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.
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.
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:
“Here on these prairie plains I stay,
Wanting nevermore to stray,
The winter days will come once more,
And north winds whistle ’round the door.
For always in my heart I sing
The song of a wondrous prairie spring,
And the melody to me so dear,
Is only this – My home is here.”
– An excerpt from “My Home Is Here.” by Lydia Montallan of Carseland.
Originally published in the June 1947 issue of Canadian Cattleman, “My Home Is Here” appears alongside an article about Otelie Lund in “The Piegan Country”, a 1966 history of the Maleb area of S.E. Alberta. Natives of Norway, Ms. Lund (b. 1880) and her husband, Lars, settled in what was known as the Glen Banner district in 1909. The Lunds built a two-storey home in 1917, a local landmark which still stands to this day on a hilltop five miles north of present-day Orion (pictured).
The hardships were many for Ms. Lund. Widowed when she was 70, fifteen years later she was still feeding cattle, chopping wood, hauling coal, and living without electricity. A 1965 article in the Medicine Hat News celebrated her as a “living example of true pioneer spirit and courage”:
“Mrs. Lund, who did not have a family to raise, has not seen a relative since coming to this country in 1909. She had left behind in Norway a large family of sisters and brothers when she came with her new husband on the new venture. Perhaps all her dreams weren’t realized, but building a new life in a new country has brought many satisfactions to Mrs. Lund as she now looks back on it all and treasures each precious memory of old times, old days, old friends.”
Ms. Lund passed away ten years later at the age of 95.
“You’d like Manyberries if you ever came to visit. You might even fall in love with the place and decide to spend the rest of your life here. Nobody would ever address you as stranger because there are no strangers allowed in Manyberries. That is to say that people here are so friendly they see you as a potential friend the first time they meet you.” – Ron Wood, And God Created Manyberries
Chronicling the pioneer-era people and places of the southern Alberta drybelt since 2009. Alberta Heritage Resources Foundation Heritage Awareness Award recipient.