The four towns that are the subject of this report, Sheerness, Rose Lynn, Sunnynook and Carolside, are located in a remote corner of Alberta, far off any beaten path. Each lasted only a short while and in fact there is little to see today, but even so they still left their mark on the world, which we hope to explore.
These adventure takes us to the dry plains southeast of Hanna.
Our first stop is Sheerness, I believe what was once the largest town of the four. It’s home to a huge coal mine that butts right up against the old town site. In addition, there is an old store and school. Unfortunately when we arrived it was raining, no pouring, and any photos we shot were quick ones from an open car window. We hung around for perhaps half an hour hoping the deluge would dissipate (steamy windows!), but it didn’t and so we reluctantly moved on.
As mentioned we did get a couple quick shots off however. The store, I am pretty sure it’s the store, is a long narrow affair. It leans and sags but appears in reasonable shape. Since it’s boarded up that will keep the animals and elements out. I pretty sure this building is the “Lucke’ store, so named for it’s owner Harold “Pop” Lucke, mentioned in the book “Roads to Rose Lynn”. In that article, a small picture of the building is shown, which is close enough in appearance to the one we see today, that I am fairly confident it’s the same.
This store was opened in 1923 and was operated by Lucke until the mid 1930s when he sold the business. It’s not clear what happened after that, which invites further research. One can assume the business operated for a time, perhaps into the 1950s, or maybe even longer. I doubt much longer though as the town was in decline after world war two. Farming was hard and coal mining was on the downturn and many people simply moved away.
The school is the only other building left in town. It’s an interesting structure and I’d sure liked to have gotten closer. The rain kept us in the car, but anyway the were no trespassing signs about, which we have to respect. It’s not clear when it was built although we know part of the building was a second school brought in from the town of Richdale north of Sheerness. It’s not known when this happened or even when the original school opened or when it closed. Data is scarce and so you can expect updates to this post.
In between the two buildings are some old foundations, but it’s unknown what they may have been. An access road leads to the mine from a spot just behind the store. The gate says Manalta Coals Ltd, which was the owner of the property back in the 1980s and 90s. The mine has changed hands a couple times since then.
A few people still call Sheerness home.
Detouring a bit, we check out the Sheerness Coal Mine nearby and it’s neighbour, the Sheerness generating plant. Together they are what we call a captive mine-mouth plant, meaning all the coal from the mine goes to feed the power station. In times past the output of this mine (there was actually several mines, all sort of consolidated into one) was shipped out by the railway to many customers far and wide. The first commercial coal mines here date from around 1910. We photographed one drag line at work, the “Prairie Rose”, a Page model 736 which has been here since the mid 1980s. We saw a second drag line off in the distance, but it was too far away to shoot.
Heading back, our next stop is Rose Lynn, but unfortunately most of the old town site it is on private land. It doesn’t look like much is left anyway. The only vintage building we could see from the road was the old school. We don’t know much about it other than it was the former the Mizpah school moved here at some unknown date.
Travelling down, or should I say alongside, the rail line we come to Sunnynook. We looked but could not find anything worthwhile to photograph. There were some houses, but nothing in the way of old buildings, foundations, remains or even signs of the old rail line (outside of one little concrete culvert). Nothing to see here…move along. By now the rain had mostly stopped.
Further down the line and the last entry for this report is Carolside. I’ve been looking forward to this stop as I know nothing is left. Nothing, no businesses, no houses. Since it’s located in an uncultivated pasture, and since no one lives close by, we have free run of the place. I know there is not much here, but I am hoping find some hints from past – perhaps some foundations, bits of old wood and brick and cement and the like. Little clues to help us connect to our subject.
This is my kind of place – rarely visited if ever and totally forgotten by everyone. Except by us of course. We are probably the first visitors in eons who have come specially to see the town site.
And sure enough we find what we are looking for, those bits of wood and cellar depressions we hoped to discover. One can make out a couple streets, the locations of buildings, the rail line and perhaps where the station stood, the former an earthen embankment right alongside the old rail line. There is no real way to know what each building could have been, unless we could find an old map or photo showing “downtown Carolside”, but so far none have turned up. In fact, this author has found zero pictures showing the town. We do however know one was here, now proven by our field research.
Oddly Google still shows the town map even if the streets are long gone. Like many small towns, the two most important thoroughfares were Main and Railway. Nearby we see what could be a buffalo rubbing stone. There are some in the area I understand, used as sort of a scratching posts by the passing herds. This one appears worn smooth, which is typical of these stones.
Based upon what little information we can find, Carolside lasted for only a few years. Founded in early 1920s when the railway came through, I am certain it did not last long. There was a grain elevator here until the late 1950s, but I am pretty sure the town was long gone by that date. It was a flash in the pan, a hoped for bustling community than never really amounted to anything.
Just north of the town (haha town) is a nice train trestle we found. Next visit, I may take the time to walk in to examine it closer. I am after all, the bridge hunter, among other things.
All the towns mentioned so far owe their existence to the railway which came through about 1920. This CNR branch, known as the Peavine Line, was built south from a point near Hanna, ending along side the Red Deer River at a place called Stephenville. They intended to extend the line all the way to Medicine Hat, and parts of it were constructed but never finished. This line was abandoned by the late 1970s and by then most of the towns were either gone completely or just a shells of their former self. Today, the rail line can easily be followed on Google Earth, including the partially completed section south to “The Hat”.
To be honest, I think I could have documented all these towns a little better than I did. The rain kept us at bay and trespassing on private property was another concern. I’m thinking the area is worth a revisit, perhaps armed with permission (if that’s even possible) to access some of the sites that were off limits.
Update: October 2013. According to a reader of this blog, the Sheerness School closed in 1964.
If you’d like to know more about these places, by all means contact us!
Date: August 2013.
Location: Sheerness, Rose Lynn, Sunnynook and Carolside, AB.