Category Archives: Stories

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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#FABTrip17: The hidden history along Alberta’s highway 25

Highway 25 north of Lethbridge is mostly known for one thing: cows. This is heart of “Feedlot Alley“, the highest concentration of intensive farming operations in Alberta, which produces over half of the beef consumed in Canada. While industrial farms dominate the landscape today, the area’s roots are deep underground, in the rich coal seams that run along the Oldman River. Underneath silage pits, cattle pens, and pivot tracks lie a rich heritage of boom towns, ghost towns, and a pioneer history dating back over century.

 

A smoky shot of the C.P.R. Station at Diamond City. As you may have guessed, Diamond City derives its name from mining, albeit coal not diamonds. The present townsite overlooking the Oldman River Valley, just to the northwest of Lethbridge, was developed to serve the growing numbers of people who had come to work in the mines and haul the “black diamonds” from deep within the ground. In operation for over 20 years, the Diamond City mine closed in 1927, although its economic fortunes were bolstered for several years after with the growth of irrigation. As for the station, it is a private residence, moved to its present location from High River to be renovated and restored. Sources: Coyote Flats : historical review, 1905-1965. Volume 1, @thelostcanuck on Flickr #FABTrip17 #explorealberta @southwestalberta @canadianbadlands @travelalberta

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In late 1910, the first shaft was sunk in what would become the Chinook Coal Mine, northwest of Lethbridge. In quick fashion, a community grew up around the mine, incorporating as the village of Coalgate in 1912. A post office was established in 1913, and for some reason was named “Commerce”, causing all sorts of confusion. With the post office having put its stamp on the community, the village soon changed its name to Commerce, which by the end of 1913 was nearing a population of 300. Increased wartime coal demand continued to boost the village’s prospects, and by the end of 1914, over 400 people lived in Commerce, most of them miners living in company accommodations. A private railway spur line was extended from Kipp, along the Canadian Pacific line west of Lethbridge, to the Chinook Mine; and an Ellison grain elevator was established trackside in 1915-16. At its peak, the community boasted a modest commerce sector, including a general store, grocer and pool hall, boarding house, and hardware store. As is the story of so many mining towns, the prosperity wouldn’t last. According to “The History of Diamond City and Commerce”, the mine closed in 1924, and its various parts were poached for use in other mines throughout the area. The spur line shut down, and the elevator moved to Diamond City shortly after, using a technique called the “Deadman Pully”. As for Commerce, it was a dead village walking. As tax revenue dried up, and being unable to meet its debt obligations, the village disintegrated, and was disorganized by provincial Order in Council in February 1930. #mybadlands #explorealberta #albertahistory #forgottenalberta #alberta #canada @southwestalberta

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The Turin district was named after a prolific Percheron stud horse, imported in the early years by eight area farmers, shareholders in the Coyote Flats Percheron Horse Co. As T.C. Noble wrote in the history of Coyote Flats, the citizens of Turin weren’t horsing around when they chose this strapping stallion to be their community’s namesake: “The raising of good draft horses proved to be a very profitable venture for those who had good range and the knowledge and patience to train horses for farm work. The Percheron was the most popular breed. Good stallions such as the one called “Turin” and from which the Turin district was named were purchased and did much to improve the local work horses of the district. The horse must certainly be recognized and given rightful prestige in the developing of our country.” @southwestalberta @canadianbadlands #fabtrip17 #forgottenalberta #albertahistory #alberta #canada

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Big loss for Orion: Stevens Hardware destroyed in Christmas Day blaze

Sad news coming from Orion, Alberta this morning.  I have received word from a  few friends of Forgotten Alberta that the pioneer-era hardware store operated by prairie icon, Boyd Stevens, burned to the ground on Christmas Day.

A video posted on Facebook by Logan Biesterfeldt shows the store already completely engulfed, as locals scramble to contain the fire on a frost Xmas morning. 

Comments  on Facebook and elsewhere online indicate that Boyd is safe, but I will post confirmation and further details once they become available.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I have stopped by Stevens Hardware on a few occasions in during sojourns through the south, and had the privilege of conversing with Boyd about his life and times in isolated Orion, Alberta. Visitors to Stevens Hardware  were assured of great conversation, and came away knowing the intimate details of the history of the region. Hopefully Boyd made it through okay, and his family’s legacy will continue.

 

Boyd Stevens: Storekeeper & Orion #Alberta icon. #FABTrip14 @prairiepostalta

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Boyd and the store were subjects of a video short by director, Sean Thonson, of Travel Alberta fame (“Remember to Breathe”) calledPassing Orion“.

A glorious summer sojourn in the Special Areas

First of all, I have to apologize that it has taken me so long to get this post online. The pace of my personal and professional life has ramped up considerably, leaving me with less and less time to devote to my passion, the Forgotten Alberta project. However, on the flip side. I’m truly blessed through the course of my work to be able to work alongside many passionate and dedicated rural Alberta residents who are making their communities better places to live.  Last month I was honoured to spend time in Veteran, Consort, and Oyen, where I interviewed local residents, and learned about rural leadership, and the challenges of keeping healthcare professionals in rural communities. I also encountered a stretch of glorious summer weather (one of the few this year), and some spectacular scenery in my travels throughout the Special Areas.

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