Alberta Ghost Town Tour: Day One

Each year since 2014, we get together with a group of friends and tour around the small towns and abandoned places in an area of Alberta for a weekend.  This year our tour took us back to the area surrounding Drumheller and the Alberta badlands.

In previous years I would always consider this a photography trip, but my focus this year was less on the photos and more on video.  Whether it’s a symptom of owning a drone or simply the desire to branch out into a new medium, I find myself becoming more interested in telling the story of the places we visit using video versus photos.  Is it a phase or a new direction for DanOCan.com?  I guess there’s only one way to find out.

So, I invite you to take a few minutes and join me on a video tour of our first day of the Alberta Ghost Town Tour, 2018 Edition.

Golden Grain School

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Camrose Heritage Railway Station

I originally thought this post was going to be more video-based but I failed to capture enough footage to make any sort of compelling video.  So, instead, it becomes another blog post with some photos.

We stumbled across this museum by accident.  At least it was an accident in terms of planning on visiting it.  We were driving through Camrose and saw the signs on the road and decided we should take a few minutes and visit.  It was already getting late into the afternoon and we still needed to get home to release the dog before his bladder exploded.

The Camrose Heritage Railway Station and Park is run by the Canadian Northern Society.  We are well aware of this group thanks to previous visits to Big Valley and Meeting Creek.  In fact, the group was very accommodating to us and made a special effort to get someone to Meeting Creek to let us into the railway station there as part of the Central Alberta Museum Tour 2017.  I’ll link to my YouTube videos of those places down below at the end of the post.

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The main museum is housed inside the 1911 Canadian Northern Railway station.  This is not the original location of the station, as it was originally located a bit east of the main town core but it was moved here in the early 1990s prior to becoming a museum.

The museum grounds also house the Morgan Garden Railway, a G-scale railway which contains models of a number of familiar sights, including the aforementioned Meeting Creek and Big Valley.

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In addition, there are a number of smaller buildings on the grounds as well.  These include a watchmen’s shed, which was originally a passenger shelter as well as a railway bunkhouse.  Each building contains photos and artifacts which highlight the railway history of the area.  Camrose was an important railway hub for the area, with both Canadian Northern and Canadian Pacific running lines into the town.

Back inside the main museum, there is the White Elephant Gift Shop which is stocked with various items donated by the community to the museum.  Proceeds from the sales go to supporting the Society and their efforts.  We bought a couple of small things.

I feel like this place deserves a far better write-up than I am giving them but, as I mentioned above, this was an unplanned stop and a brief visit.  We’ll be sure to check them out again at some point when we have more time to do a proper visit.

This visit occurred on June 9, 2018.

Here are the links to my videos from Big Valley and Meeting Creek.

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We Finally Make it to History Road

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.

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We Knew Little of New Norway

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.

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One of the houses which appears to be unoccupied

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The building has a beautiful mural painted on the front

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Service stations of this vintage are always a favorite of mine

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The Community Centre dates from 1939

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

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Flashing Through Ferintosh

“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.

Ferintosh Church

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.

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Screenshot from a video by YouTube user honesteddie2012 – see the full video here:  https://youtu.be/GMuHVN7EFyo

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.

Ferintosh Hotel

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.

Ferintosh School

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.

 

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A Quick Stop in Cereal, Alberta

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.

cereal_then and now

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!

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Cereal, Alberta//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

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Cereal, Alberta//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

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The Cooley Brothers of Chinook, Alberta

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.”

Chinook Motors

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.

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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

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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!

 

 

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