Pioneering forefather built foundation of Okotoks
Okotoks: John Lineham influential in ranching, lumber, oil, politics
Wednesday, Feb 21, 2018 06:00 am
Okotoks would not have been the same if it hadn’t been for one of its most influential forefathers – John Lineham.
Being mayor for two terms in 1909 and 1910 afforded him the luxury of naming some of the streets in town, including one called Lineham Ave. He also christened Elma and Elizabeth Streets after his daughters and Martin Avenue was named for his late wife’s maiden name.
Lineham Ave. runs north from Railway St. to McRae St., east of the Okotoks Art Gallery.
Lineham also constructed a number of buildings, including the former Lineham Block in Okotoks.
“It was a two-storey brick building about where the Western Wheel and Ardiel Agencies are now,” said museum specialist Kathy Coutts. “It would have been similar to the Stockton Block across the street, but it burned down and wasn’t rebuilt.”
Lineham built a second Lineham Block in Calgary, as well as the Leeson & Lineham Block and the Elma Block.
His influence in southern Alberta resulted in a tributary to the Sheep River being called Lineham Creek and in Waterton, Mount Lineham, Lineham Lakes and Lineham Falls were named after him due to his involvement with oil drilling in the area.
And, outside of Turner Valley was a rural district called Lineham.
“Within that district was a one-room school and a post-office, which were both named Lineham in honour of John,” said Coutts. “The Lineham district was also named due to its close proximity to the Upper Lineham Ranch and the Lineham Logging Camp.”
Born in Ontario, Lineham first made his way to Manitoba and got involved in freighting. He transported goods on the Red River and used ox carts to get between Brandon and Edmonton.
He saw potential in the Calgary region and moved west in 1883.
“He really was an entrepreneur, an optimist,” said Coutts. “He was always looking ahead, always willing to dive in and start something new.”
That’s what he did in Okotoks and High River, where he developed the Lineham Lumber Company in 1892. Each town housed a sawmill and there were logging camps on the Highwood and Sheep Rivers.
The sawmills produced lumber for construction as well as railway ties for the expanding rail line, which was being built from Calgary south to Lethbridge and Medicine Hat at the time.
“For many years [the sawmill] was the chief employer for the town, employing men up in the lumber camps and then also in the sawmills, both in High River and in Okotoks,” said Coutts. “It was a thriving business.”
The Lineham Lumber Company employed about 100 men and 30 horses at its camps during the winter and in the sawmill during the summer, she said.
At the same time, he and his brother, William (W.D.) developed their ranching business, with the Lower Lineham Ranch five miles east of Okotoks and the Upper Lineham Ranch 22 miles west of Okotoks, just outside of present-day Turner Valley.
Together, the ranches made up more than 6,000 acres of land where the brothers ran Hereford and shorthorn cattle.
“They ran horses and cattle and were quite well-known in ranching,” said Coutts.
Lineham was also heralded in the oil industry and was inducted into the Canadian Petroleum Hall of Fame in 2008.
He established the Rocky Mountain Development Company in 1901 with his business partner George Leeson and drilled for oil near Waterton.
“He began drilling Alberta’s first oil exploration well in what is now Waterton Lakes National Park,” said Coutts.
It was work that earned him the title of “western Canada’s first ‘oil man,” according to the Canadian Petroleum Hall of Fame. The well was productive for about three years, then after two more years of drilling Lineham left because there hadn’t been any more significant discoveries.
Fifty years later, Shell Oil found what Lineham was looking for, said Coutts. But his efforts weren’t for naught – his success prompted oil exploration in other areas and that eventually led to the discovery of oil in Turner Valley in 1914, she said.
“I think that’s sort of a forgotten side of John Lineham, his involvement in the oil industry,” said Coutts.
Another little-known side of Lineham was his time in politics, she said. Before he was mayor of Okotoks, he spent 10 years as a member of the North-West Territories Legislative Assembly in Regina as the representative of the Okotoks area.
In an effort to gain favour with Lt. Governor Edgar Dewdney, Lineham had the town renamed Dewdney in 1891. It reverted back to Okotoks in 1987 because a town named Dewdney in B.C. was causing too much confusion.
“He was quite influential,” said Coutts. “Not many could officially rename a town, but he did.”
After a year of declining health, Lineham died at 52 years old in the Empress Hotel in Calgary in 1913.
“I find that quite remarkable, that in 52 years he accomplished all that he did,” said Coutts. “He was a real mover, a shaker, a real entrepreneur.
“He was a pioneer in so many aspects.
“I don’t think anyone else in the history of Okotoks had as much impact in a wide range of aspects – politics, ranching, industry (both oil and lumber).
“If he hadn’t established here, Okotoks would have been different. It would have been completely different.”