Motorists pulling up to the Entrance General Store get their gas from gravity-fed pumps of a sort rarely seen outside of museums. The store interior, with its hardwood floors and ancient icebox, is another museum piece, but the traps hanging from the walls, the locally made moccasins and the health food nook are the daily currency of life in Entrance, a tiny Alberta community 15 km east of Jasper National Park. People there haul water from a spring and shiver in privies; many heat with wood, some go without electricity and telephones. For the 60 residents of Entrance, that’s the town’s charm and they want their life to continue at its turn-of-the-century pace. But, with the sale of the town last week, a 20th-century tourist resort is looming on the picture-postcard view.
Entrance, named because it is the “entrance to the Rockies,” is an anomaly among Alberta towns. It has been privately owned since it began life in 1910 as a station stop for the Grand Trunk Railway. Theta Homes Ltd. of Edmonton bought the town in 1975 because it was “a beautiful piece of property with a good future,” but Theta’s own financial reverses saw Entrance put up for judicial sale last fall. The only offer—$277,000—was rejected by the court, but Torium Homes Ltd., an Edmonton area real estate company that had been eyeing the town for a couple of years, came through with a better offer—“somewhere between $500,000 and a million,” says President AÍ Sonnichsen.
Sonnichsen is clearly itching to improve his acquisition. He figures Entrance people would want to keep the homes they rent but the houses have to be “upgraded” and septic systems installed. He expects the rest of the 204 acres that Torium bought will be subdivided into a color co-ordinated, chalet-type recreational housing development for Edmontonians now 30 km away. “I don’t know yet how far we’ll go with development,” he says.
For Entrance residents, just about any recreational development will be too far. “Gramma” Angeline Desj arláis, 86, who was expelled from Jasper National Park 65 years ago and has since lived in Entrance, has already declared, “They’ll have to carry me out kicking and screaming.” Other residents have taken their case to Alberta Culture, asking for an historic site designation that would protect special buildings. Charlotte Hrenchuk, an area resident, is most concerned about saving the general store, which opened in 1927. But there’s also history, she says, in the community hall, the boarding house, the store manager’s original home and a trapper’s cabin (the trapper having once taken after one of the store owners with a gun).
The store, says Hrenchuk, caters “to a way of life some people still live around here” just as Entrance, itself, does. “Everybody here could afford to live in Hinton if they wanted to,” she says, referring to the nearest busy modern town. “But they want the life they have here where you can tan hides outside without complaints. Entrance offers a choice. You can heat with wood or propane, do without electricity or have a TV. It’s a life you couldn’t find anywhere else. I’d hate to see the place turn into another little resort.”
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