Did you know … St. Albert once had moose-drawn mail service?
Moose team named Pete and Nellie drew the wagon to several communities
By: Scott Hayes
| Posted: Wednesday, Aug 15, 2012 06:00 am
Did You Know?
Every week this summer, reporter Scott Hayes will explore interesting but little known facts about St. Albert.
These days a moose in St. Albert is cause for excitement, as it offers residents an opportunity to see an often-elusive wildlife species. In 1911 the presence of moose in town was exciting for a different reason … it signalled that the mail had arrived.
According to St. Albert Our Story 1861 – 1999, postal operations during that period were run by town councillor Jacob Mauckle and the courier who brought supplies and delivered the mail from Edmonton once every two weeks was W.R. (Bill) Day – then casually known as Buffalo Bill Day. He had raised two orphaned moose and they repaid the favour by pulling his mail cart.
There is an image of this seemingly implausible partnership located at the Provincial Archives of Alberta. The caption of the black and white photo only refers to Day and his moose team, Pete and Nellie, making an appearance at the Edmonton Exhibition.
The same photo is found on the Archives Society of Alberta's website at www.archivesalberta.org. There, it comes with the following description:
“This moose team belonged to W.R. (Billy/Buffalo Bill) Day. They were found by a Métis near Baptiste Lake in 1910 and were reared by bottle and broken to drive by Mr. Day at Athabasca Landing during the winter of 1910.”
Day and the moose team, the description continues, hauled mail and supplies as far north as Legal, Athabasca and Wabasca. Day and his wife also ran a store at Calling Lake. Not much else is known about them.
“All I know is that he had a couple of moose and he trained them to pull a wagon or a cutter or something like that, and there he was,” said Ray Pinco, chair of the St. Albert Historical Society.
He supposed that the moose's horse-like stature might have made them seem like suitable substitutes to pull a hitch.
He said people had a different relationship with wild animals back in those days.
“It would probably occur to somebody to do this. At that time there was a fellow by the name of Cheri Chevigny who had a pet bear when he was young. People tended to do that. If they had, all of a sudden, a wild animal and they could tame it, they would see what they could do with it,” Pinco said.
“Today, we wouldn't be allowed to do that.”
This was more than 30 years after St. Albert's first post office was established in 1880. Father Hippolyte Leduc, then in charge of the diocese, became the first postmaster.
Many complained that Edmonton got its post office in 1878, two years before St. Albert did. That's another strange fact since Edmonton was one-fourth the size at the time.
By 1911, the newly minted capital city was well into a population boom with a population of nearly 25,000, well beyond this city's size of 614.