For most people living in Alberton, and the Rainy River District in general, it would be difficult to imagine going through what their ancestors, the first settlers of the region, had to endure.
Settlement here started in earnest in the late 1890's, although several groups visited before then. Gunhilda Scott, one of the first teachers in he district was also one of the first to arrive.
In a 1940 essay, she recalled her first impressions of Fort Frances on March 9, 1873. Although the two communities are separate today, in that earlier era, the Fort was a small part of the large Alberton municipality.
Scott travelled to the Fort, named after Lady Frances Simpson- wife of then governor general Sir George Simpson, by dog-team from Fort Garry, Man. Unlike today's highway or air travel, the group, which included four men, Mrs. Scott and the dogs, made the trip in a record nine and a half days.
The only white residents to greet them were three white clerks and the indian for the district, one R.J.N. Pither, who resided in a base of operations on a small point overlooking Rainy Lake.
There was, however, a large Indian settlement in the region, to whom Mrs. Scott said the settlers owed much of their settling success.
"I tell you we folks learned a lot from the indian and we benefited from their knowledge. I do not think we should belittle the indian at all-even their knowledge of herbs, which they used as medicine, was good."
Ever present to cheer the spirits of the settlers was that early fixture of every small Canadian Hamlet, the Hudson's Bay Company. Akthough they had a large base at Sioux Lookout, the shrewd company men recognized the value of the virgin land around Rainy Lake and built a base opposite the Alberton (Couchiching) Falls in 1821.
But "the company" as it was then known wasn't the first group to arrive in Alberton. The Northwest Company built Rainy Lake House down stream from the falls at what is currently the foot of Fairies Avenue.
The Northwest Company didn't fool around. Their education their encampment included 10-15 buildings, whith 20-400 men employed depending on the season. When the Northwest Company and Hudson's bay amalgamatedin 18221, the site was moved to the falls.
When the Simpsons made their famous journey to Fort Garry in 1830 and passed through Alberton, Lady Frances' son was enamoured of the area.
"The establishment is delightfully situated on the east bank of the river, overlooking a beautiful waterfall to the south, also the american post, on the opposite side, and a long reach of this noble stream to the north."
The American post is also notable, because it was founded by one of the great U.S. financial tycoons and robber barrons of the 1800's-John Jacob Astor.
While Astor saw great profits in the fur business, he did not realize that his American Fur Company (1821-1833) would have little chance of realizing a profit in the Hudson's Bay stronghold. It was one of the few mistakes in his giant financial career. Eventually, the Hudson's Bay Company brought out Astor's post by making annuall payments to his Yankee traders.
Within a decade of Mrs. Scott's arrival, people started to realize the immense benefits of living in the region-if one could stand the harsh winters. The early settler came by Red River cart or Dog Team, but when the numbers started to swell, paddle steamers started to make the trip a little easier.
Coinciding with the enormous number of immigrants who entered Canada in the early 1890's was the real settlement of what is now the Rainy River District. Fort museum curator Darryl Allan writes that while many settled on the prairies, some decided to settle en route, in this regoin, many because of a pamphlet extolling the virtues of the agriculture, mining and forestry advantages.
By 1891, the population in the municipality of Alberton swelled to about 1,400, paving the way for thousands to follow.