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Wadena Station, spring 1908.
Wadena and District Museum

Town, pop 1,412, located NE of Little Quill Lake at the junction of Hwys 5 and 35. The first settlers in the region were the Irish Milligan family, who arrived in the early summer of 1882 and for the next ten years lived a very isolated life; before 1900 there were very few people in the Wadena district, and ranching was the major activity. It was not until the early 1900s that substantial tracts of land were broken for the purpose of crop production. Some of the first buildings began to appear on the Wadena townsite in 1904, and by 1905 business was booming and the community developed rapidly as settlers of diverse origins arrived in the district. In 1906, with a population of 141, the townsite was incorporated as a village and named after Wadena, Minnesota, the home of one of the first families to settle here in the spring of 1904. In 1912 the community, which had become a thriving agricultural service centre, attained town status. By the early 1920s, the population of Wadena was well over 500; it soared from 595 in 1936 to 1,081 in 1951. At this point, Wadena was also substantially rebuilding and modernizing its business sector, as a fire in 1949 had claimed all but three enterprises in the commercial district. Today, it is one of the region’s most important distribution and service centres, with a trading area population estimated to be approximately 21,000. Agriculture is the main industry and the town’s retail sector and professional community provide a wide range of goods and services. The Wadena Wildlife Wetlands are recognized as important staging grounds for a wide variety of birds including many endangered species. The Quill Lakes attract over 1 million birds annually (Big Quill Lake is Canada’s largest saline lake), and a network of boardwalks, nature trails, and viewing towers have been developed throughout the area. Every spring the community hosts the Shorebirds and Friends Festival, which highlights the ecological importance of the region. Wadena is the hometown of broadcaster and journalist Pamela Wallin, who in 2002 was appointed Canada’s Consul General to New York City; in 1994, a main street in the community was renamed Pamela Wallin Drive.

David McLennan

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