In this episode, we take our canoes out onto the waters of the Red Deer River and float down to check out an abandoned railway bridge which has not seen a train in almost forty years — the Mintlaw Trestle.
Construction on the trestle began in 1911 by the Alberta Central Railway (ACR) and was completed in 1912 by the Canadian Pacific. It is the second longest CPR bridge of its type in Alberta and the longest and highest bridge in central Alberta.
For several years there have been rumblings about the Mintlaw viaduct becoming a key piece of a “rails to trails” project linking Red Deer and Sylvan Lake, but it seems those plans have stalled. While I have no direct knowledge of the road blocks, I would imagine the two biggest issues are the same as all of these projects seem to face — a lack of funding and the approval of adjacent landowners.
I would love to have access to one of the ends of the bridge to see it from up high, but for now that remains a pipe dream.
I have now visited the Cameron Lookout three times, the first in August of 2006, the second in August of 2011, and now again in 2020. After each visit the physical pain dissipates and the memories of the scenery have me making plans for my next visit.
It was on this last trip that I decided I should do more research into the history of this lookout, beyond the basics I have read on other sites. As usual, my main source became the online archives of the Calgary Herald. Those only interested in the trail report can skip down a bit further where I’ll give an overview of the hike itself.
The excellent blog “Hiking With Barry” lists the construction date of the lookout as 1929 and the date of abandonment as 1954. I used that as my baseline.
The first mention in the archives of “Cameron Lookout” comes in 1930. In an article discussing the permit system which is being implemented for those wanting to camp in the Bow River national forest, there is mention that “…his men would again command posts located at Blue Hill, Moose Mountain, Black Rock, Junction Mountain and Cameron Lookout on Mount Burke.” The wording certainly makes it seem as if this was not the first season for manning the station on Mount Burke. This, combined with the lack of any previous mention of the lookout before 1930, seems to imply the 1929 construction date.
ABOVE AND BELOW: Cameron Lookout in August 2006
Further evidence comes from Alberta Historic Places, which also lists the construction date as 1929, although no source is cited. They do show a great picture of supplies being packed in to the lookout. I wish I had seen the photo before doing the hike as it would have made for a great “then and now” opportunity.
The next reference I found came in 1937 in an article by Brian Burke, who sounds like a rancher in the area — perhaps a relative of Denis Burke, the namesake of the mountain upon which the lookout sits? This article says the cabin was built in 1930. Whether you subscribe to the 1929 or 1930 date, the really interesting part comes in the description of the lookout as it was in 1937.
“Wooden shutters protect three-feet high windows, which run the full length of the west, south and east walls. In the centre of the cabin is a two-foot square table, with a map of the district.”
“A telephone line connects the lookout with Pekisko Cabin and all stations in the Bow River Forest Reserve.”
“Water, fuel for the gasoline stove, and all supplies are packed up once a week by the ranger at Pekisko Cabin, who takes his pack ponies right to the top of the mountain.”
In my quick research, I was not able to find any firsthand sources confirming the 1954 closing date.
The approach to Mount Burke has changed since the last time I did the summit. You used to start at the parking lot outside of Cataract Creek campground and follow the path along Salter Creek where you would find a stone cairn marking the “packers trail” which was the route used by the construction crew and supply teams.
The floods of 2013 apparently wiped out much of the old approach. The new approach involves following a cutline almost immediately upon leaving the parking area. This straight approach reduced the distance a little but adds a fairly significant hill which must be climbed up and over. It doesn’t seem like much at the start of the day when your legs are fresh, but on the way home this hill was the cause of much cursing.
The cutline intersects with the original trail while still in the forested section. Just keep following the switchbacks up the mountain. The trees will get thinner, the views will open up, and the ground becomes more rocky.
You will reach the ridge, which is my favorite part of the hike. In the Brian Burke article I referenced above, he calls it “the Hog’s Back” and describes it as “…about 50 feet long and four feet wide, with sheer drops on each side…” I’m not big on exposure but I do not find this section difficult to navigate, although a mistake here could be costly. It is the most technical section of the hike but even it does not require the use of hands to traverse.
After crossing the Hog’s Back (I’ve never heard it called that before but I like it better than “the ridge section”) you simply grind it out up the screen and talus to the lookout. The trail is well marked the entire way and getting lost would be difficult.
I’m not in very good shape and there were plenty of rest breaks along the way. The ascent took four hours and the trip down took about three. Round trip distance was 12.5km. You can watch the video below to see how the hike played out for me:
The famous “pizza nights” are on hold thanks to the virus, but there is still plenty to see in Rowley, one of the most famous ghost towns in the entire province.
For today’s visit we are joined by Johnnie Bachusky, author, journalist, and longtime friend of DanOCan.com, along with Vincent Bonnay, a videojournalist for Radio-Canada, and Doug Hampton, caretaker of Rowley and treasurer of the Rowley Community Hall Association.
My focus on this trip was to revisit some scenes from the Canadian classic film “Bye Bye Blues” (1989) and see how things have changed since film wrapped more than thirty years ago. I also brought along some photos from previous trips to Rowley and compare them to the scenes of today.
And, naturally, there has to be a little drone flying in there as well as we capture the three classic prairie grain elevators in all their glory under the sunny sky.
It was a great visit and I think you will have some fun checking it out too.
Some still images from our day in Rowley are below:
Is it odd to develop a connection with someone whom you never met?
Ever since the Alberta Library made the archives of the Calgary Herald available online, I have spent hours going through old editions of the newspapers. Sometimes it is just to browse through random editions to see what catches my eye, other times it is because I am in the early stages of research of a topic and I want to see what has been written about it, especially from a perspective of someone who was there at the time.
More often than not, when I want to learn about a topic I will find Ken Liddell had written about it in his column.
Ken was born in Regina, SK in 1912 and worked in the newspaper industry his entire life, a true “newspaperman”, if I may borrow a term that was acceptable back in his day. Ken started with the Regina Leader-Post in 1930 and then moved to the Edmonton Bulletin in 1949 as provincial editor and city editor.
In 1950, he moved to the Calgary Herald where he started a column called “Furrows and Foothills”. In his first column for the Herald, he started by saying the following:
“It’ll be nice to get out and visit with the folks. Whether they are following the furrows or riding the foothills, there’s a bunch of great people — just folks — in this part of the country. And they have interesting stories to tell of how they got to be what they are.”
And that is how it would go for the next 25 years. Ken’s column would eventually run three times a week and the name “Furrows and Foothills” would be dropped in favor of the much-more-to-the-point “Ken Liddell’s Column”, but the focus would never change during his time at the Herald. His beat would expand to cover all four western provinces but it remained focused on Ken getting out onto the highways and backroads and telling the stories about what he found and who he came across.
In this regard I feel a true connection to Ken. This was a man who essentially got to live my dream and got paid for doing it. He was more focused on the people whereas I am more about the places but that’s because of my introverted tendencies. His medium was primarily the written word whereas mine is becoming more and more about video. Regardless of the tools, the spirit is the same.
It is interesting for me to think about what it would have been like to meet Ken. He was born just a couple of years before my maternal grandfather so they would have been cut from the same cloth. Both of my grandfathers died before I even reached the age of three, so I don’t know what the grandfather-grandson relationship is like, but nevertheless I feel like Ken — through the timelessness of his columns — is like a virtual grandfather to me. “Hey gramps, want to load up the car and head down to Nanton this weekend?”
I had hoped when I started digging into more recent articles about Ken that I would uncover how he lived happily into his 90s and never stopped exploring the world around him. However, it was not to be. I learned that Ken shared something else in common with my maternal grandfather. They both died in 1975 and it seem both deaths were sudden and unexpected.
In 1976 the Calgary Herald and the Travel Industry Association of Alberta established the Ken Liddell Memorial Award for excellence in reporting on the subject of tourism. Any sort of of recent reference to this award did not make itself readily available so I don’t know what became of it. If you have any information, please leave a comment and share with us.
Ken left quite a legacy. He wrote five books and an estimated 5000 columns. I think this line from the article the Herald published about his death says it perfectly:
“We know that our sorrow will be shared by countless people throughout Western Canada in cities, towns, villages, and on the farms and the ranches, for all of those were Ken Liddell’s own special beat. The people and the stories of the West were his love and his life.”
Ken lies in rest in Queens Park Cemetery in Calgary.