was distributed to the rural areas surrounding the two villages. These utilities, combined with satellite T.V., computers and a good road system, have helped Milton municipality and indeed all other municipalities of the province to become part of the modern world. The early homesteader would be astounded to see what the raw countryside he came to, has evolved into.
Even with the advancement mentioned, good things were still to come to the R.M. of Milton. One of the most important was the discovery of oil within its boundaries. In 1989 the company of Grad and Walker of Calgary began a geological study of the area. The first well was drilled on August 9,1991, located about eight miles south of Marengo. By 1997, two hundred and five wells had been drilled in the same area and a Battery constructed as well. Oil exploration was not limited to the field south of Marengo, but wells were being drilled successfully throughout the municipality with the main discoveries located close to the north and south boundaries. This oil boom was very advantageous to the P.M., who is able to levy taxes on all the installations thereby creating new wealth. For the landowners it was money in the pocket both for seismic work on their fields and for leases for the well sites. As well, water was sold for drilling and money received for the spreading of mud. Of great benefit were the number of jobs created, many of which, are filled by local farmers themselves. The R.M. of Milton also owns forty quarters of land, many of which have oil wells on them. The farming community, who had previously paid taxes for all the expenses of the R.M., suddenly had a helper, the oil industry. This new found wealth has allowed council to maintain taxes on farmland at reasonable rates.
Another significant event was the establishment of the Radar Station at Alsask. This occurred in 1961 and was to last over twenty years. Although the village of Alsask received the greatest benefit from this station the R.M. collected a fee in lieu of taxes. Again, much needed employment was available to the work force of the community and some had jobs long enough to draw pensions. Recreation facilities and housing units are still being used some two decades after the Base closed. These include a bowling alley, indoor swimming pool and the recreation center.
To describe the physical appearance of Milton R.M. at the time of settlement, one could use the word “prairie.” Just the bald prairie! No trees to break the view, just the prairie. Now almost one hundred years since settlers came, there is still some prairie left, used for pasture, but all other land once was or is presently cultivated. The land is rolling, not flat, no really big hills, just nicely rolling. There is every description of land within the borders of the R.M from really heavy clay to the very sandy. No lakes are here but there are some big lake bottoms of alkali. When these are dry, as they have been in the last few years, dry alkali drifts across them and high into the air. Modern farmsteads dot the countryside where many of the residents are third generation farmers. In most cases good quality water from wells is available.
Throughout the history of the R.M. of Milton #292 many good men and women have come and gone. People who worked hard to make this R.M. successful. Perhaps those with the greatest responsibility were the Reeves. There have been only eight Reeves over the ninety-three year history of the municipality and I think it only right that their names be listed here in this history. The first reeve was A. Millar Skea 1912-1913. Following him were Edward M. Shirk 1914 – 1917; Albert Ttsdale 1918 – 1928; Walter McKay 1929 -1944; Murdock L. Ross 1945 – 1958; Theodore
- Tierney 1959 – 1964; Edwin D. Goldsmith 1965 – 1980; and Harry M. Stasiuk 1981 -to present (2004). Of course the work of these Reeves was made much easier by the dedicated Administrators and Assistant administrators that kept things moving smoothly. Only four administrators served over the ninety-three years, so all were long term employees. They were Lewis Atkinson 1912 – 1928; J. Alfred Faubert 1929 – 1950; Harry S. Murray 1951 – 1987: Beverly A. Dahl 1988 – 2003. The present administrator is Shelley Mohr who started in 2003. Assistant Administrators were Evelyn Murray 1962 – 1990; Jeanette Nicholson 1990 – 1993;
Cindy Kaufman 1993 – 1994; Sylvia MacEwan 1995 – 1996 and Beveriy Cowie 1996 to present. Last but not least ninety eight men and one woman have allowed their names to stand and be elected as councilors. I make special mention of the one woman, Debbie Gronning, who has also made history by becoming the first woman in the province to be elected as S.A.R.M. Director. A complete list of all councilors is attached to this paper The dedication of all ninety-nine has resulted in the success the R.M. has been able to achieve The R.M. has also elected two of its councilors to the Board of Directors Tony Steiert and Deb. Gronning.
Perhaps it is wrong to single out any one person for recognition, but I will do so here because I believe it to be deserved. That person is the late Harry S. Murray. He, and later his wife Evelyn as assistant in 1962, would remain at his post for the next thirty-six years, (retiring in 1987). Harry was instrumental in getting the R.M. in a strong financial position and became very adept at unraveling all the government programs affecting the R.M. Harry has since passed on, but he made a mark on the R.M. and with all those who knew him, that will remain for a long time.
In mentioning the name of Harry Murray, this is probably a good time to say, without apology, that I have borrowed from Harry’s account of the R.M. history located in two local history books. These are “Captured Memories” the history of Alsask and surrounding school districts and w The Wind Still Blows Marengo Remembered.” Marengo book was published in 1997 and Alsask’s in 1983. I make no apology because there could be no better source of information on the history of the R.M. of Milton than the articles written by Harry Murray and published in these two books.
Even as I give much credit to Harry Murray for his very useful and documented articles, the greatest credit must go to those brave young men and women who settled the municipality in the first place. Some of us were privileged to know many of these homesteaders. The sad part is, we were too young to appreciate what they had done and to listen to their stories. This being a fault of all young people, we let a great source of knowledge disappear. Local history books have done a wonderful job of recording our settlement history. Just think what more they could have been had we been wise enough to record firsthand the trials, tribulations and accomplishments of those sod busters who left the end of steel at Kindersley in 1906 and walked into what was to become the Rural Municipality of Milton #292.
Compiled and written by R.J. Thomson – January 2004
Acknowledgements: I wish to acknowledge the committees of the district history books mentioned in this paper and the printer Friesen’s (History Book Publishers) of Alton, Manitoba. The information and dates of importance were very valuable to this writer.