Stand in front of this old farm house and spin around slowly. Look around, look all around and know what it’s like to be alone. Totally alone. There are scant signs of human habitation for miles and miles around (repeat ad-nauseam), the vast nothingness stretching all the way to the horizon in every direction. Here in a pasture, low rolling hills providing the backdrop and a solitary tree its only company, is the former Howe Place. It’s the middle of empty and you could just as soon be on the moon or some deserted inland in the centre of the Pacific.
Who on God’s green earth could ever have lived in such a remote and out of the way place? Some damn tough people that’s for sure. Stay tuned for a little of their story, just a little, and marvel in the photos showing just how far removed from civilization the place is. It’s a mind blower. Damn stunning to look at, impressive in location, amazing to shoot, but oh so desolate. It’s almost overwhelming.
The dwelling, all that’s left of a once bigger farm yard, is not terribly old as these places go. Records and the memories of family are both a bit fuzzy but it’s generally agreed it’s from the latter half of 1920s (the area was opened up to settlement very late in the game). But wait, we find a concrete step with the date 1929 scratched in it. I guess that seals the deal. Still, one or two bits of contradictory and questionable information came up during our search which had us scratching our heads, one source sort of hinting it’s from the 1910s. We suspect that’s in error. It just doesn’t fit.
The building is fairly compact overall, gambrel (barn) roofed with centred dormers, two stories with a partial basement. It’s suggested this may have been a catalogue home, so built from a kit supplied by a retail juggernaut like the Eaton’s Company or someone similar. We searched but were unable to confirm this, but it sure looks catalogue. It just has that look. Experts, care to add to the discussion?
The house, it appears, was never wired for electricity. Plumbing, as in a place to do one’s businesses? Grab some reading material (Eaton’s Catalogue maybe) and head out back to outhouse. What they took in stride as day to day living would kill us today. Imagine doing that on a cool -20c day…with a wind? Heat was likely a coal furnace, or the still in place stove. The house had a radio (battery operated) at one time – we found it, or rather its remains, and evidence of an outdoor antenna assembly. The latter would need to be quite tall given the nearest station was quite some distance away. I suspected a fair number of hockey games were enjoyed here on long winter nights. That was required listening back then.
In the past there other buildings near the house, all long gone now. There would be a barn of course, corrals, granaries perhaps, sheds, that sort of stuff. Mention is made of a log building on the property (Logs? Where did they get logs? Seems they floated down the river from more wooded areas). It’s suggested this aforementioned building may have been the family dwelling before the house was built but we can’t say for certain.
There’s a bunch of old fence posts and wire inside the house. It’s otherwise mostly empty – well there’s the obligatory tons of bird poop, but then that’s expected. Empress Jam anyone? Boy, the cupboards are bare! An old stove remains behind.
The family who lived here were the Howes. We don’t know much about them. Seems they came here from England by way of the Dakotas and later Southern Alberta. What a long way circuitous trip if there ever was one. They farmed and ranched, keeping both cattle and horses. The latter, I guess, is what they specialized in.
Six children were raised at the house. It’s not that big a place, so it’d sure be “cozy” if everyone was home. The kids attended a school down the road a bit, a fair bit down the road in fact. Maybe that’s where the (always unbelievably long) walk to school legend comes from? In fact it was thirteen miles here, one way, or some twenty one clicks! We have confirmed, however, it’s not uphill both ways.
The Howe Place was lived in at least until the late 1940s, if not a wee bit longer (records and memories are again, sorta sketchy). The family then up an moved to a new location down by the river many kilometres away. Ever since, the building has been vacant – it’s stood empty more than it was lived in. How long it will stay standing, well no one knows. It’s certainty been ravaged by time and the weather (oh how the weather is nasty here). I don’t believe the current owners want it gone. Didn’t get that impression. Structurally, there’s a lot of rot, and things are sagging.
Outside the house itself, and a nearby road flanked by power poles, there’s no other signs of civilization to be seen. The nearest operating farm is over the horizon some distance away. The region was never heavily settled. How they lived here near alone without loosing it – you know that cabin fever thing – is anyone’s guess. Isolation will either make you strong, or make you crazy and you don’t get to choose. Come on, picture your self here, it’s the middle of the depression, the snow’s blowing, there’s no way out no where to go, the radio maybe the only contact from the outside world and tell me, how would you handle it? These people were bad-ass.
On the flip side, it’s a clear summer evening, the stars twinkle above, it’s dead quiet. It’d bring tears to your eyes. I’m thinking tough days out numbered those that were magic by a fair margin however.
The land here is currently grazing pasture. It was also farmed in the past but being a rather dry area, that was always hit or miss. Cows on the other hand seem to do okay with the natural grasses that grow here. Those low rolling hills in the back sure complete the scene.
It was cloudy and foggy on arriving at the site and it made for amazing photos. Within minutes the sky opened up becoming this glorious blue and it made for amazing photos. Damn, we got lucky twice! We’d love to come back to shoot the place at night. We need to do that more and this place is perfect for it.
Thanks to Jason and Becky Sailer for taking us to this amazing location. If you’d like to host Team BIGDoer like they did and guide us to some of your favourite special places, message away. But act soon, our calendar is filling up quick. A couple ground rules – you must like having fun, love getting out and are passionate. Skill level does not matter one little bit. Now, how easy was that?
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: October, 2016.
Location: Special Area #3, AB.
Article references (and thanks): George H, Brenda J, Jason & Rebecca Sailer, Glenbow Alberta Archives, Ourroots.ca, Ancestry.ca website (oh, the humanity).
The Howe Place is on private property. BIGDoer.com visited with permission.