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Archives: A jumping-off point

Few locations in Central Alberta are photographed as frequently as the East Coulee bridge.

It serviced trains and vehicles crossing the Red Deer River and provided access and service to two mines. Both mines were left to rot when the coal-mining industry dried up but the Atlas has been turned into an historical site.

The bridge is made with impressive, strong wooden beams, although they’re rotting away and I fear the bridge’s days are numbered.

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More than a feeling

Yes, I drive around the country poking my head into and taking pictures of abandoned houses.

They have fascinated me since I was a kid. And I’ll never forget my first one. An old house stood next to Columbus Field where we had track and field training. It was probably my brother Kevin who hid behind a door, jumped out and yelled BAH, scaring the living crap out of me.

Then there was the old farmhouse on the Antigonish Landing. We’d jog out to Brown’s Mountain and explore the old dilapidated home. One of our coaches, Dave, pretended he was going to fall through the floor … and then he almost did.

Now I find myself in the Old West, where men mined the land for coal and tilled the field for crops.

The coal mines have been stripped dry and many of those crop fields now lie fallow, long since left behind by their residents.

Leaving me with a gold mine for my camera and my curiosity.

I wander the properties, turning the keys left in the ignition of old cars and trucks, wondering what I’d do if the engine ever turned over.

Poking my head into the houses, wondering why that table was left behind.

Touching the ovens tossed into the field, wondering why they couldn’t bake anymore pies.

I struggle to imagine what possessed a person or family to leave behind their homes. Did they simply drop everything and leave for a life of greater convenience in the big city? Were they forced out by foreclosures and the banks never found anyone to buy the property? Did they run away in the middle of the night, in fear of something?

It was cold on Sunday when we hit the road for the Badlands.

And when we spied an abandoned home from Highway 575 near Drumheller, I felt a weird chill. It was the kind of house that gave me shivers, not the least bit welcoming or warm.

I gingerly made my way around the property, always keeping an eye on the house. Its windows, the glass long since shattered away, and the door formed a large dark face of a gaping mouth and eyes.

It  was watching me with every step I took. Every press of the shutter release. Every breath.

I made my way around to the back of the house where Jack had found some rusty cans on the ground. He was bent over, trying to find the right angle, the right light.

I looked at the door. Though my guts were telling me to stay outside, I took a step into the house.

I felt a sudden chill.

The kind of chill that goes right into your bones. But there was no wind. Just a sudden drop in temperature.

I turned and went back outside.

Jack was standing by now, a confused look on his face. He said “that’s weird, my camera just adjusted to f95 on its own.”

Um … hey, Jack, there is no such thing as f95.

“I know.”

OK, waddaya say we get out of here?

We left.

I caught the house in the corner of my eye as we headed back to the highway. It gave me another chill.

I picked up my phone and launched my Dolphin browser. It seems to be extremely rare but other Nikon D300s owners have seen f95 in their EXIF data. Jack reset the camera and all was fine.

Was it merely a coincidence?

Was there a wind I didn’t notice?

Did the tiny little computer in Jack’s camera decide to shake things up on its own?

Or was it all more than a feeling?

Do you believe in ghosts?

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There’s no place like Dorothy

“Dorothy is a hamlet in southern Alberta, Canada within Special Area No. 2. It is located approximately 21 kilometres (13 mi) east Highway 56 and 85 kilometres (53 mi) northwest of Brooks.”

That’s all you’ll read about Dorothy on its Wikipedia page.

Now make the two-hour trip from Calgary and stand in the short distance between the Catholic and United churches.

Listen to the wind whistle through the hills behind you.

Gaze at the vast blue sky above you.

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Rustic reality

There’s something so very quaint about Rowley, Alberta.

It’s the rustic charm that remains in this little ghost town 20 minutes north of Drumheller.

Some of the area residents work hard to keep the buildings standing and presentable and they want to do more.

They’d like to turn Rowley into a tourism destination, a place to go and learn about the history of Alberta, a place to spend money, a place to do more than camp and drink beer and eat pizza.

Here’s my selfish side: I like it just the way it is.

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Big Valley keeps its history alive

The trains don’t clickety-clack into Big Valley anymore.

The chirping of the frogs is occasionally interrupted by the roar of Harleys, though … Harleys driven by touring bikers looking to wet their dusty dry whistles at the old saloon.

Big Valley went through every boon of the 20th century — ranching, rail, coal and oil.

And some families have stuck through every transition, never giving up on their little town just south of Stettler. Not like others in Scollard or Retlaw who packed up and left for new, more promising lives.

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