Dorothy

Call it a restlessness.  Call it a case of wanderlust.  Call it whatever you want.  I know it when I feel it, and on Sunday I was feeling it.  It is that feeling I get when I hear the call of the open road, when there is nothing I want more than to drop the windows, slide back the sunroof and crank up the iPod.  When that feeling is really strong – I’m talking “feel it in the pit of my soul, can’t stop my leg from bouncing while sitting at my desk in the office” strong, there is just one destination that will satisfy me.

Yes, it was time to visit Dorothy.

Dorothy is not my favourite ghost town, that distinction goes to Bents, SK.  Dorothy has the distinct advantage of being much closer than Bents; I can be there in a couple of hours.  However Dorothy was my first ghost town and, much like your first car, it will always occupy a special place in your heart that no other can take.

I have lost count of the number of visits I have made.  Because I have been visiting Dorothy for so long (close to 15 years?) I feel the urge to always try and see it from a fresh perspective.  While most times I come in and make a beeline for the churches, this time I took a slower more gentler approach.  I took the time to cross the river on the yellow bridge and ease my car up the hairpin turns to a high point overlooking the valley.  I wanted to drink it all in, to gain a sense of perspective, to verify that all my familiar landmarks were still there waiting for me before I finally came down and entered the town proper.

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I pulled into the park on the west end of town.  I took time to explore Arthur Peake’s ranch house, which was originally built just west of town in 1897 before being moved to the current location in 1986.  It was an amazing place, fully furnished as if old Arthur himself was just waiting for you to tie up your horse, shake the snow from your coat and join him for a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs.  Believe it or not, it was the first time I had ever been inside of it.

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I approached the old Catholic church from the rear, as slowly as one would try to sneak up on a rabbit or other game animal.  The church has undergone a number of renovations since the first time I ever saw it back in the late 90’s.  The roof has been replaced and the windows and doors repaired.  On my Facebook page I described Dorothy like a woman who has had extensive cosmetic surgery but you know deep down she is still the same great gal she always was.

Most of the information I have says the church was operational from 1944 to 1967, meaning it has been abandoned a lot longer than it was ever in use.  Regardless, if you listen closely it isn’t hard to hear the echo of a church bell ringing across the valley or the haunting images of those who came to this place to worship.

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Circa 1999 on the left, 2011 on the right.

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The renovations to the United Church (1932-1961) are even more extensive.  The roof is repaired, the doors and windows are no longer vacant portals and there is a fresh coat of paint.  Even the grass and weeds have been neatly trimmed.  It looks as if it could be ready to host your wedding next weekend if need be.

I’m sure seeing the supposedly dead town of Dorothy coming back from the brink serves as an allegory for one’s own life and experiences, but frankly I am too tired to go down that road tonight.  Dorothy has served her purpose – she has allowed me to re-centre myself, to go back to the foundations of my personality and gain comfort from knowing that everything I felt was lost is still there, it just needed to be rediscovered.

I certainly cannot claim Dorothy as my own.  I often comment that this likely the most photographed ghost town in Alberta.  No, many people have discovered her charms over the years, but she has enough to share with everyone.  Each person who visits Dorothy brings his/her own perspective and thus gets to experience her in a different way. 

A visit to the old Alberta Pacific grain elevator and my personal quest is complete.  In keeping with my own personal ritual, I bid a farewell to Dorothy one more time, promising to visit her again sometime soon.  Perhaps next time we shall get together on a cloudless moonlit night, or some time when a crisp blanket of white snow covers her?  I don’t know when it will be, I just take comfort from knowing the next time I need her she will be there…waiting…

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