Sunday, March 8, 2015

Old stuff!

Old Stuff!

March 7, 2015

When I woke up I had no intention of going for a drive with the camera. The last few months haven't produced any really good images so I felt like I lost my drive (pardon the pun) a bit and really couldn't be terribly bothered. But, with a small bonus in the bank, I could afford fuel and figured I'd head out with the weather being warm and sunny.

My main goal would be to find a farm house that is abandoned, that a fellow photographer had posted a picture of the other day in a Facebook group. All was said for location was "North of Nightingale". Not much to go on, really, but figured I'd go and look for it.

On the way there I saw a snowy owl perched on top of a power pole. Before I could turn around and get back though, there was another photographer pulled over. Unfortunately, although he had a larger lens than I do, he still chose to get out of his van and scare it thing I do know about snowy owls is that they are scared easily and when you're that close (width of the road) they will fly when you get out of your vehicle. So, with that disappointing action from a fellow photographer, I carried on to Nightingale. After driving around for a bit, I finally found it and what a great subject it is. I chose to go onto the land (there aren't any signs advising not to lol) and snap a few shots. I wasn't on there long but I'd love to go back and revisit this place when there are more fluffy clouds in the sky. A blank blue sky gets kind of boring....

Nightingale is a very, very, small community just north of Highway 564, East of Calgary, and has many barns in the area. Great for photographs like above. From there I carried on along the 564 East. I figured since I wasn't far away, I'd pay another visit to the Ghost Town of Dorothy, which is East of Drumheller, and I'd get there a totally different way than I've ever been before. The 564 turns into fairly deep and dusty gravel when you turn north, but even then it's pretty easy travelling. Then it gets to a "T" intersection and here I went right onto the 848 which winds itself (I found out...) down to the town of Dorothy. Like many places in the "Badlands", driving along and you see the odd coulee, and can see the start of the Badland formations. Suddenly, the road dives down into the coulee and the brakes get a bit of a workout on the car. The 848 sure is fun winding down towards Dorothy, with it's 90 degree hairpin corners.

At Dorothy, there are a few residents...about 4 I think. Other than that, there is an old school house which I didn't go in this time (last time it was accessible, but wasn't being used) and there is an old Church. The church used to have so much bird crap in it, and unstable structure, that you couldn't (or wouldn't...) go in. Now though, it's been restored, and from the looks of the pews inside, and the candles and books, it's used and kept up nicely.

Some information about Dorothy. This site I got it from hasn't updated or nobody has been out there, as they still state that the church has been abandoned (which it was..) for 30 years. It's definitely being used now.
The village of Dorothy, which never grew beyond 100 residents, is considered one of Alberta’s classic pioneer communities, serving as a popular social centre in the first half of the 20th century in the heart of the province’s famed Badlands Country.Dorothy is located about 15 miles southeast of Drumheller in a flat valley bottom. A few years after the turn of the 20th century, Percy McBeath, a store keeper living in the immediate area, applied to have a post office and wanted to name the site Percyville. However, the district post office inspector decided instead to name the site Dorothy, after the daughter of Jack Wilson, and early rancher who first arrived in the area in 1900. The Dorothy post office officially opened in 1908.The hamlet grew modestly and enjoyed its greatest prosperity in the late 1920s, shortly after a railway line was built through the area.At one time the village had three elevators, the Alberta Wheat Pool, the Alberta Pacific and the United Grain Growers, a grocery store, a butcher shop, pool room, telephone office, restaurant and a machine agency. A school was opened in 1937 and lasted in the hamlet until 1960. The village also supported two churches — a United Church from 1932 to 1961 and a Roman Catholic church from 1944 to 1967. The two churches were considered the focal point for the entire region’s important social events. They still stand today, but are gradually being withered away by time and the elements.Less than a dozen residents live in the hamlet today. One grain elevator, long closed down, still evades being torn down. A community hall still serves residents of the area. For visitors, there is also a small museum to inspect pieces of the once vibrant lifestyle of this unique part of Alberta. For more information on Dorothy, the curious can also go to Drumheller’s public library and browse through Hazel B. Roen’s book of the area, “The Grass Roots of Dorothy 1895-1970. The 354-page book, published in 1971, offers a touching portrait of the Dorothy region and its people. Submitted by Johnnie Bachusky.Submitted by: Johnnie Bachusky
John Percy McBeath was the first Storekeeper and Postmaster and ran the ferry at Dorothy during that time.
His youngest son James McBeath was born in Dorothy in 1914. That’s my husband’s father, the father of R.D. McBeath.
The McBeath family lived there from 1911 – 1916 and only then moved to Delia, Alberta because there was no school for the children in Dorothy.

From Dorothy, I went West to the Atlas Coal Mine which is an amazing piece of history. There are a lot of historical buildings still standing here, and one day in the summer I will pay and go on the tour and get up close and personal with this mine and it's grounds. Here is some information on this mine.

Coal Mining in the Drumheller Valley

Coal was not hard to discover in the area that is now Drumheller, Alberta, Canada. Seams of coal show up as black stripes in the badlands of the Red Deer River Valley. 

The Blackfoot and Cree knew about the black rock that burned, but they didn't like to use it. Later, three white explorers reported coal in the area: Peter Fidler in 1792, Dr. James Hector of the Palliser Expedition in 1857, and Joseph Tyrrell in 1884. 

In the years that followed, a handful of ranchers and homesteaders dug coal out of river banks and coulees to heat their homes. However, the first commercial coal mine did not open until Sam Drumheller started the coal rush in the area that now bears his name. 

The rush started when Sam bought land off a local rancher named Thomas Greentree. Sam turned around and sold this land to Canadian National Railway, to develop a townsite. Sam also registered a coal mine. Before his mine opened, however, Jesse Gouge and Garnet Coyle beat him to it, and opened the Newcastle Mine. CN laid tracks into town, and the first load of coal was shipped out of Drumheller in 1911. 

Once the railway was built, people poured in. Hundreds, then thousands, of people came to dig coal. The greatest numbers came from Eastern Europe, Britain, and Nova Scotia. More mines opened. By the end of 1912, there were 9 working coal mines, each with its own camp of workers: Newcastle, Drumheller, Midland, Rosedale, and Wayne. In the years that followed, more mines and camps sprang up: Nacmine, Cambria, Willow Creek, Lehigh, and East Coulee. 

Coal mining was hard, dirty, dangerous work. Mining in the Drumheller Valley, however, was less hard, dirty, and dangerous than it was in many other coal mining regions in Canada. This was due to both lucky geology and lucky timing. 

The geology of the Drumheller coal field results in flat lying seams, which are much safer to mine than the steeply pitching seams of the mountain mines. In addition, the coal produced in Drumheller is sub-bituminous. This grade of coal is "immature" which means it hasn't had time to build up a strong concentration of gas. Methane gas is the biggest killer in coal mines around the world. 

The timing of the Drumheller mine industry was lucky, too. By the time the Newcastle opened in 1911, the right to better working conditions had been fought for and won by miners' unions in North America. As a result, miners were provided with wash houses, better underground ventilation, and higher safety standards. When the Newcastle opened, there were laws in place to prohibit child labour, so boys under 14 were no longer allowed underground. The worst of the worst coal mining days were over, at least in North America. 

Nevertheless, early mine camps around Drumheller were called "hell's hole" because miners lived in tents, or shacks, with little sanitation and little comfort. It was a man's world, with drinking, gambling, and watching fistfights common forms of recreation. As shacks gave way to little houses, and women joined the men and started families, life improved. Hockey, baseball, music, theatre, and visiting friends enriched peoples' lives. Going downtown Saturday night was a huge event, with every language in Europe spoken by the crowds spilling off the sidewalks. No longer "hell's hole," Drumheller became "the wonder town of the west!" and "the fastest growing town in Canada, if not in North America!" 

Sub bituminous coal is ideal for heating homes and cooking food. People all over western Canada heated their homes, schools, and offices with Drumheller coal. Long, cold winters were good for Drumheller, because everyone needed lots of coal. In these years, miners had of money in their pockets. Short, mild winters were difficult. A miner might only work one day a week, and get laid off in early spring. He got through the summer by growing a big garden, catching fish, and working for farmers. 

Between 1911 and 1979, 139 mines were registered in the Drumheller valley. Some mines didn't last long, but 34 were productive for many years. Between 1912 and 1966, Drumheller produced 56,864,808 tons of coal, making it one of the major coal producing regions in Canada. 

The beginning of the end for Drumheller's mining industry was the Leduc Oil Strike of 1948. After this, natural gas became the fuel of choice for home heating in western Canada. To the mine operators, it seemed that people switched from messy coal stoves to clean gas furnaces as fast as they could. As the demand for coal dropped, mines closed. As mines closed, people moved away and communities suffered. Some communities, like Willow Creek, completely vanished. Others, like East Coulee, went from a boomtown of 3800 to a ghost town of 180. When the Atlas #4 Mine shipped its last load of coal in 1979, the coal years of Drumheller were over. 

From the coal mine I headed South. Just South of the coal mine, the road splits - left is the 564 which would have taken me back to where I turned right, to go to Dorothy. This time though, I took the 569 West as my next destination of Taylor Siding, has many shells of old cars and a couple of old buildings. Another destination I've wanted to visit since seeing some friend's photos a couple of weeks ago.The 569 goes through a tiny hamlet of Dalum. Not much here except a few farms and a church. Heading straight West, the 569 ends and now I turn North on the 841. My friend told me you can't miss it, and you definitely can't. Where the road bridge goes over the Red Deer River, you head down a well groomed road to the valley floor where trains used to haul their goods, and a couple of abandoned structures now stand along with shells of what was once, I'm sure, beautiful old cars.

The train tracks, like most in the Drumheller area and even places like Rosebud and further South are gone and just lies a pile of railroad ties. This does make the old bridges even more accessible though now, so that's not a bad thing. :)

After spending a fair bit of time at Taylor Siding, I figured I'd do a loop. I headed North to the 9 which East is Drumheller, and West is Calgary. I went West to the 840 which I crossed over from Nightingale. There are a ton of cool old barns down this highway, and a couple of interesting very small towns such as Rosebud, and Standard. Not much in Standard, really, but Rosebud seems to have more character. Just keep heading South, then I took the 561 West which ends at Highway 1.

After that it was smooth sailing back home to Calgary, and almost 500km of driving was done.

Seeing the results from yesterday's trip has re-ignited a bit of the passion and drive that I had lost. Barns and old houses represent some great craftsmanship which you don't get today, and with every one I capture, I wonder about the history and the people that lived there or built it. History which we're quickly losing to urban expansion of cities.

Hope you enjoyed this trip!




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