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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STST2017: Vancouver Island

While Vancouver Island was our goal for this trip, we actually had very little time on “The Island” itself.  We arrived in Nanaimo in the evening and spent the night with our friend Lila and her husband.  The next day we traveled to Tofino and Ucluelet and then the day after that we made it to Victoria where we joined our friends Chris and Helen for dinner.  The next morning we were back on the ferry and starting the trip home.

While it may have been a bit of a whirlwind visit, we managed to fit in a lot of different sites and today I’ll be highlighting three of them.

Sunset at Amphitrite Point Lighthouse

The first of three highlights is the Amphitrite Point Lighthouse in Ucluelet.  The current lighthouse was opened in 1915 after the previous light was destroyed by a tsunami in 1914.  The lighthouse itself is a rather drab looking bunker of a building and certainly doesn’t fit the stereotypical vision of what a lighthouse should look like.  However, the location where it sits is phenomenal, complete with waves crashing against rocks.  We were fortunate to be there right at sunset and had beautiful light for capturing photos and footage.  While there is no access into the lighthouse itself, it remains a location well worth a visit.  If you have time, walk around the Wild Pacific Trail and check out the area.  There are ocean vistas around every corner.

Stone Butter Church

The second location I’m highlighting is the oldest of the three.  It is the Stone Butter Church which was built in 1870 and located near Duncan, BC.

The night we were visiting Lila, we were gathered around the kitchen table and looking over some old books about ghost towns and abandoned places.  While I was engrossed in a book about ghost towning in Alberta in the early 1970s, Emily and Lila were discussing this church.  I apparently missed the entire conversation so I had no idea what to expect when Emily and I decided to detour by this church on our way from Ucluelet to Victoria.  All she promised me was “You are going to be blown away by this place!”

The GPS tried to route us up the road to the front of the church but it was signed as a private road, so we had to approach the church from the back.  This involved using a pullout on the side of the road and then climbing a long stone staircase up a hillside.  It certainly makes for the most dramatic approach as the stone hulk slowly comes into view as you reach the top.

It is known as the Stone Butter Church because the missionary Father Peter Rondealt paid the people who helped build it with funds he earned through the sale of butter from the dairy herd on his mission’s farm.

Apparently, in 1931, Ripley’s Believe It or Not” featured the church in a 1931 report in which they described it as “The church of no services…in which no congregation ever gathered.”  This was actually incorrect, as the church was used for a period of ten years before the bishop determined it would be better to have a church on church-owned land, rather than relying on the verbal agreement the church had in place with the local natives.


According to some basic internet research, there were three attempts at restoration, going back as far as the 1920s and as late as 1980.  From what I gather, the biggest restoration effort took place in 1958 which is when the roof was repaired.  Sadly, the efforts made to preserve the church are no longer in evidence anywhere as it sits open to the elements and, as you can see in the above photo, vandals.


According to the legends, the local native population consider the church to be haunted.  We didn’t experience any paranormal activity but there was certainly a sense of unease, most likely because we weren’t sure about the legalities of us visiting the site with it being located on a native reserve.  Clearly we are not the only ones who visit it and photograph it, based on the number of hits one can find on the internet regarding this church.

And, finally, our last highlighted stop is the Kinsol Trestle.  Completed in 1920 by the Canadian National Railway, it was in operation until 1979 and abandoned in 1980.  It would sit for more than 30 years before being restored and incorporated into the TransCanada Trail in 2011.

Kinsol Trestle

It stands 44m high and spans 188m across the Koksilah River, making it one of the largest wooden trestles in the world.  It is an impressive structure and walking across it certainly has to make one impressed with the engineering feats we were able to accomplish almost 100 years ago.

We used the GPS to navigate to the trestle and it took us on quite the tour through rural Vancouver Island.  We were just beginning to get a little skeptical about whether or not we were going the right way when we suddenly saw the parking area which provided easy access to the trail.  It was just a short 300m walk to the north end of the trestle.

The structure is so large it is difficult to capture in photographs.  Since it wasn’t very busy I put the drone up in the air and captured some footage.  The video below shows some highlights of the Vancouver Island portion of the trip:  Long Beach, the aforementioned Amphitrite Point Lighthouse (starting around 0:57) and the trestle (starting around 2:00).  Check it out and please let me know what you think in the comments.

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STST2017: Othello Tunnels

Sometimes the best discoveries happen by accident.  We were heading down the Coquilhalla Highway on our way to the west coast and Emily and I kept noticing small signs along the side of the road in the shape of steam engines.  Naturally, some furious search engine action ensued and we soon learned that the names we had been seeing such as Portia, Shylock, and Juliet were all named for the Shakespearean characters and were originally railway stations located the canyon.  Then Emily hit upon the most amazing discovery — the upcoming Othello Tunnels.  Naturally, a detour was in order and we were venturing off the highway and on our way to Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park.

We stopped at the north end and walked along the old Kettle Valley Railway right-of-way to the first tunnel.  We were immediately awestruck with the surrounding area.  There are a series of five tunnels with trestles connecting them over the river.  The geography of the area makes it incredible to believe that they had the ability to survey and construct a railway through such terrain back in 1914 when the tunnels were built.

We would soon learn that the Coquihalla Highway is mainly built upon the old railbed first constructed by the Kettle Valley Railway.  The KVR’s main engineer was Andrew McCulloch and he was the driving force behind the creation of these tunnels, and is also most often credited with the naming the stops along the way after Shakespearean characters.

The KVR used the line until 1959 when a series of major washouts rendered it inoperable.  It was officially abandoned in 1961 and became part of the Provincial Park’s trail system in 1986.  I’m sure this area must have been quite the playground for the area’s more adventurous youth before it was opened to the public.

We took the time to explore the first three tunnels before we needed to get back on the road.  Like many of the places on the Scratch the Surface Tour, we were here just long enough to realize we need to come back with more time to explore further.  I was very tempted to throw the drone up in the air but the steep canyon walls prevented me from getting a solid GPS signal lock and I wasn’t willing to risk losing the drone in the rushing water below should something go wrong.  Still photos will have to do, I guess.


Emily outside one of the tunnels


Looking through one tunnel towards another


View from atop one of the old trestles which are now hiking trails


The outside of this tunnel was improved in 1951


Ministry of Environment – Coquihalla Canyon Nature and Culture

Canada’s Historic Places

Touring the Kettle Valley Railway

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Farewell to Sears

I’m going to take a little detour from the vacation posts and instead talk about Sears.  I’m not interested in discussing what went wrong for the once-mighty retailer in terms of a retail case study, but rather looking at the history of the chain and one store in particular.

The history of Sears in Canada goes back to 1953.  A year before, Canadian retailer Simpson’s created a joint partnership with Sears, Roebuck  and Company from the US.  The result was Simpsons-Sears, which was a fixture on the Canadian retail landscape well into the 1980s.

Any child of a certain age remembers when the Sears Christmas Wish Book would arrive in the mail and then sitting down with a pen and circling all of the toys he/she wanted for Christmas.  Today’s youth will never understand just how magical those days were as building an Amazon wishlist just doesn’t have the same charm.

While those warm memories of childhood remain, I am guilty of not doing my part to keep Sears as a viable company.  Prior to the visit which inspired this post, I think the last time I had been inside a Sears store was in 2012.

Speaking of visiting Sears, that is exactly what Emily and I did last Thursday evening.  Our target was the Sears in located in North Hill Mall.  We had slightly different goals, with Emily’s being to see if there were any great deals as part of the liquidation proceedings and mine was to document the store.

The history of this Sears store goes back to 1958.  North Hill Shopping Centre has the distinction of being the first shopping mall in Calgary.  It was originally constructed as an open-air mall with a canopy covering the area between the stores.  The Simpsons-Sears was a free-standing building located on the east end.  This store remained relatively unchanged, even when the mall underwent a massive renovation in 1973 which converted it into an enclosed shopping centre.  At the time of its construction in 1958, this would have been a very suburban location, whereas today it is practically inner city.  The location has been a target for redevelopment for quite some time, with plans announced back in 2014 that the location was going to be converted into highrise condominiums.

On the evening of our visit, the store was a bit of a disaster inside.  Customers have been rooting through the merchandise like vultures picking over the carcass of a freshly killed deer.  It was very symbolic of how the once-proud pillar of Canadian retail has become a mere shadow of its former self.

While we may make another visit to see what is left when the discounts get deeper, we both realize this may have very well been the last time we ever set foot in a Sears.  The name and the legacy will join other retail legends like Woolworth’s, Kresge, and Eaton’s which have disappeared.

With that, here are some shots from inside Sears:

The escalators inside Sears


Well, we know how well that worked out, don’t we?


A sad sight — this poor teddy bear sits alone inside the already-abandoned portrait studio


The wear on these door handles shows how much they have been used over the years


Stepping out through these doors into the parking lot one last time

Which long-gone retailer do you miss the most?  Any memories of Sears you’d like to share?  Comment below.

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