Journey to Garden Plain

It was just your typical 1335km weekend road trip.  While the primary goal was to attend the Southern Alberta Weekend (SAW) which is an annual Geocaching event put on by the South East Alberta Region Cache Hunters (SEARCH).  Of course, for us getting there is more than half the fun so we had an interesting route picked out.

Our route took us north of Hanna, which is the completely wrong way to go if one wants to get from our house to Medicine Hat.  Our reason for this detour was thanks to a National Film Board video from 1973 called “Every Saturday Night”.  If you have time, give it a watch here:

https://www.nfb.ca/film/every_saturday_night/embed/player/

Every Saturday Night, Tom Radford, National Film Board of Canada

In the film, you can see clips of Springwater School, some shots of the community hall at Garden Plain, and some scenes in Dorothy — complete with two elevators in the background, no less!  But, it was one shot in particular that caught my attention, and that was of a classic Alberta Wheat Pool elevator in Garden Plain.  At least, using context clues from some other scenes in the film we believe it to be Garden Plain.  Our mission was to try and locate where this shot was taken.

2016-08-18

Alberta Wheat Pool elevator at Garden Plain

The route I planned would take us to the Sharples elevator, the Bleriot Ferry, then to Springwater School, across to St. Peter’s Lutheran Church near Scapa, and then finally to Garden Plain.  All in all, that’s a pretty decent road trip when it comes to seeing some abandoned/historical sites.

Springwater School is such a unique building.  On the inside it looks very much like every other one room schoolhouse which used to dot the prairies, except for the stage at one end.  On the outside it is not the simple wood frame construction we are used to seeing.  It is built from stone and that undoubtedly is one of the reasons it remains so wonderfully preserved and intact.  This was my third visit to Springwater over the last ten years.

St. Peter’s is a place I had only visited once before, that being in July of 2006.  I didn’t even remember the proper name for it, so in my conversations with other people I would just refer to it as “a great country church somewhere north of Hanna”.  Being able to give it a proper name (and record the coordinates in my Nuvi for future reference) will make things easier from now on.  St. Peter’s has a unique story, at least according to the sign out front.

Apparently it was originally built in 1911 up in Wetaskiwin.  When that congregation disbanded in 1920, the parishioners dismantled the steeple, cut the church into eight-foot sections, loaded it onto railcars and had it shipped to nearby Craigmyle.  From there it was loaded onto sleighs and moved to its current location.  That all took place in the winter of 1920-21, which is quite the feat.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

So, all that remained was the trip to Garden Plain.

Locating Garden Plain wasn’t that hard to do.  Google Maps still claims to know where it was and there was also a Geocache conveniently named “Garden Plain” hidden on the grounds of the community centre.  I guess it was a little too easy to find because I failed to do any more detailed research, not even looking closer at Google Maps to determine where the old railway would have run.

When we arrived at Garden Plain Hall, we were struck by the stark contrast between the two sides of the buildings.  The north side, which we approached from, has been the recipient of what we dubbed “The Worst Addition/Renovation to a Historic Community Hall Award.”  A large metallic Quonset has been tacked onto the side of the building which, while undoubtedly adding valuable space, has ruined the character of the building.  Peeking in the windows, we can see it appears to house the kitchen/food preparation space for the community hall.

Our visit was limited to looking in windows, as the building itself was secure and locked.  Fortunately, the south side was not expanded so it retains the look of a typical community hall from the turn of the last century.  There also was a small playground space that once housed a swingset, but only a few strands of rope remained.  Overgrown grass and a microwave haphazardly disposed of in a trash barrel complete the look of a building that doesn’t see The Badlanders play dances here “every Saturday night” any longer.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

With our tour of Garden Plain Hall complete, we set out to see if we can find where the elevator once stood.  Armed with nothing more than a black and white printout of the screenshot from the film, we head east along a grid road towards the spot Google Maps shows the town’s name.

We are immediately encouraged because almost immediately we spot the telltale signs of an old railbed.  While the tracks were removed years before, we can easily see the path the tracks would have cut across the prairies.  Right on!  The tracks were running in a southeast/northwest alignment at this point which perfectly jived with what Google Maps had told me about the location of the town.  I keep saying “town”, but I honestly don’t know if Garden Plain ever amounted to much more than an elevator.

We come to the first grid road heading south.  “Road” might be a bit of a misnomer as it was more dirt than anything else.  Road conditions were dry so our Rondo should have been able to navigate it with no concerns, but the topo map on my handheld GPSr showed the town as being one more road to the east.  In what proved to be a misguided move, I turned around and headed back to the north and then continued on to the east.

At the next grid road we once again aimed south.  If I had done better research before leaving home, we should have been paying attention and looking for the old railbed along this stretch as the track alignment turned east not long after the spot we had last see it.  Not know this, we didn’t think we would intercept the railbed until we got to the next grid road a couple miles south of where we were.

The handheld GPSr slowly swung around and showed Garden Plain off to our right (west).  That dirt road I bailed out on certainly appeared to be our best chance of finding the right spot, but now the fuel in the Rondo’s tank was getting low and we still had a fair distance to cover to get to Hanna and civilization.  We had to make the tough choice to put an end to this expedition and try again some other time.

On our way to Hanna, we discovered a couple other hidden gems we didn’t know about.  One was the Netherby Cemetery and the other was an old schoolhouse just north of there. The school appeared to be on private property and in a manicured corner of the yard so we didn’t explore it but instead just took photos from the road.  With time and fuel running short, both the school and cemetery would need to wait for a future trip.

20160819_123257

Netherby Cemetery

20160819_123325

Netherby (?) School

The rest of our day was uneventful.  We made it to Cactus Corner near Hanna before the low fuel light came on, had our ham sandwiches, and then continued on to Medicine Hat where we spent the rest of the weekend.  Some of those details will be coming up in a future post.

Posted in History, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Perseid Meteor Shower

I’m normally an “early to bed, early to rise” kind of person.  I don’t mind waking up before the crack of dawn if it means getting an early start on a road trip or heading to the airport to jet off somewhere.  So, how did Emily and I find ourselves rolling into the garage at 2am on a Saturday morning?

It’s all Richard McBride‘s fault!

He posted on his Facebook page with an offer that simply could not be refused.

“I would like to go to some dark sky area on Friday night to watch the Perseid Meteor Shower. I was thinking perhaps out to the Crossfield Rest Area by Hwy. 2, but that has highway lights nearby. Perhaps out to Horseshoe Canyon?

Regardless, I need someone to come along with me. If you are interested, please post here.”

Before long, a number of hearty souls had expressed an interest and the discussion turned to “Where should we go?”

When it comes to night sky watching, the McDougall Memorial United Church is always foremost in my mind.  I’ve been out there many times at all times of day and during all seasons.  It’s one of my favorite places so I was quite happy when the group agreed with my suggestion.

We had six people, two dogs, a collection of snacks, some chairs, and blankets too.  Judging from the number of cars coming and going in the  parking area, we weren’t the only ones who had the same idea.

We did manage to see a fair number of meteors, some quite spectacular in nature.  And, I managed to capture one decent image. McDougall at Night

Being so clear, the temperature dropped more and more the longer we stayed out.  We never did completely lose the moon which added a little more light pollution than we would have liked, as did all the aforementioned cars coming and going.  Still, it was a very enjoyable evening out with some friends and that’s what it’s all about, right?

Posted in History, Photography | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Historic Calgary Week 2016

Historic Calgary Week is an annual event put on by the Chinook Country Historical Society.  It features walks, talks, tours, and a variety of events that showcase the history of Calgary and area.  Over the last few years, it has become one of my favorite times of the year as it provides a wealth of opportunities to get out, explore, and learn about the rich heritage we have right in our backyard.

Emily and I had the opportunity to attend a number of the events and to use Historic Calgary Week as an “excuse” to check out some other venues as well.

Glenbow Townsite Tour:  Saturday, July 23

Our first event of HCW2016 was a tour of the Glenbow townsite.  This tour required both pre-registration and a fee of $25/person because it involved being shuttled to the site by golf cart.  I had done this tour two or three years ago and I knew Emily would really enjoy it.  Led by Shari Peyerl who works for the Archaeological Society of Alberta (Calgary Centre), this tour offered a glimpse into the town of Glenbow, as well as the stories of the people who lived there and worked in the sandstone quarry.  I highly recommend you do this tour when it is offered.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Okotoks Cemetery Tour:  Saturday, July 23

Right after our Glenbow tour, we needed to head to the far side of Calgary to spend an hour or so in the Okotoks Cemetery.  Karen Peters of the Okotoks and District Historical Society battled through a rainstorm to lead our hearty group around the cemetery while sharing stories of some of the people buried there.  There were a lot of names, a lot of dates, a lot of family relationships so I should have been making notes to try and help keep them all straight.

History of Bow Valley Ranche:  Saturday, July 23

Our busy day wrapped up in Fish Creek Provincial Park.  The stories of John Glenn, William Roper Hull, and Pat Burns all intertwine in what is now the south end of the city.  I won’t bother retelling the history because you can read about it on the Bow Valley Ranche webpage in more detail than I could provide.

We were unable to tour the inside of the house as it was booked for multiple weddings, but our guide Wayne Meikle did a fantastic job.  He’s worked for many years in Fish Creek as a planner and founding member of the Friends of Fish Creek and we hope to take one of his Halloween tours one day.

E.P. Ranch:  Sunday, July 24

Another one of the few events which required pre-registration, this was an exclusive tour of the EP Ranch near Longview.  I must admit I knew nothing about this venue before attending this tour but it proved to be very interesting on a number of levels.  First, the history of the property is fascinating, especially when one considers the ties to royalty — Edward, Prince of Wales purchased the property in 1919 and made several visits to the property.  Secondly, the present day efforts to restore and preserve the property after the floods of 2013 decimated the area.  The current owners are passionate about their work and are doing a great job in maintaining the integrity of the site.

It was also a chance to meet Fraser Shaw, who is one of the authors of the RetroActive blog, which is always posting historical stories about Alberta.  You can read Fraser’s story about the E.P. Ranch restoration work in his December 2015 posting here.

Apparently there was a waiting list of more than sixty people who wanted to get on this tour, so we were very fortunate to make the cut.  It will be interesting to see what the future holds for this property as the restoration work of the buildings continues.

20160724_104522

Checking out the chicken coop which has been covered by a protective structure

20160724_111417

One of the owners of the property explains the restoration work

 The E.P. Ranch is a privately owned Provincially Designated Historic Resource and is not open to the public.

Bar-U Ranch:  Sunday, July 24

This was not part of HCW, but since it is located just down the road from the E.P. Ranch, we decided we should stop in for a visit.  The BAR U is a National Historic Site and it ties in very well with our “ranch” theme of the week.  Well worth the price of admission if you have a few hours to spare.

20160724_123845

Overview of the Bar U Ranch

20160724_131024

A couple of old trucks at the Bar U

Walker House:  Sunday, July 31

Located on the grounds of the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, the Walker House was built in 1910 by Colonel James Walker.  The history of the area was interesting but I must admit the inside of the house left much to be desired.  Only a small section was open for the tour and it was the modernized section which is used by the City of Calgary Parks department for some of their educational programs.  Apparently more of the house is open during Doors Open, so we may return one day.  The photos and exhibits inside the house were nicely presented and a walk around the pathways in the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary is always a pleasant experience.

20160731_103814

The Walker House

The Schools and Teachers of Morleyville:  Sunday, July 31

The McDougall Memorial Church is a place I have stopped many times over the years.  This was the second time I had been to a HCW talk here, with this one focusing more on the schools that educated the town’s children more than the church itself.  One of my favorite sites, I’ll never pass up a chance to visit, especially when the church is open.  Sarah Harvey is a wonderful presenter and knows so much about the site that you can’t help but get engaged in the topic, whatever it is.

 How Calgary Became the Realm’s “Horsiest” City:  Monday, August 1

We had met presenter Ken McGuire at the E.P. Ranch tour so, combined with Emily’s love of all things horse, attending this presentation was a no-brainer for us.  Hosted in the Railway Orientation Centre just outside the gates of Heritage Park, this was a great narrative outlining the history of horses in the Calgary area.  I learned many things I didn’t know before, including that the land just east of present day Heritage Park was once a horse racing track in the 1920s.

Heritage Park:  Monday, July 1

Since we were already in the area, we decided to visit Heritage Park on Heritage Day.  We actually managed to take advantage of the free pancake breakfast before the aforementioned “horse talk” and then returned to spend the rest of the day exploring the park.  Even though we have been to the park multiple times over the last few years, Emily and I both enjoy revisiting old favorites as well as we always manage to find something new we hadn’t seen before.  It’s not inexpensive, especially now with the new parking fee, but we still think it’s worth it.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Conclusion

Well, that’s it!  Historic Calgary Week 2016 is officially in the books.  We would like to offer both our thanks and our congratulations to the many volunteers and supporters of the Chinook Country Historical Society who made these events a reality.  There were many other events we would have loved to have attended but had to miss because of work commitments.  Hopefully some of those presentations will be offered again in the future and, if not, we’re sure there will be plenty of new locations and tours to enjoy in 2017.

Posted in History | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Glacier Park Lodge

Glacier Park Lodge

tourist-and-lodge

Photo from CBC Website, see link above.

Tourist Alicia Fox stopped in Rogers Pass after noticing the abandoned Glacier Park Lodge on the side of the Trans-Canada Highway. (Chris Corday/CBC)

So sad to see the iconic Glacier Park Lodge sitting abandoned and falling into disrepair.  I haven’t driven that stretch of highway since 2011 so I had no idea things had ended up so badly for this historical property.

I think a visit is in order before things get any worse or disappear entirely.

Posted in History | 2 Comments

Badlands Exploration

There are so many things to see in the badlands of Alberta that it is impossible to see them all in one trip.  Our normal strategy is to simply pick a couple key things to target and then try and fit in other sights as time allows.  On this mild late-January day, our targets were the abandoned grain elevator at Dorothy and then Sam’s Saloon in Rowley for pizza night with some friends.

After stopping for a quick Geocache , we continued on to the village of Rosebud.  The village is known for its dinner theater,  which is something I’m sure we’ll take advantage of some day, but on this visit we’re more focused on some of the old buildings in town and the scenery of the valley surrounding us.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The next stop was Taylor Siding, a place neither of us had been before.  There is not much left there other than the remains of a couple of buildings and some wonderful old cars which have, unfortunately, been damaged by gunfire.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We finally make our way to Dorothy.  This is a town which has changed much in the almost twenty years since I first visited it.  The two churches are no longer abandoned and in disrepair and instead have been fully restored.  In addition, a number of the lots appear to have been cleared up and are much less weedy.  While you can’t say Dorothy is on the rebound, it certainly has stopped sliding into oblivion.

As a side note, Dorothy makes a couple of brief appearances in the music video for Tom Cochrane’s “Life is a Highway”.  You can see the elevator appear between the 1:22 and 1:26 mark and one of the churches appears in its original rundown condition between 2:14 and 2:31.


The grain elevator is now on life support, having its roof blown off by a terrible windstorm late last year.  While it has been open to the elements for quite some time, having the roof missing will certainly hasten the demise of this local landmark.

When we arrive in Dorothy, there is a fellow there setting up a quadcopter to shoot some footage of the elevator.  At first we thought he was a structural engineer or something but we would soon learn his name was Garnet Price and he is simply a fellow abandoned places enthusiast.  He has a YouTube channel and I’ll update this posting if/when his footage is posted.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

EDIT:  Garnet’s footage of the Dorothy elevator is here!

After Dorothy, we had two more stops to make — both of them bridges.  The first is the large wooden bridge which linked East Coulee on the north side of the Red Deer River  to the Atlas Coal Mine on the south.  The bridge is in a sad state of repair and is another Badlands landmark likely to disappear before too long.

Access to the bridge is now prevented by two new-looking chain link fences, one on each end.  This is a far cry from the porous protection methods which did little to deter me from venturing out onto the bridge ten years ago.  I highly recommend you visit “Off the Beaten Path” and read their write-up there about the bridge, not only because of the amount of detail but also because they are friends of DanOCan.com.

The second bridge is much better preserved but no less interesting.  It is the Rosedale Suspension Bridge, which was used by miners in Rosedale to access the Star Mine.  We ventured across the bridge to the north side and then returned to the car to allow Tucker the Dog a chance to test his footing — he did perfectly fine!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And, finally, we worked our way north to the ghost town of Rowley, AB.  On the last Saturday evening of every month, the locals volunteer to cook pizzas in the community hall and bring them over to Sam’s Saloon where cheap beer, free popcorn, and all sorts of conversation flow with ease.  Locals mix with tourists and everyone has a great time.

20160130_162231

 

 

Posted in History, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Montana Motels and Mermaids

When it comes to traveler accommodations, there are two main trends we see today.  The first is blandness.  The market is dominated by large chains run by faceless corporations which strive to provide the same experience no matter where you are staying.  Individuality is shelved in favor of standardization.

The second trend it towards modern.  “Newly renovated” scream the illuminated signs which dot the highways and byways of North America.  Customers demand that their rooms have new carpet, flat screen TVs, the latest and greatest bathroom fixtures.  Somehow we have become conditioned to believe that using a robin egg blue sink made in 1972 doesn’t provide the same quality of life that a gleaming white fixture made in 2010 does.

It is difficult to find a motel which not only bucks against these trends but actually embraces its history.  The O’Haire Motor Inn in Great Falls is just such a standout.

I don’t recall where I first heard about the O’Haire or, more specifically, the Sip ‘n Dip Lounge it houses but undoubtedly it was from one of the many vintage/quirky/offbeat roadside attraction blogs I follow.  Regardless of where the seed of an idea sprouted, it soon grew into a full-fledged travel bucket list item.

Emily and I needed to make a trip down the US border so she could complete her immigration landing process and officially become a permanent resident of Canada.  That was all the reason we needed to drive a couple extra hours to Great Falls so we could finally take in these quintessential kitschy attractions.

But the real story of the O’Haire starts just south of the Canada/USA border in the small Montana town of Shelby.  It was here in the early 1950’s where Edgar O’Haire started his legacy of motel ownership.

Edgar O’Haire worked in construction and one winter he decided to build a motel as a way of keeping his crews busy through the slow winter season.  That motel must have caused quite a stir in the little town of Shelby all those years ago, as evidenced by the towering sign crossing Maple Avenue at Main Street which beckons to travelers.  The sign is so dominant that one doesn’t expect to find the actual motel a full two blocks away.  The road behind the motel is even named O’Haire Boulevard!

Since Emily and I normally stop in Shelby anyway — it’s our last chance to buy cheap US gasoline — it was an easy decision to search out this original O’Haire Manor Motel on our way home.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Photos courtesy of Emily J. Overes, used with permission.

Now, for the newer Great Falls version of the O’Haire…

Edgar O’Haire took everything he learned from ten years of running the motel in Shelby and decided to apply it to a motel in Great Falls.  Working with his brother Bill, they set out to build a motel which featured a number of unique innovations and construction details.  Construction started in 1961 and by the Spring of 1962, the motel was ready for its first guests.

The walls were made of cinder blocks filled with sand.  This made the rooms extremely soundproof and also gave the motel a measure of fire resistance that few others could rival.  The building was also constructed with a helicopter landing pad on its roof!

The motel is also unique in two other manners:  the central parking lot is located indoors so guests do not need to go outside to go between their car, their room, and the lobby, restaurant, and lounge.  When it comes to Montana in the winter, the importance of this idea should not be overlooked.

Also featured prominently is the indoor swimming pool on the third level.  The pool has a transparent window built into it which allows patrons in the second floor lounge to watch the people swimming.  I’ll talk about that a bit more when we get to the Sip ‘n Dip section of this post.

Now, with all this buildup in our minds, we must admit the motel was a bit of a letdown when we first drove up.  All of the awesome retro signage which we had seen online in various historical photos of the property has been replaced.  From the outside, the motel doesn’t really offer any hint as to the vintage wonder waiting inside.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The first hint that you are seeing something out of the ordinary is at the front desk, where a large control panel filled with lights shows the status of each room.  Amber indicates the room is clean and available, green indicates the room has been rented and is occupied, red shows the checkout is incomplete / room needs to be cleaned, and blue indicates a holdover guest — at least based on the documentation I found and our personal experience.

Coming from the indoor parking area into the hallway reveals a set of four lights outside each room, corresponding to that room’s status on the main board at the front desk.  This allows the housekeeping staff to have “at a glance” details about which rooms need attention and which rooms do not.  It was a brilliant idea and there is a sense of satisfaction in seeing something so simple in design still functional five decades later, although I am sure it was not simple to implement in 1961.

The room itself was nicely furnished and mostly pretty modern looking as the motel does mention they were updated in 2009.  There are a couple of things besides the vintage cowboy artwork over the bed that reveal its true age, however.

The first is the push-button light switch just inside the door.  Four buttons are clearly marked as Entry, Vanity, Bed, and Desk, and pushing one turns on the light in the corresponding section of the room.  Each of those areas have their own similar switch, making it easy to control the lights from anywhere in the room.  The buttons provide both tactile and audible feedback as they perform their function with a satisfying “clunk”.

The second awesome retro touch in the room is the fold-down ironing board hidden behind the mirror, made by the Iron-A-Way Company of Peoria, Illinois.  When Emily pulled open the mirror and brought the ironing board down to reveal this vintage wonder, I think we both audibly gasped and then let out a series of incoherent sounds of pure joy.  I am so happy the ironing board survived the updating of the rooms.  If the motel owners ever make the mistake of tearing these out, I will drive down to Montana and buy one for our house — honest!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After a meal at Clark and Lewie’s, the motel restaurant, it was time for us to wander up to the second floor to check out the Sip ‘n Dip Lounge.  This place is likely worthy of its own post, but I’ll combine it with this one.

The Sip ‘n Dip started life as a art deco lounge, but in 1965 it was converted to a tiki bar, which is the theme it maintains to this very day.  There are two main attractions to the lounge.  First, there is Piano Pat, who has been playing this venue almost since it opened.  She’s now in her 80s and doesn’t play on Saturday nights so we didn’t get to see her perform but we will better plan our next visit so we can see her in person.

The other is the aforementioned window to the swimming pool which allows people seated at the bar and nearby table the opportunity to watch people swim and, on certain nights, see the mermaids.  The mermaids are apparently a relatively new addition to the Sip ‘n Dip legend, starting as a New Year’s Eve promotion in the mid-90s but they have become a very popular attraction.  They were performing on our Saturday evening so we got to experience seeing them (well, at least one) while we were there.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Everyone we met during our short stay was really friendly, whether it was the staff at the front desk, in the restaurant, or in the lounge.  We really felt welcome and it was a pleasure to get the opportunity to check out this unique piece of Americana.  We can’t wait for a return visit one day!

SOURCES:

Hammond, Robert P. “How to Build Business with A Whirly-Bird Pad.”  Tourist Court Journal, February 1966, Pages 14-19.  Retrieved from  http://ohairemotorinn.com/history/ on January 12, 2016.

Information Binder from O’Haire Motor Inn motel room.  January 10, 2016

 

 

 

 

Posted in History, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

What did I learn from this report?  That I really need to find time to write more.  Only five postings over the course of an entire year?  Wow!  Maybe now that things appear to be settling down into a routine there will be more opportunity to share.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,500 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 25 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment