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The story behind the ‘battle of Fort Whyte’

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The skirmish of Fort Whyte would be a more apt name for the 1888 melee that took place on the edge of present-day Whyte Ridge.

There was less blood spilled than on any given Saturday n the Costco parking lot. 

Today it seems such a peaceable kingdom, this portion of land to the north and west of Whyte Ridge. The rail lines separate the natural world of FortWhyte Alive from the encroaching super-sized shopping environment. It’s an area where deer, coyote and fox still run, where eagles ride thermals and Canada Geese over-populate. It’s a stretch of calm among the chaos. History tells us it wasn’t always such an oasis.

In October 1886, William Whyte, a Scottish emigré working for the Canadian Pacific Railway in eastern Canada, arrived in Winnipeg to oversee CPR western operations.  As general superintendent of the Western Division, Whyte’s purview ranged from Lake Superior to the Pacific coast. 

The CPR was financially stretched. The recent completion of the sea-to-sea rail line had come with a hefty price tag. But the level-headed and thrifty Scot was unwavering in his commitment to the national rail company. Whyte maintained a firm hold on the CPR’s monopoly.

In 1888, things came to a head. The Northern Pacific Railway and Manitoba Railway were lobbying for expansion to parts of the prairies not serviced by the Canadian Pacific Railway and its singular transcontinental line. The west was expanding and western farmers not living along the main lines wanted access to rail to move grain to more profitable markets. The CPR and its stronghold stood in their way.

In October, swayed by the ever-growing protests of Manitobans, the federal government allowed the newly-formed rail companies to forge ahead with expansion.

A north-south line was proposed, bisecting the east-west CPR line. Whyte was not well pleased and took a crew to the intersection where he had them park a dead locomotive across the lines.

The skirmish ensued with fisticuffs, threats and a lengthy standoff.

As winter set in, the Supreme Court of Canada decided in favour of the Northern Pacific Railway and its right to grow.

Whyte, despite being dealt this blow, left a legacy. He was bestowed a Knight Bachelor.  The area became known as Fort Whyte and the name stuck. Today it is a federal electoral district.
Pat Kelly is a community correspondent for Whyte Ridge.

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