All posts by Jonathan Koch

Drawing on over a century of family history in southeastern Alberta, Jonathan Koch chronicles the forgotten people and places of southern Alberta, Canada's Badlands region.

In remembrance: The Great War took its toll on Alberta’s southeast

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, I have reached back into the Forgotten Alberta archives to re-post a retrospective on the impact of the Great War on Palliser’s Triangle.

This article was originally published in the Prairie Post East on November 16, 2012


It has been said the Canadian nation was born on the battlefields of Europe during the First World War.

While the end of the war in 1918 marked a new beginning for Canada, its commencement four years earlier signaled the beginning of the end for many southeastern Alberta communities.

Following the declaration of war in 1914, overseas investment in mines, farms, railways and irrigation projects across Palliser’s Triangle dried up nearly overnight.

The economic and social fallout that ensued forever altered the landscape of Alberta’s southeast, and helped inflame ethnic tensions that smoldered long after conflict ceased.

As detrimental as the entire episode seems today, back in the summer of 1914, declaration of war was seen as cause for celebration.

Continue reading In remembrance: The Great War took its toll on Alberta’s southeast

Listen: Forgotten Alberta with Joe McFarland

Thanks to Joe McFarland at CHQR770 yesterday for the amazing opportunity to talk about ghost towns – specifically (old) Bow City and Alderson (a.k.a Carlstadt, a.k.a. Langevin). It was lots of fun, with minimal stammering.

I have embedded the podcast of yesterday’s broadcast below  for your listening enjoyment. You can check out the scary situation at Calgary City Hall first, or fast forward to 6:55 where my interview kicks in.

For reference, here are a few links to content on the site about Alderson, and (old) Bow City:

Also be sure to check out Empire of Dust by David C. Jones – a compelling read that has influenced me greatly.

#FABTrip18: Ronalane revisited

 

It is at Ronalane where the “Big Ditch”, what is now the Bow River Irrigation District main canal, empties back into the Bow River. Back in 1914, the plan was for water to be conveyed eastward from the main canal, across the Bow river, and up the river bank to the irrigation works on the other side. The problem with this idea was that the east bank of the Bow river rises nearly 200 feet above the canal, meaning water would have to be carried up the steep and meandering coulee bank to the earthen main canal at the top. As Ella Cora Hind’s explains in her 1912 account of the Southern Alberta Land Company project, “The Story of the Big Ditch”, engineers proposed the construction of a 6,550 feet syphon, consisting of continuous wood stave pipe, which would have carried water across the river “on five 120-foot riveted steel spans on concrete piers and with heavy frame and pile trestle approaches.” Hind explained: “This syphon has an internal diameter of 8 feet, the water goes through with a head of 186 feet and to withstand this the pipe is banded with iron 7/8 and 3/4 inch thick, these bands throughout the entire 6,550 feet are never more than 9 inches apart and where the pressure is greatest are only 2 1/8 inches apart. The bridge on which this syphon rests, will be a public highway and in addition will be strong enough to carry the heaviest interurban electric car.” Although Hind wrote at the time as though the syphon was a fait accompli, the project ran into one obstacle it could not overcome: a lack of funding. With a bridge and spine of concrete cradles complete and awaiting installation of the syphon, the project went into receivership in 1914, halting any further construction. When work on the irrigation project resumed three years later, the entire section east of the Bow river was abandoned, and the syphon was never constructed. A century later the ruins of Ronalane, including the concrete cradles for the siphon, remain scattered across the plains. Without irrigation, the east side of the Bow remains as dry as ever. (Adapted from a 2017 post) #FABTrip18 #forgottenalberta #mybadlands @gregfarries

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In 1906, the Southern Alberta Land Company, an Anglo-Canadian consortium, began construction of a half million-acre irrigation empire in southern Alberta. Stretching 200 miles from Carseland on the Bow, to Bowell south of Carlstadt, its capital was to be “Ronalane”, situated high atop the east bank of the Bow, an hour west of Medicine Hat. The company surveyed a townsite here, naming it for Major General Sir Ronald Lane, chairman of the board. According to a 1912 company publication, a bridge built below the townsite was designed to support a siphon conveying water from the main canal, across the river, and over the steep east bank. “The bridge on which this syphon rests,” the company prospectus added, “will be a public highway and in addition will be strong enough to carry the heaviest interurban electric car.” Rail arrived at Ronalane in 1913, but as debt ballooned, and investor confidence flagged, the coming of war in 1914 sunk the Southern Alberta project. Water eventually flowed through the canals and spillways west of the Bow, known today as the Bow River Irrigation District. To the east, plans and proposals were floated for half a century to re-start the derelict development from Ronalane to Redcliff, but to no avail. Today what remains of Ronalane is in ruins, a name synonymous with unrequited dreams of empire, a scattering of abandoned earthworks, bridges, and forgotten foundations, left to endure the ravages of nature and time. The original bridge, constructed in 1911-12 was destroyed by fire in 1937, and the replacement structure was damaged by fire twenty years later; however, it still stands today, as pictured, although it has since been replaced and is closed to all traffic. (Modified from 2017 post). #fabtrip18 #forgottenalberta #mybadlands @gregfarries

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In 1906, the Southern Alberta Land Company, an Anglo-Canadian consortium, began construction of a half million-acre irrigation empire in southern Alberta. Stretching 200 miles from Carseland on the Bow, to Bowell south of Carlstadt, its capital was to be “Ronalane”, situated high atop the east bank of the Bow, an hour west of Medicine Hat. The company surveyed a townsite here, naming it for Major General Sir Ronald Lane, chairman of the board. According to a 1912 company publication, a bridge built below the townsite was designed to support a siphon conveying water from the main canal, across the river, and over the steep east bank. “The bridge on which this syphon rests,” the company prospectus added, “will be a public highway and in addition will be strong enough to carry the heaviest interurban electric car.” Rail arrived at Ronalane in 1913, but as debt ballooned, and investor confidence flagged, the coming of war in 1914 sunk the Southern Alberta project. Water eventually flowed through the canals and spillways west of the Bow, known today as the Bow River Irrigation District. To the east, plans and proposals were floated for half a century to re-start the derelict development from Ronalane to Redcliff, but to no avail. Today what remains of Ronalane is in ruins, a name synonymous with unrequited dreams of empire, a scattering of abandoned earthworks, bridges, and forgotten foundations, left to endure the ravages of nature and time. The original bridge, constructed in 1911-12 was destroyed by fire in 1937, and the replacement structure was damaged by fire twenty years later; however, it still stands today, as pictured, although it has since been replaced and is closed to all traffic. (Modified from 2017 post). #fabtrip18 #forgottenalberta #mybadlands @gregfarries

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Prairie Stonehenge

The much photographed stone house of Cessford, Alberta. Sometimes referred to as “Prairie Stonehenge”, this iconic ruin was the last labour of Edward and Elizabeth Turner, whose pioneering family arrived on the open range south of today’s Cessford over a century ago. A native of St. John, NB, Edward Warden Turner had gone to Minnesota in his 20’s, where he married a woman nine years his junior, Elizabeth Hall, in 1880. During the next decade, Elizabeth and Edward, the latter listing his occupations as “farming” and “real estate”, would have five children – Albert, Gertrude, Frederick, Evelyn, and Alice. With Minnesota in the midst of a farming boom, the Turners came north in 1910, in pursuit of a better, and likely a more affordable future for Turner the elder’s legion of dependents. In March of that year, at age of 64, Edward W. Turner filed a quarter section of land (NW 13-23-12 W4) in what was then considered the Steveville or Shandleigh district. The Turners, accompanied by their children, ranging in age from 28 to 22, moved on to the barren plain near the meandering Berry Creek, adjacent the route of the future CNR spur line (“the Peavine”), but miles from any existing rail head. Although the abundance of field stone in the area no doubt hobbled man and beast, and likely did a number on the rudimentary equipment of the age, it provided the family with easy access to an abundance of free building material. By the time the Turner patriarch filed for patent on his quarter section in Oct. 1913 at age 69, a stone house valued at $2000 had been constructed on the homestead, standing out amongst the stick-built shacks that dotted the surrounding plains. Unfortunately, Mr. Turner would not live to receive the patent on his quarter, as he passed away in Nov. 1913, and was interred at what is now Cessford Cemetery. Mrs. Turner joined her husband in the great beyond the following spring, and was laid to rest alongside him. The rest of the family returned to the States shortly thereafter. #Alberta #canadianbadlands #mybadlands #specialareas #explorealberta #history #Canada #pioneer #forgottenalberta

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Motoring on the boulevard of Sunnynook

"Last night I had a most beautiful dream. I was motoring on the boulevard of Sunnynook, which was beautified by a row of trees, while on each side, as far as the eye could seem were field of golden grain which were fast being harvested…Looking further ahead I could see a splendid town, with its business blocks, its public buildings and elevators, which stood ready to welcome the visitor, the toiler, the business man, or any law abiding person who wished to enter. As I drew near the town, I passed one of its magnificent parks, a haven of rest for the weary, standing forth on all its glorious splendor. But, alas, my dream ended upon my coming in contact with a passing vehicle, and the next I knew I was in the Sunnynook Hospital, when I heard the Doctor say: "He will live." Now I am back to reality and my mind often reverts to the works of that good old song, "When Dreams Come True." – Excerpt from "Sunnynook", Hanna Herald, May 29, 1919. (Hat tip to the great David C. Jones, Empire of Dust, p.97) @specialareas @travelspecialareas #mybadlands #forgottenalberta

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