Badlands Weekend: October 2017

It is amazing how life can get in the way of living.  Despite recently completing my short video of the Highway 27 bridge, I had completely forgotten about the photos I had taken that weekend.  It was only as I was going through my monthly ritual of reviewing snapshots on my phone and moving the “keepers” onto my desktop computer did I discover I had some RAW images from our trip to Drumheller still in my “Imported” folder.  This morning I finally had a chance to sit down and get them completed and sorted away.

On that trip our overall destination was to the East Coulee School Museum to see the premier of the the film “Forgotten Prairie” which starred our friends from  If you haven’t seen it yet, take twenty minutes out of your day and watch it; I provided the link for you.  Getting to meet with filmmaker Rueben Tschetter at the event and at the after party really filled me with a desire to make better videos, something I am going to work hard at over the next few years.

But, as always with us, the destination is only part of the journey.

First stop of the trip was the old hotel in Acme.  I find myself being drawn to old hotels more and more.  While they do not dominate the skyline of small prairie towns in the way that grain elevators do, they often share a historical connection as both were often tied to the coming of the railroads.

Acme Hotel

A bit further along the trip, Emily noticed an old school just north of the highway so we detoured to check it out.  It was Sunbeam School. While prairie hotels have become a more recent fascination for me, old schools have always captivated me.  I have been making a concerted effort to better document my visits to these schools.  This includes properly Geotagging my photos and maintaining a spreadsheet of the various Alberta School Districts, their dates, locations, and the fate of the building itself.

Sunbeam School (later Sunbeam Community Center) is your classic one-room schoolhouse.  There is the main entrance at the front which leads to a small cloakroom and then the main classroom behind, complete with the row of windows which were used to capture as much natural daylight as possible.  Sunbeam operated from 1911 to 1949.  The school has a more modern addition on the back and a bright red metal roof.  It doesn’t appear to see much use anymore, but the newer roof and with most of the windows intact, it should withstand the ravages of nature for quite some time yet.

Sunbeam Community Centre Sunbeam

Our next stop of note was the community of Delia.  The town was having its annual Fall Fair and we wanted to stop in and see our friends Jim and Donna.  Jim, of course, is the driving force behind Vanishing Sentinels and he and Donna were selling Jim’s books and creations at the fair.

Delia is a bit of a hidden gem, close enough to the highway to be an easy detour but far enough off the road that most people won’t bother.  We had lunch at the Delia Cafe and managed to learn plenty of the local politics by listening in to the conversations taking place amoungst the local population.  I love small towns.


Delia Cafe


This old service station has been given the creative treatment


Another classic service station


Delia, AB grain elevator

After spending the night at the Badlands Motel in Drumheller, we set out sites for home.  The Badlands hotel has become our de facto place to stay in Drumheller.  It’s older, inexpensive and clean — the “big three” when it comes to our motel selection criteria.  The hotel has a newer section and two older sections.  Our room was in the what appears to be the older of the two older sections, or at least the section which hasn’t been as well maintained.  There was nothing wrong with it but it certainly won’t appeal to everyone, but we like places with a throwback vibe.

Before getting on the road, we had breakfast at WHIFS Flapjack House.  Likely the best breakfast in Drumheller, it is part of the Badlands Motel so motel guests get a discount on their meal.

We had been up quite late the night before so our journey home was quiet and uneventful, except for when I lost my cellphone at one of the scenic overlooks above the town which resulted in a bit of backtracking.  We did pull off the highway and capture an image of the grain elevator at Kirkpatrick, however.


With that, another whirlwind weekend was in the books.  Without a doubt, the area surrounding Drumheller is one of our favorite places to explore.  Whether it’s Pizza Night in Rowley, grabbing a beer at the saloon in Wayne, revisiting the churches and grain elevator in Dorothy for the umpteenth time, there are always old haunts to check in on and new discoveries waiting to be made.


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Bridge Over the Red Deer River

It was mid-October last year when Emily and I were heading out on a day trip to the Alberta Badlands.  We were traveling on Highway 27 just east of Morrin and we came down the coulee and noticed the construction.  Uh oh, another class iron bridge has been slated for replacement and eventual demolition.

Naturally, we had to take the time to stop and capture some drone footage of the bridge before it is gone.

According to a photo I found online of the plaque on the bridge, it was built by the Dominion Bridge Company in 1959.  Dominion Bridge is a company familiar to anyone who is a fan of these classic high-sided iron crossings in Canada as it seems they were responsible for the construction of most of them in these parts.

Documenting the present is our way of recording the past for the future.  Perhaps one day many years from now someone will be driving along Highway 27 and see the old bridge pilings, or they may be looking at an old map and realize the road used to follow a slightly different alignment and think to themselves “I wonder what the old bridge looked like.”  Maybe they’ll do a Google search (Or whatever search engine we’re using in the future — hey, it could happen.  Remember AltaVista?) and find this short video and get an answer to their question.

Regardless, with the loss of the zoo bridge in Calgary and now this bridge over the Red Deer River, these relics of the past are rapidly disappearing.


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Johnston Stevenson Stopping House: Follow Up

As promised last month, I am posting some additional information regarding the Johnston Stevenson Stopping House.  Having now gotten my hands on the Nose Creek Valley History book (see Sources, below), I have a bit more detail about the location.

What I did learn was that on this site (SW1/4, Sec. 36-27-1-W5) that John M. Dixon (or, Dickson, depending on the source) owned the original stopping house.  While it could have been around since the late 1870s, it was only registered in the name J.M. Dixon on July 23, 1886.

Johnston Stevenson took title of the stopping house on December 9, 1895 and remained a stopping house until 1900 when the Airdrie Hotel was opened.

This was also a location for the dropping of mail along the Calgary-Edmonton railway, starting around 1891.  For the first few years mail was simply dropped off opposite the stopping house which often necessitated the wading through marsh land to retrieve the mailbag.  From 1900-1903 a mail catching tower was installed but then mail service ended when the Airdrie post office was opened.

The book shows a photo of a stopping house, but it doesn’t make note as to whether this is the Johnston Stevenson stopping house or the Dickson-Stevenson Stopping House which was located a bit further north.  I’ve included a reproduction of the original image here because it provides a visual context for what a typical stopping house would have been like, even if it isn’t the exact one which is the subject of this posting.


We also know that the Nose Creek Historical Society was granted permission by the site’s landowner Donald Copley in 1975 for the erection of the monument.

I’m sure there is more information out there and I hope one of our local historians will be able to help fill in more of the details.


Wilk, S. (1997). 100 years of Nose Creek Valley history. Calgary: Nose Creek Historical Society. p.64-65,67

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The Last Trip of 2017

The year 2017 will go down as a very good one for the blog.  We managed to increase our number of postings and thus we attracted a lot more visitors this year compared to 2016.  It turns out people like new and fresh content and I hope we can continue to produce new photos, videos, and stories to share in 2018.

Our number of visitors more than doubled (145% increase) and our number of views was up by 131% too.  While we’re less than a blip on the internet’s radar, we are reaching a larger and wider audience.  If we were a business, we would be very happy with our results!

We spent more than a week on the road, visiting family in Saskatchewan over the Christmas break.  The bitterly cold temperatures limited our outdoor activities but we still managed to get in some exploration.  We didn’t really have set destinations, other than wanting to visit the abandoned elevators of Dankin, SK.  Recently damaged by wind (or so we think), these elevators have deteriorated significantly since we first saw them a couple of years ago.  If you like grain elevators, you owe it to yourself to get out there and see them before they are gone.

But, let’s be honest, that is not just true for Dankin but for all the places we explore and visit.  We lost a lot of history in 2017 and there is no reason to think 2018 will be any different.  Get out there and take photos!  Whether they are artistic in nature or more for pure documentation purposes, we need to capture and record these gems before they disappear.

Happy New Year, everyone!  I hope you enjoy the photos from our trip because there are a lot of them.


What appears to be a former general store.  Craigmyle, AB


Perhaps a former hotel?  Craigmyle, AB


Built in 1915 as a Methodist church.  Last service was held in 2004.  Now owned by Craigmyle Historic Society.  Craigmyle, AB


Craigmyle School.  Craigmyle, AB


Seymour Hotel now only hosts pigeons.  Hanna, AB


Aberdeen, SK


This former hotel barely hangs on.  Smuts, SK


Smuts, SK


Holy Trinity Church.  Built in 1926.  Saskatchewan


Saint Mary’s Church.  Built in 1923.  Near Alvena, Saskatchewan.


Saint Mary’s and its bell.


I love the details and angles on this church.


Another view of Saint Mary’s near Alvena, SK


Classic prairie barn, this one built in 1949


Fish Creek Church, one of my all-time favorites.


The area NW of Saskatoon is a hotbed of Ukranian churches.


The former elevator in Wakaw, Saskatchewan did not have a Merry Christmas


The remaining elevators of Wakaw, SK


Every good prairie town had a Chinese-Canadian restaurant and this one in Wakaw is a classic.


Cudworth, Saskatchewan


Breman, Saskatchewan


Dana, Saskatchewan


At first glance we thought this was a former school, but those tend to have larger windows.  Near Totzke, SK.


Moon rising over the privately-owned elevator from Totzke, SK.


Fun and vintage hotel signs in Vanscoy, SK


Faded advertising in Tessier, SK


The Tessier elevator has been recently painted and is in great shape.  Tessier, SK


Another recently-reno’ed elevator, this time in Harris, SK


Fiske, SK


Dankin, Saskatchwan.  The elevators are heavily damaged and not in good shape.


This service station in Eatonia, SK must have been one of the largest operations around in its heyday.


The grain elevator of Laporte, SK


I wonder what year the “Over 87 Years” sign was placed on this building in Mantario, SK.


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Johnston-Stevenson Stopping House

 Sometimes you stumble across something completely unexpected and it causes you to fall into a research hole…

This posting got its start back in the summer, August 8 to be exact.  I had a day off from work and I decided to load the dog into the Liberty and go out and do some Geocaching.  I decided to focus on some caches outside of the city and to get some dirt on my tires.

I made several stops that day but the most intriguing was at a small turnout just north of Airdrie and west of Highway 2.  (I’m old-fashioned and still can’t bring myself to call it the QE2).  I pulled into a small turnout just off the pavement and stopped.  In the middle of the open grassland was a small area bordered by a low fence.  Through the prairie grass I could see a faint trail leading up to this fenced off area.


Well, what do we have here?

Tucker and I picked our way through the grass, watching for snakes as we went.  Once we got close enough I could read the sign above the gate:  “Dickson-Stevenson Trail  1875-1931  Original Edmonton Trail  Nose Creek Historical Society 1981  M.D. of Rocky View”

Immediately, I knew we were onto something good here.

I was aware of the Dickson-Stevenson Stopping House, mainly because of the rest area between Airdrie and Crossfield which bears its name.  I have stopped there numerous times, usually when coming home from some adventure and needing one last break for the final push back to Cochrane.


Through the gate we go…

Once inside the gate, I noticed some more markers.  One made mention of the Nose Creek Historical Society “Recognizing 16 Historical Sites North of the Bow 1972-1981”.  Most interesting.  I knew of a couple of others but I had no idea there were so many others.  Since visiting this location, I have since comed to learn that the Nose Creek Historical Society was established in 1969 but fell victim to the fate that many historical societies face:  a declining lack of interest leading to a disbanding.  NCHS ceased operations in 2014.

One of the other markers was a piece of metal set into concrete with stamped letters.  It explained that where I was standing was the location of the Johnston-Stevenson Stopping House from 1879-1900.  The marker was placed by NCHS in 1975.


I had never heard of this stopping house.  Once a common site across the prairies, these stopping houses were strategically located to allow travelers a place to grab some food and water and perhaps stay the evening.  They were often stops for stagecoaches.  Clearly this was one of the stops between Calgary and Edmonton, as was the aforementioned Dickson-Stevenson stop just a bit further north of here.

The second marker was placed by NCHS in 1979.  It was titled “To The Many Unmarked Graves of Nose Creek”.

Buried Here
Bessie Stevenson 1809 – 1901
William Stevenson 1887 – 1887
Male Stage Coach Passenger



Wow!  After finding the Geocache (which I had almost forgotten about as the original reason for stopping here), I walked back to the Liberty all the which knowing I had more research to do and that this would form the basis for a blog posting.

However, two things surprised me.  First, how little information about this stopping house seems to exist and, secondly, how long it would take for this posting to finally happen.

As I have mentioned many times, my research into these sites is usually very basic.  If Google and Bing (yes, I am THE person who actually uses Bing on a regular basis) don’t reveal much then I’m pretty much done.  Those searches came up pretty dry, mostly pointing to the page for the Geocache I had found.

That page does provide some information and makes reference to a Calgary Herald article from October 1, 1975.  The page tells us Johnston Johnstone Stevenson was wounded in the Riel Rebellion of 1885 and operated a ferry in Calgary prior to taking ownership of the stopping house on July 23, 1886.  When the Calgary-Edmonton Railway opened in 1891, he became the post master at the stopping house which remained in operation until 1900.

Since we know Bessie Stevenson (presumably a daughter) was buried somewhere around here in 1901, it is likely Stevenson remained in the area even after the stopping house closed.

I tried doing an image search of the Glenbow Archives which is usually a great source of photos, but couldn’t find any pictures of Stevenson nor the stopping house.  However, I did learn there is a second plaque for the Johnston Stevenson Stopping House in downtown Airdie, which I haven’t had the chance to see in person, but it reads:

This cairn, erected by the Nose Creek Historical Society, is to commemorate the first stopping house in the area (SW 1/4-36-27-1-W5th), where, four miles north of the present town of Airdrie and one day’s journey from Fort Calgary, food and lodging was available to patrols of the North West Mounted Police in the late 1800’s.

Also as part of my “research”, I learned the NCHS published a book in 1997 entitled “100 Years of Nose Creek Valley History”.  I have requested to have a copy delivered to the library here in Cochrane, in the hopes it will provide me with more information about the Johnston-Stevenson Stopping House and also give me some new ideas of places to seek out.  Perhaps it will have a list of the other fifteen sites they marked.

I will be sure to provide an update once the book arrives and I have a chance to learn more.

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Seymour Hotel

For today’s lunch-time posting, I want to highlight a classic prairie hotel. The Seymour Hotel in Hanna, AB has certainly seen better days, but that is what makes it so appealing to me.

It was September 11, 2017 and Emily and I were working our way home from Saskatoon. We pulled off Highway 9 into Hanna, likely for a fuel stop.

I don’t know why we ended up driving around town, but we soon found ourselves in front of the abandoned Seymour Hotel. Well, in all honesty, we didn’t know what it was called and only learned its name by doing some online digging which revealed an older photo which still had a sign intact on it.

Speaking of signs, the most notable feature of this building is the neon sign on the roof. Situated on the southwest corner and standing tall and proud in all its faded glory, it still proclaims “HOTEL”, although the only guests taking up residence at the Seymour are pigeons and mice.

I’m not sure exactly when it opened, but it appears to have been around 1913. In terms of closing, there were articles in the local newspaper discussing its potential demolition as early as 2011 or 2012, so it must have closed somewhat earlier than that.

I doubt it will be around much longer, especially considering its “sister hotel” the New National was demolished in 2014.

Once a common sight, more and more of these classic railway boomtown hotels are fading away much like the sign atop the Seymour.

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STST2017: Fort Steele

I’ll bet you thought we were done with the Scratch the Surface Tour 2017, didn’t you?  Well, surprise!  There’s at least one more story to tell…

It had been more than thirty years since I had visited Fort Steele, British Columbia.  My dad and I were on a camping trip to the Cranbook area back in 1986 and he brought me here.  I honestly didn’t remember much about it, other than the water wheel visible from the highway and that I absolutely had a great time checking out the historic town.

Much has changed since then.  My dear old dad is long gone, having died less than four years later.  I also learned that Fort Steele was an actual town and not a conglomeration of buildings like Heritage Park in Calgary.  That makes our visit as the last major stop of STST2017 all that more special.

Fort Steele was originally founded in 1864 as Galbraith’s Ferry and its location on the banks of the Kootenay River made it an ideal location for a crossing.  In 1888 the name was changed to Fort Steele to honour legendary Canadian lawman Sam Steele of the North-West Mounted Police.

In the 1890s, the Canadian Pacific Railway bypassed Fort Steele and instead ran its line through nearby Cranbrook.  That was the beginning of the end for Fort Steele and its population declined until it became a decaying ghost town.

The BC government designated as a historic site and preservation/restoration efforts were undertaken.  By 1969 the town was opened to the public and it remains a significant tourist attraction to this day.

It was Thanksgiving Day when we visited and we arrived as soon as the gates opened.  Those two factors combined to give us a chance to check out the town with very few people around.  It had a true ghost town feel.

DSC_5491 DSC_5498

Not every building in the town is original.  Some have been constructed as recreations of buildings that had been lost over the decades.  Others have been moved to different spots in town.  The old townsite is somewhat bisected by the current alignment of BC Highway 95.  In other cases, some buildings have been deemed too far gone to be saved so they have been fenced off and are being allowed to naturally decay, which gives the public a chance to see what would have happened to the whole town had the government not stepped in.


This was the original bakery and has been allowed to deteriorate naturally as the building was unsuitable for restoration



The town is not just a collection of buildings, however.  They also have animals such as chickens, horses, and sheep.  There are also live shows presented inside the Wildhorse Theatre, but we didn’t get to see a performance because of the holiday and being in the off-season.


The town also operates a small section of railway and has a collection of rolling stock in various states of repair.  Again, because of the timing of our visit we weren’t able to partake in any train rides, but we were able to have a soup and sandwich at the small cafeteria which operates inside the main entrance building.


An old rail car weathers away

And, Finally, I was able to revisit the famous water wheel that I remembered from my previous visit and from all the trips I have made down this highway without having time to stop. I was able to learn this water wheel is a restoration and was originally located about 25 miles west of Fort Steele and was built by Perry Creek Gold Mines Ltd. It has a diameter of 32 feet and contains 72 buckets, each of which can hold 70 gallons of water. Clearly the sign was put in place before Canada converted to the metric system.


Emily provides a sense of scale next to the Perry Creek Gold Mine water wheel

Fort Steele is dog-friendly and has a separate entrance to the left of the main building. Normally people enter through the building itself but because that is also the location of the cafeteria they can’t allow pets in there. It was great that Emily and I could have Tucker with us so we didn’t need to rush our visit knowing he was waiting either in the motel or in the car.

Fort Steele was certainly worth the stop and we both want to come back again — here’s hoping it won’t take me another 31 years to get here!

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