The bona fide ghostly burg of Bulwark did not always seem destined for desertion.
This area was originally known as Lindsville, named for Thomas L. Lind, the first postmaster in these parts. The community of Bulwark came into being around 1915 after a townsite was surveyed here along a new Canadian Pacific spur line, running north from near Coronation. The line was a collaboration between the CNR and CPR, who intended to link Edmonton to Youngstown and beyond using new and existing track from both companies.
According to “Place Names of Alberta”, the community’s name refers to the “bulwark” of a ship: that part of the ship’s sides that extend above its deck. That may seem an odd choice for dusty outpost on the plains, but when you consider that bulwark also means “a defensive wall” (thanks Oxford dictionary) it begins to make a little more sense. That’s because when the community was named there was a world war going on, and there was a common view at the time that the British Empire viewed itself as a “bulwark” against the ambitions of the Kaiser. It happens to be one of several communities along the CPR’s Coronation Subdivision whose name pays homage to King and Empire (Coronation, Consort, Throne, Loyalist, etc.).
Anyway, as Henderson Directories report, the community was home to five elevators at its pre-Depression era peak, and a host of businesses including two lumber yards, a livery, restaurant, general store, blacksmith, barber, United Church, and even a branch of the Bank of Toronto!
It also appeared to be destined to become a rail hub when a rail line was surveyed branching east of the community into the Neutral Hills. One local history claims the survey was conducted aerially by a pilot named Colonel Birdseye, who apparently had quite the view, and who proceeded to plot a right-of-way to a spot appropriately named “Airways”. However, this was on the eve of the Depression, and following the stock market crash, the CNR proceeded to scale back branch line construction across the country. Although the grade to Airways was constructed, the line was never finished. The abandoned rail bed still wanders through the Neutral Hills to this day, the track having never been laid.
Despite the economic downturn, the line running north from Bulwark to Alliance was completed in 1931, crossing the Battle River at a spot named Lorraine. However, an informative write-up from “In the Bend of the Battle: A History of Alliance and District” states that the extension was never used for regular service (“the only train over it was a work train”). As a result a proposed village along the line named Berkinshaw was halted in its tracks, and it wouldn’t be long before Bulwark’s fortunes would become sidetracked as well.
While the community continued to be a major grain shipping point for several more years, by 1952 most of the rail line from Youngstown to Alliance had been discontinued. Only a short spur line remained, linking Bulwark and her four remaining elevators with the CP line at Coronation.
Bulwark’s demise was now inevitable. When the spur line was discontinued ten years later, the community’s elevator row slowly ceased to operate. During this period the community’s post office and school also closed their doors. According to author, Peter Baergen, the school building was moved to nearby Brownfield, and the Brownfield community website says the Bulwark United Church also found its way there as well.
Today Bulwark is composed of a handful of abandoned homes in varying stages of ruination, and the final remnants of an elevator row, which appears to function as target practice for marauding marksmen.
My friend, Jenn, over at West of the 5th, has an outstanding write-up on Bulwark as well, along with some cool photos of the hamlet that was. Be sure to check it out here.
(This article is a continuation of a series based on photos taken during the 2021 Forgotten Alberta Road Trip – #FABTrip21)