The old farm we’ll be touring with you today was last occupied in the 1990s but is little changed from the early days. Electricity? What’s that? Warmth came from an impressive wood stove and a dirty old oil heater. Cooking took place on that same wood stove. There wasn’t even a phone until very late in the game. Gotta some business to do? No indoor plumbing here folks…ever…head out back to the biffy…so much fun in a rain storm! The daily ride is an ancient grain truck, used until fairly recently. Everything is old school.
Inside and out, remains of everyday life have been left behind, stuff that once belonged to those who lived here not all that long ago. Books are filed away on a shelf, dirty old clothes hang on hooks. A row of work boots are at the ready. Keys are in the truck. It’s like they just up and left one day. Little touched by vandals, even most windows are intact (lace curtains too!). It’s a strange farm time capsule, mostly untouched and seen pretty much as it was.
A reminder, this place is on private property. We’ve been asked to stress that. Do to concerns of vandals, pickers and trespassers, they’ve also requested we be vague in speaking of the location so that it doesn’t get overrun. Let’s just say it’s up that way, over there, in the Edmonton area. Ditto when it comes to the names of those who lived here, and the details of their being. It’s a worry that what we say might allow people to uncover the location via research. What you see here is the “BIGDoer effect”. We’re forced to NOT write much in the way of a history in order to protect a site from unwanted visitors. That’s so damn wrong on a million different levels, but is the reality of it all.
Here’s what we know, here’s what we can say…
The farm dates from around 1910(ish), give or take a couple years, this being around the time the general area was opened up for large scale settlement. The house, it’s thought, but not confirmed, came from a catalogue firm such as Eaton’s. We looked and could not find it in any volumes we searched, but saw some that looked sort of close. Anyway, yes you could get a mail-order kit home you, your friends and your family could put together yourself. The barn may have also been supplied similarly. Other outbuildings appear to have been made on site from logs sourced nearby – the area was once heavily treed but is now a mix of fields and woods. Other sheds are more modern.
The house is modest in proportions, with two rooms on the main floor, a large kitchen and smaller living room. An attached back-porch type room is found off the kitchen door. Upstairs are three bedrooms, one large and two small. A door leads outside to the upper porch. Everything is simple and humble, if not a bit cramped for space. It strikes us as odd, there’s no light switches on the wall, nor any light fixtures on the ceiling. Lanterns or lamps till the end? That’s so 1920s! Paint, in many funky shades and colours, flakes off the walls.
The good sized stove seen is a McClary, from back east in Ontario. This company was a prolific maker and quite common out there in the wild. This is a Kootenay Model (circa 1920s?). The weight of it is causing the floor to buckle. The place has been deteriorating fast, it seems, since the last souls moved out, which we’re witness to here. Before long it might be in the crawl space. Just cringe thinking of the spiders down there.
Just to the left is the only relatively modern thing seen here, strange and out of place, a phone line and jack. A work order is found showing the connection to the outside world was not put in until the latter half 1980s. No phone till then? Wow! It was not in use long either as soon after being put in, the people moved out.
Fast forward a few years, to the early 1990s, and the place is empty, having never been updated nor renovated. Strange. Even though it’s been vacant for some quarter century, the place feels older, looks older, and seems far more weathered and worn than it should be. Beaning beaten has a way of accelerating age I guess.
On old gas-engine powered washing machine sits on the front porch. Looks like some of those coveralls seen in the photos could use a good scrub. Beside is a three legged chair. It almost looks staged.
A 1948-50 era Dodge trucks sits in a shed. The last registration papers found tell us it was used into the 1990s. It looks complete and in reasonable shape, if one ignores the bird poop everywhere. The keys were in the ignition. Just drive it away!
All manner of metal was scattered about the farm yard. Lots of danger here. Old farm equipment, wagons, and so on, it was all piled up here and there. In one outbuilding a metal forge was found telling us someone here was a blacksmith. What looks to be a clay lined oven or furnace sits in another part of the yard. Was it connected to the working of metal or was it simply for cooking? Experts, we’re looking at you! A home for Fido is found nearby.
In another shed the water pump is found. once belt driven off a small engine, the well directly below. Dovetail joints on these outbuildings tells us who ever made them was reasonably competent with an axe. In the area it’s not odd to find log sheds and such.
Dense brush is all about and in places the Caraganas grow so thick that passage is almost impossible. That hardy plant was formerly used for windbreaks and the like, in the old days, but once allowed to grow at will, soon takes over. In most areas they’re considered an invasive species, and are non-native having originally been brought over by early settlers coming in from Eurasia. When these and all the many trees on the property green up, the house will sort of get swallowed up by the jungle and disappear.
Across the road, in an even denser grove of trees and brush was a second farm. Just a house remains along with some stone gate supports. We found the history on it, but might have to leave it for another time.
Joining us this trip is view camera aficionado Rob Pohl. He’s supplied some photos used in this article, all captured with his “Ebony” camera. It looks old fashioned but in fact is modern in construction (a work of art if you ask us) and uses these giant sheets or film, which he processes himself in his own darkroom. Each shot requires a huge amount of set up – check the light, check focus, move the lens this way and that (“tilting and shifting”), refocus, light check again, followed by a multi-minute exposure. No snap shots here…but watching it play out is pure magic. We’re always in awe each time we hang with him. The dedication! The lost skills! We feel like such hacks!
We’re part of the film fraternity too and brought our 35mm along but ended up not using it that much. We were so caught up in the excitement and energy of this shoot, and what an amazing subject it was, that we simply forgot. It just hung there, off a nail which we ran around snapping away in the digital. All film users reading this are no doubt shaking their heads disapprovingly. Okay, we won’t let it happen again.
Interesting bits: not counting time to photograph and photo processing, this article took over ten man hours to compile. Lots of phone calls, huge time spend scouring papers and books – all for a few snippets of info, not all of which we could end up sharing with you. So much work for so little and then most of it thrown out! Sigh, that damn BIGDoer effect. I wish could write about these places without having to worry we’ll ruin them.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: November, 2016.
Location: Smoky Lake County AB.
Article references (and thanks): Local history books, Donald F, Rob Pohl.
This farm is on private property. BIGDoer.com visited with permission.