Category Archives: Stories

Forgotten Alberta is coming to Brooks

A quick note for any and all who are interested: I will be speaking about topics related to history in the Brooks area on October 5 at the Brooks Public Library.

I will also be airing my latest project, Above and Beyond, a short documentary about Bassano’s flying doctor, Alexander G. Scott, for all in attendance.

Many thanks to the Alberta Genealogical Society, Brooks and District Branch, for asking me to stop by and to ramble a bit about my old stomping grounds.

Above and Beyond: The living legacy of Dr. Alexander G. Scott

Can you imagine a small-town doctor with an airplane, visiting patients all around southern Alberta 100 years ago?

For almost 40 years, Bassano’s Dr. Alexander Gladstone Scott worked around the clock, tending to the well-being of the surrounding frontier communities. With patients spread across many miles, he took to the roads, and then to the skies, going “Above and Beyond” to care for prairie people in the days before public health care.

In a video produced by Jonathan F. Koch and the Forgotten Alberta Project, with the cooperation of Bassano Medical Clinic, the Town of Bassano, and the Rural Health Professions Action Plan (RhPAP), we celebrate the living legacy of Dr. A.G. Scott: An innovator, pioneer, and prairie trailblazer.

Continue reading Above and Beyond: The living legacy of Dr. Alexander G. Scott

All about Nemiskam (or is it Nemiscam)?


Since it’s early days, the community of Nemiskam has been spelled with both a “c” and a “k”, and both are considered correct, I guess. It would have saved us all a lot of trouble if they had stuck with the community’s original name: Bingen.

According to J. Derek McNaney in the 1975 local history, Shortgrass County, a group of German Russians escaping religious and political persecution settled just south of the present townsite, beginning in about 1911. Place Names reports the surrounding community was christened “Bingen” after a town in Germany, and by 1913 a post office of the same name had been established. Then in a patriotic (and somewhat ironic) twist, the growing community dispatched its Germanic namesake in 1916, adopting the less-threatening Nemiskam- a First Nations word meaning “between two valleys”.

Or was it Nemiscam?

A war of wording ensued, and the question of Nemiskam v. Nemiscam has remained unsettled for over a century, and it seems unlikely that a resolution is coming anytime soon. For one thing, all three levels of government would have to agree on a common spelling. The province and the federal government are on one side, generally spelling Nemiskam with a “K”. On the other hand, Nemiskam is located within the County of Forty Mile No. 8, and the local municipality routinely spells Nemiskam with a “c” on county maps, online and on signage around the county. Adding to the uncertainty is the C.P.R., who allegedly caused all of this confusion in the first place. A spin through Alberta Land Titles confirms that the original C.P.R. townsite survey plans spell Nemiskam with a “c”. However signage formerly located alongside the uprooted tracks of the abandoned C.P.R. Line heralded ones arrival in “Nemiskam”, not “Nemiscam”.

While we can remain hopeful that the Prime Minister, the Premier, and the Reeve of 40 Mile will put all pressing business aside to come to an agreement on the contentious issue, we may be waiting some time before the Nemiscam / Nemiskam Accord becomes a reality. In the meantime, whether you choose to spell it Nemiscam or Nemiskam, one thing remains certain: They should have stuck with Bingen.

Dreamers became a nightmare for Cypress Hills area settlers

The country north of the Cypress Hills was the site of some pioneer-era intrigue and excitement, courtesy of a religious sect called “the Dreamers”.

Dreamers were ethnic Germans originating from South Russia who came to Alberta from Java, South Dakota in the early 1900’s, settling in an area known as Josephsburg. The Dreamers considered themselves the “Gemeinde Gottes”, or literally translated “People of God” and were led by Jacob Merkel Jr., who was naturally the “Son of God” . An offshoot of the Adventist or Millerite movement, Dreamers believed that Saturday was the proper day for the Sabbath; that a second coming of Christ was imminent; and called anyone who didn’t belong to their sect “devils” and refused to shake hands with them .

However, their greatest distinguishing attribute was their tendency to interpret members’ dreams from the week previous; and their belief that if anyone of them had a dream that a certain devil should be punished or harmed, that one of the Dreamers would be designated to dole out punishment.

The Dreamers soon became a nightmare for Josephsburg settler, John S. Lehr. Having received several letters from the Dreamers previously, threatening to burn his home with his family inside , he awoke on April 11, 1908 at one in the morning to find his house aflame. He and his wife and four children escaped through a window, and upon seeing that part of the house’s foundation had been removed, and gasoline inserted under the floor, he called upon the Royal North West Mounted Police (RNWMP) to investigate. Hence began what was perhaps one of the most bizarre criminal cases in early southeastern Alberta history

Continue reading Dreamers became a nightmare for Cypress Hills area settlers

Old Pakowki, where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain…

Old Pakowki, where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain…(with apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein II).

Following the arrival of rail in 1915, a townsite sprung up at Pakowki, about eight miles east of Etzikom along Highway 61. Pakowki, which is pronounced “Pa-coke-ee” by the locals, roughly translated from Blackfoot means “bad water”, a reference to nearby Pakowki Lake. For a brief period, the settlement at Pakowki included a hotel and livery, two (possibly three) elevators, and the ubiquitous lumber company. The Ghost Town Journal states this bona fide ghostly burg was also home to a Chinese restaurant, machine shop, machinery agent, and two general stores, during its heyday.

However, Pakowki’s heyday was short-lived, as residents and merchants migrated east with the railway the following year, and the townsite dispersed to Orion and Manyberries. According to Orion icon, Boyd Stevens, farmers continued to haul wheat to the siding for a time, dumping on the ground until it could be loaded into boxcars and shipped. In later years, Stevens said Community Auction Sales operated a stockyard at Pakowki, the remains of which are all that is left of the community today.