Category Archives: The Map

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.

Drought and desolation erased Kinnondale from the map

My dad's granaries, alongside the former site of Kinnondale School, in 2007. None of the antique farm equipment or structures, including the converted residence of homesteaders named Hartley on the right, remain today.

What a difference a decade makes.

In 2003, my beloved Calgary Flames embarked on a season that would end one victory short of a Stanley Cup championship. A return to playoff form this season seems, well, very unlikely.

Ten years ago, the province of Alberta was on the verge of becoming debt-free, and would record a $2 billion budgetary surplus. Ten years later, not so much.

For the first settlers of southeastern Alberta, the contrast between 1916 and 1926 was also striking.

Following consecutive above-average harvests in 1915-16, a casual observer might have concluded that the region was on its way to becoming the economic powerhouse of the province.

Ten years later, the southeast was verging on economic and societal collapse. Settlers were leaving the land in droves after a decade of drought and extreme natural events strained the resolve of even the hardiest homesteaders.

Nowhere was the change in fortune more evident than in the former Kinnondale district, situated in northeastern Vulcan County.

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Forgotten Alberta Road trip 2010

"To see what we could see."
After a two year hiatus, our fourth Forgotten Alberta road trip was underway. Following an evening of revelry with hosts Mike & Karin (and cousin Steve), myself and my wheel-man Greg headed out from Brooks on the morning of August 17th to see what we could see. Running from Alderson to Armada in one day, I proceeded to fall in every badger hole in Alderson and marveled at the “Pleasantville on the Prairie” at Ralston. Along the way we saw the birds and antelope play, wandered aimlessly through the Hays Maze, and got our bells rung at Retlaw (United Church). By the time we hit Armada I ran out of steam, just in time for the smoke to roll in.
While I’d love to tell you about it, 23 pictures are roughly the equivalent of a thousand words. Take a look.

Walter spelled backwards

Advertisement from the Lethbridge Herald on June 25, 1914
While rumours continued to surface about possible links to Lethbridge, the final destination of the Suffield subdivision remained a mystery well into 1913.
On April 24, any hopes of a link up with Kipp were dashed when the Lethbridge Herald confirmed that the Suffield line would be veering northwest from the new community of Retlaw towards an eventual link with Blackie on the Aldersyde subdivision. Retlaw, the community formerly known as Barney, was renamed to honour Walter R. Baker, the Secretary of the Canadian Pacific Railway: “Retlaw” is “Walter” spelled backwards.

The C.P.R’s Suffield subdivision – Part One

Bridge over the Bow at Cecil along abandoned Suffield subdivision c.2004
Bridge across the Bow at Cecil along abandoned C.P.R. Suffield subdivision c. 2004

Prior to the outbreak of the First World War, barely a week passed by without somebody floating another proposal for a railroad running from one far-flung corner of Alberta to another. While the vast majority remained dreams and schemes, by 1930 around a dozen of these subdivisions actually made it off the drawing board in southeastern Alberta. For a period of time, branch lines such as the Suffield subdivision–which upon completion stretched for 150 miles over some of the flattest, driest, most desolate prairie Alberta had to offer–served as lifelines to vast spreads of barren grassland that were (and in many cases still are) hardly fit for anything on two legs.

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Google Earth Map Icons: Railway sidings

Quite literally the network of railroad branch lines which crisscrossed the southeast after 1905 were the arteries that gave life to our corner of the province. Along these arteries were sidings, in essence parallel rail lines located roughly six to ten miles apart, which were designated during the initial survey of the rail route. Later, rail companies would take the liberty of naming sidings after railway officials, prominent individuals and investors in the CPR.*

For every incorporated community in the southeast past and present, with the exception of the Village of Bow City, the establishment of a townsite along an existing subdivision was a necessary pre-requisite in the establishment of a village or town. In the case of Bow City, incorporation for the village was granted in 1913 under the assumption that the construction of a branch line to the community was imminent. With the declaration of the First World War, and the evaporation of investor capital, the proposed rail line was scuttled and the village was disorganized within four years.

“Homecoming Scotland” celebrates Irvine

Irvine, Alberta watercolour c. 2003
Irvine, Alberta - Photoshop watercolour c. 2003

Irvine, Alberta has gained some notoriety from its namesake in Scotland. An exhibition of photographs (not including the above, which is a rendering of one of my own) on display in the Scottish Parliament celebrate the community of Irvine in North Ayrshire’s association with the Alberta hamlet:

One panel at the exhibition includes pictures of buffalo grazing outside Irvine’s namesake, while another features a shot of the ‘road to infinity’ running nearby.

I’m not sure what the “road to infinity” refers to, possibly the Trans Canada Highway, which passes to the south of the community. If anyone could enlighten me on that, it would be much appreciated.

The Irvine area also garnered worldwide notoriety in 2006 after the discovery of a natural feature nearby, which would become known as the Badlands Guardian.

Google Earth Map icons: Points of Interest

Points of interest for the purposes of this site are anything that serve to remind us of the people, places or events that helped to shape the character of the southeastern corner of our province. We’ve come across a number of them in our travels, and will no doubt come across many more before we’re through. A point of interest about this post: the icon is a representation of a stone and bronze marker installed along the Trans Canada Highway between Tilley and Suffield, marking the former boundary between the districts of Alberta and Assiniboia. This boundary was dissolved after Alberta and the western section of Assiniboia were amalgamated into the province of Alberta in 1905.

Click to visit FA Google Earth map.

Google Earth Map icons: Photographs

Since 2003 my wife and I- and for three years with our friend and fellow Pilsner Club alumnus Greg- have logged many miles up and down the southeastern corner of the province. Basking in the sun and the serenity of the southeast, we’ve captured many of the region’s sights and highlights on film, and over time we’ll be including these images on our Google Earth page for all to see. We’re not professionals, we just like to take pictures of big red rocks, abandoned buildings, longhorn mounts, and cheeseburgers from Foremost to Oyen (you can’t beat a small town burger).

Click to visit FA Google Earth map.