Sometimes you don’t need to venture far from home to discover something new.
For us, thanks to our friend Richard Hansen hiding a Geocache, we got to experience a great natural area down along the bank of the Elbow River, not far outside the Calgary city limits. He did all the hard work, all we had to do was park at the end of a dead end road and then walk in along the old road allowance.
While today’s video focuses on both the abandoned grain elevator at Dorothy, the main focus of this write-up is in reagrds to the former railroad bridge at nearby East Coulee.
First, allow me to say a few words on the grain elevator. A major storm ripped the roof off the elevator back on July 22, 2015. Since that time the upper section of the elevator has been exposed to the elements. Of course, that also means we have the opportunity to put the drone in the air and look inside. I did this back in an earlier video but I feel like my piloting skills are much better now so I wanted a chance to get closer to the elevator than I did back then.
Now for the East Coulee bridge…
In doing some basic research on the bridge, I found that it was originally constructed in 1936 for railroad traffic. The local mining operations were exhausting their leases on the north side of the Red Deer River, they wanted to move operations to their leases on the south side which, of course, meant they needed to get trains loaded with coal across the river to access the main line which ran on the north side of the river.
It is interesting to note that the opening of the coal mines on the south side of the river was being opposed by the population of Drumheller. From what I was able to gather, the concern in Drumheller was that these new mines would be flooding the coal market which additional product which would drive down prices.
The East Coulee contingent insisted that this was simply the continuation of existing mining operations and not new production coming on stream and that the local population of 1500 would “be deprived of their opportunity to make a living and would be reduced to the necessity of depending entirely on relief.” (Calgary Herald, January 21, 1936)
The bridge construction obviously did not take much time to complete as a later article in the Calgary Herald (July 7, 1936) proclaims “Railway Bridge Nears Completion at East Coulee” and mentions how the final touches are being put on the bridge which will provide access for the Atlas Coal Company and Murray Collieries. It also mentions the number of houses and other buildings being erected around the townsite as “faith in the continued existence of East Coulee”.
Interestingly enough, the bridge would be blown up less than 12 years later…
On April 21, 1948 a large ice flow was forming at the bridge and there was concern that it would cause massive flooding of the townsite of East Coulee. The decision was made to destroy the bridge and free the ice jam.
The initial proposal was to simply burn the bridge but eventually F. E. Wootton, Medicine Hat superintendent of the C.P.R. gave permission for the bridge to be dynamited instead.
Andrew Raisbeck, who handled explosives in the army and mines, handled the demolition. The explosion was rigged to blow debris down into the river.
At the moment of the explosion, Peter Jackson was working in the yard of his home which was located about 200 feet away. Two pieces of debris came flying towards them. While one missed, the second piece — identified as a chunk of wood 12″ x 12″ and 2′ long — struck his wife Dorothea. She would die two days later in the Drumheller hospital.
By May 22 of that year, the newspaper describes a “new temporary bridge” was open and ready after just twenty days of construction. I am not sure how much of the bridge we see today is original to 1936 and how much was part of the 1948 reconstruction.
At some point the bridge began to accept automobile traffic as well as railroad traffic. In the video for Tom Cochrane’s “Life is a Highway” there is a brief scene of the protagonists driving on the East Coulee Bridge, indicating that it likely was still accessible to cars in the early 1990s.
By the time I visited it for the first time in 2006, you could still walk out onto the bridge, thanks to a large hole in the fence. Today the fence is more robust and the state of the bridge means walking on it would be both dangerous and illegal.
While there has always been some talk about restoring the bridge and making it part of the Atlas Coal Mine historic site, there never seems to be funding in place to make such an effort possible. With each passing year the amount of money required goes up while the odds of a possible preservation effort go down. The future for the old East Coulee bridge remains very much in doubt.
C.P.R. Heads Study Bridge East Coulee. (1936, January 21). The Calgary Herald, p. 3.
Railway Bridge Nears Completion At East Coulee. (1936, July 7). The Calgary Herald, p. 4.
Woman Died From Blast Injuries. (1948, May 6). The Calgary Herald, p. 2.
New East Coulee Bridge Ready. (1948, May 22). The Calgary Herald, p. 13.
My former neighbor Don was a Korean War veteran and one of the best storytellers I have ever met. I used to love getting together with him and his wife June to listen to him weave a narrative.
One night over dinner I mentioned that I was getting ready to go to Saskatchewan to attend a Ghost Town Convention — the very firstGTC. When Don asked whereabouts it was being held, I mentioned Hallonquist, Saskatchewan. Don’s face lit up and he said “I know exactly where that is; I grew up in a town very close to there called Braddock.”
It didn’t take much convincing to get Don to come out and join us.
On our first day of exploring, we visited his former hometown and he walked around the site with us, stopping at the dilapidated remains of his childhood home.
On the way home, we stopped by the remains of his grandparents’ home. While the house was nothing more than a pile of weather lumber, the rock wall his grandfather built many decades earlier was still there and as straight as ever.
I had some issues with my digital camcorder and some of the video footage was lost, as was some of the audio. In fact, I thought the entire recording was lost for several years until I discovered parts of it could still be played. By putting together some of my still photos from that day over the parts where the original video was lost, I was able to come up with something that is watchable.
Considering this was recorded 13 years ago, the audio and video quality is certainly not up to today’s standard, but the fact this footage remains is remarkable enough for me. I hope you enjoy it.
By the way, if you want to see and hear some of Don’s stories as a tank commander in the Korean War, check out this video: