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:
A Seven Persons native’s passion for old road signage has led him to preserve the past, while pointing the way to his future.
Devin Drozdz, 22, developed a fascination for “fingerboard signs”, the once ubiquitous green arrows featuring the names of locales past and present found along the highways and by-ways of Alberta, as a youth growing up west of Medicine Hat.
Drozdz recalled it was his job to serve as the navigator on family road trips, and to read the maps and make sure they were on the right track.
“As a kid, I can remember seeing these fingerboard signs around and being fascinated by them. There really is nothing else like it,” he explained.
The first of the province’s fingerboard signs were installed almost a century ago, as motorists took to Alberta’s rudimentary road network armed with sketched maps, and the hope their vintage era roadsters would get them where they wanted to go. The Alberta Motor Association began installing road markers in the late ‘20s, and as late as 2001 there were reportedly 1500 of the iconic green arrows pointing the way to places across the province as part of the AMA’s Rural Road Signage program.
In several instances, these signs at lonely country crossroads serve as the only visible reminder of rural communities and institutions, such as former one room schools or community halls, that have been lost to time.