Hidden away in Drumheller Valley, is an unexpected piece of history that many, who do not live in the area would not expect to find. This little surprise is none other than the Bleriot Ferry. Along the North Dinosaur Trail, the Alberta Highway 838, there is a section that has the Red Deer River run through it. Instead of building a bridge and a road over it, Andre Bleriot built a small ferry.
Andre Bleriot originally came over from Paris, France and experienced a bit of a culture shock when he moved to Orkney District in Alberta. His brother, Louis Bleriot, was an aviator in
Europe and became famous for being the first one to fly over the English channel! Andre was originally the first operator of the Bleriot Ferry which was known then as the Munson Ferry. It was later changed to Bleriot in honour of Andre Bleriot.
If you were to see it, you would understand that it is a small portable bridge that takes your vehicle across. The total time of the ferry is 5-8 minutes and definitely a unique experience when you are exploring the area!
The ferry was commissioned in 1913. It provided not only the transportation across the river but was a major social hub to the communities within the Drumheller Valley. The Red Deer River has played a crucial role to the travels of early explorers for many years prior to roads and bridges being constructed. The river would provide early explorers as well as settlers with an ample supply of water.
Crossing the river could be dangerous, especially at fords. Many early settlers began to create homemade rafts and ferries and operated them privately to help get people and livestock across the Red Deer River. Although you couldn't guess it now, there were hundreds of ferries all over the prairies. At one time in the Drumheller Valley, there were 9 ferries in operation that were mainly used to transport livestock, vehicles and people across.
As mentioned before, ferries weren't only used for transportation. They were also a prominent locale for socializing. The members of a community would come to the ferries and as someone operated the wheel that was used to move the ferry, the community would take turns and tell stories as went across the river. The ferries were run by the Alberta government but local farmers were commissioned to operate them.
One of the most prominent homemade ferries in the area was operated by the Wigmore family. The ferry was operational until 1908 when the ferry collapsed. Unfortunately Bob Wigmore who was operating the ferry at the time drowned. The government then installed their own cable ferry and the Wigmore family was commissioned to operate that one.
One by one the ferries disappeared as roads, highways and bridges were built. The Bleriot Ferry is the last operational ferry that was not dismantled in the Drumheller region because of its historical significance. It has remained operational for over a century now. Although 90% of traffic across the ferry is made up of tourists, the ferry remains in use for farmers who use it to move equipment across when they farm on both sides of the river.
Only 7 operational ferries remain in Alberta to date.
If you are visiting Drumheller, then the Bleriot Ferry is something you should fit into your day. A quick trip across the Red Deer River will add that little bit of extra history in an already unique valley!
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