Being a farm kid, I’ve always had a fascination with grain elevators.
I always loved hopping in the three-tonne truck with my dad and driving into town — Carmangay — to empty it out. When I was lucky, he would let me press the button that lifted the box and it was always kind of fun to put my hand in the grain as it was being dumped in.
As I got older, those prairie sentinels became further and further between. Whether it was because the community couldn’t support them, or the companies didn’t want them in the towns anymore, or they became more of a fire hazard than anything, I didn’t really realize what was happening until I became old enough to appreciate them.
A few years ago, I started doing roadtrips around the province to snap photos of the elevators that were still standing. You can still find the odd one across the countryside, including Nanton, Stavely, Mossleigh, Wrentham and Warner. You can also find some one-off relics in places you have barely heard of, like Herronton, Milo, Brant, Dorothy and Sharples.
It was through that fascination of elevators that I grew fond of ghost towns.
LISTEN: Ward 8 Coun. Evan Woolley joins Calgary Today to discuss the loss of the Enoch Sales House to fire
I love traveling to remote parts of this province to see what used to be. In some cases, there isn’t much left.
One of my favourite stories is Bow City, which at one point was thought to be the central hub for the province. But, thanks to fires and the coal mining industry’s demise, there is nothing on the site of the former town west of Brooks. Not even a sign reading “Bow City was once here.”
There is actually a Bow City now, but it’s in a different spot from the original.
Back in Dec. 2016, I was heartbroken to see one of the staples of a small community burn to the ground.
Ghost town visitors knew very well of Stevens Hardware and Garage in Orion, south of Medicine Hat. The owner, Boyd Stevens, was well-known for a great conversation with those who stopped by to grab a picture and take a look around.
The same can be said for the McDougall Church.
Unfortunately, it feels like the only time we really pay attention to these old facilities is when they are no longer with us. Whether they are destroyed by a fire or torn down by the wrecking ball, the outcry seems to happen far too late.
So it comes as no surprise that when the historic Enoch Sales House went up in flames on Saturday, people took to social media to voice their displeasure of the perceived lack of action the city and others took in making sure that it was taken care of.
Don’t get me wrong — the two-storey Queen Anne revival had seen better days.
Built in 1904, the age was really showing and it seemed like no one was taking the lead on it. The Calgary Municipal Land Corporation said the city was looking for ways to restore the property, despite there being no funding in place.
“This was avoidable and Calgarians expect better of us,” exclaimed Ward 8 Coun. Evan Woolley in front of his colleagues at city hall on Monday.
He’s not wrong. We here in Calgary are always arguing over the newest and shiniest and brightest things, yet we don’t do a great job of preserving what we have.
In all my travels around this province, I always come to appreciate where we are because I can see where we’ve come from.
If we don’t start making the preservation of historic sites a priority, we are going to miss out on an opportunity to show the world where we have come from in more than a century.
Not only that, but it won’t give future generations an opportunity to get fascinated by our past.