We’ve been to Rowley Alberta before. Many times in fact. An “almost” ghost town, full of history, photogenic as heck, tiny and just a few blocks square, it’s populated by a mere handful of residents. Not forgotten or dilapidated even though most buildings are empty, it’s all kept up to look much like it did back in its heyday. Picture it as time capsule of sorts transporting all of us back to some earlier, far simpler era.
You and I and anyone can visit and explore the streets of Rowley – welcome, please wander about, shoot away, photograph at will. And be sure to put some money in the donation box. Stroll down main street, the residential area, head on down to the train station and the towering elevators over there by the tracks. It’s all quite amazing, like it could spring to life at any moment.
We’ll be giving a capsule history of Rowley in this here post. Below that will be a link to something more in depth and comprehensive. Check it out after taking in this one, it’s a good read with some fine photographs.
Rowley was founded in the early 1910s, sort of concurrent with arrival of the Alberta Midland Railway, part of the Canadian Northern System, later folded into Canadian National Railways. There was a boom, for a short time, then the town began a long slow decline.
By the 1970s it was a shadow of its former self the population halved and halved again until it was almost nothing. This same story played out with many prairie towns. No different here. By that point it was near dead.
Then in the 1980s/1990s period, the place was fixed up, old buildings renovated and some new ones added, replicas but fitting in appearance. The status of the town change from that of a forgotten backwater, to that of a tourist attraction. A museum of sorts. And Hollywood called, a few features being shot in and around the community.
The tourists came by car or steam train – a lot by train. Freights still gathered up grain at the elevators. Then, in the late 1990s, the track was pulled out. Things quieted down again. Still, it can be quite the attraction some days, car load after car load of the curious, visiting, milling about taking photos, some camping in town. Taking in all historic Rowley has to offer. Then again, one can visit and have the place to themselves. It’s happened to us.
Want to know more about the town? Get the full history here…Rowley Alberta Ghost Town
Seen in this post, the fine old “Canadian Northern” station, circa 1920s, down by what’s left of the tracks – a small section was kept in place in town, on the otherwise abandoned line. There’s an old caboose over there (ex-CPR, perhaps out of place). And not far away, some grain elevators, circa 1910s-1940s. These always catch our attention. Railway stuff, grain elevators, our drugs of choice. The view from the station, down to the elevators is spectacular.
There’s a train due. I swear!
Between slices? Well, once per month they hold a pizza night. And the people they come, from far and wide, to chow down, a tasty dinner in an historic building and all that ambience to soak up. The group that takes care of Rowley earns cash for upkeep of everything from this event, while you and I and all the people that show (often a packed house) get to have some fun, then go home full and and content. It’s win-win for everyone!
And this is the reason we’re here. Good eats, beer, and most of all quality time with friends. Plop down in Sam’s Saloon, chat and eat and socialize, and take it all in (no pics – we did not get approval to shoot). But out there, the call of Rowley. It’s hard to resist and between slices, a quick dash outside to grab a couple random shots of town. Drawn to trains as we are we instinctively make a bee-line to the tracks. But we only had so much time.
Next visit, and there will be a next time, guaranteed (we may be there in a couple weeks), we’ll explore other angles. And there’s a lot to keep a photographer busy.
Even with what we covered, I suspect out readers can get a feel for the place, what it has to offer, what it’s all about. There’s that vibe, that feel, something different and compelling, a connection to the past that’s both fun and interesting. That one is witness to something special here. As though a time traveller.
You feel it. We fell it. Say it with me. Rowley is one “magical” place.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: March, 2017.
Location: Rowley, AB.
Article references (and thanks): Book: Pioneer Days – Scollard, Rumsey, Rowley. Alberta Wheat Pool Records, Geoffrey Lester and University of Alberta Press.
You are welcome to visit and walk around Rowley, but please show the town respect.