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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Retrospective: McDonalds Museum

This is the second in my now-officially-a-series lunch break postings… Today’s post was inspired by an article I saw in my Facebook Newsfeed as I ate breakfast this morning.

McDonald’s museum in Des Plaines will be demolished next month

I was immediately transported back to May of 2014 when I was in Chicagoland for one of my many visits with Emily when we were in our “long distance” phase. She had to work so I borrowed her car and drove to Des Plaines to see this museum. The museum was not open on the day of my visit. It was not until later I would learn it hadn’t been accepting visitors for a few years due to some flood damage. Despite being closed and only a replica built in 1984, I still felt a connection to this place. While it is fashionable to crap all over the golden arches now, as a kid getting a Happy Meal when my mother would go into Lethbridge on Saturdays to do the grocery shopping remains a cherished childhood memory. Even today, there are times where “You just want to inhale a Big Mac, you know?”, as Emily had heard me say more than once.

The restaurant is a recreation, but the sign is original, albeit not in the exact location where it was when Ray Kroc opened on this spot in 1955.

It’s too bad the McDonalds corporation has become so large that it lost focus on its humble past.

Farewell little museum.

More Information:

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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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