A Local’s History: Wink Plews and Lawrence Whitford

A Local's History - image courtesy of & copyrighted by Chris Salvo

From his home in Fort Chipewyan, 83-year-old Oliver Glanfield recounts watching the survey men pound in the first marker staking Highway 63’s northward stretch from Wandering River to Fort McMurray. The new highway would basically follow the route of a forestry road made several years earlier, between 1956 and 1957, by a forestry service worker named Winston “Wink” Plews and Lawrence Whitford, a Métis trapper who often worked with the forestry service whenever extra men were needed.

Back then, Wink and Lawrence used dog teams and snowshoes to map a proposed forestry road to Fort McMurray. They travelled hundreds of kilometers through wilderness, pushing aside trees and brush with a big diesel Cat to clear a path, giving better access to and from Fort McMurray. The sheer accomplishment was herculean. But to Wink and Lawrence, it was just something that needed to be done – a part of life in Wood Buffalo in the 1950s.

The surveyors of Highway 63 followed a straighter route than was practical when Wink and Lawrence cut theirs. To this day, Glanfield says you can still pick out faint traces of their original cut line at points where it crosses the surveyed route of the modern road, a faded reminder for those who spot it just how hearty people like Wink and Lawrence and all those who forged Wood Buffalo’s communities truly were.