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A little town called Molson

I didn’t give the sign a second thought.

It said Molson Museum.

What would anything related to Molson beer be doing stuck in The Middle of Nowhere, Washington State, United States of America … other than possibly cans tossed out of a British Columbia pickup truck?

This Canadian (nationality, not the beer brand) gal didn’t even make the connection when she learned it was a ghost town.

A GHOST TOWN?

Well, hell’s bells … I have to go now.

My American rolled his eyes. We met for a romantic getaway in what I estimated was halfway between my new locale, Kamloops, and his home in Spokane. We ultimately calculated that I got the driving advantage by landing in Oroville, a little town just south of the border. It’s on the other side of Osoyoos Lake. Many might wonder ‘why not Osoyoos and do some wine touring?’

It’s a simple answer: two prime rib dinners with one beer and one glass of wine in Oroville came to $50, including tip. Do you think we’d beat that anywhere north of the 49th parallel?

But I digress.

I begged and pleaded for a day of exploring. Shep, our faithful co-pilot, stood at my side, his head bobbing and tail wagging in agreement. My American’s shoulders dropped a few inches, he sighed and finally acquiesced, knowing he would be stuck for something to do while I snapped away with my camera.

We made our way down to Tonasket to grab some coffee — our first attempt at joe in Oroville fell flat — and headed northeast on Havillah Road, stopping at an abandoned farm for this one:

We cut through fresh snow on the seldom-travelled road once we started getting into higher elevations and then headed for Molson.

Typically, I dislike the pre-fab type of ghost town, like Fort Steele, B.C., and I may have been setting myself up for disappointment when we got to the little town. I didn’t want anything to be too new, too clean or too shiny.

It wasn’t.

While Molson — current population 35 — is set up for tourists, the buildings that are set up for viewing have not been restored to a painted, prettified existence. While they have a museum-like quality, with pictures of Molson’s bustling times pinned on the walls or artifacts thoughtfully displayed, the buildings are as they might have been found in their abandoned state.

A mossy wagon and other farm machinery sit in a nearby field.

And signs are posted to warn those who might choose to run afoul of the law.

It was a little chilly last Sunday and we thought we’d seen everything there was to the little town of Molson.

Except for the school house, which houses the museum but is closed until Memorial Day weekend (that’s Victoria Day weekend in Canada).

And then I saw the mercantile store. With this sign next to it:

The Molsons? The Molsons of the beer gods of Canada?

Yep. Sure enough, according to Ghost Towns USA.

The once boom town of Molson was started in 1900 by George B. Meacham, promoter and John W. Molson, investor. Molson operated the largest brewing company in Canada and owned the Molson Bank, with branches in every province in Canada.

Buildings couldn’t be built fast enough in the little boom town that started to go bust a year later after prospectors failed to pull up much gold.

The town shifted to two more sites before most folks picked up and left.

Now, it just sits and waits for occasional tourists, like a surprised Canadian, who stumbled upon the little site in search of a glimpse into the past … and maybe a ghost or two.

For more photos from our visit to Molson, check out the album on Google Plus.

One long day

My legs are shaking like a leaf.

Now.

Now that the 2.5-hour drive on a donut tire and through a blinding snowstorm is over.

A day spent ghost-towning — mostly fruitlessly — lasted three hours longer than it should have. When I jumped back onto the Trans-Canada Highway, exiting the former town known as Alderson, I heard a pop and felt my truck start to vibrate badly.

I turned down the stereo and heard the telltale ‘flub-flub-flub-flub-flub.’

Any number of expletives were whispered to the sky as I bashed the back of my head off the headrest.

And a recent conversation I had struck me.

“What do you mean you don’t have AMA? The way you drive around the country, there’s no way you shouldn’t have it.”

“Nothing ever happens to me.”

Famous last words. Or maybe I forgot to knock on wood.

Whatever happened, the luck of the Irish escaped me on St. Patrick’s Day.

I called my friend Belinda, wondering if she had any suggestions.

As brilliant as she is, she said call Alberta Motor Association, tell them your situation and ask them if they’ll sell you a membership over the phone.

Here’s the number.

Oh, and don’t forget to act pathetic.

Me? Pathetic? Act?

Pshaw. I was born to be on stage. I can cry on command.

Turns out, I didn’t even have to. This happens all the time, said Siobhan, my calm, cool and collected customer service specialist from AMA. She said she’d take my details, send the truck out and then pass me over to membership to sign me up for a year.

Easy peasy. Michelle from membership was equally as awesome.

And so I sat on the side of the road, 37 kilometres east of Brooks, waiting for my AMA guy to show up. He was there 45 minutes later and, inside of an hour, I was on my way home.

In the meantime, two fellas stopped to offer their assistance. I thanked them kindly and sent them on their way.

It’s just another day in the School of Hard Knocks.

But it is the kind of day that makes me appreciate my friends — the smart ones, the ones who worry about me, the ones who text me and make me smile through the rougher patches in life.

And the ones, like My American, who will talk to me while I sit on the side of the road.

(Um, I shouldn’t need to mention that he’s actually all of the above, too.)

It also makes me appreciate technology, because 15 years ago I might still be on the side of the highway. That was, of course, before I got my first cell phone.

None of this will stop me from ghost-towning in the future. Jumping in the truck with Shep and my cameras is the best way to spend a Saturday.

It sure as heck won’t make me any less fearless when I jump in the truck to head for a Spokane weekend next month.

After all, I have my smartphone to keep me in touch with everybody — from text to Twitter to Facebook and phone call.

And now I have AMA, too.

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?

A meeting by chance

Moyie Lake and Frank 039

Phillip is a kindly, somewhat nutty old fella.

He ambles out of his little home in Moyie Lake, B.C., his hands jammed into the pockets of his denim overalls.

His fluffy white beard conjures thoughts of Santa Claus, while the ink art travelling up his arms gives hints to a rougher life spent on the union trail or on a motorcyle.

“Can I meet your dog?”

His voice is gruff and gravelly, evidence of a life spent smoking.

Sure can, I say.

We hopped out of the truck at Moyie Lake, curious about the little town we’d passed by a few other times, not even blinking in a quest to just get home.

As we stood in the shadow of the little Victorian style church, Phillip approached us.

He keeps his pockets full of Milkbones so he can treat the neighbourhood dogs on his daily walks through the little community.

He ruffles Shep’s ears and Shep gives Phillip his stamp of approval, letting me know it’s OK to trust the somewhat odd but friendly fellow.

Phillip tells us of the deer who visit his backyard, because he leaves apples and nuts for them on his picnic tables.

He tells us of his plan to shave his beard off in the spring, a chance to raise money for cancer research.

He tells us of his fight against cancer, surviving six months of chemotherapy, as he takes another long haul of his cigarette.

And he tells us that’s as much as he remembers of his life since a motorcycle accident and a severe bump on the head took away his memory.

But for some reason, he feels it’s important to tell us of his life before moving to Moyie Lake in 1976.

He was a travelling steamfitter/pipefitter.

He pulls out his wallet and hands me his identification card from the Syncrude project in Fort McMurray, Alta.

My hands shake a little as I hold his ID.

I look up at him and say, ‘My father was on that project.’

And the memories flood back.

The memories of his quiet, solitary life, spent on the road with brief vacations home to see his family.

The memories of his tortured soul.

Of his own battle with cancer.

And his death.

Phillip asks for his name and I tell him but his memory is blank.

We chat for a little while longer, learning a little more about Moyie Lake on a personal account from Phillip.

Shep, his belly full of Milkbones, and I hop back in the truck and continue our journey back to Calgary.

I can’t help but feel something greater was at work that day, something greater than just a quick stop at Moyie Lake to pound out an Exploring post for my site.

Even if it was just a distant, shot-in-the-dark connection to a father who was never really connected.

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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Where’s Waldo?

There’s a town at the bottom of that lake.

It isn’t the first thought to occur to me as I cast my eyes across Lake Koocanusa.

My love affair with the area started three years ago when a friend invited Shep and me for a weekend at her family’s leased RV property right on the lake. When we go, we zip around in the boat, spin off on the Seadoo or relax in chairs, sipping vodka coolers, as we watch the day go by.

Before I leave Calgary destined for a July long weekend in British Columbia, I do my research. And I learn what lies beneath those waters.

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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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Fading away in Scollard, Alberta

The cattle are lowing in the distance.

There’s not much more activity along Scollard Road, aside from the city girl poking around the neighbourhood.

Flanked by two small and very much lived-in houses, the Scollard United Church stands as a testament to another time.

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Family forever … in Retlaw

We land in Retlaw on a day the streets are bustling with life.

About 20 cars are parked outside the Retlaw Hall, a community meeting place on the main drag.

It’s Easter weekend and the Culver family converges here, just as it does two or three times a year. They’re scattered — 11 children and 22 grandchildren — through southern Alberta, from Calgary to Taber to Lethbridge.

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