Our journey to the beautiful, boring, bowl-shaped structure of Bow City (Kinnondale)

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“It’s probably one of the most boring places. It’s beautiful, but it’s flatline and in that sense it’s quite boring.”

As you may have read on this very blog, the University of Alberta announced on May 7 that a team led by Dr. Doug Schmitt had discovered the “roots” of a crater—a “bowl-shaped structure”—theorized to have been left by a massive meteorite strike just west of Bow City, Alberta.


View Bow City Crater in a larger map – Source: University of Alberta

According to Dr. Schmitt, all that remains of the “Bow City Crater” today is “a semicircular depression eight kilometres across with a central peak”. However, evidence suggests that a meteor strike within the last 70 million years left a crater that was initally eight-kilometres wide, 1.6 to 2.4 km deep, and produced an explosion “strong enough to destroy present-day Calgary”.

“An impact of this magnitude would kill everything for quite a distance,” stated the professor in a UofA media release. “If it happened today, Calgary (200 km to the northwest) would be completely fried and in Edmonton (500 km northwest), every window would have been blown out. Something of that size, throwing that much debris in the air, potentially would have global consequences; there could have been ramifications for decades.”

In an interview with Calgary Herald’s Colette Derworiz, Dr. Schmitt described the site of the discovery, a vast expanse of grazing lease and farm land about 30 miles southwest of Brooks as: “…probably one of the most boring places. It’s beautiful, but it’s flatline and in that sense it’s quite boring.”

As it turns out, I happened to spend a considerable chunk of my youth living a few miles west of this beautiful, boring and flatline place; on a farm situated in an area formerly known as Kinnondale. 

Area pioneers and their descendents have long been aware of the existence of “an ancient ring-like structure” north of Kinnondale. Referred to by the locals as “the sundial”, and others as “Canada’s Stonehenge”, the Majorville Medicine Wheel has been studied extensively by academics and mystics alike. 

Prime grazing lease - Looking southeast from the Majorville Medicine Wheel towards Bow City. During the early part of the 20th Century, this mixed-grass prairie supported some of the biggest cattle and horse herds in the country.
Prime grazing lease – Looking southeast from the Majorville Medicine Wheel towards Bow City, c. 2010. During the early part of the 20th Century, this mixed-grass prairie supported some of the biggest cattle and horse herds in the country.

However, the revelation there was yet another “ancient ring-like structure” at Bow City (Kinnondale), hidden in plain sight for longer than anyone could remember, caught the community by surprise. 

As a fan and chronicler of boring places across the southeast, especially ones close to my childhood home, I felt the need to investigate.

Departing the sunny skies of home, I dragged my family three hours into the damp and drizzle that had enveloped much of southern Alberta. We stopped at the Koch farm, situated within sight of Canada’s Stonehenge, and a stone’s throw from Alberta’s newest 70 million year old geological marvel.  Here our expedition, comprised of every known member of the family within 30 miles, piled into a caravan of 4WD vehicles (a necessity for venturing into the lease) and hit the trail.

According to the data at our disposal, the epicentre of Bow City Crater is located six miles (give or take) as the crow flies, from the present-day hamlet of Bow City (not the village). Just as the cataclysm that created this “bowl-like” depression is speculated to have had devastating consequences for life in the area”; a “dust bowl”-like Depression had a similar effect on Kinnondale not even a century past.

Kinnondale store and post office
Kinnondale store and post office c. 1912, photo courtesy of Gordon McKinnon. Mr. McKinnon has identified the individuals as follows: (Left to right) Unknown (Possibly Robert McKinnon), Emily Florence McKinnon, Morley James McKinnon (in pram), Ian Crawford McKinnon, Marie McKinnon, and John Crawford (J.C.) McKinnon.

Heavily populated by hopeful pioneers starting in 1909, the Kinnondale community boasted over 200 residents during its settlement-era peak. However, over the subsequent four decades, drought, desolation, and the Great Depression drove only the hardiest homesteaders from the land. Today, the population has recovered slightly from the single digit lows of the ’40s and ’50s. Yet despite the influence of irrigation and gas exploration, the community formerly-known as Kinnondale remains mostly a vast ocean of pasture and farmland, sparsely populated by man.

Kinnondale School (top left) and teacherage on original site, 1941. Koch family farm in foreground. (Koch family photo)
Kinnondale School (top left) and teacherage on original site, 1941. Koch family farm in foreground. Kinnondale School would be moved to Bow City townsite in 1942. Pigs were very tasty, from all accounts. (Koch family photo)

As I mentioned, it was a dreary day: showers sporadically came and went throughout the afternoon, punctuated by a bitter breeze from the north (Edmonton, I presume).  After a few iffy moments on the waterlogged Lunt Road (RR 818), we headed east across the plains in search of an ancient landmark, that until a week ago, no one here even knew existed. (In case you are wondering, as the land in question is municipal grazing lease and private farmland, we did acquire permission from the leaseholder / landowner / same person before venturing into the wild.)

The Lunt Road, c. 2007
The Lunt Road, c. 2007. The homestead of Joseph and Annie Lunt on the right.

As gingerly as one can in a Rav4, we negotiated our way along the glorified prairie trail. We continued eastward up a gradual incline which came to a crest after about 500m at what we presumed was the edge of the abyss (see below):

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The edge of the abyss. (Yes, that’s it.)
The great "bowl-like" depression
Entering the great “depression”

From there the trail dipped suddenly into a great depression, a small draw spanned by an earthen causeway, bordered on either side by a wetland slough. Incidentally there are numerous wetlands in this area, all are part of the Ducks Unlimited Medicine Wheel Project. As you likely guessed, the project is named for the “ring-like” structure that looms on the northern horizon: the Majorville Medicine Wheel. Emerging from the abyss, we began our gradual ascent to the top of another rise, what we believed to be the “epicentre” of Bow City Crater.

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Another “ring-like” structure in the distance.
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Looking west from the central peak

I must add that at no point were we under the illusion that we were going to discover a gaping hole that had somehow gone unnoticed by locals for more than a century. Both my dad and brother, who have spent a combined 140 years living and farming at Bow City (Kinnondale), were very well-acquainted with the geography and local landmarks of the area.

However, from our vantage point atop the “central peak”, we all began to see the countryside from a new perspective. From the crest of the hill, you could see there was something to the whole crater theory, especially to the west and south, where the semi-circular depression was definitely discernible. The peak also gently sloped north and east towards the Bow River, terminating in the river flats to the west of the Bow City Hutterite Colony.

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Looking south toward the landowner’s residence.
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More car parts on the prairie: A headlight from a Model T Ford

Despite my assurances that diamonds would be protruding from the earth and would be ripe for the plucking (in jest, of course), we found only old cellar holes and a scattering of car parts – almost a certainty in places such as these. As we explored the property for anything of interest, we began to gather some insight into why those who settled the area up and left. Despite the ominous skies, the swollen clouds offered only a hint of rain. Within the space of a few miles, roads that were nearly too wet to traverse gave way to dusty prairie trails. Alongside sloughs stood gritty fallow that looked like it had scarcely seen a drop of rain. It’s hard to make a living in this country.

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Cellar holes, cattle trails and a pile of poop adorn the peak of (what we think is) Bow City Crater. The hamlet of Bow City and Bow City Huttterite Colony can be seen on the eastern horizon.

The quest for untapped wealth at an end, our caravan meandered back to the farm. Along the way, we encountered wildlife of all sorts. The flatline plain teemed with mule and white-tailed deer, returning ducks and geese, and the odd gopher; all truly at home in this beautiful, boring place.

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3 thoughts on “Our journey to the beautiful, boring, bowl-shaped structure of Bow City (Kinnondale)”

  1. As usual, great work. I find these topics fascinating. Imagine the world wide hub bub if ye olde crater was within shouting distance of a major US city. Sadly, here in Canada, little interest is paid to these celestial events which have helped shape our world, both locally and worldwide.

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