Water Towers There are many excellent heritage related web sites on ghost towns, grain elevators and railways. Some are inventories of remaining specific pioneer institutions and structures. Others add a historical context, making them excellent resources for researchers and academics.

There are some, particularly by professional photographers, who take a decidedly artistic point of view. And of course there are several web sites from public institutions which have mandates to educate and promote awareness.

Listed here is a selection.
For many years the late Alice Hewitt kept a journal. Inside there were stories and records of pioneers and residents who lived in Knee Hill Valley.

The journal was an extension of a project initiated in the 1950s by the district’s Women’s Institute, which included Hewitt, Joan Hoar and Olive Schaefer. Alice Hewitt passed away in 1992 at the age of 86.

Three copies of her journal were made: one for her family, another to the Red Deer Museum and a third to Alice Hoar, a schoolteacher in the valley who had a passion for local history.

Alice Hoar wanted to make a local history book out of Hewitt’s journal. In 2007, she met fellow resident Terresa Dersch in a grocery store.

“She said to me that we had to get on with a history book, that everybody was getting older and it had to be done,” recalled Dersch, a niece of Alice Hewitt.

Sadly, a few days later Alice Hoar passed away. But husband Geoff seized his late wife’s idea for a book and encouraged others to pursue the idea. A committee was then formed. Five years later, residents of Knee Hill Valley have their history book, a remarkable and beautiful publication, complete with creamcoloured pages and brown ink that honours the district’s past.

“We tried to make it look like an old journal. We had local resident Tammy Bennett do original artwork and sketches,” said Dersch, who with Iris White shared duties as editor and principal researcher of the book.

“We also broadened the book out. We have eight chapters, starting with maps, the very beginning and the early settlers of the area.”

Knee Hill Valley is situated 10 to 15 kilometres east of Innisfail in the deepest south-central section of Red Deer County. It is bordered in the north by Highway 590, in the east by Divide Hill, to the southwest by Davey Lake (known historically as Horse Shoe Lake) and directly south by the Mountain View County line.

It is believed Peter Fidler, a fur trader, surveyor and geographer for the Hudson’s Bay Company, became the first European to come through the valley during an expedition in 1792. He left behind a journal. On Tuesday, Nov. 27, 1792 he referenced Davey Lake, along with the “excellent” water from a nearby creek.

Following Fidler’s brief pass through the valley, it was nearly a century later before the first permanent settlers arrived.

They came to lay the foundation for a rural lifestyle that emphasized the indomitable pioneer spirit where everyone knew each other and was ready to help at any time.

“When the pioneers first came the valley was empty except for grizzly bears and First Nations people. There were no roads and terrible winters. They were incredibly hardy people,” said Dersch, now a resident of Innisfail. “They worked very hard. The community was important to them. They would take care of each other.”

And they did persevere. Before long a community was created. Knee Hill Valley had three general stores, a hardware outlet, a post office, blacksmith shop and a creamery. The community also had its own church and two cemeteries.

“It was a very difficult way of life but a wonderful way of life,” said Dersch. “When I was growing up I did go to a one-room school and we rode to the general store on a horse.”

Today the old general stores are gone, as is the post office and other services. But the community spirit is very much alive in Knee Hill Valley. The publication of the history book is living proof, as many residents stepped up to help. Inside the book there are 125 family stories, alongside the multitude of fascinating tales of pioneer living.

For Dersch and White it was a beloved duty to ensure the legacy of Alice Hewitt’s journal is never forgotten, nor the perseverance of Alice Hoar who desperately wanted a lasting monument to Knee Hill Valley’s history preserved for future generations.

“Knee Hill Valley is today a successful farming community. We have new people,” said White of the pioneers’ lasting impact to the community. “There has been a revival of the community centre and we have many 4-H clubs for kids. There is and always will be a sense of community in this rural setting."

The new history book was officially launched for the public at the Knee Hill Valley Community Centre on Dec. 3. The committee printed 500 copies. The book sells for $100. To date 350 copies have been sold. Anyone interested in purchasing a copy can call Dersch at 403-227-1140 or White at 403-227-2455.

—Johnnie Bachusky is an Alberta journalist and ghoster
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