Congratulations to heritage preservation projects in Empress, Medicine Hat, Redcliff and Taber that will split over $80,000 in grant funding from the province (details below, with project descriptions from Alberta Culture). A total of 58 projects across Alberta received provincial funding this time around. Still no word on whether the application from Vulcan County for the installation of a heritage marker at the village of Bow City was successful, but I remain hopeful.
Update: Good news everyone! No decision yet on the Bow City heritage marker, expect work one war or the other in June.
Found alongside abandoned railways and down dusty roads, forlorn ghost towns dot the Alberta landscape. Every year “ghosttowners”, geocachers and the generally disoriented trek to out-of-the-way locales like Retlaw, Winnifred, Chinook and Nemiskam to capture a glimpse of Alberta’s disappearing past.
The most prominent of southeastern Alberta’s ghost communities is surely Carlstadt (a.k.a Alderson); situated within the vast void separating Brooks and Medicine Hat. Conceived just over a century ago, Carlstadt sprouted from a lonely railway siding named Langevin in 1911, becoming a village of 200 within a few short years. Dubbed the “Star of the Prairie”, booming Carlstadt was renamed Alderson in 1915. Its fortunes shifted shortly after when drought doomed the village and surrounding countryside.
Today, anyone making the pilgrimage to Alderson will find the townsite reclaimed by nature. What remains is mostly a collection of rusting refuse and collapsing cellar holes scattered amidst the mixedgrass. The story of the village itself might have been lost were it not for the 1987 publication of Empire of Dust by Calgary professor, David C. Jones. The award-winning tome, which focusses on Carlstadt / Alderson, chronicles the environmental and economic catastrophe that obliterated Alberta’s southeast during the ’20s and ‘30s. Along with Jones’ companion publications, We’ll All Be Buried Down Here and Feasting on Misfortune, Empire remains the only recent scholarly work dedicated to chronicling the southeast’s drybelt disaster.
Despite the professor’s past efforts to draw attention to “the unknown sorrow of southeastern Alberta”, getting Albertans to value their own history has proven a constant challenge. In an interview prior to Christmas, Dr. Jones explained it was a minor miracle Empire of Dust was published in the first place.
Just a quick note to the readers of the Forgotten Alberta column in the Prairie Post, and of my blog and MedicineHatNews.com, that I will be posting my last regular column in the Prairie Post East and West online tomorrow.
I am truly grateful to Rose Sanchez and Ryan Dahlman at the Prairie Post for the opportunity to publish 25 columns over the space of two years and one month. It has been a privilege to be able to spread the word about Southeastern Alberta’s forgotten history to readers in southern Alberta and southwest Saskatchewan during that time. The column has also opened the doors to towards more substantial efforts towards preserving our heritage in partnership with Vulcan County, including the Taylor Cemetery dedication; and the installation of a heritage marker at the site of the village of Bow City (still pending provincial approval – fingers crossed!). For this I am very thankful.
Unfortunately, I have run out of time and material to keep the column going on a monthly basis, so a break is in order. Once I reload, I intend to start publishing again, focussing on southeastern Alberta’s ghost communities, with the goal to slap it all in a book, one day. In the meantime, keep reading the Prairie Post, and watch for the occasional guest column from yours truly.
Many thanks to those who have furnished me with content and photographs for the site over the past two years, including:
The Esplanade Archives, Medicine Hat (special thanks to Kim Unrau for her assistance)
Wheatcrest Farms, Lomond, Glen and Marie Logan
Jay-Dell Mah, Western Canada Baseball – www.attheplate.com
Janet Sandau and the E.I.D. Historical Park
Patricia and Paul Marck, Beryl McManus and Bob McManus
Rev. Jakob Pillibeit and the Ibbestad Lutheran Church, Enchant
And of course, the Koch family
Meanwhile, the good news is the Forgotten Alberta blog (and Twitter and Instagram) will live on. Over the next weeks and months, I will revisit some of my more popular blog entries, and update with new content whenever possible.
Thanks as well to my readers for all of the kind words and wonderful stories you have shared with me over the past few years. Keep ‘em coming because they keep me going!
What will Southeastern Alberta look like in 50 years? It’s anybody’s guess.
The Alberta Government is taking a stab at it, having recently wrapped up consultation for the South Saskatchewan (River Basin) Regional Plan. The plan’s stated purpose is to establish a “long-term vision” for the region, setting the stage for “robust growth, vibrant communities and a healthy environment” within Southern Alberta over the next half-century.
The plan is ambitious—the task monumental—but will drafters be any more successful than previous prognosticators?
A popular choice amongst my Instagram followers, the photo above was taken while I stood on the train tracks at Irvine, Alberta on July 24, 2013, on day one of the 2013 Forgotten Alberta road trip. The photo underneath was taken on a stroll around the hamlet, as I looked southward across the C.P.R. mainline towards Irvine’s historic South Railway Avenue. To the left is the Irvine Hotel, where myself and U of L alumnus Greg Farries stayed for the night, and whose rustic digs provided much fodder for Twitter as the evening progressed:
Bassano has a proud history, and nowhere is this more evident than in the architecture found in the community. I grew up 30 minutes from here, and I had no idea until this summer what a collection of heritage buildings there were to be found in town. This is odd considering a year earlier we stayed at the Imperial Hunter Hotel, an old C.P.R. hotel chock full of historic artifacts from the days of Sam Whiting when Bassano was “the logical and recognized centre of Canada’s great inland empire“.
This photo was taken in early August 2010 on the final leg of that year’s Forgotten Alberta Road Trip. The visit to Travers Cemetery was a pilgrimage of sorts for me, as four generations of my family have been laid to rest here over the span of a century. Forest fires in British Columbia were just beginning to cast an acrid haze over the countryside, something that is a little more apparent in the image below. This photo was also taken during the 2010 visit to Travers from a vantage point overlooking crop land and farms to the northwest.
Every now and then you find something out on the prairie that makes you think. This was one of them, an old abandoned roadster, miles from anything really, the engine and most of the interior removed, the remnants rusting away in the prairie sun. Naturally, or unnaturally, one’s mind tends to wander through all the morbid possibilities a scene like this presents. However, a more likely explanation for the Tide Lake roadster likely involves teenagers, an old beater, possibly some booze and too much time to kill. Or, maybe this just seemed like a good place to dump a car?
The photo below from the same day also makes you think, a creepy old shack out stuck on the prairie at Kinivie, southeast of Tilley. Perspective is everything of course, and what you can’t see are the corrals for the community pasture adjacent, which adds a little more context and removes most of the mystery from the scene.