Forgotten Alberta

Sights and Stories of the Southeast

Bow City Townsite with BigDoer.com

Posted on | December 16, 2013 | 2 Comments

Have you ever been to downtown Bow City? It’s not where you think it is.

On August 24, I met Connie Biggart and Chris Doering, the names behind BIGDoer.com, and area long-timer Leo Smith at the corner of Herrick Avenue and East Railroad.

Check out the blog post and pictures from Chris and Connie here.

Related: Bow City: The Village Born Unlucky

German colonists made a name for themselves at Hussar

Posted on | November 28, 2013 | No Comments

A cohort of German settlers survey their new homesteads at Hussar. Just kidding. Source: Wikimedia Commons via Deutsches Bundesarchiv

A party of German homesteaders survey their new farming colony at Hussar. Just kidding. Seriously though, German Hussars, similar to those seen here on reconnaissance in the Fatherland, came to Alberta before 1914 hoping to make their mark (and a few marks) as farmers in the CPR Central Irrigation Block. It didn’t go quite as planned.
Source: Wikimedia Commons via Deutsches Bundesarchiv

 

PrairiePostLogoLong 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 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.

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Bombshell brought wartime sacrifice home to Bingville

Posted on | October 28, 2013 | 2 Comments

 

This is Bingville.

This is Bingville.
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PrairiePostLogoIt was 1941, and the farmers and ranchers of Bingville were growing suspicious.

Throughout the previous fall, planes had been spotted on several occasions, taking aerial photographs of the isolated farms and massive grazing leases situated 30 miles northwest of Medicine Hat.

With wheat crops rebounding (somewhat) from a disastrous decade of drought, rumours lingered that the Dominion government, fully engaged in fighting the Second World War, was eyeing up the largely uninhabited area as a “bombing field”.

Then on April 11, 1941, the National Defence Department dropped the bombshell; announcing the “immediate occupation” of 700,000 acres north of Medicine Hat to be used as a military “proving ground”.

A year earlier, Allied forces had lost the use of a testing ground in North Africa, prompting British and Canadian governments to look to Canada’s wide-open spaces for a replacement. They set their sights on the one place most closely resembling the Sahara desert—Bingville, Alberta.

With the full cooperation of the Alberta government, the expropriation of over one thousand square miles north of Suffield began: It did not go well.

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Prairie Post: Special marker makes note of prairie cemetery near Lomond

Posted on | October 17, 2013 | No Comments

PrairiePostLogoCheck out the article by Rose Sanchez, appearing in the October 18 edition of the Prairie Post, on the efforts to preserve Taylor Cemetery, a few clicks west of Bow City.

It can be viewed online at the Post website here.

Taylor Cemetery: “Consecrated, set apart, and dedicated forever.”

Posted on | October 10, 2013 | 1 Comment

On October 1, 2013, I was honoured to be part of a dedication ceremony at Taylor Cemetery, located about five miles west of Bow City (which I have written about here and here). A ceremony was performed by Rev. Gordon Cranch of Vulcan; alongside a plinth and bronze plaque that had been installed previously by Vulcan County to commemorate this nearly forgotten pioneer graveyard.

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Carl Axelson of Bingville: The farmers’ last hope

Posted on | October 2, 2013 | 1 Comment

In the ‘20s and early ‘30s, Bingville’s Carl Axelson was revered and reviled by Albertans. Today he is all but forgotten.

In the ‘20s and early ‘30s, Bingville’s Carl Axelson was revered and reviled by Albertans. Today he is all but forgotten.

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In his day, Carl Axelson was called many things: “socialist”, “communist”, “the Canadian Trotsky”, and a “traitrous [sic] sedition monger”.

But to Alberta farmers facing ruin during the drought and depression of the ‘20s and ‘30s, he was simply Axelson of Bingville: the farmer’s last hope.

Born in Sweden, Carl Henning Axelson arrived in the U.S. as a teen. He came north in 1912 with bride, Kristina, to a homestead at Bingville, 34 miles north of Medicine Hat.

When drought devastated southeastern Alberta after 1916, Axelson grew concerned with the plight of the farmer, scores of whom could pay neither taxes nor creditors. He turned to activism, joining the fledgling United Farmers of Alberta movement.

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The Hanna-Hat Line withered on the Peavine

Posted on | September 4, 2013 | 4 Comments

1924 Department of Interior Map showing proposed route of Hanna-Hat Line, south of the Red Deer River.

Picture 1 of 3

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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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“You couldn’t get a more Albertan experience.”

Posted on | August 9, 2013 | 2 Comments

English adventurer and filmmaker, Dominic Gill, and assorted guests, took a spin through Alberta earlier this year on a tandem bicycle, his trip taking him through some of the more isolated outposts of Alberta’s southeast. His adventures are being filmed for a series of online webisodes that will air on telegraph.co.uk, the online site of Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper, as well as for a feature-length documentary film chronicling the trip.

See the first two webisodes of “Take A Seat: Alberta” below:

“This has probably been my most relaxed leg of any journey…”

  “I actually feel like this is “Rangeland Alberta”: You couldn’t get a more Albertan experience.”

 

It took more than money to save the south from drought

Posted on | July 24, 2013 | No Comments

Photos courtesy of the Esplanade Archives.

PrairiePostLogoAlbertans have a turbulent relationship with Mother Nature. We live in wonder of her ability to shape our majestic landscape and wide open spaces. Sometimes we wonder why we live here at all, when extreme weather events, like last month’s floods, turn lives upside down.

Over the last century, southeastern Albertans have endured the worst Mother Nature could muster. A fact mostly forgotten, it took decades of trial, many errors, and some tough decisions to transform the southeast into a place to call home.

While June’s floods were fierce and dramatic, the drought that afflicted southeastern Alberta between 1917 and 1939 was a catastrophe in slow-motion. As dust and debt slowly smothered farming communities across the south, the neophyte United Farmers of Alberta party was swept into power to prevent a looming economic, environmental and social crisis. Inheriting a massive debt burden from its predecessors, and without access to oilsands billions, the U.F.A. faced some hard choices to solve its so-called “southern problem”.

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Forgotten dead of Vulcan County to be remembered

Posted on | July 22, 2013 | No Comments

Whose remains are buried here?

Whose remains are buried here?

During the late fall of 2011, I was fortunate to have both the Medicine Hat News and Calgary Herald publish an article I had written entitled: “Who are the forgotten dead of Vulcan County?”. (Thanks to Chris Brown of the News for getting the ball rolling, and to Michele Jarvie at the Herald for assistance along the way.)

Not long after it appeared in the Herald, the article was brought to the attention of Vulcan County and their grants and programs coordinator, Ms. Liza Dawber. Ms. Dawber contacted me in early 2012 to inform me the County would be pursuing a government grant to install a cairn at the site. Since then Ms. Dawber  has worked tirelessly to see the proposal through, keeping me informed of the progress along the way. She also gave me the honour of composing the wording of the plaque that will honour the memory of those buried at Taylor Cemetery for years to come (see story below).

A few week ago she  contacted me again, this time to let me know the application was successful.

I am extremely grateful to Ms. Dawber for making this happen. It is heartening to know the dead of Taylor Cemetery, although still mostly unknown, will no longer be forgotten. Read more

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    About

    Drawing on 100+ years of family history in southeastern Alberta, Prairie Post columnist Jonathan Koch highlights the region's almost forgotten pioneer-era people and places.

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