20 Years of Exploring

Sometimes a posting comes together quickly.  I’ll get an idea for a topic, throw something up on the screen, and publish within an hour or so.  Other posts take a long time to come to fruition.

This is one of those latter type of posts.  If you don’t want to know the gory details of how it came together, I’ll put the video right up here near the top for you.

The idea was simple.  With all the snow we’ve been getting this Spring, I had plenty of time to sit down in front of the computer and look through thousands and thousands of images and try to select some favorites for inclusion in a retrospective slideshow.  Hmm, when I actually say it that way it sounds rather daunting, but it seemed simple at the time.

When that process was done, I loaded the pictures into Wondershare Filmora and started building the slideshow.  I expected this part to come together quickly, but that project sat open on my desktop for three or four weeks.  Out of every YouTube video I have created, this one took the most hours to actually complete.

The first problem was I had too many images.  Even at only a few seconds for each one, the video would have ended up being way too long for anyone to actually watch.  I started dumping images.  I went through many rounds of cuts.  It was at this point I also decided to drop any plans of including drone footage and instead focus completely on still photographs.

The next question was around style.  Should I include only “artsy” photographs or pictures which I consider to be some of my best?  What about all those photos that Emily and I have nicknamed “documentation shots”?  Those are the photos where we’re passing through a place and don’t have time to stop so we just point and shoot so we have some record of the places, knowing many of them will not be there the next time we come by again.  I left in a mix of all types, including some from when I was in my “HDR the hell out of everything” phase.

Then it was the ordering of the images.  I started chronologically, with some of the oldest photos being scans of shots I took on film back in 1997.  As I built that storyboard, I realized I was losing a big part of the story.  One of the great things about exploring for so many years was seeing the changes in the places I have visited multiple times over the years.

For example, Dorothy.  Some of the oldest images I have on my computer are from my initial trip to Dorothy circa 1997.  (Since I didn’t scan the images until several years later, I don’t know the exact date but that is my best guess based on context.)  The churches in Dorothy were in horrible shape when I first saw them.  Since then they have undergone an amazing restoration and look nothing like the shells they once were.  Meanwhile, the grain elevator has continued to deteriorate.  I think it is an incredible visual story, but just putting the images in chronological order meant that narrative was lost — too many subjects came into play between the 1997 Dorothy images, the 2006 Dorothy images, the 2011 & 2012 Dorothy images, and the 2017 pictures.

So, I scrapped the whole thing and started again, this time basing the order on locations instead of time.  All the Dorothy images were together, allowing one to see the changes that two decades can bring to a ghost town.  But then I found the video lost a sense of discovery.  If all the images of Dorothy are together, there is no sense of anticipation over what will come next.  Plus, some of the places where I only had images from one visit seemed out of place — what’s the point in focusing on telling the story of an evolution if you’re not going to carry that theme all the way through?

Scrap the whole thing and start again.

I finally settled on a general theme based on the type of building.  You’ll see the video front loaded with grain elevators, then move into service stations, then churches and schools, and other old businesses.  Given those themes and trying to fit the whole thing to the piece of music I selected meant dropping more images.  Old cars?  Gone.  Abandoned houses?  Gone.  Old buildings that aren’t really abandoned?  Gone.  Well, mostly gone.  There are a couple of places that survived those cuts such as the grain elevators in Nanton, which are far from abandoned.  Some of the photos I simply liked too much to leave out.

Of course, those themes went under multiple revisions too.  Maybe mixing themes was too much?  Instead of one four minute video maybe I should create four one-minute videos each with a unique theme?  Nah, stick with it and see where it goes.  By this point I was just trying to get this thing done and off my screen.

And, finally, subtitles.  I originally wanted to highlight the year the photo was taken and the location.  I also wanted to mention which locations no longer existed and how/when they were lost.  I went through many revisions on this idea and many styles of fonts and lettering, trying to find something that worked.  In the end, I decided to drop the subtitles completely.  I found they distracted too much from the photos and giving away all the details takes away some of the mystery.

So, after all that, I invite you to scroll back to the top and take a journey with me through time and place.  We’ll travel from 1997 to 2017 with multiple stops in between.  We’ll see highlights from three provinces and even one photo from Montana that made it into the mix.  You may question some of my selections, but each of these photos has some meaning to me.  Whether it was the place, the time, the people…there is likely a thousand word story behind every photo.  If any of them pique your interest, please tell me in the comments as I would love to give you more context.



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Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park

So close to home, yet a world away.  That’s the best way I can think to describe Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park.  Located just south of Highway 1A between Calgary and Cochrane, once you leave the pavement it is hard to imagine you are sandwiched between a town of 25,000+ and a city of more than a million people.

The written history of the land upon which the park is built really starts in 1881 when the federal government granted a large-scale grazing lease to the Cochrane Ranche Company, which was headed by Senator Matthew Cochrane of Montreal.  The ranch covered 109,000 acres with its main buildings built beside Big Hill Creek in what is now the town of Cochrane.  The ranch would last until 1888 when it was sold for division into homesteads.

During the years of the Cochrane Ranch, the area saw the coming of the Canadian Pacific Railroad.  After reaching Calgary in August of 1883, the railway would make steady progress until reaching Banff just weeks later.  The line followed the Bow River valley, which provided a steady source of water for the crews and the steam engines.  Today, 135 years later, the railway still runs the same course and trains are a common sight, although we didn’t see any during this visit.



The CP mainline continues westward to the mountains and Pacific coast.


After the Cochrane Ranch sold off the land, a couple of the homesteaders to arrive in the area were Joseph and Elizabeth Cockbaine of England.  They laid claim to a section of land in August of 1893 and began the process of building on and improving the land.

Three years later, the Cockbaine family had built Waverley Ranch.  In addition to a house and outbuildings, they had 22 cattle, seven horses, and 2000 sheep.  When Joseph applied to the Land Office for a Letter Patent, he learned he had actually developed the wrong piece of land.  The Government overlooked the mistake and granted him title to the property in 1897.  Today, only the chimney from the Cockbaine’s ranch house remains, standing in the field just south of the pathway, fenced off in a protected area.  It was this chimney which was our target of today’s hike.



The Waverly Chimney is inside a protected area.  All photos used in this posting were taken from public pathways.


This isn’t the only history in the park.  The CPR had established a railway station at Glenbow by 1903.  Between the years of 1907-1912 a sandstone quarry was established at what is now the east end of the park.  After the quarry closed a brickyard opened in the same area.  While there were great plans for the town of Glenbow to grow into a major urban centre, it simply did not occur and the town declined throughout the 1920s until the last residents moved away in 1927.

There are only a couple of buildings which remain from the town of Glenbow.  The most known is the former general store and post office, which remains in the park.  Like the Waverley Chimney, it is fenced off and in a protected area with no public access, although it is visible from the pathway.



The second building which remains is the old Glenbow schoolhouse.  It was moved out of the valley and today stands just north of Highway 1A and has been converted into a private residence.

After the demise of Glenbow as a town, the land continued to be used as private ranchland.  The Harvie family purchased the land in 1934 and it remained in their hands until 2006 when they donated 3246 acres to the Government of Alberta for the establishment of a park.

Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park officially was designated in April of 2008 which kicked off a number of developments which were needed before the park could be opened to the public.  These included washrooms, picnic tables, pathways, signage, and a designated railway crossing.  It was not until the summer of 2011 before Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park was open to the public.

Since then, I have made multiple visits to the park in all seasons.  Two of those visits over the last three days formed the basis of this posting.  The park offers a variety of paved and dirt pathways and boasts nearly 25km of trails.  The area retains ties to its cattle grazing history and at various times during the year some areas may be closed as cattle are moved around or graze different sections.



All land along train tracks remains the private property of CP Rail and access is prohibited.

Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park is open year-round during daylight hours.  No campfires or horseback riding.  Dogs must be leashed.  Obey all area closures.  

Atlas of Alberta Railways. (n.d.). Retrieved March 11, 2018, from http://railways.library.ualberta.ca/Chapters-7-1/
Cochrane Ranche. (n.d.). Retrieved March 11, 2018, from http://www.historicplaces.ca/en/rep-reg/place-lieu.aspx?id=11541
Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park. (2017, July 4). Retrieved March 11, 2018, from https://www.albertaparks.ca/parks/kananaskis/glenbow-ranch-pp/information-facilities/history/
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Flashback: Alderson 2010

Another in my series of lunch break postings from my phone…

I remember the first time I visited Alderson. It was exactly eight years ago today.

Armed with my “just over a year old” Nikon D90 (the same camera I still use), I came upon the mostly empty field where Alderson once stood.

Only a couple of buildings remained, along with some discarded buckets and just the faintest outline of a grid of streets.

The town was known as Carlstadt until the anti-German sentiment caused by World War I brought about the name change to Alderson.

The day of my first visit was somewhat windy but not overly cold. A layer of snow blanketed the ground. It was somewhat dreary, if truth be told. Of course the conditions were nothing as bad as the harsh conditions the residents of Alderson faced during its heyday.

Alderson was expected to be the “Star of the Prairies”, the major centre for miles around. Mother Nature had other plans and by the end of the 1930s it was all over for Alderson. Fires, harsh winters, and crippling drought would see the Star of the Prairies disappear.

On that initial visit I photographed everything in black and white. Given the light, the barren landscape, and the history of the location, it just seemed appropriate.

A subsequent visit in 2012 brought both color to my images as well as a more detailed exploration of the small Alderson cemetery located just east of the townsite.

It was my visits to Alderson which sparked my desire to learn more about the history of the TransCanada Highway. Prior to that first visit I never knew how many times the TCH was realigned in its relatively short history. The old alignment, which in this area ranges from well-maintained gravel road to nothing more than two dirt tracks in the grass, has created a desire to one day create a series of films documenting the history of the road. While it may not have the romance and history of the USA’s Route 66, the TCH is our “mother road”. It is a story told in multiple books, but one which I think needs to be told in a more visual medium.

Anyway, lunch is almost over so I need to wrap up this posting. The townsite of Alderson was the victim of a fire in 2015 (?) which eliminated the remaining buildings shown in my photos. (The buildings may have been destroyed before the fire, but I’m not sure.)

A prairie fire was a fitting end to the remains of Alderson. I highly recommend reading the 1987 book “Empire of Dust” by David Jones to learn more.

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Lethbridge Road Trip: October 2017

I think I’m finally catching up on my photos and items that I have wanted to post.  That is more a product of colder weather and staying close to home more than it is any sort of increase in productivity.

I had almost forgotten about these images which were taken last October on our way home from Lethbridge.  I was cleaning up some folders on my computer when I stumbled across these sitting in my “Import” folder on the hard drive.

One of the challenges about making the same trip many times over the years is finding new routes to travel and other ways to keep the drive from becoming too routine.  While revisiting familiar places over the course of many years and watching them change and evolve can be fun too, the possibility of seeing something for the first time just can’t be beat.  This trip had a good mix of both.

There’s not much to say about this trip, other than sit back and let the pictures tell the story.


An abandoned farm north of Picture Butte


Dusty roads and wide open prairie make for some great vistas


Checking out a wind farm south of Travers Reservoir


Since 2015 I have been keeping a list of all the “Alberta Break” grain cars we see.  This section of track in Champion was a mother lode.


Champion Inn, Champion, AB


This old service station has seen better days but isn’t so far gone that it couldn’t be brought back to life


Another old service station in Champion


This service station, also in Champion, appears to be of a slightly newer vintage and has been nicely maintained.  It would appear Champion had no shortage of places to get fuel back in the day.


I didn’t notice in person, but looking at the photo more closely reveals words such as clothes, groceries, boots, and shoes in the old paint.  I always thought this was an old hotel, but perhaps it was a general store with living quarters upstairs?


Probably one of the most-photographed buildings between Calgary and the US border.  The iconic gas pump which stood out front for many decades is no longer present but I learned via a Facebook group that the building’s owners removed it to protect it from thieves.


The Kirkcaldy school (1925 – 1953)


The Ensign school (1912 – 1954) is now a private residence


The Brant grain elevator


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It would be hard to forget the first time we stumbled across Dankin.  Emily and I were making the drive to Saskatoon and, as always, trying to take a creative route to get there.  We were making our way northeast up Highway 21 in July of 2015 when we spotted something on the horizon.

“Hey, those look like grain elevators over there…”

A short detour followed.  If you were to plot a graph of our excitement versus proximity, it would show an exponential curve.  At first we were simply intrigued because there were two elevators standing together.  With the rapid decline of grain elevators on the Canadian prairies, seeing one is becoming a novelty but seeing two?  While not quite in “unicorn territory”, it is getting that way.

As we got closer, we could tell the elevators were in poor condition.  Now, don’t get me wrong here.  We love grain elevators and love to see them either in use or well preserved.  However, elevators showing their age tend to be more photogenic.  Excitement level was rapidly rising.

Then, it happened.  “Oh.  My.  God.  I think they’re abandoned!”  This was simply too much to have hoped for.  A beautiful sunny day with a few clouds in the sky.  Two abandoned grain elevators set against the fields of green and the blue of the endless Saskatchewan sun.  I don’t remember if we had a schedule to keep that day or not, but all bets were now off — we simply had to get closer and check them out.


We reached the point where the train tracks crossed the grid road and stopped.  Opting not to take any chances on the narrow dirt path leading to the elevators, we parked the Kia just off to the side of the road and walked in.

Dankin From the Tracks

The elevators were certainly not in good shape.  They were open to the elements and featured faded paint and peeling siding.  With doors and windows missing, we knew that all the enemies of historic buildings (birds, rain, snow, vandals) would be having their way with these gems.  Documenting these gems became of utmost importance.


Dankin Up Close

This photogenic tractor was gone by the time we returned in 2017.


The remains of the driveway and office of Dankin A


Large portions of the walls from the driveway of Dankin B are missing in this photo from July of 2015


HDR haters will have to forgive me for using the technique to capture this image of Dankin A taken from inside Dankin B


The elevator office and shed of Dankin B in July of 2015

It would be more than two-and-a-half years before we would get back to Dankin again.

Our second trip was in December of 2017.  We had learned through the various abandoned places groups we follow online that a storm had severely damaged the red “Dankin A” elevator.  While we didn’t have time on our way to Saskatoon to stop, we made a special effort on the way home to head south from Rosetown to see the damage for ourselves.

Sure enough, the whole northern side of the western shoulder of Dankin A was ripped off, exposing the inside.  While it made for a great chance to see parts of the elevator we wouldn’t otherwise get to see without risking our lives to climb inside, it certainly would appear to be the death knell for this giant.  These two have defied the odds to last this long as it is.

You can see the damage for yourself in the video here:


Before the last vestiges of Dankin disappear from the landscape entirely, I felt I should learn a bit more about this place.  From the searching I have done, it doesn’t seem like Dankin was ever much more than a dot on the map and a stopping point for grain farmers.  From the air, there was no evidence of a townsite grid, although the cultivated land on either side of the tracks would have removed all traces of it anyway.

Apparently the name “Dankin” came from combining the last names of Bob Daniels and Bill King, who were early settlers in the region.

I enlisted the assistance of elevator expert and our friend Jim Pearson to learn more about the two elevators.  “Dankin B” is the older of the two elevators, having been built in 1927 by the United Grain Growers with a capacity of 30,000 bushels.  It became part of the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool in 1955 as “Sask Pool No. 847”.

The other elevator was built in 1928 with a capacity of 35,000 bushels.  It was Sask Pool No. 834.  Both elevators were closed in 1975 and have presumably been left to rot ever since.  These elevators have been essentially abandoned almost as long as they were ever in use.

We will be sure to continue to make detours to Dankin whenever possible to continue to watch and document the sad but inevitable decline of these two elevators.





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Badlands Weekend: October 2017

It is amazing how life can get in the way of living.  Despite recently completing my short video of the Highway 27 bridge, I had completely forgotten about the photos I had taken that weekend.  It was only as I was going through my monthly ritual of reviewing snapshots on my phone and moving the “keepers” onto my desktop computer did I discover I had some RAW images from our trip to Drumheller still in my “Imported” folder.  This morning I finally had a chance to sit down and get them completed and sorted away.

On that trip our overall destination was to the East Coulee School Museum to see the premier of the the film “Forgotten Prairie” which starred our friends from BigDoer.com.  If you haven’t seen it yet, take twenty minutes out of your day and watch it; I provided the link for you.  Getting to meet with filmmaker Rueben Tschetter at the event and at the after party really filled me with a desire to make better videos, something I am going to work hard at over the next few years.

But, as always with us, the destination is only part of the journey.

First stop of the trip was the old hotel in Acme.  I find myself being drawn to old hotels more and more.  While they do not dominate the skyline of small prairie towns in the way that grain elevators do, they often share a historical connection as both were often tied to the coming of the railroads.

Acme Hotel

A bit further along the trip, Emily noticed an old school just north of the highway so we detoured to check it out.  It was Sunbeam School. While prairie hotels have become a more recent fascination for me, old schools have always captivated me.  I have been making a concerted effort to better document my visits to these schools.  This includes properly Geotagging my photos and maintaining a spreadsheet of the various Alberta School Districts, their dates, locations, and the fate of the building itself.

Sunbeam School (later Sunbeam Community Center) is your classic one-room schoolhouse.  There is the main entrance at the front which leads to a small cloakroom and then the main classroom behind, complete with the row of windows which were used to capture as much natural daylight as possible.  Sunbeam operated from 1911 to 1949.  The school has a more modern addition on the back and a bright red metal roof.  It doesn’t appear to see much use anymore, but the newer roof and with most of the windows intact, it should withstand the ravages of nature for quite some time yet.

Sunbeam Community Centre Sunbeam

Our next stop of note was the community of Delia.  The town was having its annual Fall Fair and we wanted to stop in and see our friends Jim and Donna.  Jim, of course, is the driving force behind Vanishing Sentinels and he and Donna were selling Jim’s books and creations at the fair.

Delia is a bit of a hidden gem, close enough to the highway to be an easy detour but far enough off the road that most people won’t bother.  We had lunch at the Delia Cafe and managed to learn plenty of the local politics by listening in to the conversations taking place amoungst the local population.  I love small towns.


Delia Cafe


This old service station has been given the creative treatment


Another classic service station


Delia, AB grain elevator

After spending the night at the Badlands Motel in Drumheller, we set out sites for home.  The Badlands hotel has become our de facto place to stay in Drumheller.  It’s older, inexpensive and clean — the “big three” when it comes to our motel selection criteria.  The hotel has a newer section and two older sections.  Our room was in the what appears to be the older of the two older sections, or at least the section which hasn’t been as well maintained.  There was nothing wrong with it but it certainly won’t appeal to everyone, but we like places with a throwback vibe.

Before getting on the road, we had breakfast at WHIFS Flapjack House.  Likely the best breakfast in Drumheller, it is part of the Badlands Motel so motel guests get a discount on their meal.

We had been up quite late the night before so our journey home was quiet and uneventful, except for when I lost my cellphone at one of the scenic overlooks above the town which resulted in a bit of backtracking.  We did pull off the highway and capture an image of the grain elevator at Kirkpatrick, however.


With that, another whirlwind weekend was in the books.  Without a doubt, the area surrounding Drumheller is one of our favorite places to explore.  Whether it’s Pizza Night in Rowley, grabbing a beer at the saloon in Wayne, revisiting the churches and grain elevator in Dorothy for the umpteenth time, there are always old haunts to check in on and new discoveries waiting to be made.


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Bridge Over the Red Deer River

It was mid-October last year when Emily and I were heading out on a day trip to the Alberta Badlands.  We were traveling on Highway 27 just east of Morrin and we came down the coulee and noticed the construction.  Uh oh, another class iron bridge has been slated for replacement and eventual demolition.

Naturally, we had to take the time to stop and capture some drone footage of the bridge before it is gone.

According to a photo I found online of the plaque on the bridge, it was built by the Dominion Bridge Company in 1959.  Dominion Bridge is a company familiar to anyone who is a fan of these classic high-sided iron crossings in Canada as it seems they were responsible for the construction of most of them in these parts.

Documenting the present is our way of recording the past for the future.  Perhaps one day many years from now someone will be driving along Highway 27 and see the old bridge pilings, or they may be looking at an old map and realize the road used to follow a slightly different alignment and think to themselves “I wonder what the old bridge looked like.”  Maybe they’ll do a Google search (Or whatever search engine we’re using in the future — hey, it could happen.  Remember AltaVista?) and find this short video and get an answer to their question.

Regardless, with the loss of the zoo bridge in Calgary and now this bridge over the Red Deer River, these relics of the past are rapidly disappearing.


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