Alberta Prairie Railway

In my previous posting, I mentioned how Stettler is known for being the home of Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions.  We had noticed on their schedule that they were going to be running one of their steam engines on the day after CAMT and we thought it would be great fun to follow the train from Stettler to Big Valley and capture some images and drone footage along the way.

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Guests arrive at Stettler train station

Emily and I had the opportunity to ride with Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions (can I just call them APRE from now on?) a couple of years ago.  On that trip the train was powered by the 1958 General Motors diesel locomotive.  Today they would be running their 1920 Baldwin 2-8-0 Consolidation, badged as No. 41.

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No. 41 blowing off some steam

I won’t go into a detailed history of this old girl, but instead highly recommend you check out our friends at BigDoer.com and their article which goes into great detail about how it ended up in Stettler.

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We had no problem keeping up with No. 41 all along its trip into Big Valley.  We followed the gravel road between the towns, which offered us plenty of level crossings to capture photos.

At the first crossing, several of the people on board noticed the drone up in the air.  By the second and third crossings, people were waving at us and giving us smiles of recognition — let’s face it, with a bright red pickup truck towing a 23′ fifth wheel RV, we were far from inconspicuous on this run.  No one came up to talk to us in Big Valley, however; I guess they were too busy checking out the town and eating their roast beef dinner.

This was a really fun outing for us and gave us another excuse to visit Big Valley, which is one of our favorite Alberta towns.  Check out the short video I made as a result of our train chasing.

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CAMT 2017: The Final Stop

So, this is it.  The final stop on the Central Alberta Museum Tour 2017.  Thanks to everyone who attended and a special thanks to those of you who have been following along virtually.  I really appreciate the comments.  Knowing that there are people out there reading the posts and watching the videos makes me feel really good.  I really do appreciate it.

Growing up in southern Alberta, Stettler was famous for only two reasons:  1)  this is where you would go to claim your big prize if you won Lotto 6/49, and 2) for being the home of Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions.  (More on that in a future post.)

I had no idea Stettler had such a great museum.  It was only when CAMT attendee Donna suggested we add it to the end of the agenda that I came to learn of it.  The Stettler Town and Country Museum is the fifth largest pioneer village in Alberta.

Emily and I were camped across the road at the Stettler Lions Campground.  It made the perfect home base for our CAMT explorations.  On the Friday night we were being rewarded with a fantastic sunset and I decided to put the drone up and do a little exploring of the museum from the air.

Immediately the large courthouse caught my eye.  Originally opened as a schoolhouse in 1907, it would later serve multiple functions, including the aforementioned courthouse, but also as RCMP barracks and a Magistrate’s office.  When it was closed it 1974 it was slated for demolition but was saved and moved to the museum instead, where it opened in 1978.

The other building that caught my attention from the air was the large railway station.  After seeing the third and fourth class stations at Meeting Creek and Donalda, this one seemed absolutely huge, and the next day when we toured it, that impression was reinforced.

Ah, yes, our tour.  We had to rush as we arrived with about an hour until closing.  That meant hustling through many of the buildings and exhibits, but we did manage to get a wonderful overview of what the museum has to offer and it certainly whet our appetite for a future visit.

And, with that, CAMT came to a close. We gathered as a group back at our campsite and had a final group dinner together before everyone went on their separate ways. It was a wonderful two days of friends, fun, and exploration. We visited many places that had been on my personal wishlist for a long time and met lots of great museum employees and volunteers. I think there may be a CAMT 2018, but planning for it will need to wait a while as there are many more adventures and explorations to come before we get there.

Thanks again for supporting me and providing the encouragement to continue putting my time into this blog.

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CAMT 2017: Donalda

Welcome to the penultimate stop on the Central Alberta Museum Tour of 2017 — Donalda, Alberta.

Donalda represents the only real scheduling failure on the tour.  Originally planned to be our final stop, once we learned that the museum in Stettler was open until 17:30, we decided to add it to the agenda which meant we weren’t going to have time to tour the museum in Donalda.  While I think it ended up being the right decision, it was unfortunate because the people at the Donalda & District Museum were probably the most responsive when it came to my emails.  They even took the time to follow up with me several days before our visit to make sure we were still coming to see them.  There are so many great museums to explore, I think when I start planning CAMT 2018 I will make sure Donalda is one of the first stops so we don’t miss them a second time.

Now, nothing in Donalda catches the attention of travelers more than the “World’s Largest Lamp”.  Standing 12.8m tall and 5.18m wide at the base1, the lamp certainly represents one of the more visually striking features of the town.  Four local residents got together one evening in 1997 and were thinking of ways to draw attention to the collection of oil lamps housed in the museum and the idea for this lamp replica was born.  Amazingly, they had it ready for its official opening just over three years later, on July 1, 2000 — that’s an incredible feat considering the amount of money they needed to raise in order to make it happen.

You can walk into the base of the lamp; it is open when the museum is open.  The area around the lamp is beautifully landscaped as well and it overlooks the Meeting Creek Coulee and offers some nice prairie views.  If we had more time I would have put the drone up here.

And, yes, the lamp apparently lights up each night.

DSC_5264Don’t be fooled into thinking that the lamp is the only thing worth seeing in Donalda, however.  Donalda is a town that has a number of interesting buildings to check out as well, two of which are on the Alberta Register of Historic Places.

Before getting to the buildings, however, you just know I had to stop and check out the 1950s-era fire truck sitting in the park along Railway Avenue.  It’s in pretty good shape and looks as if all it needs are some new tires and it would be ready to roll.  It would make a fantastic parade vehicle.  Does anyone know if the museum is raising funds for a restoration or who actually owns it?  It seems like such a waste to be sitting out exposed to the elements.

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Donalda had been served by the Bank of Montreal up until a fire destroyed the branch in 1928.  For four years the local residents had to travel to Stettler to do banking until the Imperial Bank of Canada built a branch here in 1932.  The building was in continuous operation until 1997 when it was finally closed.  Today it houses the Donalda Art Gallery and is owned and operated by the Donalda and District Museum.2

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The other registered building in town is the 1955 Donalda Creamery.  The exact origin of this building is a little obscure.  In one version, a machine shop located across the street was purchased in 1954, moved to the present location, and then converted into a creamery.3 In the other version, a garage was moved from the Edberg – Ferintosh region to Donalda and them converted.4  Perhaps both are correct in their own way?  Maybe the building was moved from the Ferintosh area in 1954, sat across the street for a year and then was moved to its final location.  History tends to get pretty muddled sometimes and conflicting sources are not at all unusual when one starts lifting the covers on stories.  Regardless, it is quite a building.

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A third historical building highlight is the train station.  Donalda’s original station was not saved and this particular one was moved from Vandura, Saskatchewan.  It is an example of a 4th Class station built by the Canadian Northern Railway4 and provides an interesting contrast when compared to the 3rd Class Station in Meeting Creek.

And, finally, it was sad to see that the local ice cream shop, The Nutcracker Sweet, has gone out of business since my last visit in 2015.  I certainly can’t say business was booming when I was last here, but it was nice to see a local business still making a go of it.  Today the building it was housed in has been added to the other empty storefronts in Donalda.

 

 

I have to say I am very impressed with the efforts of the local historical society in Donalda.  Not only is there website (linked above) visually appealing and easy to navigate, it has a professional look and feel that many other small museums don’t match.  Combined with the number of buildings they manage and the responsiveness of their email replies, they seem to be a thriving group, even if Donalda itself is facing some challenges.  Give their Facebook page a Like too.

Sources

Largest Lamp. (n.d.). Retrieved August 07, 2017, from http://donaldamuseum.com/largest-lamp/

2Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce Building. (n.d.). Retrieved August 07, 2017, from https://hermis.alberta.ca/ARHP/Details.aspx?DeptID=1&ObjectID=4665-0827

3Donalda Creamery. (n.d.). Retrieved August 07, 2017, from https://hermis.alberta.ca/ARHP/Details.aspx?DeptID=1&ObjectID=4665-0644

4Historical Buildings. (n.d.). Retrieved August 07, 2017, from http://donaldamuseum.com/historical-buildings/

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CAMT 2017: Meeting Creek

We’re nearing the end of our Central Alberta Museum Tour posts with a visit to Meeting Creek.

This was my second visit to Meeting Creek.  The last time I was here there was a wedding taking place and so I wasn’t able to get a good look inside the train station.  Initially it appeared we weren’t going to be able to get in this time either, because our visit coincided with Hobo Day at the Camrose Heritage Railway Station and they didn’t think they would have anyone available to meet us in Meeting Creek to open things up.

It was a great surprise when I received an email from their Managing Director, Norm Prestage saying he found a couple who could meet us and let us in.  Wow, that was a great bonus for us!

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Inside Meeting Creek Railway Station

Meeting Creek Railway Station was built for the Canadian Northern Railway in 1913.  This was a Third Class depot.  Apparently the CNoR built 36 depots of the same layout/plan in Alberta but only four remained as of 2006.1

This one was restored in 1988 to how it would have appeared in the 1940s.

While we were hoping we would be able to get inside the elevator, no one was able to locate keys, so we had to settle for viewing them from the outside.  According to our friends at BigDoer.com, the elevator painted in Alberta Pacific Grain style is from 1918 and the “Vertical Payne” elevator was built in either 1915 or 1935.2

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Never mind the Mercury Blues, this truck has a case of the Mercury yellows

Meeting Creek was a great place to get the drone up in the air and capture some aerial footage of the elevators and train station.

Sources:
1Canadian Northern Railway Station. (n.d.). Retrieved August 06, 2017, from https://hermis.alberta.ca/ARHP/Details.aspx?DeptID=1&ObjectID=4665-1054

2Meeting Creek station and elevators. (2015, May 11). Retrieved August 06, 2017, from http://www.bigdoer.com/17933/exploring-history/meeting-creek-station-and-elevators/

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CAMT 2017: Bashaw Fire Hall Museum [and bonus Majestic Theatre]

Out of all the museums we visited during our Central Alberta Museum Tour (CAMT), this is the one I was looking forward to the most.  While my career as a volunteer firefighter was relatively short (2004 – 2008), the firefighting bug is one that has always been with me and always will be a part of who I am.  When you combine firefighting and history, you’ve got me hooked and this place promised the best of both.

Bashaw was another town I “discovered” on that trip to Meeting Creek I made back in August of 2015, the same trip that allowed me to find the Anthony Henday Museum.  While I can’t believe it took almost two years to get back here, on Day Two of CAMT it finally happened.

According to HERMIS (see Sources below), the Bashaw Fire Hall was originally built between 1914 and 1915.  It served a number of functions over that time, including acting as a police station from the 1920s right into the 1960s.  The fire department only stopped using it in 1972.  It had a remarkably long run for a building that is so small.

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The building was as fascinating to me as the artifacts inside.  We learned a number of interesting facts, including that the fire bay doors did, in fact, originally face out onto the main street before being moved to the side of the building.  Also, apparently the original apparatus bay floor was lower than the floor of the office space in the back and it was leveled out at some point in the past.  You can get locked inside one of the old jail cells.  The other cell was last used as part of the animal impound and the old wooden door is full of scratches and claw marks from the dogs of yesteryear.  Sad and fascinating at the same time.

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DanOCan demonstrates safe traffic control

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DanOCan in jail — perhaps for ringing the fire hall bell?

And, yes, the bell is still inside the hose tower and you can actually give it a ring, which I did.  Emily has a video of me pulling on the rope so I’ll have to find it and post it.

Aside from the building, the most interesting artifact — at least in my opinion — was the 1912 Waterous pumper, the first fire truck in Bashaw’s history, which actually is older than the fire fall itself.  Waterous is still in business to this day, although I imagine they don’t stock many parts for this old wagon.

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Bashaw’s First Fire Engine — 1912 Waterous

Thanks to some advance planning and notice, I was also able to arrange for us to get access to the Majestic Theatre which is just a block down the street.  We were met by Wayne who was very happy to show us around and answer our many questions about the theatre.

DSC_5233 The Majestic Theatre was built in 1915 and underwent a series of ownership changes and renovations until closing in 1984.  It is considered to be the last remaining “Boomtown design” theatre in Western Canada.  The Friends of the Majestic Theatre group was formed in 1998 and worked to restore the theatre to its pre-1930s condition, which was done in 2004.  While it no longer is used to show movies, it remains an important piece in the local community’s arts scene.

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Inside the Majestic

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Another CAMT 2017 Group Photo

Before leaving town and heading to Meeting Creek, we had one last stop to make.  This one also featured fire apparatus.  This time it was a 1957 International which is housed in a gazebo outside the local arena.  I do love the fire trucks of the 1950s as they represent, to me, the most iconic style of fire trucks ever made.

Apparently, this one was placed here in 2014 by the Bashaw Historical Society.  Be sure to check out their website:  http://townofbashaw.com/the-bashaw-historical-society/

It was worth the two year wait to finally get here and check out these great pieces of Alberta history.

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Sources

Bashaw Fire Hall. (n.d.). Retrieved August 03, 2017, from https://hermis.alberta.ca/ARHP/Details.aspx?DeptID=1&ObjectID=4665-0645

Majestic Theatre. (n.d.). Retrieved August 03, 2017, from https://hermis.alberta.ca/ARHP/Details.aspx?DeptID=1&ObjectID=4664-0253

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CAMT 2017: Mirror and District Museum

Time for the next stop on our journey around the museums of central Alberta.  This will likely be the shortest post because it was also one of our shortest visits.

We rolled into Mirror, Alberta only to find the museum was closed over the lunch hour.  Fair enough, museum employees and volunteers need to eat too.

From the outside, the museum doesn’t look like much; the only hint as to what lies inside is the CN train painted on the cinder block wall.  We debated about skipping it but decided to take advantage of the down time to eat lunch and check out the town.

DSC_5213 There is a caboose and boxcar in a small green space across the road from the museum.  This is where we learned that in Mirror, pride is their local motive, which is a nice play on words.  I thought about getting out the drone and shooting some overhead views of the caboose, but opted instead to save the battery power for our upcoming visit to Meeting Creek.DSC_5212

Mirror has a number of older buildings of interest.  Two that caught my attention were the Mirror General Store and another commercial building just down the block.  Both have been victims of some bad renovations over the years but still show some historic character.

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In recent years, Mirror has been victimized by a couple of fires that took down some other buildings that would have been interesting to see.  In February of 2016, the 1912 Imperial Mirror Hotel was destroyed by fire, and flames claimed the century-old hardware store in April of this year.

DSC_5217 As we were checking out the town, we noticed the old school was open.  Upon closer inspection, we noticed that there is a thrift store which operates out of the building.  Never one to pass up a bargain, we had to stop in and check it out.  I admit I was more interested in wandering from old classroom to old classroom than I was in checking out the wares, but we did buy a still-wrapped Duke Ellington CD and a spatula for a grand total of $1.25.  It was nice to meet a couple of the locals and have a short chat as they wondered what a couple from Cochrane were doing out in Mirror.

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We did manage to get back to the museum and, once it reopened, take twenty minutes or so to browse around.  Our group bought some pins and Emily and I bought a railroad spike with some eyes glued to it, which we creatively named “Spikey McSpike”.  Hey, anything to support these places and help them stay open — plus he was cute.

Our next stop was the one I was most excited about — Bashaw!  That will need to wait for another post, however…

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Ribbon Falls Hike

Just in case you need a break from the series of CAMT posts, or you think all we do is drive around the province looking at historical sites, here is a change of pace for you.

On Saturday, July 29, we met up with our friends Dale and Janice and set out for a hike to Ribbon Falls in Kananaskis Country.  In addition to the four of us, we were accompanied by our dogs Tucker and Jasper.

The forecast was for it to be a hot day so I picked this hike expecting it would be fairly well-shaded and would offer plenty of water along the way for the dogs.  I also knew it would be a crowded trail so I felt that should help avoid any bears in the area.

This was my second time up the trail to the falls, the last time being in 2009 prior to the floods of 2013.

The trailhead is at the Ribbon Creek Day Use area near Kananaskis Village.

I was surprised at how much the trail and creek have been altered since the floods.  In different places along the early stages of the hike, you can see where the old trail used to go as well as the remains of some of the old bridges and things.  Lots of flood debris line the way.

The trail is easy to follow and is signed in strategic locations so you shouldn’t get lost easily.  It is a very well-used trail so there is almost always going to be someone around if something goes wrong.

That said, this is a backcountry hike and you should be prepared.  This means lots of water, proper footwear, bear spray, and basic first aid supplies.  On a hot day like we experienced, water was a necessity and, while the creek is useful for dipping your hat and cooling off, you don’t want to take a chance and drink from it unfiltered.

There are a number of small waterfalls along the way and so you always feel like there is something worth seeing.  The higher up the valley you get, the more the views open up and you get to see Mount Kidd to the south and Mount Bogart to the north.

Bicycles are allowed on roughly the first four kilometers of the trail.  Bike racks are provided so you can lock up your ride at that point if you choose to carry on.

Your eventual destination is Ribbon Falls and the Ribbon Falls Backcountry Camp.  Don’t rely on Google Maps for navigation as it doesn’t show the trail for some reason and instead will attempt to route you down to Galtea and up and over Guinn’s Pass.  That’s a wee bit more than a day hike.

It is about a 10 or 11 km round trip into the falls, meaning you are looking at about 20-22km round trip.  My proper GPS wasn’t fully charged and died on the way up and my phone was having problem getting signal in some sections so your mileage will literally vary.  Elevation gain is gentle and totals around 300m or so.  This is a very accessible hike for anyone in decent shape, but it does take a few hours to cover that much distance, unless you are one of the insane people we saw running the trail.

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Ribbon Creek near the start of the hike

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Someone has done some wood carving near the bike racks

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Another shot of Ribbon Creek

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Take time to admire the views

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The sun was in a very bad spot when we reached Ribbon Falls so I didn’t get any good pictures of the falls themselves

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