It’s one of those hard to believe stories but we have these new-found records.
The Spirit River Museum approached us as they had a dilemma, a wonderful record of early immigration to the area which they were keeping housed in a glass case. This was great to preserve it but not so great for people being able to access the information. The Museum wanted to know if we could offer a solution, our reply was we could definitely help. We also were curious to know how they acquired them.
Their reply was a surprise! It seems the local John Deere dealership had two very old looking books and the information on where they had come from seems to have been lost. The dealership assumed these books contained records of early transactions from their business, until one day someone took the time to look inside. That is when it was discovered that these books were Immigrant Registers containing information on early settlers arriving in Spirit River from the dates 1917-1930. Listed inside the book is the names of people who came to stay at the Spirit River Immigration Hall.
Photograph from the Bill Pratt fonds 107. The original negative for this image is at the Glenbow archives. To order reproductions cite call number ND-3-5332
These Immigration Halls were located in many communities in the west, and upon arrival to a community that had one of these halls an immigrant could check in and be offered a warm dry place to stay. It was a good option for settlers who were waiting for their large items to arrive on the train, or were still looking for a place to homestead. The registers recorded: Name, Nationality, Age, Port of Entry, Proposed Destination, Occupation, Date of Arrival, Date of Leaving and Remarks. The register listed all family members, including the names of the children.
Sample from the Spirit River Immigrant Register, August 31, 1917.
Our suggestion was that we could scan the registers, providing them a copy and the pages enclosed in sheet protectors. The whole thing turned into a binder for museum guests to look through, eliminating the worry about the originals. South Peace Regional Archives could safely store the original books in our temperature controlled storage room. They quickly agreed, and so we got busy!
Scanning the Immigrant Hall records.
One thing that struck us as interesting while scanning these registers is the range of nationalities; Belgian, American, French, Canadian, British, Irish to name a few. Something else that caught our eye was the wide variety of final destinations such as Blueberry, Pouce Coupe, Waterhole, Grizzly Bear, Rolla, Cut Bank, Wanham, Bad Heart, Grande Prairie and so on. A sample of items in the remarks column include “returned soldier”, “looking for homestead”, or “time extended waiting for money”!
A huge thank you goes to the John Deere dealership who hung onto these books and to the Spirit River Museum for their help in making these records accessible to the public.