The story of Mitford, Alberta is not unique from many other towns that dotted the prairie landscape at the end of the 1800s. It started with a dream, in this case the dream of one Tom Cochrane, who is apparently no relation to Senator Matthew Cochrane who founded the nearby Cochrane Ranche in 1881.
Arriving in the area in 1885, Tom Cochrane saw an opportunity and built a sawmill. After hooking up with the Calgary Lumber Company, the stage was set was success. However it was not meant to be. While the railroad was directly responsible for the creation and growth of many prairie towns, it would end up being the downfall of Mitford. The mill was positioned on a steep slope and the railway had a difficult time reaching it. Without an easy way to get the product to market, the writing was already on the wall.
Around 1888, a seam of coal was discovered nearby and Mr. Cochrane immediately invested in it, hoping to add it to his lumber mill and expand the industrial base of the town. By 1890, both the mill and the mine were closed.
Not one to give up, Cochrane decided to start a brick factory. However, the raw materials were of inferior quality and the brickyard only lasted two years before it also closed. Apparently Cochrane moved to Canmore for a period of time before heading back to his native England.
There are three main remnants of Mitford which can be seen today. The first is the cemetery. Surrounded by private property, the only legal way of accessing the cemetery is via the air and that’s why on St. Patrick’s Day I took the drone for a fly over the cemetery for a little tour.
The second remnant of Mitford is one of two buildings from the town known to exist. The oldest dates from 1886, which would have been the earliest days of the town. Originally built as the saloon (every good working town needs a place for the men to drink!), it was converted into a school in 1892.
The building survived the 1898 fire which destroyed most of the town, which had been pretty well abandoned by that point. It was moved to the town of Cochrane in 1899. Today it sits just outside the historic downtown core and serves as the local Masonic Lodge, a role it has fulfilled since 1929. Multiple additions and expansions have occurred over the years but it remains a tangible link to Mitford.
And, finally, the third remnant of Mitford — the church. Originally built in 1892, it too was moved to Cochrane in 1899. It has moved around the town but seems to have nicely settled in as a chapel space at the Bethany Care Centre.
The history of Mitford has been very well documented. I did not attempt to go into great detail on many aspects of the town as that would simply be duplicating much of the work that has been done by others before me.
Bachusky, J. (n.d.). Mitford. Retrieved March 24, 2017, from http://ghosttowns.com/canada/alberta/mitford.html
Doering, C., & Biggart, C. (2013, March 28). In search of Mitford Alberta part 1. Retrieved March 24, 2017, from http://www.bigdoer.com/7399/exploring-history/in-search-of-mitford-alberta-part-1/
Doering, C., & Biggart, C. (2013, April 22). In search of Mitford Alberta part 2. Retrieved March 24, 2017, from http://www.bigdoer.com/8065/exploring-history/in-search-of-mitford-alberta-part-2/
Doering, C., & Biggart, C. (2013, March 28). In search of Mitford Alberta part 3: Bow River Coal. Retrieved March 24, 2017, from http://www.bigdoer.com/8338/exploring-history/in-search-of-mitford-alberta-part-3-bow-river-coal/
Calgary, U. O., & Laval, U. (2002, January 01). Our Roots – Page view. Retrieved March 24, 2017, from http://ourroots.ca/page.aspx?id=880673&%3BqryID=031708dd-f758-46a5-b293-e170b5c382f9 (Electronic copy of “Acres and Empires: A History of the Municipal District of Rocky View no. 44”)