Farewell to Sears

I’m going to take a little detour from the vacation posts and instead talk about Sears.  I’m not interested in discussing what went wrong for the once-mighty retailer in terms of a retail case study, but rather looking at the history of the chain and one store in particular.

The history of Sears in Canada goes back to 1953.  A year before, Canadian retailer Simpson’s created a joint partnership with Sears, Roebuck  and Company from the US.  The result was Simpsons-Sears, which was a fixture on the Canadian retail landscape well into the 1980s.

Any child of a certain age remembers when the Sears Christmas Wish Book would arrive in the mail and then sitting down with a pen and circling all of the toys he/she wanted for Christmas.  Today’s youth will never understand just how magical those days were as building an Amazon wishlist just doesn’t have the same charm.

While those warm memories of childhood remain, I am guilty of not doing my part to keep Sears as a viable company.  Prior to the visit which inspired this post, I think the last time I had been inside a Sears store was in 2012.

Speaking of visiting Sears, that is exactly what Emily and I did last Thursday evening.  Our target was the Sears in located in North Hill Mall.  We had slightly different goals, with Emily’s being to see if there were any great deals as part of the liquidation proceedings and mine was to document the store.

The history of this Sears store goes back to 1958.  North Hill Shopping Centre has the distinction of being the first shopping mall in Calgary.  It was originally constructed as an open-air mall with a canopy covering the area between the stores.  The Simpsons-Sears was a free-standing building located on the east end.  This store remained relatively unchanged, even when the mall underwent a massive renovation in 1973 which converted it into an enclosed shopping centre.  At the time of its construction in 1958, this would have been a very suburban location, whereas today it is practically inner city.  The location has been a target for redevelopment for quite some time, with plans announced back in 2014 that the location was going to be converted into highrise condominiums.

On the evening of our visit, the store was a bit of a disaster inside.  Customers have been rooting through the merchandise like vultures picking over the carcass of a freshly killed deer.  It was very symbolic of how the once-proud pillar of Canadian retail has become a mere shadow of its former self.

While we may make another visit to see what is left when the discounts get deeper, we both realize this may have very well been the last time we ever set foot in a Sears.  The name and the legacy will join other retail legends like Woolworth’s, Kresge, and Eaton’s which have disappeared.

With that, here are some shots from inside Sears:

The escalators inside Sears


Well, we know how well that worked out, don’t we?


A sad sight — this poor teddy bear sits alone inside the already-abandoned portrait studio


The wear on these door handles shows how much they have been used over the years


Stepping out through these doors into the parking lot one last time

Which long-gone retailer do you miss the most?  Any memories of Sears you’d like to share?  Comment below.

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STST2017: Notch Hill Church

Let me issue a disclaimer right up front.  Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t disclose the location of this church with this much detail.  I would have normally said “near Sorrento” and left it at that, but I wanted to be able to link to the blog of the group working on restoring this church and their group is called “Save Notch Hill Church” so that name is already out there.

This place was another unplanned stop.  As we were approaching Sorrento, Emily says “Hey, isn’t that neat church with the photo of the train light taken around here somewhere?”  With that, she pulled out her phone and began searching.

Sure enough, she was correct.  So, armed with nothing more than the knowledge that the church was near Sorrento and near some railway tracks, we began our hunt.  I stopped and checked the map and pulled out a likely location and began heading that way.  After about fifteen minutes of hunting, Emily resorted to the phone-a-friend option and we confirmed we were close but we had made a right instead of a left.  Off we go!

If you want to see the original photo that inspired us to check out this location, here is the link to the image on the photographer’s site:  https://kevinmcelheranphotography.smugmug.com/Night/i-mDJX37K/A

It wasn’t long before the church came into view.  The building itself was clearly marked No Trespassing and it was obvious there would be no way to approach the building without either trespassing on farmers’ fields or walking along the railway tracks, which would also mean trespassing.  In addition, there were a number of homes in close proximity which gave us an uneasy feeling of being watched, so I didn’t feel comfortable throwing up the drone either.  As a result, we settled for shooting some shots from the public roadway.


After getting back home and doing some digging, I came across the website of the aforementioned “Friends of the 1922 Notch Hill Church Society“.  Their site provided some insights into the history of this great building, as well as documenting the efforts to save it.  If you compare the photo I took to the one that inspired us to stop here, you can see the church is in much better condition now.  The building and steeple have been straightened, there is fresh paint, and the windows have been covered to keep the pests out.  Their website doesn’t show any updates after late 2013/early 2014, so I don’t know if they ran out of money and/or volunteers, if they lost momentum, or if this is as far as they ever planned on taking the work.  There was some scaffolding visible on the far side of the church, so maybe they just stopped updating the website?

Anyway, using the information from their site, I learned Notch Hill was really established as a community in the mid-1880s because the CPR needed to locate pusher locomotives there to assist in getting trains up the steep grade.  Several of the CPR employees worked as volunteers on the building of Holy Cross Church, which first opened in October of 1922.


As the 1960s rolled around, the church’s fate was sealed by a combination of factors, the largest being the overall decline in church attendance which was being seen all across society.

Another factor was the addition of a second and third set of tracks being added by the CPR.  Those tracks forced attendees into the same dilemma we faced:  to access the church you either had to walk across farmers’ fields or trespass along the railway right-of-way.  With access limited, the usage declined and the final recorded event taking place in the church was the 50th anniversary celebration of Anne and Carl Frederickson.  Carl was one of the volunteers who originally built Holy Cross and so it was fitting he was there for the end.

The church was left to rot until 2012 when the Friends of Notch Hill Church Society began restoration work.  As they word it, “the bell tower had a significant lean, much of the roof on the eastern side was torn away, and the whole building was tilting 16 inches toward the east.”

You can see a lot of “in progress” photos on their site, including a photo on the “History” page which shows the church being used in the 1960s.  What I found noteworthy about that photo is that the bell does not appear to be in place, nor is it in place in the Kevin McElheran photo — they must have put one back in place at some point during the restoration, but I don’t see it specifically referenced on their site.  I wonder if it is the original bell.

I think I’ll reach out to their society and see if anyone is still monitoring the email address.  If I hear back from them, I’ll be sure to post a follow-up.


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STST2017: Glacier Park Lodge

All too often on these pages we document the loss of historic structures, and this one is relatively new compared to many that we have lost over the years.

The Glacier Park Lodge is located on the TransCanada Highway in the Rogers Pass between Golden and Revelstoke.  The lodge has been a fixture along this stretch of highway since opening in 19631.  Countless travelers stayed here, ate in the restaurant, and filled up their vehicles at the gas station.

That all changed on September 30, 2012 when the lodge closed its doors for good.  The original lease had expired in 2010 but the Lodge had been running on a month-to-month basis with Parks Canada before a series of compliance issues ended the arrangement.

A series of lawsuits followed2 and Parks Canada eventually gained control of the site in October of 2016 and then announced what many suspected all along — the Glacier Park Lodge and the gas station will be demolished.3

I won’t go into detail about the lawsuits.  If you want to read more, the links in my Sources section offer a good place to start.

The Lodge’s website is still up and running and shows the building when it was still in use, with cars, RVs, and tour buses abound.  Based on the copyright date on the site, it was last updated in 2010.  Knowing what the future would bring makes all their words ring with a different tone than they did seven years ago:

“Framed by Glacier National Parks’ spectacular jagged peaks and alpine scenery, and with some of North America’s best hiking and world class skiing available at our doorstep. We invite you to come and enjoy our own unique brand of hospitality.”

“Our mission is your comfort and enjoyment’ so join us at Glacier Park Lodge for your next incredible backcountry adventure.”


Image retrieved from http://www.glacierparklodge.ca and does not belong to me.

From its closure in 2012 until earlier in 2017, the Lodge deteriorated as a lack of maintenance, vandals, and explorers all took their tolls on the building in various ways.

When we stopped here, the buildings were boarded up and secured behind construction fencing which eliminated any thoughts we might have had of doing a more in-depth investigation.  We were forced to settle for some photos from the outside.  I would have loved to see inside as the limited views we had from outside the fence revealed light fixtures and things still remain.  They could have made some money by charging for tours of the interior but we know lawyers would never allow that.


Awaiting the wrecking ball.  October 3, 2017

It would have been great to see some more creative solutions put forward from our elected officials rather than demolition but that would have been too much to ask.  At least we got to see it one last time.  I suspect we won’t be back before it is gone.  Frankly, I’m surprised it lasted a full year since the demolition plans were formally announced.

Farewell to a TransCanada Highway icon.


1Gignac, T. (2012, October 19). Iconic, aging Glacier Park Lodge in Rogers Pass forced into receivership. Retrieved October 13, 2017, from http://www.calgaryherald.com/sports/Iconic aging Glacier Park Lodge Rogers Pass forced into receivership/7412840/story.html

2Corday, C. (2016, July 29). Lawsuits leave B.C. lodge in spectacular park derelict. Retrieved October 13, 2017, from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/glacier-park-lodge-derelict-1.3677278

3McElroy, J. (2016, October 20). Derelict lodge in Glacier National Park will be torn down says Parks Canada. Retrieved October 13, 2017, from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/parks-canada-to-tear-down-derelict-lodge-in-glacier-national-park-1.3813258

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STST2017: Field Telegraph Office

Field, BC is one of those towns that I have not had a proper chance to explore in detail.  It seems every time I am in the area it is because I am passing through on the way to somewhere else and I just don’t have time to stop to really give the town the treatment it deserves.  Seems fitting that it is our first stop on the “Scratch the Surface Tour 2017” or STST2017 as I shall refer to it from here forward.

The Friends of Yoho National Park have put together a great walking tour of the townsite.  You can find it by following this link and I use it as my reference for the history of the town and the Telegraph Office.

The town was established by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1883, using the name “Third Siding”.  In an effort to raise funds caused the railway to pursue a number of high-profile investors, one of which was Cyrus West Field from Chicago.  Apparently Field visited the town and they even named the town after him but he never actually invested any money.

Field (the man) was one of the people responsible for the laying of the first trans-Atlantic telegraph cable back in 1858 as one of the founders of the Atlantic Telegraph Company.  This makes for a nice tie-in to the main subject of this posting, the Field Telegraph Office, or as the Friend of Yoho refer to it, the CPR Telegraph Building.

It was in the late 1990s when I first became aware of this building.  It was around 1998 and I remember reading an article listing a small brick building in Field as being for sale and mentioning it was a 1920s telegraph office.  Naturally this was all the reason I needed for a field trip to Field.  The building was easy enough to locate as it is the first structure you encounter when you cross the bridge into town off the TransCanada Highway.

Telegraph Office c. 1998

CPR Telegraph Building as seen in c. 1998

I don’t remember much of that initial trip.  I was still shooting photos on film at that time and I was not very good at documenting the details of my journeys.  It would be several years later before I would eventually scan the photo and make a digital copy.  The photo shows some light snow on the ground so I expect it was taken in late 1997 or early 1998.

Fast forward almost two decades and I am once again visiting the building.  This is certainly not my first trip back since that initial visit all those years ago; my last trip through was in June of 2014.  The small brick telegraph office has become like an old friend that I always stop in and check on when passing by, just to make sure everything is going well.

According to the Friends walking tour document, the building dates back to circa 1931 and was used as a telegraph office until 1961 at which time it was updated to become a telephone exchange.  The exchange remained in use until 1979.  Field has always been a major switching point for the CPR and passengers would gather at the office to send and receive messages during their brief stopover here.


CPR Telegraph Building in 2017

On this day, Emily and I had noticed a train coming down the big hill out of the spiral tunnels and we had major hopes of catching a photo of it passing the telegraph office.  However, being the junction between the Laggan and Mountain CPR subdivisions (Train geeks can correct me if I am wrong!) means the train stopped short of the townsite and appeared to be preparing for a crew change.  We didn’t have the time to wait, so we had to let that photo opportunity pass us by.

Not having my original c. 1998 photo with me means I made no attempt to match up the angle of the original photo with the one I took on this day.  No matter as it quickly becomes apparent that little has changed with the building in that time.  It looks today very much like it did in 1998.  One interesting thing to note is that the small trees in front of the building in the 1998 photo have grown much taller and now are several feet high.  It seems time keeps moving here, even if the building seems frozen in another era.

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Scratching the Surface Tour 2017

Vacations have changed a lot for me over the years.

It used to be easy to define my vacations.  I would book two or three weeks off work, pick a destination, travel there, see a bunch of things in the area, and then return home.  I could easily articulate when vacation began, where I went, and when it ended.  It came around once a year, often at the end of August — mainly because I wanted to know my own turn for vacation was coming while covering for coworkers who were taking time off earlier in the summer.

Over the years, things changed.  As my vacation entitlement at my job grew from three weeks, to four, and eventually five, it wasn’t practical nor desirable to take the whole thing at once.  My single vacation began to get split up into a week or two here, a few days there, and maybe even an individual day in the middle of the week if something good came up.  There no longer was a single “vacation” each year.

My style also has changed. Vacation planning would start by sitting down with Microsoft Streets and Trips and plotting a route.  It was my favorite route planning software because you could put in your starting point and end point, how fast your average driving speeds were expected to be, how often you would want a rest break, how long those breaks would last, and how many hours per day yos-l1000u wanted to drive, and the times of day you wanted to start and stop driving.  Based on all those variables, it would show you whereabouts you could expect to end each day.  I would use those suggestions to determine where the overnight stops would be and then look for appropriate accommodations near that area.  You could also enter the capacity of your fuel tank, how much fuel you planned to start with, your expected mileage, and how low you were willing to get the tank get before filling up and it would show you where to get gas along the way.  It was brilliant software and I haven’t found anything that can do everything as neatly and easily as it did.  I believe the last version released was in 2012.

That was my style.  Build a plan and then execute on that plan.  It was all about getting to the destination.  The end goal was all that mattered.  There was a schedule and it needed to be adhered to.  It was that sort of mentality that allowed me to succeed in my various roles in I.T. and it was hard to escape.

Now, the destination is somewhat irrelevant.  There really isn’t even a defined destination.  Last year’s trip to the southwestern U.S. is a great example — was Las Vegas the destination?  It was the first and last stop, but it wasn’t really the “destination” per se.  Was it the Grand Canyon?  Generations of travelers have planned the quintessential family road trip with the Grand Canyon as the goal but it wasn’t really that way for us.  Was it the portion of Route 66 we drove?  Maybe, but can a stretch of highway be a destination unto itself?  If not, it must be Bryce Canyon, right?  Well, not really — we were there for less than half a day so how could it be the destination?  Can getting there be half the fun when you don’t really know where there is?

Vacation 2017 was similar.

The original plan was to do the Oregon coast.  I started off with my old trip planning mentality, except instead of Streets and Trips I was using a combination of Microsoft Excel and Google Maps.  I plotted the route, picked the stops, outlined the schedule, and booked all the RV parks along the way.  The Oregon coast is perhaps my favorite spot on Earth and I haven’t been back there since 2010.  As I told Emily, I want to go back because having been away so long means I’m either going to “Go Coastal or Go Postal”.

Then things changed.

Our Moose Jaw trip showed how much gas our poor Ford F150 burns when pulling the trailer.  Hmm, this could be quite expensive.  My last long RV trip was with my Cummins diesel which didn’t even notice there was a trailer behind us.  This planted the first seed of doubt.


Our main travel combination, a 2000 Forest River Wildwood Lite and a 2010 Ford F150

The second seed of doubt came when we looked at the forest fire situation.  I had planned for us to have a full day of exploring the Columbia River Gorge and the historical Columbia River Highway.  Many of those locations were under threat of fire.

And, the final nail in the coffin was that Emily really couldn’t afford to take two weeks away from work right now.  Cutting the trip time in half made a run to the Oregon coast impractical, if not impossible.

So, with those factors stacked against us, we gave up on Plan A and moved to Plan B.  We decided to do a tour of Montana along Interstate 15.  Lots of places we wanted to visit and a lot of history to check out.  We opted to forego the trailer and instead motel it.  We figured some of the places we wanted to see were on some rather tight backroads and having the trailer along could be a hinderance.  “Plan B” was ready to roll.

The night before we departed, we called down to Great Falls and the O’Haire Motor Inn.  You may remember this place from the visit we made a couple years ago when Emily completed her landing process.  The lady on the other end sounded rather skeptical about our chances of getting there.  “Are you sure you want to come this direction?  We’re under a winter storm warning and we’re expecting to get a foot of snow tomorrow.”

Well, after about five minutes of discussion, we decided to cancel Plan B.  About five minutes later we ended up with Plan C — a run out to Vancouver Island.  Two days out, a day on the island, and then three days home.  With that basic framework in place, it wasn’t long before “Plan C” morphed into “Plan Sea” and we set off.

What we discovered along the way was that there were many things to see.  We managed to quickly visit some of them while many others were added to our virtual list of “We’ll come back one day.”  Having discovered so many interesting places, we quickly changed the name of the trip from “Plan Sea” to “Scratching the Surface Tour 2017” because that’s all we were able to do on this trip.  No time for diving deep, just scratch the surface, add it to the list, and move on.

So many destinations and just one lifetime to see them all.

So, that’s sort of an introduction into the next series of posts.  I’ll show you some of the places we visited and maybe even mention some of the ones we didn’t get to see this time.  I’m still on vacation for a few more days so I hope to get through most of the photos and video before work becomes a distraction again.

Tell me about your trip planning.  Do you like to see just a few places and really immerse yourself in them or do you like to see as much as possible even if it means not spending as much time at them?  Do you fly by the seat of your pants and make up your itinerary as you go or do you have a plan that you stick to?



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Two Endangered Elevators

It may be snowy and blustery today, but back in September when we made our way out to Moose Jaw for Threshing Bee, it was a glorious hot day.  While normal people would take the TransCanada Highway from Calgary to Moose Jaw, we opted for a slightly more creative route through Fox Valley, Saskatchewan.

The word in some of the grain elevator groups was that the grain elevators in Fox Valley, Mortlach, and Indian Head were scheduled for demolition over the next few months.  The first two on that list would be fairly easy to visit on this weekend run, but Indian Head would not be.

We had last visited Fox Valley back in July of 2015.  We were pleased to see both the Paterson (the one slated for demolition) and “Fox Valley B” were both still in place.

Fox Valley B

“Fox Valley B” in 2015 — not currently under threat of demolition

Mortlach, on the other hand, hasn’t been quite so lucky.  One of my favorite prairie towns, my first visits to Mortlach came in an era when it had two elevators.  Unfortunately, the picturesque Saskatchewan Wheat Pool elevator was demolished in 2011, leaving just one prairie giant left in this little town.

Mortlach, Saskatchewan

June 2009 – The Pool elevator on the left was demolished in 2011 and the Paterson on the right is scheduled to fall soon

After grabbing some drone footage of the remaining elevators in Fox Valley and Mortlach, we bid adieu to them knowing we would likely not see them again — except in old photos.

Check out the footage below:

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Threshing Bee 2017

I think after five years I can officially call it a tradition.  Each year, on the weekend after Labour Day, I make the trip to Saskatchewan to attend the Threshing Bee at the Sukanen Ship Pioneer Village and Museum just south of Moose Jaw.  I call it the unofficial end to my summer.


The tradition has grown and changed over those five years.  For the first four years, the tradition involved tenting at Besant Campground near Mortlach.  Besant is one of my favorite campgrounds, having first opened in 1963 as part of the TransCanada Highway project.  It remains a delightful throwback but we decided to park our trailer on the museum grounds this year and save some commuting time.

Another change has been in the company I keep.  My first three years I made the trip with only Tucker the Dog in tow because Emily was still living stateside.  Now with that immigration process a distant memory, she has joined me the last two years.

My role has changed over the last five years as well.  My first year I was a regular attendee, in the second year I was recruited to drive Dean Redman’s 1953 Bickle-Seagrave in the parade, and that has now evolved into being a full-fledged volunteer and working as part of the safety crew, patrolling the grounds and keeping the public far enough away from the threshing and other live demos.



“The Sukanen”, as it is often called, has had the Threshing Bee tradition much longer.  It can be traced back to the very first year the museum opened in 1969.  What started as a single building where the local car enthusiasts displayed their collections has since grown into a full-fledged village with many buildings moved in from neighboring towns where they are preserved and opened up with displays.

When it comes to vehicles, the museum is an eclectic mix of tractors, cars, trucks, fire apparatus, and farm implements — all in various states ranging from derelict to completely restored.  That crazy mix is what keeps us coming back because every time we visit we find something we hadn’t seen before.



Each morning at 08:00, the day kicks off with a pancake breakfast.  The display buildings open at 09:00 and things really get rolling from there.

This year’s schedule of events was a little different because the parade was broken into two sections, the tractors in the morning and the other vehicles in the afternoon.  This was a welcome change as many times there were too many vehicles and not enough drivers so people would have to complete the parade, jump off one tractor and then on to another and then go through the parade again.  As well, with so many vehicles the parade would often take a long time to complete and by breaking it up it makes it easier to sit through.

In addition to the two parades, each day features field demonstrations where the old machinery is actually put to work and is used to harvest the crop.  Once the crop has been cut, the threshing demos take place.  And, the last big event of the day is the antique tractor pull where the owners get the chance to have some fun and see how far they can pull the 8000lb sled.


Throughout the day other activities are taking place.  You can catch the “people mover” and be pulled around on a horse-drawn wagon.  There are blacksmithing and rope making demonstrations taking place all day.  A new addition this year was the carnival area where three vintage thrill rides were brought in for the kids — well, they say for the kids but there were plenty of adults waiting to take their turns too.


This field was plowed during the 2016 field demonstrations.  This year it was being disked as part of an ongoing demo of how prairie grassland was converted to farmland.



Cutting the crop


A threshing demo

I often call Threshing Bee weekend “DanOCan’s Christmas” because I look forward to it so much.  We try and vary the route out a bit every year so we get to visit some different towns along the way, and it gives us a chance to catch up with many of our Saskatchewan friends we don’t get to see very often.

It’s a perfect end to the summer season.

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