Whiskey Gap in is located in a strategic location within a natural gap in the Milk River Ridge. The Ridge is a large and high plateau that forms the height of land separating the Saskatchewan drainage system in north and the Missouri drainage system in the south.
This area of Alberta has seen successive waves of smuggling and it is believed that Whiskey Gap derived its name from this trade. Through the 1860s and 1870s, American traders crossed the border into Canadian territory to supply whiskey trading posts and to trade alcohol for buffalo robes and furs. Smugglers likely used this gap in the ridge to gain access beyond the plateau. Reports of liquor smuggling in the area led the North West Mounted Police to establish a detachment in the Milk River Ridge by 1877 and one in Whiskey Gap itself by 1907. Alcohol smuggling into Canada picked up again when Alberta introduced prohibition (1916-1924), and the flow of illegal booze was reversed during prohibition in the United States (1919-1933).
Whiskey Gap began to lose its illicit reputation with the arrival of homesteaders. A post office, with the more respectable name of Fareham, opened in 1918. In 1929, the Canadian Pacific Railway built a branch line through the gap in 1929. Local pressure caused the post office and station name to be changed to Whiskey Gap in 1931. A small community consisting of a number of houses, a store, lumber yard, hotel, pool hall and three grain elevators developed. The post office closed in 1967 and the railway line was abandoned in 1978, after which Whiskey Gap declined. Today little remains of this once thriving little community, except for the remarkable geography, a name on a map and the legends of a colourful period in Alberta’s history.
Source/Credit: Provincial Archives of Alberta, A8590
Grain elevators at Whiskey Gap, 1978. So, is it “Whiskey Gap” or “Whisky Gap”? Both spellings are technically correct. Traditionally, “whiskey” referred to alcohol distilled in Ireland and the United States, while “whisky” referred to that distilled in Scotland and Canada. The spelling Whiskey Gap is the officially recognized spelling, and as the original smuggled alcohol came from the United States, most likely the one used at the time.
Source/Credit: Glenbow Archives, PA-331-10
Smugglers were always inventive in circumventing the law, these hog carcasses, confiscated by police in British Columbia in 1912, were stuffed with smuggled whiskey bottles.
Source/Credit: Glenbow Archives, NA-4246-2
The Berezay homestead, Whisky Gap, 1915. The field stone and sod house reveals a tough lifestyle, but settlement did bring an air of increased civility to a rough frontier.
Source/Credit: Glenbow Archives, NA-4234-1
Canadian Pacific Railway locomotive No. 3232, pulling the first train into Whiskey Gap, 1929
Source/Credit: Glenbow Archives, NA-4258-1
The Whiskey Gap train station and grain elevators, ca. 1930.
Source/Credit: Glenbow Archives, NA-4258-2
The community of Whiskey Gap, ca. 1930. From left to right are the store, train station, lumber yard, Huey Gum’s Hotel and the pool hall.
Source/Credit: Glenbow Archives, NA-4254-1
A dilapitated stone house, Whiskey Gap, ca. 1960s. By the 1960s, the community had begun to decline.
Source/Credit: Glenbow Archives, NA-4254-2
The cars of the last train to Whiskey Gap stopped at grain elevator row, August 1978. With the railway gone, the community of Whiskey Gap practically disappeared.