This adventure has us joining author Jonathan Koch from ForgottenAlberta.com. Together we’ll explore the field that was once the site of Bow City Alberta, “The City of Natural Resources”, a town which existed for only short moment in time. Also accompanying us, as our guide, is Leo Smith, a long time resident in the area, and he’ll be providing commentary on those things we’ll discover.
Connie and I visited what we thought was the Bow City site earlier in the spring. We were not there at all, not even close. Yikes, we documented Eyremore across the Bow River. The remains we found which we thought were connected to our subject were instead lefts overs from a later coal mine and workers camp that existed long after Bow City had already vanished into history.
I had no idea the mistake I made and it was only later, after talking with Jonathan who is an expert on the area, that I found out just how off I was. Okay, I’m humbled but it’s a common mix-up according to him. He states that there is so little documentation on the original town that many mistakenly believe the obvious remains on the Eyremore side are the location of the original Bow City town site. Nope!
He later sent me the coordinates of he town, situated well off in a field, and viewing the site on Google Earth there appears to be little left. In spite of that I still wanted to see it in person and mentioned that to Jonathan who suggested that we go together. Great idea! He also thought we should bring along Leo, who can help fill in even more of the blanks. An old timer, he grew up not far away and in fact the field which Bow City sits in is used by him to graze cattle.
A bit of back story on the town before we explore it…
Bow City was a flash in the pan, alive for only a few short years. Founded around 1910, it’s heyday was was in the period 1913-14. Early on a coal mine was started, a railway was planned, farms were established – the future looked bright!
The boom soon turned to bust however and the town ceased to be by 1920. The coal mine never reached the production levels hoped for. Serving only locals (cooking and heating fuel) there was no railway to take the product to far away markets. Also, being in a dry belt, farming was difficult at best and many of them failed.
In its brief history, the town became a promoters dream and its virtues were touted far and wide. Sure there was coal, lots of it, an ample water supply nearby, clay suitable for brick making, natural gas underground, and apparently even iron deposits. All of this, according to the literature of the day, made Bow City the potential rival of…no the soon to be equal of…the mighty steel town of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania! That’s how highly the promoters thought of this insignificant spot on the map. And many…well…suckers…bought it. Hook, line and sinker.
It was envisioned there would be a huge well laid out town with electric lighting, wide clean streets and more. It would be a model city. Of course a busy railway would serve it, bringing in people and taking out coal. Things looked so bright that a even a rail car factory was planned. Why not? There was steel to be made from the iron deposits, coal to smelt the metal, natural gas to fuel the factory, cheap electricity, and a well oiled transposition system to take the output to market. Watch out world!
With fliers and pamphlets touting Bow City’s advantages, parcels of land were sold far and wide, although few of those purchased them ever made it to town. Thank goodness! Can you imagine the shock when arriving in town? Expecting to see a dynamic bustling metropolis-on-the-move, and instead you find a small village with muddy streets on the barren prairie. The Bow City as the promoters saw it, who made off like bandits by the way, and how it was in reality were two very different things. Soon the lots sold would be worthless.
As the town was abandoned, buildings were either moved out or dismantled over time, although one succumbed to fire a few years before.
This is by no means a very detailed history of Bow City. In spite of its short time on this earth it had a very exciting and complicated past, far too much to be included in a single report. The whole promoter’s debacle could nearly fill a book in itself.
Arriving at the site, it’s clear that Bow City is not going to give up its secrets easily. We drive into what was the town, a featureless pasture that looks much like any other section of the field. What in the world can we hope to uncover?
Steeping out, little things start to become obvious. Is that a building foundation? Look, here’s some glass and pottery shards. Yes…people have been here.
We find an old car hood – from a Model T Ford according to Leo (I’ll take his word on it). Could it be the remains of an original resident’s car? More likely not and chances are the part may have been dumped here after Bow City as a town ceased to exist. None the less, it’s an fascinating find.
Also among the things found include an old stove door, some spikes, unidentifiable metal bits, and what is according to Leo, an original survey stake sticking out of the ground. He said there used to be many of them, but most are now gone.
Also seen in the grade of the Bow City Collieries Railway. They had grandiose plans but in the end only a small stretch of roadbed was ever completed – no rails were ever laid. The “line” can be followed for perhaps a kilometre and in places is faint.
In a another field, the location of the Bow City Hotel is pointed out. According to Leo, even today bits and pieces of wood and metal junk will surface when plowing the area in which it formerly sat. This author has seen photo of the building and it was huge. It burned down in 1915.
Just to the left is the only structure still standing in “town” but it is not really connected to it. A small residence it was built here after Bow City had vanished. Open to the elements, inside there is the usual deep layer of bird poop on the floor. Cut out newspaper and magazine clippings have been glued to the walls. Rudimentary insulation I guess. Leo recalls that someone last lived in it about fifty years ago.
On the high banks overlooking the Bow River, we take a brief look at the original mine site on the flats below. It’s along here that coal was first discovered, the seams being naturally exposed on the steep slopes not far from the river’s edge. Today, a house sits here and the mine is long gone although it’s interesting to think that a maze of tunnels exist not that far below our feet. Also seen from here are the scars from the later strip mine operation across the river. A former rest stop there used to be a plaque here telling of the town’s history.
In front of where we stand is Grassy Island and on it’s far side a cabin can be seen. It was not built here, but rather was swept down and deposited on the island during the nasty spring floods of 2013. Leo mentioned it just up and appeared one day. Wow, nature at work.
Before leaving we take a brief look at a cairn put in place by Vulcan County, honouring a local family that has farmed the area for over a hundred years. Farming this dry belt region is tough!
Not explored or discussed here but perhaps fodder for future posts is the later coal camps of which there were many. One was located just west of the original Bow City site and another down near the river at the mine. Later still a camp was established across the river in Eyremore (link to it below). We’re not done with BC and hope to return – there is little to see but none the less so much history to uncover.
From a promoter’s flier…
Grasp these facts about Bow City – The conclusions of the matter.
Bow City is growing.
Bow City is growing in Popularity.
Bow City is growing in Potentiality.
Bow City is growing in Value.
Bow City is growing in Attraction.
Bow City is growing in Wealth.
Bow City is growing in Worth.
To see an article we did on the Kleenbirn Collieries strip mines in Eyremore across the river from Bow City, and the train loading tipple not far away, check out the link below…
Bow City Coal and Kitsim Siding.
To visit Jonathan Koch’s wonderful website, on the history of southeast Alberta, follow this link…
If you’d like to know more about what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: August, 2013.
Location: Bow City, AB.