North Saskatchewan River SW22-55-4-4

After the Heinsburg post office was established in 1913 - named after first postmaster John Heins - a ferry was installed a year later to Serve the community For almost fifty years it was operated a this busy crossing, being reclassified to Class A in 1929, with two ferrymen, sometimes three. The ferryman’s shack was a small log cabin.  The ferry across the North Saskatchewan River was an essential form of transportation for the people of Heinsburg. Established in 1914, the ferry IS seen here In the 1930s. The ferry was used extensively in spring to transport herds of cattle to their summer ranges, with cows and calves sometimes jumping from or failing off the craft, with the resulting noise and chasing, roping and hauling back on deck. Farmers crossed to the railhead with their grain, livestock and cream, while holidays and weekends saw long lines of traffic waiting to cross for picnics at the lake.

Heinsburg Ferry

Heinsburg ferry in 1930s

The Heinsburg ferry had its share of accidents, too. In the fIood waters of 1916, it broke loose and swept off downriver with the ferryman's wife on board. The ferryman at Lea Park about ten miles downriver, saw the ferry coming down with the worried lady on deck waving wildly and shouting "Never mind the ferry ... save me!" The Heinsburg crossing was without ferry for the remainder of 1916 a new one being built and floated down from Edmonton for the spring of 1917.

In 1918, just at freeze-up time, four travellers arrived at the crossing in a Chevrolet, but with the ferry not operating and the ice not strong enough, they had to drive all the way to the nearest bridge at North 3attleford - a trip of over a hundred miles which took them a week to make, instead of just a couple of hours if they had been able to cross at Heinsburg. Another winter crossing involved a man who decided that the ice was strong enough to get him across in his Model T so he drove over at a fast pace in the dark, not noticing that his car had dislodged a large chunk of newly-formed ice. On his return trip, the Model T went into the river where the chunk of ice had been, and sank with the driver in it. He was rescued, but the car, which could be seen on the river bottom with its lights still on, had to be hauled out later.

Several of the accidents at this crossing were fatal ones. Sometime in the early 1940s, when the river was exceptionally high, a young boy fell off the south landing ramp, and was drowned, his body never being recovered. On another occasion, a young man from the St. Paul district was drowned while swimming; and in 1943, two young girls driving home with their boyfriends from a dance were drowned after the car rolled off the ferry and sank in about twelve feet of water. One early homesteader borrowed a horse from his son who lived cross the river, turning it loose as soon as the job was done. The horse knew it had to get across the river to get home and tried for days to get on the ferry. The ferryman finally allowed it on and the horse reached home safely.

 In the early 1940s, local residents built a platform for crossing in spring and fall; it consisted of two long planks, some angle iron and two pulleys which they rigged up on the ferry cable. This could be moved across by passengers sitting on the platform and pulling themselves across by means of a long pole with a locking device on the end of it. This could be pushed along the cable and, when the pole was pulled back, the lock would tighten on the cable. A young farmer crossed in this way to take a large can of cream to the station, also to meet his wife and newborn baby off the train. On the return trip, his wife sat on the platform holding the baby with one arm, and the empty cream can with the other, while the husband pulled them all across. A few years later the government installed a winter crossing "cage" with a motor and clutch. This was used, winter, spring and fall until the ferry service was discontinued.

Gilbert (Gib) Evans, local homesteader and a Justice of the Peace, operated the Heinsburg ferry for over twenty years altogether. He recalled gophers swimming across the river, sometimes riding on the ferry.

Excerpted From Haestie, Elizabeth Ferries and Ferrymen in Alberta, Glenbow Museum 1986

From Land of Red and White https://heinsburg.ca/heinsburg-ferry

From Grace Meger https://heinsburg.ca/heinsburg-ferry-0

Ferry Shack https://heinsburg.ca/ferry-shack

Ferryman Walter Sawak https://heinsburg.ca/sawak

Events at Heinsburg Crossing https://heinsburg.ca/heinsburg-crossing

Ferryman Gilbert Evans https://heinsburg.ca/evans-gilbert-and-elise