WW1: Finding your family members who served in the Great War

The following is a guest post kindly submitted by Rosemary Koch, a.k.a. “Mum”.

Many older readers who had family members who fought in WW1 remember dusty photos on the mantelpiece or the piano of the bright eyed young men smiling proudly in their smart new military uniforms before marching off to war. So many of them, some no more than eighteen went off to fight in the years 1914-18 and never returned

These photos which for decades were a part of the furniture now have new meaning as the centenary of the start of Great War approaches. People are starting to take an interest in their family history and researching those great uncles and grandfathers who fought in that war from which so many never returned or came back wounded in body and spirit.

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#WW1: The Hanna-Hat Line withered on the Peavine

This article was originally posted on September 4, 2013


Tucked between the Rainy Hills, southeast of Jenner, is some of the driest country in southeastern Alberta.

At the centre of this deceptively dubbed district is Tide Lake. Named for an intermittent slough, the Tide Lake area is sparsely populated but prosperous, situated at the centre of a great grazing and oil and gas empire.

A century ago, farmers here and in surrounding communities—Bingville, Brutus, New Holland, Peerless, Polonia and Tripola—were confident that the semi-arid pasture straddling present-day C.F.B. Suffield had few rivals as a premier wheat-growing district.

In the absence of water, farmers prayed for a flood of railway traffic along the proposed Hanna-Hat Line.

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Image: An undated photo of the derelict Hanna-Hat Line, courtesy of the Esplanade Archives, Medicine Hat.

Related: Carl Axelson of Bingville: The farmers’ last hope

#WW1: Irrigation was the inspiration for Ronalane

This article was initially posted on November 7, 2012.

On the open range west of Redcliff, a derelict canal meanders wearily across the plains.

Constructed prior to World War I, the big ditch spans an abandoned irrigation empire reaching from Bowell to Bow City.

Snaking its way through the patchwork of Crown lease and private pastureland that comprises western Cypress County, this enduring earthwork has lay dormant for almost a century, having never conveyed a single drop of irrigation water.

In 2010, a proposal to sell 16,000 acres of Crown grazing reserve to a local potato grower revived dreams of irrigation here, and ignited a controversy that gained national attention.

Dubbed “Potatogate” in the media, the proposal was eventually quashed, after concerns were raised about breaking up what was characterized as “pristine” grassland for irrigated farming.

Lost in the debate was the fact that much of the land is far from pristine, and was in fact briefly settled by homesteaders, and cultivated for agricultural production, nearly 100 years ago.

The catalyst for this homestead rush was an ambitious 500,000-acre development by an Anglo-Canadian consortium, the Southern Alberta Land Company.

Click here to read the rest of “Irrigation was the inspiration for Ronalane”.

Image: An undated photo of the Boston-Alberta Company harvest on the British Block, now C.F.B. Suffield,  courtesy of Al Lemna / Forgotten Alberta Archive.

Related: The Alberta Land Company

#WW1: German colonists made a name for themselves at Hussar

German Pickelhaube (spiked helmet), “potato mashers” (hand grenades) and field cap from the First World War on display at the Brooks and District Museum.
This article has been modified from the original column that first appeared in the November 15, 2013 edition of the Prairie Post East.

Long before Canada entered the First World War, southern Alberta was in the midst of a German invasion.

By 1914, dozens of well-armed German army reservists packing uniforms and “pickelhaubes” (spiked helmets) had decamped on the plains west of the Wintering Hills. The occupying force was comprised mostly of ex-military men and included several nobles within their ranks.

The Germans had come to Alberta, not to fight, but to farm—having traded their swords for plowshares in the hope of establishing a pre-eminent farming colony on the Alberta plains. They would succeed in making a name for themselves, although not in the way they first intended.

Continue reading #WW1: German colonists made a name for themselves at Hussar

#WW1: The Great War took its toll on Alberta’s Southeast

The following article was originally posted on December 5, 2012.

It has been said the Canadian nation was born on the battlefields of Europe during the First World War.

While the end of the war in 1918 marked a new beginning for Canada, its commencement four years earlier signaled the beginning of the end for many southeastern Alberta communities.

Following the declaration of war in 1914, overseas investment in mines, farms, railways and irrigation projects across Palliser’s Triangle dried up nearly overnight. The economic and social fallout that ensued forever altered the landscape of Alberta’s southeast, and helped inflame ethnic tensions that smoldered long after conflict ceased.

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Image: The cenotaph at Retlaw, Alberta commemorating the community’s sacrifices in two world wars.

Sights and Stories of the Southeast