It was a happy coincidence when I received a message recently from a gentleman named Bill McGillivray.
Mr. McGillivray informed me he was once the Alberta Wheat Pool elevator agent at Dowling, a former railway siding and settlement about 10 miles north of the town of Hanna.
“I lived in the dwelling attached to elevator office from fall of 1960 to fall 1963. I have pictures of the elevator I could share.”
It just so happened I was planning to head out Dowling way in the summer to check out Alberta’s newest provincial park, Antelope Hill, which was only a few miles down the road.
While I hope to get Bill’s recollections about his time at Dowling for a follow-up article, his timely offering provided me with the excuse to drag my family into the Alberta outback to not only see what was left of Dowling, but also to check out the province’s newest provincial park.
Situated in a picturesque corner of the Special Areas, the townsite of Dowling was first surveyed in 1925 along the Canadian National Railway’s Endiang Subdivision, which almost instantly became more commonly known as “the Hanna-Warden line”.
Dowling derived its name from nearby Dowling Lake, whose name, according to an older edition of Place-names of Alberta, was bestowed by Joseph Burr Tyrrell (he of museum fame) in 1886 to honour his Geological Survey colleague, Dr. D. B. Dowling.
As Avis McColeman details in the Hanna North history book, her father, Andrew Alpaugh, purchased a lot in the newly surveyed townsite in 1925, and built a store along the Hanna-Warden line when it was little more than a road of ballast.
McColeman recalled they had to wait until the following year before rail found its way to the fledgling burg:
“The spring of 1926 brought the crews that laid the ties and rails. These were mostly foreigners. After that came many more crews to finish the tracks and build the station, section house, bunk house, stock yards, etc. When the track was finished a mixed train, consisting of freight cars, a passenger coach and baggage car, had a steady run. This carried mail, passengers, freight and express north on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings and south on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday evenings.”
As excitement over the arrival of the railway began to build, area farmers agitated for the construction of an Alberta Wheat Pool elevator at Dowling siding. Their wish was soon granted, and in mid-August work began on a 37,000-bushel facility, which was erected in only a month and opened just in time for harvest.
The district had been known as “Weise” up to this point, but with Alpaugh establishing the Dowling post office in his store in late August, the community’s name was now set. Soon families of the elevator agent and a railway section foreman arrived, and there was definitely something doing at Dowling.
However, the salad days were short lived.
Within a few years ownership of the store had changed hands, and not long afterwards, drought and falling commodity prices led to hardship throughout the area. The C.N.R. pulled their section crew from the community during the Depression years of the 1930s. The elevator also closed for a time following an abysmal crop in 1936-37 when just over 9000 bushels of grain was shipped from the Dowling Wheat Pool.
The elevator’s closure wasn’t permanent, and by the end of the Dirty Thirties, productive years again returned to Hanna North. In 1940, a 30,000-bushel annex was added to the elevator which continued to operate alongside the CN line for another 35 years.
After a number of ownership changes, the Dowling store and post office finally closed for good in 1952, and the building was torn down the following year.
With rail traffic along the line in steady decline, the decision was made to close the elevator at Dowling in 1975, foreshadowing the abandonment of the Endiang Subdivision by the CPR. According to Hanna North and the Alberta Wheat Pool, during its lifespan Dowling was a shipping point for almost 3 million bushels of grain, including over 120,000 bushels during the banner year of 1972-73.
Today little remains of old Dowling. The elevator annex was sold and moved shortly after closure, and eventually the burgundy sentinel was torn down, and the tracks taken up from Hanna to Byemoor. A road that ran westward into Dowling from what is now Range Road 150 has been worked back into the adjacent crop land, with the railway grade, overgrown and eroded, being the final remnant of the ribbon of steel that once meandered through these rolling plains.
That said, Dowling is not forgotten.
The community’s name endures locally, and a sign stands alongside Rge. Rd. 150 commemorating the whistle stop’s almost 50-year run. There is also the nearby lake of course, which is frequented by a significant number of waterbirds including the endangered Piping Plover.
The area has also received more notoriety as of late with the opening of Antelope Hill Provincial Park, a mere three-mile trek south from Dowling.
So after fumbling around in the unseasonably cold autumn-like gale, we headed down the road to check out Antelope Hill, an excursion I will relate in great detail in a follow-up post.
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