As any blogger can attest, when you publish content online, you’re never sure where it will end up. Earlier this year, I was pleased to discover several short videos from 2012 (!) that had apparently been inspired by articles published on this site, and on VulcanCountyHistory.com.
Several of these videos, produced by students at the Alberta College of Art & Design, were interpretations of an article I penned in 2011: “Who are the forgotten dead of Vulcan County?”
I contacted Marion Garden, the Director of Marketing & Communications at ACAD to learn more, and she was kind enough to furnish me with some information about the videos. Ms. Garden forwarded a quick explanation from Kurtis Lesick, Assistant Professor, Media Arts , who was behind the project. He offered the following explanation for the videos:
A peculiar facet of southern Alberta’s pioneer-era history is that there is little permanence to it. While we tend to adhere to an old world bias that history involves a permanent physical and literary record, neither of these exist throughout much of the plains. Much of Palliser’s Triangle was settled and abandoned a century ago, and with the pioneer exodus went the stories of hope and heartbreak, which were quickly forgotten as new lives were built somewhere else and generations passed on. Inevitably, the physical evidence of the homestead experiment is fading, with man and Mother Nature working in consort to set the clock back to zero. In time it will be like they were never here at all.
A post shared by Jonathan Koch (@forgotten_alberta) on
Thankfully, the memory of Alderson (nee Carlstadt) at the peak of the settlement boom was chronicled in great detail by photographers, Chester Coffey in particular. The Starr family seems to have been a favoured subject, and several photographs documenting their presence in the community now existence within the province’s archival collections.
“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.
Highway 25 north of Lethbridge is mostly known for one thing: cows. This is heart of “Feedlot Alley“, the highest concentration of intensive farming operations in Alberta, which produces over half of the beef consumed in Canada. While industrial farms dominate the landscape today, the area’s roots are deep underground, in the rich coal seams that run along the Oldman River. Underneath silage pits, cattle pens, and pivot tracks lie a rich heritage of boom towns, ghost towns, and a pioneer history dating back over century.