At Alderson, a former village along the Canadian Pacific Railway mainline, northwest of Medicine Hat, time and freight roll on – but the past remains.

To echo the thoughts included within the preface to Empire of Dust (see below), it should be a historic site. There are stories to be told there.

Split personality. 

X” marks the spot.

Looking southeast down Bowell Street, Alderson


12 Replies to “Alderson: The past remains”

  1. Spent a day there lately. A fire had recently burnt all of the grass and any remaining crumbling wood structures. The landscape was as powdery fine as the suface of the moon, punctuated by fresh new grass which shows that nature keeps its course, despite the follies of mankind.

    An erie spilling and scattering of nails lay about foundations where crumbling roofs and walls recently stood. The fresh ground allowed me to find a number of artifacts, including a couple of “Dog Tax 1913” and 1914 tags. The British were nothing if not organized.

    I also found a Merry Widows condom tin, which on it stated that three lasses named Agnes, Beckie and Mable were possibly going to be conquested by some enterprising male.

    Thanks, Jon, for your writing. It spurred me to “motor along the boulevards of Carlstadt (Alderson). Well, walking along them, in any event. I could picture the home guard whirling and about facing with vigour, as so eloquently stated in “Empire of Dust” by David Jones. I cannot pass by on the number 1 highway without thinking of the poor souls who bought the hucksterism of the early 1900s hook, line and sinker.

    While approaching the town along Range Road 104, I could not help but notice the stone piles that early homesteaders created. Each quarter section had its own little pile along the road, something that is actually pretty rare to see on the prairie nowadays, at least in such close proximity to each other. The land there is so poor that it seemingly couldn’t even grow rocks well, or maybe the glaciers had pity on the land, knowing that future humans would struggle on it as it was without them being further burdened by glacial till.

    I am saddened that my first trip to the town was after all of the structures had been burnt down. That being said, it was a unique and perhaps not to be repeated opportunity to see things like an old leather slipper poking thru the dirt, or any number of other items that would be lost to the eye because of the thick prairie grass that usually inhabits the townsite.

    In keeping with the theme of letting life flourish where so many hopes died, I extended a burnt board into an old brick well where a garter snake had found itself, without hope of getting out. I was pleased to see that when I looked later, it had found a way to extricate itself from certain death. In that sense, it echoed the lives of many former human inhabitants of those environs, who found that life was possible where it seemed hopeless. All they had to do was move the hell away.

  2. Hi Greg, thank you for such an eloquent recounting of your visit to Alderson. I’m shocked to hear your report about the fire. I hope the cause was accidental, but nothing lasts forever. I would love to see the site designated a historical resource or historic site, as nature appears to be busy erasing its memory. Thankfully there are people lie yourself who help the memories of this forsaken place live on a little longer.

  3. Excellent, thank you so much! My family lived here 1912-19. One of the children is buried here: I’ve been told by the cemetery caretaker that there is no gravestone. I visited the site once but couldn’t locate the townsite. Your video and photos will help when I try again. I was at the railway marker for Alderson. If anyone could give me a map of how to find the townsite, I’d greatly appreciate it! Thank you. Peggy

  4. I was born in Alderson in 1936 and have made several trips there over the years. My grandfather Hans Johnson is buried in the Graveyard there.

  5. My Grandparents Torval & Byorg Larson came to Alderson from North Dakota, spent till 1954 sheep-ranching & raising a big family. Their daughter Beatrice Larson, 5 is buried there with no marker. I love the videos & pictures people have made! It’s hard to believe there’s little left of the town of 450 folks who worked so hard to feed their families. It’s haunting yet it beckons me back.

  6. Hi Shirley – thnaks for stopping by. It’s great to see the memory of Alderson being kept alive by so many. A trip to the old townsite really underscores the overwhelming odds settlers faced in trying to turn the drybelt into a home.

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