Category Archives: Stories

#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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The Forgotten Dead, remembered.

As any blogger can attest, when you publish content online, you’re never sure where it will end up. Earlier this year, I was pleased to discover several short videos from 2012 (!) that had apparently been inspired by articles published on this site, and on VulcanCountyHistory.com.

Several of these videos, produced by students at the Alberta College of Art & Design, were interpretations of an article I penned in 2011: “Who are the forgotten dead of Vulcan County?”

Who are the forgotten dead of Vulcan County?

I contacted Marion Garden, the Director of Marketing & Communications at ACAD to learn more, and she was kind enough to furnish me with some information about the videos. Ms. Garden forwarded a quick explanation from Kurtis Lesick, Assistant Professor, Media Arts , who was behind the project. He offered the following explanation for the videos:

Continue reading The Forgotten Dead, remembered.

How I wish I could return, for so many reasons…

#FABTrip17: At Alderson, it’s like they were never here at all

Leaning and rusting, and surrounded by an ocean of tinder-dry prairie,  the last remnants of the long-abandoned farming community of Alderson  (nee Carlstadt) teeter on oblivion, awaiting the one spark, lightning strike, or hot exhaust pipe that will erase them from existence. A fire in 2014 destroyed the last structure in the Alderson townsite, and as evidenced by the destructive wind-driven prairie fires that recently ravaged southern Alberta, the next conflagration could come at any time, without warning.

A peculiar facet of southern Alberta’s pioneer-era history is that there is little permanence to it. While we tend to adhere to an old world bias that history involves a permanent physical and literary record, neither of these exist throughout much of the plains. Much of Palliser’s Triangle was settled and abandoned a century ago, and with the pioneer exodus went the stories of hope and heartbreak, which were quickly forgotten as new lives were built somewhere else and generations passed on. Inevitably, the physical evidence of the homestead experiment is fading, with man and Mother Nature working in consort to set the clock back to zero. In time it will be like they were never here at all.

 

Starr of the Prairies. The Starr homestead, near Alderson, Alberta. Charles F. Starr of Rugby, N.D. arrived at his new homestead in the fall of 1909, a 160 acre parcel on the arid plains near the settlement of Carlstadt, Alberta. According to homestead files, Starr first lived in a temporary shelter, and later a 12 x 12 shack, while he awaited the arrival of his wife, Naomi, from the States. While fulfilling his homestead duties, Starr became one of the community’s early lumber barons, starting “C.F.Starr Lumber Co”. Managed by his son, Verne, Starr Lumber served the Carlstadt (later changed to Alderson) community throughout the first 10 years of its existence. Although dubbed “Star of the Prairies” by early boosters, the village of Alderson was beset by several calamities, namely drought and fires, which by the end of the First World War had initiated a precipitous decline in the village’s fortunes. As drought drove the residents of Alderson and area to greener pastures, Starr looked to the irrigation belt northeast of Brooks for new opportunities, opening a lumber store in the community of Patricia with his son around 1920. Starr even served as the first president of the Patricia Board of Trade, while continuing to farm and operate a lumber store in Alderson for a time. It appears Starr’s patience for life in the drybelt dried up by the mid ‘20s. Charles and Naomi relocated to Calgary by 1925, where he worked as a hotel operator for several years. They would live the rest of their lives in the city. #albertahistory #forgottenalberta #langevin #carlstadt #alderson #alberta #canada #ghosttown #history #mybadlands #explorealberta #fabtrip17 @canadianbadlands @travelalberta @cypresscounty

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Thankfully, the memory of Alderson  (nee Carlstadt) at the peak of the settlement boom was chronicled in great detail by photographers, Chester Coffey in particular. The Starr family seems to have been a favoured subject, and several photographs documenting their presence in the community now existence within the province’s archival collections.

C.F. Starr lumber company, Carlstadt, (later Alderson), Alberta. From the David C. Jones’ Carlstadt / Alderson Photographs collection, Glenbow Archives, Calgary.
Carlstadt (Alderson) views, Starr Lumber Co. (2), and two residences. From the Medicine Hat Chamber of Commerce fonds, Esplanade Archives, Medicine Hat.
Bumper crop on C.F. Starr farm, Alderson (formerly Carlstadt), Alberta. From the David C. Jones’ Carlstadt / Alderson Photographs collection, Glenbow Archives, Calgary.

“Alderson National Forest”, then and now.

 

Welcome to Alderson National Forest, 2005. #Alberta #canadianbadlands #prairie #desert #Canada

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