Category Archives: Places

Here’s to the Grange

The venerable Grange in 2006. It was a good day.

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.

Continue reading Here’s to the Grange

Mike Drew, Hemaruka, and A mention in passing

My friend and colleague, Lorena Franchuk, alerted me to the fact that the legendary Calgary Sun photographer and columnist, Mike Drew, was on CBC Radio earlier today.

While I don’t know him personally, Mike was a great inspiration to me in the early days of this project. I was pleased to hear he and I are clearly cut from the same cloth, as he adheres to the same philoshphy on the Rockies as myself: you’ve seen one mountain, you’ve seen them all.

Be sure to listen in here:

https://www.cbc.ca/listen/live-radio/1-1/clip/15832445

The interview was also notable for the surprising amount of time taken discussing the desert outpost of Hemaruka.

Located roughly about half-way between Veteran and Youngstown on SH 884, this almost forgotten prairie burg is notable for its name, which is derived from a rather prolific railroad official named Warren:

Continue reading Mike Drew, Hemaruka, and A mention in passing

A Row of One – Vulcan, Alberta

Grain elevators—often called prairie icons, vanishing sentinels, or prairie cathedrals on the horizon—once symbolized the rural landscape across the Canadian prairies.

Grain elevators signalled the location of the region’s villages and towns. Particularly prosperous communities had multiple elevators which provided better services and a stable tax base.

The town of Vulcan is located along the Canadian Pacific’s Aldersyde Subdivision, a secondary mainline between Lethbridge and Calgary, that opened for traffic in October 1911. During the construction of the railway, the grain elevators were erected at the various sidings along the line to receive grain from the surrounding district.

Vulcan’s first elevator, built by the Terwilliger Grain Company in 1911-1912, boasted a capacity of 25,000 bushels. It was joined in 1912 by the Alberta Grain Company’s (forerunner to Alberta Pacific Grain) 40,000-bushel elevator, and Taylor Milling’s elevator and warehouse, with a combined capacity of 12,000 bushels.

The makings of “Nine in a Line” at Vulcan. In addition to eight elevators (soon to be nine), adding to the skyline was the CPR’s mechanical coaling plant, erected in 1928 in the far distance. (Glenbow Museum & Archives) – W.J. Oliver

Vulcan was typical of the sidings located every six to ten miles by the railways in the West, the practical distance that grain could be delivered from the farm by horse-drawn means in a day.  The railways provided sites at these points at nominal rental where the line companies could erect their elevators. 

Continue reading A Row of One – Vulcan, Alberta

Search for grandfather’s story turns up Ranching roots of C.Y. School


C.Y. School, circa 1917
– Photo courtesy of Sandra Martin Guymon.

The subject of the email was “Re: C.Y. District school”.

Sandra Guymon, the director and sole employee of a “very very very small library” in upstate New York, was searching for information about this curiously named district in southern Alberta.

 “My Grandfather Duncan Lorne Martin was a school teacher at C.Y. District school. I have some photos from about 1917. I know he lived in Taber Alberta, but I don’t know anything about the C.Y. district, and can’t seem to find anything about it on the internet.”

Duncan L. Martin enlisted with the 49th battalion Edmonton, Canadian Expeditionary Force, during the First World War. 
– Photo courtesy of Sandra Martin Guymon.

As Guymon explained, Martin was a native of Tottenham, Ontario, who came west around 1917 to teach at C.Y. School, northwest of the town of Taber. Martin enlisted with the Loyal Edmonton Regiment towards the end of the First World War, returning to the C.Y. district in 1919.

Martin initially boarded with the Garrett and Wilhelmina Gertzen family, who lived on a farm near the school, and later married Wilhelmina following the couple’s divorce. In 1926, the Martins moved to another farm in the area, where they would eke out a living for over a decade.

According to Guymon, Duncan and Wilhelmina enjoyed some success during the wetter years of 1927-28, before eventually being driven off the land in 1937, victims of the twin economic and ecological disasters known today as the Great Depression and the Dirty Thirties.

After returning to Tottenham, Martin worked for a time in the post office before hiring on as construction labourer at Camp Borden, where army and flight training was undertaken for the Canadian armed forces during the Second World War. He was hospitalized in April 1940 when a trench he was working on caved in. Shortly afterwards he suffered a brain aneurysm, and passed away at the age of 49.

Some 80 years later, Guymon is seeking to learn more about her intrepid grandfather’s western adventures, and the country her father and grandparents called home.

“I hope they might start up a conversation!” she added.

As it turns out, the origin of the C.Y. is rooted in southern Alberta ranching history.

Both the C.Y. school and district derive their name from the C.Y. Ranch, which was established in the late 19th century along the Belly (now Oldman) River, north of what is now Taber.

Continue reading Search for grandfather’s story turns up Ranching roots of C.Y. School

A serious question about Hand Hills L.O.L.

The Orangeman’s loyalty to Great Britain was no laughing matter. Photo submitted by Tamara Harken.

Every so often I will receive an inquiry from somewhere in North America, from someone seeking information on their long-departed ancestors in Alberta.

In late March, I received one such email entitled “question”.

Tamara Harken, a resident of Seattle, Washington, had been looking through her grandparents’ box of memories when a particular photograph captured her attention.

Sepia-toned and a century old, it featured a gathering of stern-faced gentlemen, decked out in suits and saches, posing outdoors on a summer day.

Harken wondered if one of the men in the photo was Anthony Baker, a one-time resident of the town of Drumheller, Alberta.

“I believe my grandfather might be the man kneeling third from the right front row. He lived in Drumheller for sometime, where my father was born,” she explained.

“If it is him,” Tamara added intriguingly, “it would be the last picture taken of him before he lost his arm.”

Inscribed along the bottom of the photo was a curiously contemporary caption, printed in all-caps:

“JULY 12, 1915

FIRST ANNUAL CELEBRATION OF HAND HILL COUNTY

TOBERMORE L.O.L. NO. 2344 DRUMHELLER ALTA.”

“Is there any chance you might have some information on the event noted in this picture?” she inquired.

Continue reading A serious question about Hand Hills L.O.L.