The home, the barn, everything seen in this yard once served a rather unique and special purpose. Operating as a fully functioning “demonstration farm”, near Vulcan Alberta, and tied to the Canadian Pacific Railway, it was a show piece of sorts a century ago, promoting the region’s agricultural potential. Come, see how to farm. Then move here, and farm. See what it takes to be a successful homesteader – we’ll show you how it’s done. Yes, right here! We’ll help get you started. Own a farm just like this. My friends, a new life calls.
Prospective settlers would be told where to acquire land and of course similar farm buildings, what crops to grow and how to do it efficiently, what equipment to purchase, what techniques to use and so on. It was simple, almost turn key. Plop some buildings on your newly bought land, apply what you’ve learned, and you’re in business my friend. Easy or what?
The CPR had a vested interest, of course, in the success of this endeavour. They’d profit both on the sale of these kit farms and then again, many-fold, on the resultant business brought to the railway through the moving of inbound materials needed by all those new settlers; and outbound agricultural products the area would produce. And the transporting of people in and out, all the stuff needed for new towns that would spring up, and any industry established there, they too all moved by railway. It was win-win for the CPR!
This demonstration farm was one of many set up across the prairies by the railway, in the early part of the twentieth century. It’s from 1912. Each, it appears, was unique in form and would be built in areas just opened up for general settlement, often concurrent with the coming of a new railway line. They would used for a number of years, or even decades, then when the population potential of the area was reached, or their usefulness fully exploited, which ever came first, they’d be disposed of piecemeal or sold off in some way. Over time the buildings connected to these places have mostly disappeared.
This example, located just outside the community of Vulcan (on private property, please respect that), it’s believed, is the only one left that’s intact and complete where built and appears pretty much as built. This fact makes the site historically significant. Absolutely. It’s a rare beast.
It’s not entirely clear how long the CPR operated the farm. Some records suggest up until the late 1910s, others well into the late 1920s. What we found seems rather contradictory.
We do know a bit about the farm’s first manager, who lasted from opening until about 1915, but nothing of those that followed. After disposal by the CPR, when ever that was, the farm clearly continued to be used and lived in at least the 1960s if not a wee bit later. Clearly by the 1970s, the house was empty however, although the barn and outbuildings seem to have seen use, in some capacity, for a time after.
Some gaps here, for sure. We’ll continue research and will update as needed (the BIGDoer way: put down what we know now and update posts as more comes in). You know something? We’d love to hear from you.
The house and barn, and perhaps even the other outbuildings here, were all built to standardized plan offered by the railway. These could be bought as off-the-shelf kits for easy assembly on one’s own property or sometimes we’re pre-built and bundled with a parcel of land. Several different models, sizes and layouts of houses and barns were offered depending on the need and budget.
The house is fairly simple and square with few ornate elements. Even plain, it’s charming in its own way. There’s room inside for a good sized family. It looks like a coal stove originally provided heat. Electricity was added at some point, post World War Two, it’s sort of hinted at. Plumbing? Well, the biffy’s outside so that answers that question.
The barn is unremarkable, utilitarian and functional – ones like it lacking the traditional gambrel type barn roof, never seem that attractive. The wind driven water pump looks to be complete.
The house has been boarded up, but even so, birds and elements have gotten inside and made a mess. The place looks and feels structurally sound. The barn, less so but still somewhat solid and true. The other two outbuildings, which may have been added post CPR ownership (it’s hinted at) are not doing as well. They’re perhaps beyond salvaging.
A group is working to take over stewardship of the demonstration farm and have it officially recognized as an historic resource. It has an important connection both to the province’s rural roots and its settlement history. Wonder, how many people came to the Vulcan area and went on to be farmers because of this place? It surely had an impact on the region’s success.
If and when the group acquires it they’ll have their work cut out. The roof needs attention for one. I know there’s a million other things too. Still, it’s not beyond saving and with a bit of elbow grease could be restored to its former glory. Money will be needed, lots of it (as someone working to help save old buildings, trust me, it’s not cheap). Regardless, we wish them the best. Given what this farm represents, it mostly definitely should be saved. I doubt anyone would argue that.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: August, 2016.
Location: Southern Alberta.
Article references and thanks: Bev, Todd, Book – Wheat Country, a History of Vulcan and District, Vulcan County Heritage Survey, Vulcan Advocate, Miscellaneous CPR Records.
The CPR Demonstration Farm is private property. BIGDoer.com visited with permission.