Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Sticks and Stones

There are not a lot of stone buildings on the prairies, so it is cool when I get to see one. I have seen a few stone houses, a school, and even a little castle. I know there are more, and I will hopefully see them myself one day.

The place we saw on the recent Oyen area trip used to be barn. I don't know much more about it other that I was told it was built by German settlers. It wouldn't have been an easy task as there are not a lot of stones in the area and some of the ones used are quite large. 

While on the topic...here is an abandoned stone house I found in September 2017:

A big thanks to Dave M, for showing us around the Oyen area, we saw a lot of cool things that day and many of those I would like to revisit.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

New Bridgen Water Tower

I have seen 2 railway water towers in Alberta. The first, at the Anthony Henday Museum in Delburne, AB. It was moved a short distance from it's original location, restored, and now houses part of the museum collection. The museum (which is an old train station) also has a restored one room schoolhouse, CNR caboose and a speeder. Worth a visit when they are open in the summer.

The other tower, which I have been wanting to see for ages, is in New Brigden, Alberta. This water tower is unique in the fact that it still exists in it's original location. It is a local landmark and the tallest and oldest building in town. There are a few more of these octagonal beauties around Alberta,  Saskatchewan and BC that I know of. I would like to see them all.

Lone photo of the lone tower.
The tower is 13 meters tall and was built in 1925. The community also used the water tower to flood an outdoor skating rink and for the ice in the nearby curling rink. Maybe it's because of those other uses that it has survived the steam engine era as well as the closure and removal of the rail line through the area. It has been looked after by the locals and was given Provincial Historic Resource status in 2009.

Speaking of the curling rink......there happened to be a bonspiel going on when we were there, how CANADIAN. We stopped in, ate some delicious food and just hung out. I loved the atmosphere in there, and I am pretty sure everyone knew each other. I grew up in a big city so I never did things like this. I enjoyed myself and so did H.

Also, since I mentioned Delburne, here are some previously unreleased photos from July 2017 of our visit! It remember it being a very hot day. The school at the museum was one I had gone to look for in it's original location not realizing it had been moved.

Small child for scale

Wood Lake School 1906-1957


Caboose selfie! Also sad the sunglasses I am wearing were stolen. 

References: HeRMIS

Tuesday, February 20, 2018


Since I first started exploring and looking at photos of abandoned places, I wanted to visit Esther, AB. Esther is almost a ghost town and is on private land. Luckily I was with a local friend and we had permission to check it out.

Esther was established in the 1920's when the railroad came, and was named after the daughter of the postmaster. Esther never had more than a few dozen or so residents and today I think there are only a couple of people left. The railroad is long gone but the elevator lives on as the oldest surviving Alberta Wheat Pool elevator left in the province.

There is lots more to see and I would love to go back and spend more time taking photos and exploring but for now I was happy to be in Esther.

Nature taking over an old gas pump

Saturday, February 17, 2018

A Lonely Barn and Forgotten Metal

On my recent trip the Far East......of Alberta, we were somewhere close to the Saskatchewan border when a barn was spotted in the distance. It was hard to miss as there were no other structures near it and you could literally see for miles. Behind it was a graveyard of old cars and rusted metal paraphernelia.

Across the gravel road from the barn, was a car resting on it's side, it's hood flung a few feet. Almost as if it failed while trying to escape from the carnage across the way.

That barn and car have been there for decades, there was a homestead here at some point. Now the barn sits alone as time passes it by.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Just Another Winter Wednesday

Also I heard it's Valentine's Day.

I had to run to the local drug store last night to get my son (who decided last minute that he did want to do Valentines) a pack of cards for his classmates. Not surprising in the least, the card aisle was full of men and the Valentines displays were pretty picked over. Luckily there was still some Spiderman Valentines cards left.

I want to give you an idea of our weather this week:
Monday: -36C with wind chill (this hurts the face)
Tuesday: Almost out of washer fluid? Great! It's +6C making a slushy melty mess
Wednesday: Here's more snow and for fun lets have some gusting wind warnings and freeze everything up, driving will be an adventure!
Thursday: hahaha you'll never know, but probably not good

Here is a photo of a place I found last year and stopped again on my way to Oyen on the weekend.

Feb 10, 2018

Oct 1, 2017

Have a good day everyone!
On a happy note,  some lovely flowers just got delivered to the office. Yes, for me.

Monday, February 12, 2018

A Case of the Mondays and Fairacres School

Well well well Monday, we meet again. I don't like you and you don't like me, luckily it was a pretty good weekend so I can't stay mad at you. Even when I tried to go out and had a completely flat tire, even when I had to trudge through knee deep snow to dig my air compressor out of the shed and EVEN when I was out on the street in -30C filling my tire. I wasn't even bothered when I found a big bolt in the tire and was rapidly losing air pressure as I drove to the tire shop. Even after all that, you're just another day and you aren't the boss of me.

This weekend started on Friday, I was off work and home with my son, I had a big order of pictures to work on so we just hung out around the house. I was keeping an eye on the road reports and weather since we had a trip planned to Oyen on Saturday, which is a 3.5hr drive east of me. I was meeting up with a friend and a local guy who I know of but had never met in person. We had permission to go on some private land which is always a bonus!

Conditions looked good, so we were up early and on the road while it was still dark. Roads were a bit rough part way but otherwise not bad. We got to Oyen, only 20 minutes late and started our day! We saw a ton of cool places over the next few hours, but I am starting with an old school.

Fairacres School operated in 2 locations, Fairacres #1, operated from 1911-1937 and is marked by a sign. It was moved in 1937 because there were no people left north of the site, so it was moved to a more central location, and Fairacres #2, operated from 1937-1944 and was then left on site.

Even though it was a only a short walk from the road to the school, it was bitterly cold with the wind chill stinging my face. I can't imagine going to and from this school during our frigid prairie winters.

A different edit 

Fairacres looks pretty for good being 107 years old.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Retlaw Cemetery

This is a quick second part of my trip to the ghost town of Retlaw, AB. You'll pass the cemetery if you are driving to Retlaw from the south. I stopped here first before wandering around town. There is little building that was built as a replica of the church in Retlaw. Inside is a guest book and some information. From what I could see and looking around briefly, there are no recent burials. The last date I could find was in the 60's. I could be wrong but it would make sense as most of the people had left.

....and while they lie in peaceful sleep, their memory we shall always keep

Well, here is a cactus...it seems to be doing OK in this dry area.

Just across the road from the cemetery is this abandoned homestead.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Retlaw: a Prairie Dry Belt Ghost Town

Retlaw (Walter backwards) is named after Walter Baker, a CPR (Canadian Pacific Railway) Official. Retlaw was to be an important stop on the main line between Suffield and Calgary. The train station, along with freight room, section house and a pump house, was completed in 1914 and several trains a day began to roll through.

Retlaw is located in the Southeastern Alberta dry belt. Early cattle ranchers maintained that this area was unfit for farming. The CPR disagreed and set up farms to test the potential of the area for farming. Their results, whether embellished or not, brought settlers flocking to the area to get their piece of paradise. Towns sprung up all over the dry belt. After fires and drought, 1916 produced a bumper crop of wheat, producing the majority of the provinces wheat crop for that year. This encourage the railroad to expand and more people came. The good times were very short lived. Beginning in 1917, a decade of drought took over the land and as quick as they came, the people left.

The canal that was planned for Retlaw, to bring essential irrigation, was diverted and didn't come close enough to provide relief from the devastating conditions. Everyone was effected. The farms suffered. Many businesses began to move or close up shop. By 1928 the train station was closed and the CPR sold all their holdings to the village for $1.

There is so much more history here, my couple of paragraphs doesn't even skim the surface, but it gives you an idea of why there are so many abandoned homesteads and towns in the Dry Belt area of Alberta. A good book to read on this is Empire of Dust: Settling and Abandoning the Prairie Dry Belt.

I spent the good part of a morning in late November 2017 wandering around Retlaw. I saw no other people or vehicles but there is an occupied residence by the town site, I believe that is where the friendly dog came from that walked with me a bit.

Get ready for a lot of photos! As you walk down the road, there are hand painted signs at the locations of former homes and businesses, it gives you an idea of how many people used to be here.

Main Street Retlaw

The first buildings on the left hand side of the road where the Alberta Cafe, Campbell & White Meat Market and the National Cafe.

Across the street was the Retlaw Pool Hall which operated from 1917-1924. Beside it the Retlaw Hotel, which opened in 1914, but by the late 1920's had been dismantled and moved away.

Location of the Hotel
 In 1913 a Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce opened but it was too small to meet the demand so a bigger brick bank was built. It was dismantled in the 1940 and moved to Lethbridge.

The only home left in Retlaw.
Friendly Retlaw resident

After the house we find the locations of the Post Office, Newton & Cook Grocery and Dry Goods, and the Telephone Office.

Redcliff Brick and Coal at the Telephone Office Site

At the end of the street is Retlaw United Church, it has been restored and is a welcome site after so many empty lots.

All decorated for Christmas

Back at the start of town if you turn west you will see where the train station was located.

There are a couple of empty foundations to be found in the grass, I came across this one, that looks like it would have faced the rail line and station.

Retlaw Church visible in the distance

I read each and every sign in town, there was also a wall of information and a cenotaph at the start of town also. I hope the signs get repainted as many are faded and almost illegible in some parts. The church is well cared for and the guest book shows that people visit.

It's a true ghost town and I was happy to wander among the ghosts for a bit.

Visit took place on Nov. 26th 2017.