Charlotte Gorley was scanning some family photos when a couple of unfamiliar images captured her attention.
“I have found two photos of the Oyen school fire in ,” explained Ms. Gorley, a resident of Victoria, B.C., in an email message. “The photos show clouds of smoke billowing out and a crowd of people watching.”
On the back of one of the images, a postcard, was written: “This is a picture our school when it was in flames”, signed by “Barney, Oyen”.
Both images were from the collection of Wilma Gyger (nee Gorley), daughter of Harold Gorley and Thelma Miller, who passed away in 2017.
A genealogy researcher, Gorley wished to learn about the area, and the ‘backstory’ behind these postcards and images.
“I’m curious to know more about the fire and the community of Oyen,” she added.
In February 2018, while looking through eBay, I came across a for-sale post of old black and white railway photos of a train wreck in Alberta. Curiously, I clicked on the ad and saw five or so photos of various wrecked cars, with people milling about around them.
The last photo made my jaw drop, as it had written on the back “1927 – 1 mile west of Jaydot, AB”.
I knew where Jaydot was (basically the middle of nowhere – i.e., extreme southeast Alberta), and was quite surprised to find these photos, especially since the line was completed by the CPR just five years before this derailment.
I made my bid on the photos and I won the auction, so a few weeks afterwards an envelope from a Victoria, BC antique shop ended up in my mailbox. Let’s step back a bit…
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.
I would like to again thank Forgotten Alberta’s Jonathan Koch for inviting me to contribute on his website of the stories, images, and memories of southeastern Alberta. As a “resident” of this region, I am honoured and pleased to add my thoughts and images. My first encounter with Forgotten Alberta was in November 2011, with his web article talking about “Who are the forgotten dead of Vulcan County?” I was searching Google for information on pioneer cemeteries in Alberta, and after finding the article and reading it over, I knew that I should bookmark this site for future reference. I’ll be doing a different take on the “forgotten dead” with my connection to some of the pioneer cemeteries that were located not far from my parent’s farm northwest of Elkwater. That will be for a future post!
My first post on Forgotten Alberta is called “Always Look Back” – I have used the term over the years and it has a meaning that works well in exploration photography / historical research, I’ll explain more in a bit.