Dunvegan was named by a MacLeod of Skye after the ancestral home of the MacLeods. It was one of the white man’s first four strongholds in Western Canada — the others being Winnipeg, Edmonton and Fort Chipewyan.
For one hundred years Dunvegan was the hub and centre of the Peace River Country. The fur traders built a Fort at Dunvegan in 1805. In 1809 a trader, Daniel Williams Harmon, records that the barley grown at Dunvegan was the finest he had seen in any country. Then came the missionaries. The first in, 1867, were the Roman Catholics whose hand hewn log church is preserved to this day. Then in 1879 the Anglicans built a mission several hundred yards up river from the Roman Catholic site. The old mission garden, surrounded by century-old Manitoba Maples still stands as a memorial and close by is a small grave of a missionary’s 2-day old baby.
An Anglican missionary, the Rev. J. G. Brick focused the eyes of the world on the Peace River Country when in 1893 he won a prize with his wheat at the Chicago World’s Fair. From his Shaftesbury Settlement he encouraged the Indians to plant crops and proved that grain could be grown here.
Next came the Klondikers, many of whom stayed at Dunvegan. The Mounties and the Treaty Party of 1899, and finally the settlers. By 1909 there were hundreds of settlers between Peace River and present day Fairview and also many in the Grande Prairie area south of the river and the government installed a much needed ferry to carry traffic across the Peace.
In 1912 a Government Telegraph office was built two miles back from the river on the plains north and east of Old Dunvegan. Dunvegan was no longer cut off from the rest of the world.
In 1913 the Edmonton, Dunvegan and BC railway was under construction and Dunvegan reached the ears of real estate promoters and speculators. They drew up elaborate and misleading maps of Dunvegan and sold lots to citizens of Edmonton and even to people as far away as Scotland, Sweden and Italy. But no one ever built on a lot in Dunvegan.
The railway reached Peace River Town in 1916 but never came to Dunvegan. North of Dunvegan a village grew up around old Waterhole which was later moved to become Fairview. There was no longer any need for Dunvegan and it never became a town but in 1960 the old ferry was replaced by a bridge which is 2375 feet in length and is the fourth largest suspension bridge in Canada.
[Footnote, 1998: the St. Mary’s Mission buildings have been carefully restored and a large interpretive centre built. Guided tours are offered in the Mission buildings and also to the Hudson Bay Co. Factor’s House, ca 1879. Two commercial vegetable gardens operated successfully in the nearby area, still benefiting from the conditions mentioned by Harmon in 1805.]