Monday, November 27, 2017

Skiff and the Sweetgrass Hills

I got to enjoy a quick 3 day trip to Lethbridge, AB this weekend. We got to see old friends and celebrate their sons birthday. It turned into a 4 day weekend when my son woke up sick Monday morning and we had to stay home. Such is life. It gave me a chance to blog and catch up on reading blogs while he was resting.

I was able to get out and do some exploring as well this weekend. Exploring in this part of Alberta is different from where I usually haunt. It seems lonelier, buildings and farms are less frequent and towns are small and far apart. Better make sure you have a full tank before heading out. I was expecting snow when I planned this trip but it turns out a chinook blew through and melted all the snow (not global warming). It was windy and the skies were beautiful, with lovely colours of pink and orange on the horizon over the Sweetgrass Hills to the south.

One of my many stops was Skiff, AB. This tiny quiet hamlet has a few streets of houses an old General Store and, the reason I stopped in, a grain elevator. The name Skiff appears to be a nautical reference as there are streets called Rudder, Tiller and Bow.

Minty shed, near Skiff.
Most if not all prairie towns had a grain elevator, usually more than one. Skiff used to have 3. This remaining one is now privately owned. The previous owner was Parrish & Heimbecker. The other elevators were originally Alberta Wheat Pool. They have been gone since around 2000.

The old general store is a block away from the elevator. You can still faintly read 'General Store' and John Deere Farm Equipment'.  

Below is an old photo from 1999 of the elevators courtesy of Chris Stackhouse, who has photographed many wooden grain elevators as well as prairie life and much more, check him out!

I love the painting-like quality of this photo

A photo from the 1970's by Eric Musekamp via Flickr
Photo courtesy of Joe Kuzmiski 

After leaving Skiff, I found an old homestead. All that remains are several sheds and outbuildings. There was also a stone set of steps that once led to a house. It would've been a magnificent view from the front door of that home.

All my photos taken on November 25th, 2017. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Cornucopia School

When I am bored I look at maps and read local history books. 

I read about Cornucopia School in a book and looked it up on a map, it appeared to still be there so I had to go check it out for myself. A certain blogger friend of mine was in the area before me and confirmed it was there but still, I needed to go myself.

Cornucopia School was open from 1911-1945. It reopened in 1946 for correspondence courses. When It permanently closed it looks like it became a granary. It is nice to see it still on it's original site. 

One student knowing that cornucopia means plenty or abundance of something, said it must refer to the amount of mosquitoes and gophers.  Some things will never change. 

References: Pioneering With a Piece of Chalk
Photos taken October 21, 2017. 

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

Mattie Mayes (photo from
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:;;; Regina-Leader Post;; 
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.