By Medicine Hat News on June 9, 2018.
In 1905, a new subdivision in Riverside opened. At a time when river lots on the south side of the river were selling for $500-$1,000, the river lots on the north side were a bargain at $140. For only $20 down and 12 monthly payments of $10, a 50×300-foot tax-free lot could be purchased! Problem was, Finlay Bridge had not yet been built. So how could a potential buyer access the new property? There were two options. An illegal walk across the CPR bridge or by the local river ferry, which was located directly across from the new subdivision at what is today the rear of the Medicine Hat Public Library. If you wanted to take a horse and buggy to do a drive-by, the ferry was the only option but it only operated, at the most, six months out of the year.
Ferry service began in 1883 when the NWMP built barracks at Police Point.Some of the NWMP officers formed a company which set up a seasonal ferry service in both Medicine Hat and Fort Macleod. The barracks were served by a cable-powered scow ferry which ran from Police Point to Lions Park. For ten years, the NWMP maintained the ferry. The ferry eventually became of little use to the post but had become important to local ranchers such as the Hargraves, the Tinneys and the McCutcheons living on the north side of the river. When the police moved to the south side in 1893, near what is today the Royal Canadian Legion, the ferry terminal was relocated to First Street. and the foot of Fourth Avenue S.E. At that time, its operation was taken over by the Territory and later the Province of Alberta.
One of the later known ferry operators was Joseph H. McQueen who lived in a pre-1900 home at 1036 Esplanade, today a vacant lot at 154 First St. S.W. Ferryman McQueen, 67 years old, was present when a tragic accident occurred on June 10, 1905. Alexander Green drowned when his buggy slipped off the ferry into the water because the ferry chain which should have prevented this was not in place. Green with his two-year old son and a friend were among hundreds taking the ferry that day,heading to Police Point for a baseball game.
The accident was a reminder that ferry service was not without its pitfalls. By this time, town residents were aware a bridge was coming, as did the Riverside developers. The ferry era was coming to a close.
On the rear lawn of the Medicine Hat Public Library stands a plaque, placed there in 1980 by the Historical Society of Medicine Hat and District. This historic marker documents the history of crossing the river within Medicine Hat and marks the site of the ferry terminal which operated there from 1893 until 1908 when Finlay Bridge opened.
Malcolm Sissons is the Chair of the Heritage Resources Committee. This column was researched and composed by Committee member Sally Sehn. Source: River Crossings 1883-1980, The Historical Society of Medicine Hat & District, Mar. 24, 1981
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