Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Dead Skunk House

This fine October day will go down in my books as one of the best exploring trips I have had. It was one of those great days when it seemed like something interesting was on every other road. It was so good that I lost track of time and was gone for 7 hours. Luckily I was on my own that weekend and didn't have anywhere to be or anyone waiting at home. I did check in occasionally though so someone knew where I was in case of bandits or highwaymen. Truth be told, I only encountered actual people when I stopped for coffee and snacks.

I don't have background stories for most of the places I found that day, but I will recount my experience with one particular property.

I was cruising at a pretty good clip down a gravel road when a flash of old wood and red brick caught my eye. I could see it between trees that had dropped their leaves, which is one good thing about fall/winter exploring. It was an abandoned house on an inhabited farm. I was going to keep going as there was no place to get a decent shot between the trees anyway. I turned around at the next opportunity, I COULD NOT pass this place by. I found a house and knocked on the door, I introduced myself and the man who answered and he said I could go take photos. I asked if I just walk around the shed, he said yes, and was waving me in the general direction of the old house as he was shutting the door. I wanted to ask about the history of the house but I will take what I can get and I was glad for the permission to explore.

There were several old buildings and bits of old farm equipment and things hiding in the grass. As I was coming around one of the sheds, a furry black and white mass caught my eye in the tall grass and if I was still drinking my coffee I would have spit it out, or peed my pants. Or both. I stopped dead in my tracks. A SKUNK. Everything I know about skunks came to me: it's bad to see them in the day, it means they are rabid....don't move, it won't see you. Now that I think if it, that's a T-Rex who can't see you if you don't move. Also I don't know if it's true about seeing them in the day either. I actually know nothing about skunks. Cute story though, my son used to call them 'stunks' as a toddler.

Anyway, he didn't move. Was he dead? Sleeping? Do skunks play possum? I got out of there and continued on to the house. No photo of the actual skunk.

She's a (faux) brick house.

Obligatory b/w photo
Asking for a friend, what gets rid of skunk smell anyway? Just in case.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Remembrance Day 2017

I didn't want Remembrance Day to end without mentioning who I remember on this day.

I remember my Papa, who is 95 this year. He served in the Royal Canadian Navy and served on several North Atlantic Convoys. His twin brother Oliver, also joined up and was captured and killed in Italy in 1943. He is buried in Salerno. They were born and raised in southern Saskatchewan, near Readlyn. Hazel Lake in Saskatchewan is named after Oliver. I also gave my son the name Oliver as one of his middle names.

My son also has another equally important middle name, Kanshiro. Named after my Grandpa Ohashi, who was born in Japan but came to Canada as a teenager. He was able to avoid internment during WWII by being sent to southern Alberta to farm. Other family members did not have this option and lost their homes and livelihoods in British Columbia when they were sent to internment camps in the interior of BC.

Today I hope everyone took a moment to think of those who made the ultimate sacrifice, those who fought, and those who are still serving. Lest We Forget.

Oliver Baker Hazel, Stoker 1st Class 1922-1943

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Shiloh Baptist Church

On a brief trip into Saskatchewan, east of Lloydminster, I found this unique church and cemetery. It is the historic Shiloh Baptist Church and you can feel the history here.

I'll start the story of the Shiloh people (Note: they were not referred to as this until many years later) after the American Civil War ended. Many thousands of former slaves migrated to the Oklahoma territory to live. They lived in relative freedom there, until 1907 when the new state of Oklahoma elected a segregationist government. This prompted many families to leave Oklahoma and follow the promise of free land for those willing to homestead in Canada's west. They came, hoping to live free from racism and segregation. 12 families settled here, north of Maidstone, SK in 1910. While other families continued on to form the community of Amber Valley, north of Edmonton, AB.

While the Shiloh settlers still faced some racism in Canada they were able to persevere through harsh conditions and near poverty, a familiar story of pioneer times. Also familiar is their spirit, hard work and determination. The original 12 Shiloh families built a community that grew to 50 families.

The church, built in 1912, is made of hand hewn square logs hauled from the North Saskatchewan river. The furnishings, benches and pulpit, are all hand made and can still be seen in the church today. The church looks mostly the same as it did when it was new. It's simple and beautiful and a testament to the community that was here.

As families moved away, the church which was the heart of the community for social and religious gatherings, was closed in the 1940's. The last burials occurred in 1945-46, but special permission was granted for burials in 1975 for George Mayes and again in 1987 for his wife Lucille Mayes, who were part of the 1910 settlers. The cemetery is now closed forever.

In 1971 white crosses where erected in place of the head and foot stones that were typically used to mark the graves. Many of the stones had been removed by people who did not know that they were markers in an effort to 'clean up'. A stone cairn, erected in 2002, lists the names of all 37 buried in the cemetery. The names had to be rediscovered after the original church ledgers were lost.

In 1991 the Shiloh Baptist Church and Cemetery was placed on Canada's Historic Places register.
This cemetery, the only African American cemetery in Saskatchewan, and the simple log church make this a unique and intriguing place.

In 2002 Leander Lane, who's great grandfather Julius Caesar Lane was instrumental in leading the group from Oklahoma, formed the Shiloh Baptist Church and Cemetery Restoration Society with 7 others. They have completed a historically accurate restoration on the church and, when possible, used materials and methods that match the period when church was built.

This place is a must visit for anyone interested in Canada's history. It is a piece of history that I didn't know about and am glad to have learned something new. Judging from the guest book, people from far and wide have stopped here to visit. In fact the person who signed the book the day before we did listed that they were from South Africa.  History is everywhere, you just need to travel down the right road.

Some historic photos and information:

Undated photo from cbc.ca

Mattie Mayes (photo from http://www.sachm.org/)
Mattie Mays was born in 1858 in Georgia. She and her husband Joseph raised 13 children. They worked hard to see their children and grandchildren raised in freedom. She was respected in the community and helped as a mid wife if the doctor wasn't able to attend in time. She passed away in 1953.

Joseph Mayes was born in 1856 in Georgia. Not only was he a pastor in Oklahoma, but he helped lead the group to Canada and became a farmer in his 50's. He preached every Sunday as pastor of the Shiloh Baptist Church.  He passed away in 1958 and is buried at Shiloh Cemetery.

There is an active Go Fund Me page to raise funds for the upkeep of the church and cemetery.
Thank you!

References: historicplaces.ca; cbc.ca; rmeldon.ca; Regina-Leader Post; sachm.org; 
Photos taken on September 16th, 2017.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Memories of the Family Farm

In September I had the privilege of accompanying a friend to the farm where her grandparents lived near the ghost town of Bulwark, AB. I'd been hearing about how I'd really like it there and was happy that an afternoon came together when we could take a road trip. It makes the day of every back road explorer to have permission to explore an abandoned farm. I say 'abandoned' but someone does still own these places, so no trespassing!

No one lives on the farm now, except for a couple of owls who have been spotted on the homestead and also in nearby Bulwark. I happen to think owls are fascinating and mysterious. I think seeing those owls was a good sign.

The farm has 3 houses, a beautiful barn and several outbuildings. One of the houses was lived in more recently than the original old farmhouse and other smaller house. One of my favourite things about old houses are the lightning rods, notice them on the house and barn. I suppose when they were installed they were the tallest points on the property, now the trees are taller.

Looking back I wish I'd taken more photos to capture the beauty and layout of the farm better.

I also wanted to include another shot of the old Pioneer elevator from Bulwark which resides on a nearby (occupied) farm belonging to another member of the same family.

I grew up in a big city, so rural places are interesting to me. I love hearing stories of homesteaders and pioneers. My maternal grandparents both grew up in southern Saskatchewan. My paternal grandparents were born in Japan. I have 2 very different histories in my family.

Where were you born? Do you prefer city or country life?

Photos taken September 4, 2017.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Return to Notre Dame

Notre Dame de Savoie Church is one of the first places I really wanted to check out for myself when I started getting into this whole exploring thing.  When I finally got to the church for the first time, I made it the subject of my very first blog post.

A recent exploring trip brought me in the vicinity of the church (near Halkirk, AB) and since I wasn't too far away at that point, I headed to Notre Dame. A friend of mine, who hasn't been able to see it for himself, was worried that it might have succumbed to the the heavy wind storms that have blown through the area this year. I was preparing for the worst as I headed down the gravel road, but it's still standing. A little saggier and bowing a bit more, but still standing.  Who isn't a bit saggy at 102?  I used my math skills and I calculated that this church has been unused longer than it was in use. (1915-1964)

One thing I didn't mention much or show photos of in my previous post, is the cemetery. It has a few dozen interments dating from 1919 - current. The cemetery is looked after.

It's funny how we feel protective over certain places. In my case, I have no connection to Notre Dame or the area but still I think about this place often. I am sure one of us who cares about this place will check on it after what could be a long cold winter.  Here's hoping for an easy winter for this old church who has survived more than 100 winters already.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Stormy Skies

I took these last week. I was on a secondary highway looking for an abandoned house. I found a better house and some amazing dark stormy skies in the distance.

At one point, a rainbow appeared and it looked like we were driving right through the end of it. It was amazing. It either disappeared or we had passed it. I did not see the pot of gold.

Enjoy your weekend everyone!

Photos taken Oct. 22, 2017

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Bulwark: A Prairie Ghost Town

Bulwark is a true ghost town, not a living soul left there. Just a few scattered buildings, rusty cars and machinery that hint at what used to be.

I have been wanting to see Bulwark for awhile, even before I knew the significance it held to some close friends of mine. Seeing it recently was even more special once I found out that their grandparents (Lundy) homesteaded near Bulwark.

Settlers has arrived in the area in the early 1900's. However, Bulwark officially formed as a village when the railway came north from Coronation in 1914. Bulwark became a busy hub in the middle of a large grain district. It was home to 5 grain elevators, 3 lumber yards, 2 general stores, a hardware store, garage, post office, 2 churches (United and Catholic), a school, bank, butcher, drug store, livery, dance hall, pool hall, blacksmith and even a real estate office.

The first post office, originally called Lindsville, operated from 1908-1916. The name was changed to Bulwark, and it as operated as such from 1916-1965. It is speculated that due to Bulwark being in the proximity of royal themed settlements such as Coronation, Consort, and Throne, that Bulwark was named according to that theme. Perhaps a less obvious reference than the aforementioned communities. I am still not exactly sure how a bulwark fits in here, but Bulwark it is!

In the 1960's the railway closed the line that passed Bulwark. The population was already on the decline and the was the proverbial nail in the coffin. Businesses began to close permanently and the people moved away. The last store to close was the Ogilvie General Merchant.

c.1950's. Ogilvie General Merchant
I just love this photo below! It was shown to me by Marvin Dolling through a photo group I am part of online. His Uncle owned the general store, from which this photo was taken. He thinks it was called the Bulwark General Store and that it also housed the post office. The building seen in the picture is the Atlas Garage and in the background you can see the 5 prairie skyscrapers.

c. 1940's. Courtesy of Marvin Dolling. 
Our first stop was Bulwark Cemetery, to pay our respects to the Lundy family buried there. I always take a moment of reflection when visiting pioneer cemeteries.

Down the road from the cemetery is the old townsite. You can see how Google maps shows streets where there is only farmland now. We explored Kitchener Street from Roberts Ave. to Beatty Ave. French Ave. is where the grain elevators once stood, you can still see part of an old grain elevator annex along the long pulled up rail line.

Free parking

There is a house in those bushes.

Rub a dub dub

Former site of Bulwark School, along former Kitchener Street

A solid foundation.

Former residence? 

Interestingly, the old Pioneer elevator from Bulwark ended up on a farm belonging to another Lundy family member, thus saving it from demolition. Looking north and a bit west from the Lundy elevator you can see a 2nd elevator, also originally from Bulwark and still being used on another farm. The other 3 elevators that used to be in Bulwark are long gone.

Former Pioneer Grain elevator from Bulwark
Even though the Lundy elevator is only 1 of the original 5 and not in it's original location, I can get a sense of the view the farmers must have had as they hauled grain to the elevators. Threshing crews worked long hard days and the farmers at that time hauled even in the winter with teams of horses pulling several wagons. This province was built on the hard work of these people and you can feel that when visiting a place like Bulwark.

Almost there
As always, if anyone has stories or photos of Bulwark, I would love to see/hear them!

Thanks to Cindy and Callee Lundy for letting me tag along. The next post will be about the old homestead! 💖

References: Pioneering with a Piece of Chalk; In the Beginning: A History of Coronation, Throne, Federal and Fleet Districts; Place Names of Alberta Vol. III Central Alberta
Photos taken on Sept 4, 2017.