This post is more visual than wordy. Take a little trip with the DanOCan.com crew as we make our way up north to attend an event I’ve been trying to get to for several years.
This post is more visual than wordy. Take a little trip with the DanOCan.com crew as we make our way up north to attend an event I’ve been trying to get to for several years.
For our next visit we’re going to move a little further north up Highway 21 from Ferintosh to the village of New Norway. New Norway has a population of less than 300 people but has a lot of interesting old buildings and was quite fun to drive around and explore.
New Norway achieved village status on May 31, 1910, although the post office bearing that name was established as early as 1903. The name was apparently in common use going back even earlier to 1895. There really isn’t a creative story behind the name. The Olstad family arrived in Wetaskiwin and purchased some homesteads south of that area. Many other families of Norwegian descent settled in the area with them and hence the name.
New Norway dropped from village to hamlet status in 2012.
The building which is most eye-catching is the Bethesda Lutheran Church. It was built in 1910 and the steeple stands tall above the town, rivaled only by the water tower. It was hard to get a nice shot of it because of all the power lines which ran through our shots.
Not much to say on this one. We were just passing through and grabbed some shots so we didn’t spend much time in the town. Neither of us had been here before so this was a bit of a voyage of discover for us. No goals other than see some things we had never seen before.
Date of visit: June 9, 2018
“Shoot first and ask questions later.” It’s sort of how DanOCan.com operates. It is very rare that we know much about a place before visiting. Our style is much more about discovering an interesting place, doing some basic research about it to learn the history, and then move on to the next place. While I would love to be much more in-depth, the sad fact remains that this blog and associated YouTube channel make zero money so when you take away the hours spent working there isn’t much time to do it any other way.
Ferintosh, Alberta was an interesting — albeit very short — stop for us on this road trip. Located southeast of Edmonton and sandwiched between Little Beaver Lake and Highway 21, the town reminded us of Elbow, Saskatchewan; it’s the sort of place you feel relies heavily on the lake and recreational activities to keep it afloat.
The post office in the area was established in 1910 and Ferintosh became a village in 1911. It was named by local resident Dr. John McLeod for a town in Scotland. The street one block north of Main Street is “McLeod Street”, and I’m willing to make the leap of logic to assume it is named for him.
As far as small town exploration goes, the town hit three of my “Big Five” highlights — an old hotel, an old church, and an old school. All it was missing was an old service station and a grain elevator to complete the list.
The church was the first thing we saw as we came into town from the north. Located right along the main roadway into town, it was hard to miss. Still in a fairly bright and vibrant white color, it stood out nicely against the green grass and trees surrounding it.
The windows on the north side of the church have been modified over the years, with a couple of the arch windows removed and boarded over and replaced with more modern rectangular windows. One of the replacement windows lines up with the original whereas the second was installed where there was no window. Behind the church is parked a 1970s-era motorhome which, based on Google Streetview and some other images I found on the internet, appeared there around 2013.
Speaking of the internet, I was surprised at the lack of information about this church online. As mentioned above, we normally count on coming home and doing some light digging online to learn more about these places, put this church is a bit of a mystery. Image searches reveal few results and there doesn’t seem to be much of a history attached to it. Very odd.
On to the hotel…
The Ferintosh Hotel was the hub of activity in the town, at least judging by the number of vehicles out in front. We were short on time so we didn’t stop in, but it appears to be undergoing a lot of renovation work.
While searching online, I found a YouTube video from a user named “honesteddie2112” which shows the hotel in 2004 and, frankly, it looked a lot better back then.
A number of the windows have been replaced with smaller versions, the phone booth which used to be beside the front steps is gone, the robin egg blue color scheme has been replaced with grey, and there is now an overhang added to the side. The renovations appear to be ongoing so I won’t pass final judgement yet, but given the classic hotel look seen in the 2004 video, this one has the potential to fall into my “Victim of a bad renovation” category. We’ll see. At least someone is looking after it and appears to be doing a good business.
As for the school, we stumbled across it on our way out of town to the south. Clearly marked as Ferintosh School District #2345, it dates from 1940. There has been some expansion done to it in the years since and its most recent function was to serve as the Ferintosh Recreation Centre.
Today the school sits partially boarded up and marked as both “No Trespassing” and “For Sale”. I can’t imagine there is much a market for such a building simply because of the size — the cost of maintaining and heating such a facility would be enormous. It won’t go down as one of my favorite old schools of all-time, but at least it still exists.
So, that’s it from our flash through Ferintosh. I have seen picture of the grain elevator which once stood here and I’m sorry I missed the chance to see it. Having seen photos of it and given the location of the tracks right along the shore of Little Beaver Lake, it would have certainly been quite the sight.
So, what do you know about Ferintosh? Do you know the history of the church or the owners who are renovating the hotel? Interested in buying the school? Let us know down in the comments.
Another stop on our way home from Saskatoon along Highway 9 was Cereal, Alberta. I first visited Cereal in April of 2007 while doing some Geocaching. I remember being quite impressed with the town.
I’m not sure how I started digging into Cereal over the weekend while in Saskatoon, but I somehow managed to stumble across their Facebook page. On that page I came across a photo of Main Street taken in 1928. I thought it might be fun to stop in Cereal on our way home and see if I could find where the photo was taken from.
It wasn’t that hard, given how small the town was/is. Some of the comments made mention about the house on the far left of the photo, referring to it as “the Haines house”. The impression I got from the comments was that this house still existed and, sure enough, as we were heading south out of town I soon spotted it.
I didn’t have a printed version of the photo so I had to bring it up on my phone, make note of a couple of key points, then go back to my camera app and try and line up the shot. It’s not perfect by any means, but it is close enough.
The image is taken looking north. On the far left, now obscured by trees and bushes, is the aforementioned Haines house. Slightly further down the street is a two-story brick building, likely the bank. On the right/east side of the street, the old hotel still stands, although it clear has been renovated more than once and appears to have had an addition put on the back.
The most notable absences are at the far north end of Main Street. Where the train station once stood flanked by two grain elevators (the one on the east/left mostly visible while only the cupola of the western-most one is visible over one of the buildings), today stands a small park with a miniature grain elevator commemorating what was once there. The Cereal railway station still exists, but it has been moved to the western edge of town and is now the main building housing the Cereal Prairie Pioneer Museum.
When compared to many of the other towns along the Highway 9 corridor (such as Stanmore, Chinook, Richdale), Cereal seems to actually be doing quite well. There is a ball diamond and rodeo grounds and, of course, the museum. We think there is enough to see and do in the area to warrant a future weekend trip to the area — we really want to tour that museum!
If you drive Highway 9, you’ll pass a number of small towns between Drumheller and the border with Saskatchewan. Well, “town” might be a bit of a misnomer. Many of these locations are little more than a dot on the map and they are just shadows of what they were a hundred years ago.
If you look to the north as you pass by Chinook, you will see a derelict gas station. Today it is a patchwork of boards and signs requesting that people “KeePout Please”. As we drove by on the highway I mentioned to Emily that I had never stopped in Chinook before but I felt like we needed to make an effort to do so this time. “After all, one of these times we’ll drive by and it will be gone.”
On our way home a couple of days later, we made sure to pull off onto the side road and drive into Chinook. We stopped and snapped what we call a “documentation photo” — nothing artistic, no real thought behind it other than capturing an image of a building that will disappear one day.
With nary a second thought, I posted the image to Twitter. Before long, there was a Tweet from Jonathon Koch (@4gotten_alberta). Jonathon is one of those people I consider a good friend of DanOCan.com, despite not yet having met him in person. Anyway, Jonathon mentioned that the building was originally owned by the Cooley Brothers. With that nugget of information, I decided to do a little searching when I got home.
Now, I am not going to attempt to tell the story of Len and John Cooley in great detail. Instead, I’ll encourage you to head over to raycooley.com and read it there, direct from the son of Len Cooley. Ray passed on in 2001 but his words live on.
So, the Reader’s Digest version is this: In 1922, the Cooley brothers purchased a large livery stable and converted it into Cooley Brothers Garage, where they were agents/dealers for John Deere and the Ford Motor Company.
In 1927, the Cooley Brothers opened a brand new custom designed building to house their operation.
The building boasted running water (no one else had it) men’s and women’s toilets with sinks, and a make up room with couch in the ladies (it was said brother John often joined the ladies here after his divorce) and steam heat. The steam boiler was taken off the big steam engine, the one that the brothers bought when they went into custom breaking in 1917. The showroom wall facing the street was solid plate glass and could hold three cars – another first. – Ray Cooley, quoted from raycooley.com
One of my favorite things about this hobby is when something as simple as an abandoned building leads you down a rabbit hole and allows you to uncover a story that you otherwise might never have known about. I’m really happy that — 91 years later — the Cooley Brothers garage still stands and their memory lives on.
Do you have any buildings or locations that you have driven by multiple times but have yet to stop at? Is it still there or did you find “next time” turned into “never”? Let me know!
If you have followed my blog for any length of time, you’ll know we are big fans of the town of Rowley, Alberta. Founded in 1910, reaching its zenith in the 1920s, rediscovered as a setting for films and movies in the late 1980s, surviving the removal of its rail line in the late 1990s — Rowley is a town that just won’t say die.
Recent reports put the town’s population at eight people. As they say, on most days you could fire a cannon down its main street and not worry about hitting anyone. But, on the last Saturday night of the month, this ghost town comes alive with hundreds of people walking the streets, eating pizza, drinking beer, and listening to live music. Yes, this is Rowley on the famous “pizza night”.
My personal history with Rowley only dates back as far as 2010. May 29th, 2010 to be exact. It was a typical Alberta Spring day, meaning there were cool temperatures and wet snow all around. After a day of cruising up and down muddy backroads and putting my poor Infiniti G35X through more than it was accustomed to, we finally found ourselves in Rowley. We were actually attending the wrap-up of a Geocaching event but it coincided with the last Saturday of the month and Sam’s Saloon was in full swing.
Since that first visit, I have made the return to Rowley many times and we have made it back for pizza night four times. We usually try and pick a month in the non-summer season to avoid the biggest crowds.
I guess I should explain to the uninitiated that pizza night is a completely volunteer-run event put on by the locals that is used to raise money to maintain the town. There’s a great write-up by my good friend Johnnie Bachusky which explains it in great detail. Check out the links from my In The Press page.
For our April 2018 visit, we brought our trailer out to Rowley on Saturday morning. The town has a number of designated spots where you can camp and we think this is the best way to experience pizza night because you can drink beer in Sam’s Saloon and not have to worry about how you’re going to drive home afterwards. The camping is free but dropping a few bucks in the donation bin located outside the community centre is most appreciated.
Today it is Sam’s Saloon, but for most of the building’s life it served as a cafe and butcher shop, owned by Sam Leung. Sam ran the cafe up until he retired in 1968 at which point it sat unused. Sam would die in 1971 and is buried in nearby Rumsey — I keep meaning to make an effort to get out there to see if we can find his grave to pay our respects. (Don’t quote me on the dates, I’m going from memory because I’m trying to get this posted tonight and I don’t have time to do actual research.)
In comparing the photos of Sam’s exterior from 2010 to 2018, you can see where some of the funds raised have gone. The store to the left (west) of Sam’s now sports a sign which reads “Rowlet Trading Post” and has a new overhang and hitching posts have replaced the fence-like railing. Sam’s has a new sign but has lost the two classic wagon wheels which used to be mounted on the false front. And the newly-constructed version of the Lion Oil building stands where the old one was rotting away.
If you get a chance to come out for a pizza night, Rowley will not disappoint you. I didn’t even mention the classic grain elevators, the 1912 railway station, the old schoolhouse, the livery stable, the houses. There is a lot to see in a small place. Check out the video up towards the top of the article to get a good overview of what this place has to offer.
In addition, here is the link to my original post about Rowley and the Geocaching event which brought me to Rowley for the first time. It was fun for me to read it again because I had forgotten some of the details such as the ghost stories the locals told us about Sam haunting his old place of business:
*Note, some of the formatting is off and the links to the photos are broken because danocan.com was on a different hosting provider back then and not everything made the move to the new platform properly and I never bother to go back and fix it.
Our trees may not be busting out with leaves, but to borrow a phrase from Tom Petty, “I feel summer creeping in” and that means it is time to get back on the road and out exploring — at least as far as we can with fuel prices being so high. I guess the only consolation is future readers of this blog will look back and say “Don’t you wish we could get gas for $1.349 / L again?”
In what felt like our first outing in ages, we set off to Rowley for the monthly pizza night. We’ll get to that in a future post because we’re going to focus on the town of Big Valley first.
Big Valley is one of those places we keep coming back to. We’ve made recent visits in July of 2014, May of 2016 (when we road in on the train from Stettler), and in July of last year. There is some real magic in this little town of 349 people*.
While there was ranching and farming taking place in the area, the town really got its start when the Canadian Northern Railway came through in 1911. By the next year the CNR had built both the railway station and the roundhouse and maintenance shops. Big Valley was off and running and achieved village status on July 28, 1914. Just a few years later, in November of 1920, Big Valley officially became a town.
During that period of booming growth, the Anglican Diocese of Calgary was given $500 from Caroline Leffler of England, who requested that the money be used to establish a Church of England somewhere in western Canada. Their choice was Big Valley. A prominent site on the hill on the westside of town was selected and local craftsman Walter Dennis set about building the church which would become St. Edmond’s. The first service was held at the church in November of 1916.
In 1923, the bell tower was added to the northwest corner of the church, which allowed the entrance to be moved. Previously the entrance had been on the west side and often the harsh Alberta winds would cause snow to pile up against the doors. The new entrance offered a much more sheltered location. Apparently it was also at this time that the original stucco finish was changed to siding and painted in a more traditional cream color.
The blue paint dates back to 1974 when Big Valley was preparing to host it’s first homecoming, marking the 60th anniversary of the town. The church had ceased holding regular services in the 1960s and had fallen into a bit of disrepair. The locals wanted to spruce it up for the homecoming celebration and the story is that a local lumberyard had some leftover paint and donated it to the cause. While it is said not everyone was thrilled with the blue color, it has since become a local landmark and it’s hard to image it being painted in any other hue.
While Big Valley boomed up until the 1920s, things started taking a turn after that. In 1942 the town lost that status and reverted to being a village. By the end of the decade the turntable at the roundhouse was removed as the diesel era of railroading was getting underway.
However, Big Valley remained a town that refused to disappear like many others. The town’s grain elevator was erected in 1960. And, in the 1990s the tourism industry really took over with the running of the Alberta Prairie Railway which runs from Stettler to Big Valley in the summer months. (They used to run further south to Rowley but that line was pulled up and Big Valley is now the terminus.)
Now on weekends between May and October, the train brings thousands of tourists to Big Valley to walk the streets, see the historic sites, and enjoy a buffet meal in the local community centre. The boom times that looked like they would never end back in the early part of the last century indeed have arrived and Big Valley continues to survive and thrive more than 100 years later.