Seymour Hotel

For today’s lunch-time posting, I want to highlight a classic prairie hotel. The Seymour Hotel in Hanna, AB has certainly seen better days, but that is what makes it so appealing to me.

It was September 11, 2017 and Emily and I were working our way home from Saskatoon. We pulled off Highway 9 into Hanna, likely for a fuel stop.

I don’t know why we ended up driving around town, but we soon found ourselves in front of the abandoned Seymour Hotel. Well, in all honesty, we didn’t know what it was called and only learned its name by doing some online digging which revealed an older photo which still had a sign intact on it.

Speaking of signs, the most notable feature of this building is the neon sign on the roof. Situated on the southwest corner and standing tall and proud in all its faded glory, it still proclaims “HOTEL”, although the only guests taking up residence at the Seymour are pigeons and mice.

I’m not sure exactly when it opened, but it appears to have been around 1913. In terms of closing, there were articles in the local newspaper discussing its potential demolition as early as 2011 or 2012, so it must have closed somewhat earlier than that.

I doubt it will be around much longer, especially considering its “sister hotel” the New National was demolished in 2014.

Once a common sight, more and more of these classic railway boomtown hotels are fading away much like the sign atop the Seymour.

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STST2017: Fort Steele

I’ll bet you thought we were done with the Scratch the Surface Tour 2017, didn’t you?  Well, surprise!  There’s at least one more story to tell…

It had been more than thirty years since I had visited Fort Steele, British Columbia.  My dad and I were on a camping trip to the Cranbook area back in 1986 and he brought me here.  I honestly didn’t remember much about it, other than the water wheel visible from the highway and that I absolutely had a great time checking out the historic town.

Much has changed since then.  My dear old dad is long gone, having died less than four years later.  I also learned that Fort Steele was an actual town and not a conglomeration of buildings like Heritage Park in Calgary.  That makes our visit as the last major stop of STST2017 all that more special.

Fort Steele was originally founded in 1864 as Galbraith’s Ferry and its location on the banks of the Kootenay River made it an ideal location for a crossing.  In 1888 the name was changed to Fort Steele to honour legendary Canadian lawman Sam Steele of the North-West Mounted Police.

In the 1890s, the Canadian Pacific Railway bypassed Fort Steele and instead ran its line through nearby Cranbrook.  That was the beginning of the end for Fort Steele and its population declined until it became a decaying ghost town.

The BC government designated as a historic site and preservation/restoration efforts were undertaken.  By 1969 the town was opened to the public and it remains a significant tourist attraction to this day.

It was Thanksgiving Day when we visited and we arrived as soon as the gates opened.  Those two factors combined to give us a chance to check out the town with very few people around.  It had a true ghost town feel.

DSC_5491 DSC_5498

Not every building in the town is original.  Some have been constructed as recreations of buildings that had been lost over the decades.  Others have been moved to different spots in town.  The old townsite is somewhat bisected by the current alignment of BC Highway 95.  In other cases, some buildings have been deemed too far gone to be saved so they have been fenced off and are being allowed to naturally decay, which gives the public a chance to see what would have happened to the whole town had the government not stepped in.


This was the original bakery and has been allowed to deteriorate naturally as the building was unsuitable for restoration



The town is not just a collection of buildings, however.  They also have animals such as chickens, horses, and sheep.  There are also live shows presented inside the Wildhorse Theatre, but we didn’t get to see a performance because of the holiday and being in the off-season.


The town also operates a small section of railway and has a collection of rolling stock in various states of repair.  Again, because of the timing of our visit we weren’t able to partake in any train rides, but we were able to have a soup and sandwich at the small cafeteria which operates inside the main entrance building.


An old rail car weathers away

And, Finally, I was able to revisit the famous water wheel that I remembered from my previous visit and from all the trips I have made down this highway without having time to stop. I was able to learn this water wheel is a restoration and was originally located about 25 miles west of Fort Steele and was built by Perry Creek Gold Mines Ltd. It has a diameter of 32 feet and contains 72 buckets, each of which can hold 70 gallons of water. Clearly the sign was put in place before Canada converted to the metric system.


Emily provides a sense of scale next to the Perry Creek Gold Mine water wheel

Fort Steele is dog-friendly and has a separate entrance to the left of the main building. Normally people enter through the building itself but because that is also the location of the cafeteria they can’t allow pets in there. It was great that Emily and I could have Tucker with us so we didn’t need to rush our visit knowing he was waiting either in the motel or in the car.

Fort Steele was certainly worth the stop and we both want to come back again — here’s hoping it won’t take me another 31 years to get here!

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Retrospective: McDonalds Museum

This is the second in my now-officially-a-series lunch break postings… Today’s post was inspired by an article I saw in my Facebook Newsfeed as I ate breakfast this morning.

McDonald’s museum in Des Plaines will be demolished next month

I was immediately transported back to May of 2014 when I was in Chicagoland for one of my many visits with Emily when we were in our “long distance” phase. She had to work so I borrowed her car and drove to Des Plaines to see this museum. The museum was not open on the day of my visit. It was not until later I would learn it hadn’t been accepting visitors for a few years due to some flood damage. Despite being closed and only a replica built in 1984, I still felt a connection to this place. While it is fashionable to crap all over the golden arches now, as a kid getting a Happy Meal when my mother would go into Lethbridge on Saturdays to do the grocery shopping remains a cherished childhood memory. Even today, there are times where “You just want to inhale a Big Mac, you know?”, as Emily had heard me say more than once.

The restaurant is a recreation, but the sign is original, albeit not in the exact location where it was when Ray Kroc opened on this spot in 1955.

It’s too bad the McDonalds corporation has become so large that it lost focus on its humble past.

Farewell little museum.

More Information:

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Retrospective: West Hope School

Thanks to apps like Timehop and the “On This Day” feature of Facebook, sometimes we see old photos resurface to remind us of our explorations of the past. That is how I stumbled upon these images of West Hope School, taken back in November of 2007.

At that time, the school was being maintained by the community and was open for access. It seems to me that when I drove by this past summer that the property was now posted as no trespassing, a sad but not unexpected turn of events.

Back during this visit in 2007, there was still a guest book inside for people to sign.

The school was built in 1905, at least according to the sign. I don’t have many more details on its history but felt you might like seeing some photos from a decade ago.


Have you visited this school which is located northwest of Calgary? Is my recollection correct that it is now off limits? Let me know in the comments.

I wrote this posting on my cell phone over my lunch break, so forgive any typos I may have made. I’m trying new ways of producing content in the limited time I have available.

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STST2017: Moyie Fire Hall

Back to another quick stop on the Scratch the Surface Tour 2017, this time in Moyie, British Columbia.

There are some buildings which have always fascinated me for as long as I can remember.  Back in the early 1980s, my family would often make a weekend trip out to Creston to pick apples.  As soon as we would be getting close to Moyie, you would find me in the backseat with my face pressed against the window waiting to catch a glimpse of the small wooden fire hall which stands right next to the road.

It wasn’t until I was on a solo road trip in August of 2013 that I actually had the opportunity to stop and get a closer look at the building up close.

Moyie Fire Hall

Photo by Dan Overes taken August 17, 2013

It was like being a kid again, complete with my face pressed up against the glass — except this time the glass was the dirty panes of the 1907 building and not a 1975 Ford LTD.  It was hard to see inside but it certainly whet my appetite for a chance to get inside, a desire which remains unfilled.

Now that I have graduated from the backseat to the role of driver, I have vowed to never drive by the Moyie Fire Hall without at least pulling over to grab a photo or two.  Like all historic buildings, one never knows when you might not get a chance to ever see it again.

As with most of the objects of my interest, my research has been pretty limited and mainly consists of what I can find online.  I have been able to piece together a little background of the building.

As indicated by the sign hanging over the main doors, the hall was built in 1907.  The hose/bell tower was added a couple of years later.  Photos from the 1950s show the fire hall was already abandoned by that point and it appears it had been that way for quite some time.  The author speculated that it fell into disuse by the 1930s, which is a logical leap given how the town declined rapidly once the nearby St. Eugene Mine closed for good in the late 1920s.


Photo credit:

In the above photo, dated to around 1950, you can clearly see the building has fallen into a state of disrepair.  Three of the window panes have been boarded up, the main doors are ajar, and the building appears to need a coat of paint.  It’s quite interesting to see the sleepy dirt road running in front of the fire hall, a far cry from the busy highway which now occupies that space.


Photo credit:

Another photo, this time claiming to be circa 1965, shows little has changed in terms of the condition of the building.  Most of the glass has been broken in the windows, the doors remain ajar, and the building is still requiring paint.  Notable in this angle is the wooden ladder which can be seen mounted on the side of the bell tower.  It extends only partway to the ground and I am not sure if this was the original design or if the lower section had been removed at some point to deter the local youth from climbing up to the upper reaches of the tower.  It is not unfathomable that the firefighters would have had to use a ground ladder to access the ladder on the side.  Or, perhaps, they climbed onto the roof and then stepped out onto the tower ladder.  Unless other photos exist which show this same angle, we’ll likely never know.


Photo credit:

What is known, however, is that by 1988 (the circa date on the above photo), the ladder on the side of the tower has been completely removed.  The building has been given some TLC (it’s a bit of a stretch to call it a restoration) and has a new lease on life.  It has been given a fresh coat of paint, the windows have been boarded up or replaced, and the fire hall sign has been hung over the doors.  The date on this restorative effort is confirmed by Chris Doering of who was living in the area and remembers it being done in the 1980s.

Moyie Fire Hall 1907

Photo by Dan Overes taken October 8, 2017

Our visit during STST2017 was brief.  Just enough time to run across the highway and snap a couple of photos and, once again, press my face against the glass and peer inside.  Somewhere between 1988 and 2013 the wood was removed from a couple of the windows allowing for more visual access, including into the base of the tower.

I would love to have obtained some drone footage, especially of the top part of the bell tower, but the building’s proximity to the busy highway makes doing so legally impossible.  We were also short on time so this had to be a quick whistle-stop on our tour.  Maybe one day I’ll get to live that childhood dream of setting foot inside this classic fire station.

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There are some places that just keep you calling you back, time and time again. Sharples is one of those for me.

I don’t actually remember how I first learned of the Sharples elevator nor do I actually remember my first trip to see it in person. Sometimes you visit a place so many times they start to blend together.

For me, one visit sticks out in my mind. It was the cold January night in 2010 when my friend Miles and I went out to shoot it in the dark. As we were setting up to take photos, a couple of drunk fellows came driving down the road and stopped to see what we were up to. They told us we should have been there in the summer because they got some ladies drunk and got them to pose for some nude photos on the ladder next to the elevator leg. Yes, this is a very rural location and you meet all types of people out here.


Photo from a visit in the Spring of 2012

It was on a visit in 2012 where I discovered the elevator had been chained up and locked and was now posted as No Trespassing. In keeping with the spirit of respectful rural exploration, I haven’t been back inside the elevator since.


Photo taken in 2011


Inside the Sharples elevator driveway in 2011, before the elevator was locked and posted as No Trespassing


The evening of January 29, 2010

The elevator was built in 1923 by Parrish and Heimbecker along a CPR spur line which ran from Acme to Drumheller. The original railbed is still very visible today, and is one of the shots I highlight in my video (see below). To the west of the elevator there remains some bridge pilings where the line once crossed over the creek, also visible in the video.

The original elevator had a capacity of 30,000 bushels. The elevator used to have two annexes, both built in the early 1940s. The one on west still remains and added seven bins with a capacity of 26,000 bushels. The east annex has been torn down (date unknown) but the concrete foundations are still visible, as is the connecting pipe which used to lead to this smaller (14,000 bushel) annex.

Sharples once had a second elevator. It was built in 1927 by the Alberta Pacific Grain Company and was later owned by the Alberta Wheat Pool. When the railway line was closed in 1982, the AWP opted to demolish their elevator whereas P&H sold their’s into private hands. Anyone have photos of the second elevator in their collection?

So, all that remains is to check out the famous Sharples elevator from the air:


Sharples – Parrish & Heimbecker Grain Elevator Limited. (n.d.). Retrieved November 09, 2017, from


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STST2017: The Last Spike

Today’s posting will be quite short as the history of the area is already quite well known.  We’re visiting Craigellachie, British Columbia and — more specifically — the location where the Last Spike of the Canadian Pacific Railway was driven on November 7, 1885, exactly 132 years ago.

In all honesty, we visited the location back on October 3 of this year and I wrote this posting on October 25 but I thought it would be fun to set this to automatically post on the anniversary date.  As an added bonus, I set the posting time to be 10:22 Mountain Time, which is 09:22 Pacific Time which is when the Last Spike was driven.

That spike was driven by Donald Smith and the moment was captured by Winnipeg photographer Alexander Ross.  The image captured that day is likely one of the most famous photographs in all of Canadian history.

Today the site is a rest area located alongside a busy stretch of the TransCanada Highway.  The parking lot is large enough to accommodate RVs which makes it a convenient stop for us, regardless of the historical significance.  In addition, you will find a couple of displays, a gift shop, the requisite washrooms, and a cairn marking the Last Spike.  The CPR still runs by this spot and trains are not uncommon to see.  There is also a caboose on site, which is Canadian Pacific 437336.  According to some very perfunctory internet research, this caboose was built in 1949 but I didn’t find much else about its history.

With a few photos taken and a magnet purchased from the gift shop, we were back on the road to continue on to the next stop along our Scratch the Surface Tour.  Hopefully I will have had a chance to post a few more of those places before this post appears in November.


“Here was driven the last spike completing Canadian Pacific Railway from ocean to ocean”


An overview of the site including the washrooms, monument, and caboose


I’m sure someone must know more about the history of this caboose.  Please share in the comments.


The modern day CPR still passes by this location

LastSpike Craigellachie BC Canada.jpg
By Ross, Alexander, Best & Co., Winnipeg –
This image is available from Library and Archives Canada under the reproduction reference number C-003693 and under the MIKAN ID number 3194527
This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information.
Library and Archives Canada does not allow free use of its copyrighted works. See Category:Images from Library and Archives Canada.
, Public Domain, Link

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