Thursday, February 23, 2017

Valhalla Centre and the Legacy of Inga Fimrite


Why Grande Prairie you might ask? Not the place many would go willingly for a few days off but that's how things go when your significant other works away for long stretches. In the spirit of making the best out of being in Grande Prairie, I went exploring.

While out for a drive, I went through the hamlet of Valhalla Centre. It was named such by Reverend Halvar Ronning, a Lutheran Pastor who founded the settlement. Valhalla means 'Home of the Gods' in Norwegian. I missed it, but the Ronning homestead is in the area and is a Provincial Historic Site. On the north end of Valhalla Centre, I spied an amazing old barn and when I got closer I also saw a homestead marker. I've seen a few of these around Alberta and always stop for a photo. This one read: Homestead of Inga Fimrite - A Legacy of Courage 1916. This just begged to be researched more...lucky for you this is what I do for fun.

In 1916 Inga Fimrite was a single mother of 3 when she joined the group of Scandinavian settlers, led by Reverend Halvar Ronning (remember him?), who traveled the Edson Trail to settle the area. A single mother of 3....in 1916 travelling to settle in Northern Alberta..let that sink in. I should remember that when I'm having a tough day with my one child...in 2017.

I just read a story in a book called Unsettled Pasts: Reconceiving the West Through Women's History. The story is called My Mother's Trunk, by Olive Stickney, who was Inga's daughter born in 1914.  If you do math, she was 2 when her mother and 2 brothers set out on the Edson Trail. Olive paints a picture of a tireless woman, who was often still awake at 1am and up again by daybreak ready for the days work. Inga was able to trade services with the local bachelors by baking bread and washing and ironing for them while they helped on the farm. Olive remembers her mothers hands being calloused and as large as a man's. "Alone, she waged a winning battle against wind, snow, and drifts. Even at 50 below zero, there were chores to do and, in summer, plowing and fencing to be done." Truly an amazing woman! She passed away in the mid 80's, followed by Olive in 2003. Their legacy lives on.

Inga Fimrite c.1930 Courtesy of
South Peace Regional Archives

The Lutheran Church. A tent, homes and then the schoolhouse
were used by the settlers until the church was built in 1926.
Barn on the Fimrite Homestead

Map showing the Edson Trail.
Valhalla Centre is NW of Grande Prairie


Reference Book: Unsettled Pasts: Reconceiving the West Through Women's History
Photos: Historical Photos Courtesy of South Peace Regional Archives

Friday, February 17, 2017

Atlas Coal Mine: Goin' Up Up Up


I wouldn't say the Badlands are beautiful but they are unique, interesting and striking. A stark contrast to the prairies. The Badlands cover a large portion of the SE corner of Alberta and are full of dramatic landscapes, coulees and amazing rock formations. A trip through this area is always captivating.

Hoodoos
It was a scorching hot July day (this area is known for high summer temperatures) when we decided to head out to visit to the Tyrell Museum in Drumheller. It's about a 2 hours drive SE of where we live. I have been here many times in my life (my childhood dream to be palaeontologist did not pan out) and my son has a couple trips under his belt already. Once we toured the museum and fought our way through the gift shop (conveniently located between the end of the museum and the exit), we wondered what else we could do. So, to see something different, we headed SE of Drumheller to the East Coulee area and the Atlas Coal Mine (if you keep going down the highway you'll get to Dorothy, see last my last post).

This region was home to 27 different coal operations by 1921. This one is the Atlas No. 3 Coal Mine. What's left today is a mostly complete operation that contains the last wooden coal tipple in Canada. It is an Alberta Provincial Historic Resource as well as a National Historic Site of Canada. There are several different tour options, we chose the Tunnel Tour which took us on a long climb through the inclined conveyor tunnel, through the hillside (it was delightfully chilly in there) and back outside
to the mine entrance. Our guide was a salty old miner who was great! He had excellent stories and made the tour even more riveting. Hearing tales from a real coal miner definitely adds to the experience. If we'd had the time I would have like to explore more and take the other tours. I will have to plan better next time, because you know what they say....if you fail to plan, plan to fail. Ah well, it's worked so far.

It's hot out
Minor miner
The tipple and conveyor tunnel that we climbed up
View from the blacksmith shop after climbing the conveyor.  See the tipple bottom left. 
Dis-carted 
To take a page from my friend BWBandy, here is a fitting Friday Night Music Post:



Happy Friday everyone.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Dorothy: A Good Day in the Badlands


Seems like everyone and their dog (Toto?) has been to the hamlet (almost ghost town) of Dorothy, AB. It's secluded location, tucked into a valley in the Badlands, is breathtaking. It's lone grain elevator, old churches and assortment of abandoned buildings make for an interesting destination. I made this particular trip with an old friend and we got to Dorothy via some weird route that took us off paved roads and brought us down a winding gravel road into the valley where Dorothy sits,  it gave a us a fantastic viewpoint, so it all worked out OK.

Dorothy United Church 
Dorothy never got much bigger than 100 people and has less than a dozen today. We didn't see another soul while there. Like many towns it grew with the railroad and became a social hub for the surrounding area. It had 3 elevators at one point , 2 churches, a general store, butcher, post office, community centre, and school..the usual! I have to admit when I was there I was totally captivated with the grain elevator. I missed the general store and the little old house across the highway and the community centre. I saw them but didn't take photos.  D'oh.

Dorothy Catholic Church (formerly a school)
Dorothy has 2 churches, a United and a Catholic Church.  They sit almost next to each other. If the design of the Catholic Church looks familiar, you are right, it used to be a schoolhouse. Both churches have been restored recently. Of the 3 grain elevators that used to be here, only the Alberta Pacific Grain elevator remains. The other 2 where Alberta Wheat Pool and the United Grain Growers. I am hoping the grain elevator is next to be restored, it has lost it's roof within the last few years and has a bit of a lean. I have heard rumors that this is the plan but funding this huge project is an issue.



United View
Catholic View



So this is an amusing sight...someone with a sense of humor changes the mannequins, as I have seen photos of it with a girl before or just empty. Also note the Fisher Price kids phone. LOL!

If you are ever in this part of Alberta there is lots to see, not far is Drumheller and the famous Royal Tyrell Museum of Palaeontology. http://tyrrellmuseum.com/.

Also close is the historic Atlas Coal Mine, which has the last wooden tipple in Canada.  My son and I took the tour and loved it.  You get to climb the tipple! That will be a post soon!  Check it out here: http://www.atlascoalmine.ab.ca/

Another neat place to check is the hamlet of Wayne, AB.  It's a winding road that takes you over 11 different bridges.  Finally, have a drink at the Last Chance Saloon, and I will see you on the back roads.
Last Chance
A mean easterly lean
Silent Sentinel



Thursday, February 9, 2017

After work cruise on the back roads.

Perfect undisturbed snow
I wasn't going to post today but I am home with a sick kiddo and I took some photos yesterday so I will share them.  No interesting story or history just a beautifully sunny afternoon after some very cold temperatures. I'm talking -35C (-31F ).  That is TOO. DAMN. COLD.  I was itching to get out since I had missed out on an awesome group photo trip last weekend.

I had made a mental note of a couple things I saw in the distance from the highway a couple weekends ago so decided I would head that way, in the area of Eckville, AB.  I think I was gone maybe an hour total from home and found some interesting old buildings.  Score!

Enjoy the photos, I hope it's warm where ever you are!












Monday, February 6, 2017

Skybo: a Tiny Schoolhouse and an Older Gentleman


This trip goes back to May 2016.  It was a hot day (probably not as hot as I am remembering) and I was off exploring around the Donalda, AB area.  I ended up seeing 6 schools sites this day.  Making it a pretty good day in my books. One I have blogged about previously here:  http://westofthefifthmeridian.blogspot.ca/2016/11/up-to-date.html

Isn't it cute?
Skybo Outhouse.  I almost always find an outhouse near an old
school.  Imagine that in -30. 
The one I want to take the time to feature is Skybo. It operated as a school from 1907-1956, it was then sold to the Skybo Ladies Club in 1957. There is nothing particularly remarkable about this school other than it still exists and it's smaller than any other I have seen. What did make this day special was the stranger that stopped to chat. I don't encounter vehicles very often on some of these roads let alone one that pulls over. I was alone and watched a bit warily as an older gentleman stepped out of the truck. He looked harmless.  He was, of course, and was just curious as to what I was doing.  His name is Frank and he attended this school in the 1940's. He walked 2 miles to go here. He showed me where the siding on the school didn't match, it was an addition to the front of the school (which means it was really tiny).  He also showed me some flowers that he says have bloomed there since he was a school boy. He seemed interested in my hobby and we talked about that, global warming, the general state of the world and how different it is for kids today. It was a great chat and I wish I could meet someone like this at every old school I stop at.

I tried to find out what Skybo means, an internet friend thinks it means sky or cloud dwelling. I think Cloud Dwelling sounds lovely.




Here are the other schools I found on the same day:
 Pilot Knob 1907-1945.  Now a Community Hall and
getting a make over the day I was there. 


Ripley 1904-1952. Currently an operating Community Hall.
I looked in the window and it looks great inside!

Site of Schultz School 1905-1949, the original building
was moved away.

Site of Bonnie Brae 1907-1947 No info found.






Monday, January 30, 2017

Nordegg, Abraham Lake and almost Crescent Falls

Abraham Lake

ROAD TRIPPIN
I live in Central Alberta, and it's not too far to some amazing natural wilderness playgrounds. I packed up the car. Camera, snacks, extra clothes, kid. I told my son (7 y/o) that he should be playing with his imagination but that didn't go over well so I also packed the iPad. When I went on road trips as a kid...we had mad libs and word games like name a place beginning with the last letter of the previously named place. I would say Alberta..then someone would say Arkansas...etc etc. Also spot the weird license plates was a good one. I also had siblings to fight with. I wish I'd had an iPad.

First stop, Nordegg. Once leaving Rocky Mountain House there is next to nothing until Nordegg. Not even cell service in certain stretches of the tree lined highway. It's beautiful and peaceful. Nordegg was a coal mining town that came to be when Martin Nordegg discovered coal in 1911 and soon started the Brazeau Collieries. The Canadian National Railway arrived in 1914. The town boomed to 3000 souls and had many amenities including a hospital, fire hall, pool hall, hotel, bank and a Trading Company. Tragedy struck the mine on October 31, 1941 when a massive explosion killed 29 miners. Declining use of coal finally did the town in and the mine closed for good in 1955. Most of the town is gone but a few buildings remain. Almost all of the processing plant buildings of the Brazeau Collieries are still standing and the area was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 2002. The mine site is open in the summer month for tours. I will definitely be going back!

Main Street Nordegg - Trading Co and Bank buildings





Canadian Bank of Commerce
Provincial Archives 

Next stop, Abraham Lake.  This lake was created in 1972 with the building of the Bighorn Dam. If you google pictures you'll be amazed at the photos of the frozen methane bubbles. I was not able to get good photos of the bubbles this time around, but had a nice walk....despite the very windy conditions. Here is a link to the famous bubbles: https://www.canadiangeographic.ca/article/intriguing-photos-alberta-lakes-famous-bubbles

Last stop on 'The Road Less Travelled' is Crescent Falls. I had never been down this road and stopped at a small parking area and look out.  I assumed this was the falls but no water was flowing and could not see anything but cliffs. I found out later I had to keep going up the road to see the frozen falls. Another day I guess! This area is great for camping and hiking and general outdoorsiness and I am excited to come back in the summer!

HAYDEN SMASH!
Nordegg
Nordegg Church 




Abraham Lake
Crescent Falls minus the falls
Bighorn Sheep