Category Archives: People

#FABTrip17: The remains of Ronalane

“Among the strong riders of the plains in those days of the big round-up and the chuck wagon, was one who had something of the “seer’s vision” and he pondered as he rode over that great triangle, between the 4th and 5th Meridians and on either side of the 51st standard parallel, which apexes at the now cities of Calgary, Medicine Hat and Lethbridge. The burden of his thought was, “If only this land could be watered what a glorious thing it would be.”

– Excerpt from “The Story of the Big Ditch” by E. Cora Hind (1912) 

As we drove eastward on Secondary Highway 524, emerging from the haze of the “Hays Maze” (and its famous maize), the broad sweep of the Bow valley came partially into view, revealing the remains of Ronalane.

Despite being nearly three hours and 300 kilometres away from the conflagration at Waterton, acrid smoke hung heavy in the air, seemingly unmoved by the steady gale that swirled the scorched grass around our feet.  

The dream of J.D. McGregor, he of the “seer’s vision”, was never to come to pass here,  but out here on arid steppe, the sepia smog that obscured the view also served to underscore the scale of this ambitious failure, a testament to the overreach and  ambition of those who attempted to colonize these unforgiving plains over a century ago.

 

 

In 1906, the Southern Alberta Land Company, an Anglo-Canadian consortium, began construction of a half million-acre irrigation empire in southern Alberta. Stretching 200 miles from Carseland on the Bow, to Bowell south of Carlstadt, its capital was to be “Ronalane”, situated high atop the east bank of the Bow, an hour west of Medicine Hat. The company surveyed a townsite here, naming it for Major General Sir Ronald Lane, chairman of the board. According to a 1912 company publication, a bridge built below the townsite was designed to support a siphon conveying water from the main canal, across the river, and over the steep east bank. “The bridge on which this syphon rests,” the company prospectus added, “will be a public highway and in addition will be strong enough to carry the heaviest interurban electric car.” Rail arrived at Ronalane in 1913, but as debt ballooned, and investor confidence flagged, the coming of war in 1914 sunk the Southern Alberta project. Water eventually flowed through the canals and spillways west of the Bow, known today as the Bow River Irrigation District. To the east, plans and proposals were floated for half a century to re-start the derelict development from Ronalane to Redcliff, but to no avail. Today Ronalane is in ruins, a name synonymous with unrequited dreams of empire, a scattering of abandoned earthworks, bridges, and forgotten foundations, left to endure the ravages of nature and time. #ronalane #fabtrip17 #smoke #alberta #albertahistory #forgottenalberta #mybadlands #explorealberta @canadianbadlands

A post shared by Jonathan Koch (@forgotten_alberta) on

 

It is at Ronalane where the “Big Ditch”, what is now the Bow River Irrigation District main canal, empties back into the Bow River. Back in 1914, however, the plan was to transport water from the main canal, across the Bow river, and up the river bank to the irrigation works on the other side. The problem with this idea was that the east bank of the river rises nearly 200 feet above the canal, meaning water would have to be carried up the river’s east bank to the main canal at the top. As Ella Cora Hind’s explains in her 1912 account of the Southern Alberta Land Company project, “The Story of the Big Ditch”, engineers proposed the construction of a 6,550 feet syphon, consisting of continuous wood stave pipe, which would have carried water across the river “on five 120-foot riveted steel spans on concrete piers and with heavy frame and pile trestle approaches.” “This syphon has an internal diameter of 8 feet, the water goes through with a head of 186 feet and to withstand this the pipe is banded with iron 7/8 and 3/4 inch thick, these bands throughout the entire 6,550 feet are never more than 9 inches apart and where the pressure is greatest are only 2 1/8 inches apart. The bridge on which this syphon rests, will be a public highway and in addition will be strong enough to carry the heaviest interurban electric car.” Although Hind wrote as though the syphon was a fait accompli, the project ran into one obstacle it could not overcome: a lack of funding. With a bridge and spine of concrete cradles complete and awaiting installation of the syphon, the project went into receivership in 1914, halting any further construction. When work on the irrigation project resumed three years later, the entire section east of the Bow river was abandoned. Thus, the dreams of an irrigation capitol at Ronalane were scuttled, leaving a canal without water, a spine of concrete without a syphon, and a bridge without the heaviest interurban electric car. #forgottenalberta #ronalane #alberta #albertahistory #canada #mybadlands #explorealberta @canadianbadlands #fabtrip17

A post shared by Jonathan Koch (@forgotten_alberta) on

“Thus, the dreams of an irrigation capitol at Ronalane were scuttled, leaving a canal without water, a spine of concrete without a syphon, and a bridge without the heaviest interurban electric car.”

 

“Give me a blessing. Thou hast given me a south land, give me also springs of water; and he gave her the upper and the nether springs.” Achsah the bride, leaving the old home for the new, craved a blessing as well as a gift. Caleb her father had given her as a marriage portion the much coveted south land with its sunny slopes and rich pasture, but without water it was not perfect and she craved that the gift be made a blessing, by the bestowal of springs of water which alone make a south land fruitful. More than a thousand years have fled since Achsah proffered her request, but still the south lands of the world cry, “Give us water, our golden sunshine and rich soil avail not without the blessing of the upper and the nether springs.” Alberta has a glorious south land stretching mile after mile in gently undulating plains,—”Great spaces washed with sun,”—where in olden days the buffalo roamed and where in the early eighties thousands of horses and cattle fattened on its nutritious “prairie wool.” Among the strong riders of the plains in those days of the big round-up and the chuck wagon, was one who had something of the “seer’s vision” and he pondered as he rode over that great triangle, between the 4th and 5th Meridians and on either side of the 51st standard parallel, which apexes at the now cities of Calgary, Medicine Hat and Lethbridge. The burden of his thought was, “If only this land could be watered what a glorious thing it would be.” – Excerpt from “The Story of the Big Ditch” by E. Cora Hind (1912) #forgottenalberta #albertahistory #ronalane #alberta #mybadlands #fabtrip17 #smoke

A post shared by Jonathan Koch (@forgotten_alberta) on

Big loss for Orion: Stevens Hardware destroyed in Christmas Day blaze

Sad news coming from Orion, Alberta this morning.  I have received word from a  few friends of Forgotten Alberta that the pioneer-era hardware store operated by prairie icon, Boyd Stevens, burned to the ground on Christmas Day.

A video posted on Facebook by Logan Biesterfeldt shows the store already completely engulfed, as locals scramble to contain the fire on a frost Xmas morning. 

Comments  on Facebook and elsewhere online indicate that Boyd is safe, but I will post confirmation and further details once they become available.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I have stopped by Stevens Hardware on a few occasions in during sojourns through the south, and had the privilege of conversing with Boyd about his life and times in isolated Orion, Alberta. Visitors to Stevens Hardware  were assured of great conversation, and came away knowing the intimate details of the history of the region. Hopefully Boyd made it through okay, and his family’s legacy will continue.

 

Boyd Stevens: Storekeeper & Orion #Alberta icon. #FABTrip14 @prairiepostalta

A photo posted by Jonathan Koch (@forgotten_alberta) on

Boyd and the store were subjects of a video short by director, Sean Thonson, of Travel Alberta fame (“Remember to Breathe”) calledPassing Orion“.

#FABTrip16: Chatting with an icon in Orion

A licensed establishment, Orion #Alberta #Canada #mybadlands #explorealberta #FABTrip16 @gregfarries

A photo posted by Jonathan Koch (@forgotten_alberta) on


In what has become a #FABTrip tradition when travelling through the forgotten SE corner of Alberta, we stopped in the hamlet of Orion for a chat with Boyd Stevens: lifelong resident, proprietor of Stevens Hardware, and one of a half dozen souls remaining in the community. As per usual, Mr. Stevens was convivial and accommodating, while freely sharing historical insights and colourful stories about a pioneer-era community that is passing into history.

Continue reading #FABTrip16: Chatting with an icon in Orion

Road Trip: Meandering along the “Peavine” (Hwy 876).

Les mauvaises terres. Steveville #Alberta #Canada #canadianbadlands #explorealberta #specialareas

A photo posted by Jonathan Koch (@forgotten_alberta) on

Whenever I swing through the southeast, the road home is seldom the most direct route. Last Sunday was no exception.  On the way back from  balmy Brooks, the brood and I veered north towards the Red Deer River, taking Secondary Highway 876 into the heart of Special Areas #2. We traced the CNR’s abandoned “Peavine” rail spur north from Steveville,  stopping to photographs some ruins and ruminants, before concluding our brief sojourn with a stroll down the breezy boulevards of Sunnynook.

Continue reading Road Trip: Meandering along the “Peavine” (Hwy 876).