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11 bridges lead visitors on a tour of Alberta’s coal mining past in Wayne

Welcoming cowboy boots at the historic and colourful Last Chance Saloon in the ghost town of Wayne near Drumheller, Alta., Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019.
Welcoming cowboy boots at the historic and colourful Last Chance Saloon in the ghost town of Wayne near Drumheller, Alta., Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019. Jeff McIntosh, The Canadian Press

There’s something about the last few kilometres through a deep-sided canyon to the western ghost town of Wayne, Alta., that Edmonton motorcyclist Ron Woodford just can’t get enough of.

The Harley-Davidson enthusiast got a taste for the road that follows the winding Rosebud River over 11 single-lane bridges in the 1990s when massive motorcycle rallies were held in Wayne — but he keeps coming back, more than a decade after those events ended.

Wayne Alberta day trip
Wayne, Alberta. Amber Schinkel / Global News

“I’m kind of addicted. There’s something special when you ride into that chasm on a motorcycle,” he says, adding the lack of Wi-Fi and cellphone coverage adds to the quiet of the place.

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“You go over all those bridges. It’s really unique. When you’re looking for a bike route, you want more than just a straight road.”

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Located 15 kilometres south of the southeastern Alberta Badlands capital of Drumheller, Wayne is a link to the not-so-distant past, a town of 29 residents where 2,500 people once lived and worked in a dozen underground coal mines.

Most of those people’s homes have disappeared — moved, burned or destroyed by flooding — since the last working mine, Sovereign, closed in 1957.

Visitors to Wayne are mainly tourists and music buffs these days. The town is about 150 kilometres east of Calgary, making it a perfect motoring day trip with a noon-hour stop for a Harley-themed burger at the Last Chance Saloon.

Wayne Alberta
Wayne, Alberta. Amber Schinkel / Global News

Visitors from farther afield can rough it at the attached 106-year-old Rosedeer Hotel (seven rooms on the second floor, shared showers and toilets down the hall) or stay in one of two campgrounds.

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The Drumheller region, which attracts tourists mainly because of the Royal Tyrrell Museum and other dinosaur-themed attractions, features 10 hotels and motels, 20 bed-and-breakfasts, two dozen campgrounds and numerous Airbnb listings.

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The owner of the saloon and hotel, Dave Arsenault, 59, laughingly insists he intends to maintain a “dinosaur-free zone” at Wayne.

“It’ll often be a spectacle here,” he said.

“You’ll have 100 bikers and black leather all over the place. But everyone is just here to have fun.”

Arsenault had to learn everything about the hospitality industry from scratch when he retired from a land surveying business in nearby Drumheller and became the proprietor of Wayne’s largest business six years ago.

He bought it from Fred Dayman, whose family had owned it for 65 years, and who remains the “unofficial mayor” of Wayne in retirement.

Soon after, Arsenault hired banker Paula Sutherland as manager — she had worked part-time at the hotel before — and the two who started out as co-owner and employee are now a couple.

Manager Paula Sutherland, right, and co-owner Dave Arsenault at the historic and colourful Last Chance Saloon in the ghost town of Wayne near Drumheller, Alta., Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019.
Manager Paula Sutherland, right, and co-owner Dave Arsenault at the historic and colourful Last Chance Saloon in the ghost town of Wayne near Drumheller, Alta., Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019. Jeff McIntosh, The Canadian Press

WayneStock, a three-day annual music festival with musical acts on three stages in and around the saloon, posted record attendance of about 2,000 people in its fifth rendition in September.

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READ MORE: Day trip to Wayne, Alta

A side benefit of the festival is that musicians who apply to play (150 acts this year) are often hired to perform on weekends during the summer and for special occasions during the slower winter season.

The three-storey wooden hotel was built in 1912 by the Rosedeer Coal company and the saloon added a few years later.

Sutherland loves to show visitors around the saloon, which is packed with historical pictures, maps and other treasures.

Rosedeer Coal built the saloon so that workers, who were being paid in company scrip, could buy a meal or a beer, she says. The miners’ scrip was suddenly worthless when the coal company went bankrupt in 1934, remembered as the year there was no Christmas in Wayne.

Waitress Joanne Guenther handles orders at the historic and colourful Last Chance Saloon in the ghost town of Wayne near Drumheller, Alta., Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019.
Waitress Joanne Guenther handles orders at the historic and colourful Last Chance Saloon in the ghost town of Wayne near Drumheller, Alta., Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019. Jeff McIntosh, The Canadian Press
Patrons enjoy a meal at the historic and colourful Last Chance Saloon in the ghost town of Wayne near Drumheller, Alta., Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019.
Patrons enjoy a meal at the historic and colourful Last Chance Saloon in the ghost town of Wayne near Drumheller, Alta., Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019. Jeff McIntosh, The Canadian Press
A stuffed bear head looks down on patrons as they enjoy a meal at the historic and colourful Last Chance Saloon in the ghost town of Wayne near Drumheller, Alta., Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019.
A stuffed bear head looks down on patrons as they enjoy a meal at the historic and colourful Last Chance Saloon in the ghost town of Wayne near Drumheller, Alta., Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019. Jeff McIntosh, The Canadian Press
Manager Paula Sutherland, left, and co-owner Dave Arsenault at the historic and colourful Last Chance Saloon in the ghost town of Wayne near Drumheller, Alta., Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019.
Manager Paula Sutherland, left, and co-owner Dave Arsenault at the historic and colourful Last Chance Saloon in the ghost town of Wayne near Drumheller, Alta., Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019. Jeff McIntosh, The Canadian Press
Visitors walks past the historic and colourful Last Chance Saloon in the ghost town of Wayne near Drumheller, Alta., Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019.
Visitors walks past the historic and colourful Last Chance Saloon in the ghost town of Wayne near Drumheller, Alta., Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019. Jeff McIntosh, The Canadian Press

Archive photos show houses all around the hotel and bar. Some were moved, others burned, some destroyed by flooding. The United Church once located across from the hotel was moved south and became the community centre.

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The saloon is also a living repository of kitsch, donated items including a ceiling-mounted bearskin rug, a stuffed boar’s head, an airplane model, an antique animatronic “Band Box” music player, mining equipment and postcards from Australia.

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Framed on one wall of the bar are three bullet holes, created in the 1970s when a trigger-happy bartender wanted to encourage a group of patrons to pay their tab.

The hotel rooms rent for $65 per night ($75 for the larger rooms) but Sutherland admits the rooms get “unbearably hot” in the summer. And there’s no TV or air conditioning because the ancient electrical system won’t allow it.

Patrons exit the historic and colourful Last Chance Saloon in the ghost town of Wayne near Drumheller, Alta., Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019.
Patrons exit the historic and colourful Last Chance Saloon in the ghost town of Wayne near Drumheller, Alta., Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019. Jeff McIntosh, The Canadian Press

Some think the third floor, which is locked up and used only for storage these days, is haunted. The hotel was featured in Season 3 of the Canadian ghost-hunting TV show, The Other Side.

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“People come with their Ouija boards and crystals, some have actually broken into the third floor,” said Sutherland, adding the floor is actually closed because it would cost too much to upgrade it to modern hotel standards.

Still, she said: “There’s an energy here. We’ve heard and seen things.

“When I first started here, three of us heard a female moaning in distress. But it’s not just the third floor, it’s throughout the building.”

READ MORE: Paranormal investigators tour haunted house in Drumheller

If you go

The Last Chance Saloon and Rosedeer Hotel are found between the ninth and 10th of 11 single-lane metal bridges on a six-kilometre stretch over the winding Rosebud River, just south of Drumheller.

The saloon is open during the off season from Wednesday to Sunday from 11 a.m. until 7 or 9 p.m. (Watch for events online.)

One of the top rated disc or Frisbee golf courses in Canada can be found across the road from the hotel, with 18 “holes” scattered up and down the steep walls of the canyon.

Drumheller is home to the Royal Tyrrell Museum, open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Oct. 1 to May 14. It’s closed Mondays, unless they are holidays.

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WATCH: Rosebud River floods Drumheller community of Wayne, including Last Chance Saloon, in April 2018

Rosebud River floods Drumheller community of Wayne, including Last Chance Saloon
Rosebud River floods Drumheller community of Wayne, including Last Chance Saloon