Category Archives: I’m just sayin’

We need more parks – maybe Majorville is a start?

Late in 2014, Hanna-area farmer, Gottlob Schmidt, known as “Schmitty”, became a celebrity of sorts after it was announced he had donated of 940 acres (380 hectares) of his own land to be established as Antelope Hill Provincial Park. Situated on undisturbed native grassland,  Antelope Hill is not yet open to the public, as Mr. Schmidt still resides there, part-time anyway, on the farm his family has owned since 1933. However, at some point in the future the park will be opened, with opportunities for low-impact day-use being made available to the public, including hiking, nature appreciation and wildlife viewing.

The announcement is significant, not only because of Schmitty’s uncommon foresight and generosity; but also because Antelope Hill is the first provincial park to be created in southeastern Alberta in almost 50 years, the last being Tillebrook (between Tilley and Brooks) in 1965.


In fact, within the southeastern corner of the province, there are only four provincial parks: Cypress Hills (est. 1951), Kinbrook Island (est. 1951), Dinosaur (est. 1955) and the aforementioned Tillebrook. Considering the are over 70 parks province-wide, well, you do the math.

For Albertans seeking recreational opportunities, several municipalities have established parks and campgrounds in the drybelt: Forty Mile, Emerson Bridge and Blood Indian immediately come to mind. There are also about 100 million acres of public land (dubbed “Green Areas”) within the province, the majority of it a considerable distance north of Edmonton. For we leisure-starved southerners, there are several Public Land Use Zones (PLUZ) we can access, mostly clustered alongside the Rocky Mountains in the form of Provincial Parks, Recreation Areas, Wilderness Areas, Ecological Reserves, Natural Areas and Heritage Rangelands. If the mountains and foothills are your thing, then you’re all set. However, for most Albertans outside of the QEII corridor, an excursion to the mountains constitutes more than a day trip.  And as we collectively seem to forget sometimes, when it comes to parks and recreation, Alberta is more than just mountains.

We also shouldn’t forget about the more than five million acres of public land leased for agricultural purposes, including 32 provincial grazing reserves. While agricultural leaseholders are required to provide access to the land, they can for a variety of reasons restrict or refuse access to the public, in particular if they deem the public  harmful to the land, livestock or crops.  There are also a number of regulations that must be adhered to. Most are common sense,  but maybe not ideal for the farmer or rancher who doesn’t wish to double as a park ranger; or for city / town / village folk looking for a casual commute and commune with nature.

There is no shortage of grassland and uninhabited open spaces in southeastern Alberta. A great deal of it is “undisturbed”, having never been cultivated by settlers. These areas offer both a scenic and spiritual experience for anyone who takes the time to visit.  Surely I’m not the only one who is recharged by spending a day on the open range, bathed in invigorating sunlight, enveloped by the warm, gentle (or not-so gentle) breeze, serenaded by chirping gophers, musical meadowlarks and the signature shriek of the rail-tailed hawk.

Schmitty’s gift made me think: it would be nice if more of our open grassland was set-aside to be enjoyed.

Perhaps the place to initiate discussion would be the Vulcan County & County of Newell Intermunicipal Development Plan. Within the document are details of a draft plan being prepared by the province called the Majorville Heritage Landscape Management Plan. Consultation surrounding the Majorville plan has apparently been taking place since as early as 2012, and according to the IMDP draft document, a framework has been released by the government for review by First Nations and stakeholders, and is anticipated to be  completed by the end of 2015. I have more than a passing interest in this process, having spent my early childhood down the lease road from the site in question, where my immediate family continues to farm to this day.

Supporting  documentation (below) illustrates that approximately 23,000 acres of mostly public land surrounding the Medicine Wheel site has been included within the Majorville Heritage Landscape Management Plan area (the green area in the above illustration). This area includes the Majorville Cairn and Medicine Wheel, which was designated a Provincial Historic Resource in 1979.

Dubbed “Canada’s Stonehenge” by author, Gordon Freeman, the Majorville Cairn is a place of great cultural significance to the Blackfoot people of southern Alberta. According to a Blood Tribe Council publication from 2012, ‘TSINIKSSINI’, a large number of archaeological sites surround the Medicine Wheel, the vast majority of which are stone arrangements established by indigenous people who occupied this area during the last five millennia:

“To the east of the medicine wheel, along the western bank of the Bow River, lies “bacculite beach.” Blackfoot people have been collecting ammonite shell fragments at this fossil graveyard for many centuries. These ammonite (marine life) fossil segments, which are known as iniskim (or buffalo calling stones) to the Blackfoot, bear a resemblance to the shape of the plains bison and continue to be used in traditional Blackfoot ceremonies.”

As the IDP document states:

“The combination of existing cultural features, the Majorville Cairn and Medicine Wheel, and the unique biophysical resources associated with the planning area has led to the recommendation to establish a new landscape management unit and subsequent preparation of a management plan.”

With both the Vulcan-Newell, and Majorville Plans intending to propose “management regimes” for the area, perhaps this is a good time to suggest the adoption of a public land use zone that would protect this environmentally and culturally sensitive area, while making a valuable historical and cultural resource accessible to the public.

Maybe something like a Provincial Park?

I’m sure it’s been done before.

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Thank you.

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So many people to thank for this terrific honour. Thanks to @gregfarries , Rose & Ryan at the @PrairiePostAlta , Liza Dawber & Vulcan County, and of course my wife and best friend, Amanda. This couldn’t have happened without your support. #ABheritage #ABforum14 #canadianbadlands #Alberta #history

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Update:

Alberta Culture has posted a summary of the Heritage Awards celebration in Red Deer. The post includes a link to photos of this year’s recipients and presenters. Flip through and have a look at some of this year’s worthy recipients. I was in great company to be sure:

Another post with more photos is on the Alberta Heritage Resources Foundation blog, Retroactive.

Update: Alderson up in smoke

An update on Alderson, the past remains of which appear to have gone up in smoke. It appears a prairie fire swept through the area around August 14-15, leveling what little was left of the former village.

Following up on his comment in an earlier post, Forgotten Alberta reader, Greg, has forwarded a number of pictures depicting what he found when he visited the former village a few days ago.

As he mentioned in his comment, much of what is left resembles a moonscape; although I am struck by the site of green grass in late September, a rarity itself in southeastern Alberta. The state of Alderson today also stands in stark contrast with what I found there in late July, when abundant overgrowth had overtaken and obscured the entire townsite.

With the bones of this bygone village now exposed, I sincerely hope it will not be besieged by pickers and plunderers, rooting for souvenirs within the newly scorched earth. In my opinion, the value of this site extends far beyond being a place to be plundered for period trinkets and souvenirs.

Scrolling through the images below, I can’t help but wonder how the former village of Alderson is any less significant than any number of the 12,500 historic places listed on the Canadian Register of Historic Places? Curiously, the site of Canadian Pacific Langevin Number 1 and 2 Gas Wells, listed as the site of the discovery of natural gas in Alberta (and possibly Canada), was recognized in 1981, and the cairn commemorating this event is literally across the road from the Carlstadt / Alderson townsite.

It seems a glaring and obvious oversight that the subsequent settlement was not included, especially considering the circumstances of its decline, and the historic value of this community as an illustration of the collective history of southeastern Alberta’s homestead period. Of course, this designation preceded the publication of Empire of Dust, without which we might have already forgotten about this forsaken village long ago.

To me, there are many reasons for seeking some sort of protection and recognition for this site, and the recent prairie fire underscores the need even further.

The experiences of the people here helped shape our province. As a descendant of southeastern Alberta pioneers, this place is sacred to me.

It deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.

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Alderson: The past remains

At Alderson, a former village along the Canadian Pacific Railway mainline, northwest of Medicine Hat, time and freight roll on – but the past remains.

To echo the thoughts included within the preface to Empire of Dust (see below), it should be a historic site. There are stories to be told there.

Split personality. 

X” marks the spot.

Looking southeast down Bowell Street, Alderson

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Nemiskam or Nemiscam? That is the question.

Pulled up tracks east of Nemiskam (Nemiscam?) c. 2005

Today’s tale is about Nemiskam, the subject of the image featured above. Derived from the Blackfoot term for, “between two coulees”, Nemiskam is what one might consider a “ghost town”, located about seven miles due east of Foremost. According to Place Names of Alberta, Nemiskam is aptly named, as it is situated between Chin Coulee to the north, and Etzikom Coulee to the south.

Like many townsites surveyed along  the C.P.R.’s Lethbridge – Manyberries branchline,  Nemiskam quickly grew to become a community of some prominence and promise. By the ’20s it boasted an elevator row of five, a pool hall, restaurant and general store, and a modest citizenry of 75 . Like most southeastern towns, Nemiskam dwindled in the drought, but wartime brought a  resurgence that lasted well into the ’40s and ’50s. Sixty years on, the elevators and commercial district are gone—the community long-since eclipsed by the also aptly-named Foremost.

While there are few today who call Nemiskam home, what the community is called continues to confuse and confound us all.

Continue reading Nemiskam or Nemiscam? That is the question.

Our journey to the beautiful, boring, bowl-shaped structure of Bow City (Kinnondale)

Kinnondale-Crater-9
“It’s probably one of the most boring places. It’s beautiful, but it’s flatline and in that sense it’s quite boring.”

As you may have read on this very blog, the University of Alberta announced on May 7 that a team led by Dr. Doug Schmitt had discovered the “roots” of a crater—a “bowl-shaped structure”—theorized to have been left by a massive meteorite strike just west of Bow City, Alberta.


View Bow City Crater in a larger map – Source: University of Alberta

According to Dr. Schmitt, all that remains of the “Bow City Crater” today is “a semicircular depression eight kilometres across with a central peak”. However, evidence suggests that a meteor strike within the last 70 million years left a crater that was initally eight-kilometres wide, 1.6 to 2.4 km deep, and produced an explosion “strong enough to destroy present-day Calgary”.

“An impact of this magnitude would kill everything for quite a distance,” stated the professor in a UofA media release. “If it happened today, Calgary (200 km to the northwest) would be completely fried and in Edmonton (500 km northwest), every window would have been blown out. Something of that size, throwing that much debris in the air, potentially would have global consequences; there could have been ramifications for decades.”

In an interview with Calgary Herald’s Colette Derworiz, Dr. Schmitt described the site of the discovery, a vast expanse of grazing lease and farm land about 30 miles southwest of Brooks as: “…probably one of the most boring places. It’s beautiful, but it’s flatline and in that sense it’s quite boring.”

As it turns out, I happened to spend a considerable chunk of my youth living a few miles west of this beautiful, boring and flatline place; on a farm situated in an area formerly known as Kinnondale. 

Area pioneers and their descendents have long been aware of the existence of “an ancient ring-like structure” north of Kinnondale. Referred to by the locals as “the sundial”, and others as “Canada’s Stonehenge”, the Majorville Medicine Wheel has been studied extensively by academics and mystics alike. 

Prime grazing lease - Looking southeast from the Majorville Medicine Wheel towards Bow City. During the early part of the 20th Century, this mixed-grass prairie supported some of the biggest cattle and horse herds in the country.
Prime grazing lease – Looking southeast from the Majorville Medicine Wheel towards Bow City, c. 2010. During the early part of the 20th Century, this mixed-grass prairie supported some of the biggest cattle and horse herds in the country.

However, the revelation there was yet another “ancient ring-like structure” at Bow City (Kinnondale), hidden in plain sight for longer than anyone could remember, caught the community by surprise. 

As a fan and chronicler of boring places across the southeast, especially ones close to my childhood home, I felt the need to investigate.

Continue reading Our journey to the beautiful, boring, bowl-shaped structure of Bow City (Kinnondale)

Prairie Cheeseburgers and the Post-Apocalyptic Cafe

Furry Cheeseburgers anyone?

The other night I was rifling through my Twitter feed when I came across the following item from Canadian Geographic:

Intrigued, I clicked the link, hoping to read about the old prairie standard: a slab of hamburger dripping with cheddar, dwarfing the obligatory bun and served next to a mound of thick cut fries. Instead, the “prairie cheeseburgers” they were referring to were of the furry and four-legged variety—the black-tailed prairie dog—typically found south of the 49th parallel. Recoiling at the notion of ingesting mouthfuls of fuzzy meat and cheese, the photo included with the piece brought to mind a memorable visit to a roadside diner on the northern fringe of Alsask, Saskatchewan.

Continue reading Prairie Cheeseburgers and the Post-Apocalyptic Cafe

The story of Forgotten Alberta

On March 14, I was privileged to join a diverse lineup of presenters at Medicine Hat’s Esplanade Heritage and Cultural Centre for the second Pecha Kucha Night of 2014.

It was an interesting and informative night for all involved, and I’d like to thank Pecha Kucha organizers for inviting me to present.

For those who missed it, or who are looking to kill roughly seven minutes, I’m happy to present the Story of Forgotten Alberta.

Forgotten Alberta is coming to Medicine Hat’s PechaKucha Night (V.2)

I imagine PechaKucha going something like this...
I imagine PechaKucha going something like this…

Clear your calendars Medicine Hat!

On March 14, I will be joining some of the southeast’s most creative and interesting people at the second PechaKucha Night of 2014, taking place at the Esplanade Studio Theatre, start time 8:20 p.m. 

As one of a dozen presenters on the evening (details below), i will be talking about the Forgotten Alberta blog, and why it is poised to change the course of world history, or something like that.

Continue reading Forgotten Alberta is coming to Medicine Hat’s PechaKucha Night (V.2)

Top Instagram Shots from 2013 – #10

It’s 2014, and as I’m feeling the need to publish in something the next two weeks, I’m going to be counting down my top 10 Instagram photos of the year, as “hearted” by my devoted legion of followers (all 17 of them). The selections are a mixture of pictures I’ve posted from previous year’s excursions, and others are from more recent forays into the southeastern Alberta outback. If you wish to follow me on Instagram, please don’t hesitate to stop by my page: http://instagram.com/forgotten_alberta

10. Main Street – Hilda, Alberta (2013)

The first of many shots from the 2013 Forgotten Alberta Road Trip. It wasn’t my first trip to Hilda, a tiny hamlet little more than a stone’s throw away from the Saskatchewan border. However, I was surprised to see little had changed since my previous visit eight years earlier; and heartened to see the elevator still standing. The major exception was that the Hilda Hotel no longer seemed to be in business (I may be mistaken about this, please let me know if this isn’t the case). A have posted a few more pics from the visit below:



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