If you have followed my blog for any length of time, you’ll know we are big fans of the town of Rowley, Alberta. Founded in 1910, reaching its zenith in the 1920s, rediscovered as a setting for films and movies in the late 1980s, surviving the removal of its rail line in the late 1990s — Rowley is a town that just won’t say die.
Recent reports put the town’s population at eight people. As they say, on most days you could fire a cannon down its main street and not worry about hitting anyone. But, on the last Saturday night of the month, this ghost town comes alive with hundreds of people walking the streets, eating pizza, drinking beer, and listening to live music. Yes, this is Rowley on the famous “pizza night”.
My personal history with Rowley only dates back as far as 2010. May 29th, 2010 to be exact. It was a typical Alberta Spring day, meaning there were cool temperatures and wet snow all around. After a day of cruising up and down muddy backroads and putting my poor Infiniti G35X through more than it was accustomed to, we finally found ourselves in Rowley. We were actually attending the wrap-up of a Geocaching event but it coincided with the last Saturday of the month and Sam’s Saloon was in full swing.
Since that first visit, I have made the return to Rowley many times and we have made it back for pizza night four times. We usually try and pick a month in the non-summer season to avoid the biggest crowds.
I guess I should explain to the uninitiated that pizza night is a completely volunteer-run event put on by the locals that is used to raise money to maintain the town. There’s a great write-up by my good friend Johnnie Bachusky which explains it in great detail. Check out the links from my In The Press page.
For our April 2018 visit, we brought our trailer out to Rowley on Saturday morning. The town has a number of designated spots where you can camp and we think this is the best way to experience pizza night because you can drink beer in Sam’s Saloon and not have to worry about how you’re going to drive home afterwards. The camping is free but dropping a few bucks in the donation bin located outside the community centre is most appreciated.
Today it is Sam’s Saloon, but for most of the building’s life it served as a cafe and butcher shop, owned by Sam Leung. Sam ran the cafe up until he retired in 1968 at which point it sat unused. Sam would die in 1971 and is buried in nearby Rumsey — I keep meaning to make an effort to get out there to see if we can find his grave to pay our respects. (Don’t quote me on the dates, I’m going from memory because I’m trying to get this posted tonight and I don’t have time to do actual research.)
In comparing the photos of Sam’s exterior from 2010 to 2018, you can see where some of the funds raised have gone. The store to the left (west) of Sam’s now sports a sign which reads “Rowlet Trading Post” and has a new overhang and hitching posts have replaced the fence-like railing. Sam’s has a new sign but has lost the two classic wagon wheels which used to be mounted on the false front. And the newly-constructed version of the Lion Oil building stands where the old one was rotting away.
If you get a chance to come out for a pizza night, Rowley will not disappoint you. I didn’t even mention the classic grain elevators, the 1912 railway station, the old schoolhouse, the livery stable, the houses. There is a lot to see in a small place. Check out the video up towards the top of the article to get a good overview of what this place has to offer.
In addition, here is the link to my original post about Rowley and the Geocaching event which brought me to Rowley for the first time. It was fun for me to read it again because I had forgotten some of the details such as the ghost stories the locals told us about Sam haunting his old place of business:
*Note, some of the formatting is off and the links to the photos are broken because danocan.com was on a different hosting provider back then and not everything made the move to the new platform properly and I never bother to go back and fix it.