In this “then and now”, we take two scenes from the 1985 Disney flick Journey of Natty Gann, set in the 1930s, then return to the exact spots where they were shot to document what things look like today. The location here is downtown Coleman Alberta, in the historic Crowsnest Pass. Full of many century old or near century old buildings, this time capsule of a town is a very convincing setting for this depression era film. I can see why the producers picked it.
In the movie, the pivotal character, Natty Gann, along with her companion dog, travel the country in search of her father, who she’s heard is working in a lumber camp out west. Along the way she meets lots of interesting people and has many adventures. In the scenes we’ve pulled from the movie, Natty visits a small town on her journey, soon finding herself in hot water on being accused of vagrancy.
What makes this film interesting to us, besides its entertainment value, it’s not a bad movie but is perhaps a bit sticky-sweet in places, is that it was filmed in an area we know well. By the way, the film is set in the US, even though much of it was shot in Canada, mostly in the Crowsnest Pass, but also in BC as well.
There are two buildings of note seen in the movie, that we’ll talk about here. The yellow structure is the Italian Hall, built in 1904. Originally a hardware store, in the early 1910s it was acquired by the Italian Benevolent Society, a group who provided help and support to those in the community from that country, most of them workers at local coal mines.
There was a store on the main floor, later a pool hall and beauty salon, a meeting hall on the upper level and a residence in back. In the 1930s, the building got an art deco-ish makeover and it’s appearance today reflects that change.
It’s not entirely clear when the hall was vacated by the society. The organization lasted into the 1990s, although if they were still using the building at that late date, is not known. Today it’s empty. In the movie it was made up to look like a retail block. Notice that another structure once stood directly to the right, which is now an empty lot.
The next building is an old grocery store, the structure viewed front on in the second set of photos, but also seen in the first set, the one in back with the stepped roof profile. Also built in 1904, a second story was added a couple years later as was a separate residence in behind. The building operated as a butcher shop initially, but morphed into a full grocery store in the 1920s when new owners took control. Now called Holyk’s Grocery, it remained in business into the 1960s.
What happened to the building since then is not entirely clear. Today it belongs to a guitar repair firm however, at least that’s what a sign posted in front says. Of the two structures we’ve discussed, this one appears in worse repair than the other, although neither is in terribly great shape. They’ll need some work soon. In the movie, it aptly portrays a grocery store. I wonder if those awnings were movie props or originals from the old days?
In the one photo Natty and her pooch are seen walking into the scene. Interestingly, we caught a couple people close to that same spot. Notice how the street in behind and sidewalk differs from era to era. Otherwise, not much has changed though. The place is timeless.
Both of these buildings are historically recognized in one way or another, although what that means in respects to their future is not entirely clear. I suspect they’re not threatened however.
If you like old buildings, Coleman is sure to impress. Downtown is full of fine vintage structures, most of them empty, which date from the first few decades of the twentieth century. This was back when coal mining drove the local economy. Walking about the core, it’s as though time has stood still here. It’s haunting.
Even though the town makes a great setting for period movies, interestingly, it’s not appeared in many. I’d be curious to know why.
We compose our now shots in camera and no photo-shopping, cropping or other post production trickery is used to help line things up. These types of shots are not easy, trust us, and as such our results can vary somewhat, but mostly they are pretty good overall.
The images from the movie, Journey of Natty Gann, are copyright Disney Studios.
More movie then and now posts…
Journey of Natty Gann – mountains and old houses.
Legends of the Fall – then and now.
Silver Streak movie then and now – walking the tracks (filmed in the area).
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: September, 2014.
Location: Coleman, AB.
Article sources: local history books, Internet Movie Database.
Everything seen in this report is publicly accessible.