Last weekend was a bad one for Carmangay.
On Sunday this village of 250 was visited twice by fire, the scourge of many an old tyme prairie burg.
The region’s infamous gales drove a blaze eastward across the tinder dry plains towards the town, prompting an evacuation of the community Sunday afternoon.
The prairie fire burned up miles of the surrounding countryside, with videos of the onrushing inferno going viral, and grabbing headlines nationwide.
However in Carmangay, it is the loss of the venerable Grange Hotel in a conflagration hours earlier that this weekend will surely be remembered for.
Mere days after hosting the annual “world’s shortest St. Patrick’s Day parade”, the Grange, with its iconic creamsicle coloured façade, was razed to the ground during the wee hours of Sunday, taking with it over 110 years of history and hijinks.
According to the local history book, Bridging the Years: Carmangay and district, the Grange was built by Pete McNaughton in 1909, in this village named for bonanza farmer, C.W. Carman of Chicago, and his wife, Gay.
The years that followed were ones of great prosperity as Tom Treadway, the clerk and manager at the Grange Hotel from 1910 to 1913 describes:
“These were hectic days, the Southern Alberta Irrigation ditch was being built with Vauxhall and McArthur Contractors for the work and many of the men came to Carmangay as this was the nearest town. The railway was building and the train used to stop here for lunch. Very often we had to put up cots in the corridor upstairs and every other available space for overnight guests. Many homesteaders from Lomond and Enchant would come in with loads of wheat, stay over to purchase groceries and supplies and return home next day. The Grange was a busy place when pay day came at the construction camps. Some of the men would come in, cash their cheques and stay until the money was spent, then back to camp and work again.”
The “Grange Block” housed several businesses over the years, including the post office for a time, a barbershop, cafe, ice cream parlour, legal office, jewelry store, and a real estate office, all staples of a prosperous pioneer town.
It was also adjacent to a two-story privy, serving top and bottom floors. Don’t ask me how that worked.
McNaughton sold in 1912, with the Grange going through a succession of owners after that. One of them, Jim O’Conner, founded the aforementioned shortest St. Patty’s parade: an homage to his Irish heritage, and a reference to the two minutes it takes to complete. Terry Vogt of CTV Lethbridge, a southern Alberta legend in his own right, tells the story here.
While the Grange will be missed, it will live forever on film, having played a supporting role in the movie, Betrayed, which was filmed in the area in 1988. The movie captured the Grange, and the surrounding countryside, at their finest, launching the careers of actors like Tom Berenger, Debra Winger, and Tom Svanes into the stratosphere. Perhaps this is a slight exaggeration.
I have been fortunate to visit the Grange with assorted rabble over the years, taking in the rustic charm, and taking home some branded bottle openers. These momentos are all the more poignant today.
Here’s to the Grange: may your memory live on.
Sources: Bridging the Years: Carmangay and district; World’s shortest St. Paddy’s Day Parade goes ahead: Southern Alberta tradition continues despite COVID-19