Monday, February 27, 2017

Rochfort Bridge and the Longest Wooden Trestle in North America

Rochfort Trestle

I think this is how most people divide up Alberta...Edmonton and north is Northern Alberta, even though it's more central when you look at the map of Alberta. Calgary and south is Southern Alberta, and in between is, of course, Central Alberta. I grew up in Calgary but now live in Central Alberta.  I don't get to explore North very much but enjoyed my stops while on my way to and from Grande Prairie recently.

One place we stopped was the hamlet of Rochfort Bridge. Named after the 2 Rochfort brothers, who homesteaded here, and for the bridge.  So it does have a bridge?  Yes, an impressive one! It is in fact the longest wooden trestle in North America. It is 2,414ft (736m) long, and 110ft (33.5m) tall. It was built in 1914 over the Paddle River and is still used periodically by Canadian National Railway (CN). A couple short sections have been replaced with steel. It's an impressive site and I wish I'd had a better spot to take a photo. An interesting part of it's history is that apparently walking across the bridge is a thing that has been done since it's early days. (Be forewarned, it's railroad property and is trespassing). Back then it was a convenient route for farmers and also for children walking to school. People apparently even rode horse and drove cattle over the bridge. A local hockey team once walked over the bridge to nearby Sangudo rather that forfeit the game when winter had made roads impassable. I don't think I could do it.

We stopped at the Rochfort Bridge Trading Post. It has a gift shop/restaurant where we had a quick and yummy burger and fries. Beside the trading post is a vegetable stand and a few buildings that make up a pioneer museum, closed at this time of year. Darn...I am sucker for a pioneer village. I noticed that they have an old school called Orangeville in their village, so I snapped a photo.  If I am back this way during the summer month, (not a typo..summer is short here haha) I will stop in and also get closer to the bridge for a better photo. North of the trading post is the town, a couple blocks of homes, and Trinity Lutheran Church, built in 1933. I couldn't tell if the church was till in use, it looked ready for a service when I looked in the window. Further down the highway I spotted a marker for the area that Orangeville School originally stood. Serendipity!
Hope to see you again soon Northern Alberta!
Orangeville School marker

Trinity Lutheran Church 

Home sweet home

Another view of the bridge

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Valhalla Centre and the Legacy of Inga Fimrite

Why was I going to 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 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 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.

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. 
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.

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:
Silent Sentinel

A mean easterly lean

Last Chance
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.

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:

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.