and "The Bull Outfit" of Beaverlodge, Alberta
Garnet Truax, circa 1909
(Albert) Garnet Truax was one of a group of 31 Burnsites (followers of Nelson Burns) and their families who set out from Toronto in 1909 to settle at the foot of the Rockies in Beaverlodge, Alberta. This expedition was led by Elias Smith, Vice-President of the Christian Association, who told the group that he felt strongly that God wanted him to settle his family out west. His decision may have also had something to do with his being somewhat unsuccessful as a tenant farmer in Ontario, but the Burnsites put great stock in such messages from God, so several families decided to join the Smiths in this venture.
The group decided to cooperate on most aspects of the endeavour, sharing expenses, labour, and equipment. They wanted to farm cooperatively as well, and purchased several "South African Scrips", which were land grants given to veterens of the Boer War and then sold off at discounted prices by the ones with no interest in farming. The group sold all their unnecessary belongings, packed up the rest, and set off on a four or five day train trip to Edmonton, Alberta.
Once in Edmonton, the Burnsites had to decide where they were going to settle. No suitable large blocks of land were available nearby, but some friends had seen the land around the Beaver River Valley, and were so enthusiastic that the Burnsites were convinced. They started gathering their supplies, and purchased 36 oxen to haul the wagons. They would also be hauling something called "The Car", which had been built by the Sherk family and shipped from Ontario. ("The Car" looked a lot like a streetcar, with low wheels and windows on the sides. The original idea was to have the women and children ride in it, but by the time they got to Athabaska Landing, they realized that it just wasn't up to the rough trails, so they sold it to a local bachelor for a home.)
The group left Edmonton late in the afternoon on April 20th, 1909, in a rather impressive procession of 14 wagons, 18 teams of oxen, and "The Car". The oxen apparently inspired the locals to refer to them as "The Bull Outfit", and the name stuck (see here for a complete list of group members). They travelled four or five miles that first day and made their camp. The awoke the next morning to find their wagon wheels frozen to the ground.
"The Bull Outfit", gathering supplies at Edmonton, Alberta, 1909
("The Car" can be seen at centre)
Once they got used to the wagons and oxen, the settlers averaged about 13 to 15 miles a day. The going was hard, and there were a few mishaps, but this part of the trail was relatively well-used. They made Athabaska Landing by April 27th, where they left a large percentage of their freight to be shipped up the river and across Lesser Slave Lake, to lighten the load and make faster headway. Once they reached the eastern end of the lake, however, they discovered that the road was impassable. The men and oxen would have to blaze a new trail across the north shore while the women and children, the remaining freight and the wagons went by boat. They were paying for all this shipping by cutting firewood along the way, which the transport companies needed to fuel the boats. Shipping cost $2.25 per hundred-weight; they received $2.00 a cord for the wood they cut.
The first wagon to tip over on the trail
After having to wait at Shaw's Point (Grouard) for the rest of the freight from Athabaska to arrive, the settlers set off for the Peace River Crossing, which they reached on June 28th. From there, it was south again to Dunvegan, Spirit River, Grand Prairie, and finally the beautiful sight of the Beaver Lodge River Valley at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, where they arrived on July 14th, 1909 - three months after leaving Edmonton.
Garnet filed his claim on land which is now part of the town of Beaverlodge. In addition to farming, he also clerked and ran freight for the owner of the general store. In 1914 he married Maud Sherk, who had also come to Beaverlodge with her parents as part of "The Bull Outfit". They moved to nearby Red Willow, where Garnet's parents and brother spent a very cramped winter with them in 1919. After his father's death in 1922, Garnet moved his family to Vancouver, where he went to work as a longshoreman. His children stayed in British Columbia, except for his son Albert (Al), who moved back to Beaverlodge to raise his family.
Garnet and Maud's Cabin
Red Willow, Alberta, c. 1919
Garnet Truax was my great-uncle.
(most of this information and the photo of "The Bull Outfit" are from the book "Beaverlodge to the Rockies", edited by E.C. Stacey and published by The Beaverlodge and District Historical Association, 1974.)