Mar 012013
 
Champion AB church

Some days we simply pick a random small town and we walk around it, taking it what ever it has to offer. This day has us south of Calgary in the quaint village of Champion Alberta. It’s a picturesque and charming little place with a typical assortment of old and interesting buildings, many of them forgotten and vacant. We stroll around with no particular goal in mind, shooting what ever interests us at the moment. And as always we only scratch the surface and we could return many times and not run out of things to study and photograph.

Champion celebrated its 100th birthday in 2011 and while there were people living in the area before that date, it was the coming of the railway in 1910-11 which gave birth to the town. A centre of agriculture, farms in the area thrived, producing huge volumes of grain. In 1915 it earned the title as the “The One Million Bushel Town”, reflecting the tremendous quantity of grain shipped out in that year.

For a decade or two Champion flourished and the future looked brighter than ever. However as was the case with many small prairie towns, as the years passed the growth slowed and then stopped. By the time it peaked the town was home to over 600 people. Then came the decline – farms failed, businesses suffered, people moving away, a common scenario on the prairies. The exodus started slowly at first but quickly picked up momentum and today the town has half the population it did back in the heady days when the future held nothing but promise. It’s a quiet place on a Sunday and we saw only a couple cars.

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We park at the edge of town and start our trek and the first thing we do us come across some old and interesting vehicles, as we often to in small towns. They seem to be a mecca for this sort of thing The first is a Fargo truck from the period 1939-1947. It’s a bit beat up but looks complete and as I always seem to say, it would make a nice project. Fargo is interesting as they were only sold in Canada (and some other countries) but not the US. A re-branded Dodge, they differed only slightly from that brand. Since they sold in relatively small numbers, finding one is rare. They were made up until the early 1970s.

Next is a 1965 Pontiac Catalina, a nice land barge from a time when the cars were huge and the gas mileage was horrible (and few cared). This car is as old as I am!

Next to the grain elevators (which in Champion are long gone), usually the most prominent building in town is the hotel, in this case it’s called the Champion Inn. It’s sagging a bit and is a sort of rough looking and it appears to be closed. A sign on the door, from 2010, says that hopefully it will reopen soon. Perhaps wishful thinking?

The death of the hotel is often the final blow to the community as they are usually a hold out and one of the last businesses to go. It was the home to a Chinese Food restaurant that every small town seem to have. You know the place, it served those baseball sized chicken balls smothered in a syrupy sweet red sauce. The building is as old as the town and in the past is was known as the Savoy Hotel.

Next door is another structure large enough to be perhaps a second hotel (during the boom, small towns often had numerous hotels all within close proximity to each other). It’s not clear however and this is only a guess. Some buildings had plaques on them giving a short history of the structure but I either missed or, or it did not have one. Likely the former. I always miss a lot.

Further up the street is an interesting place called Legacy Corner (at least it says that on the abandoned gas station next door). Someone had made these cut-out metal sculptures each highlighting a specific moment in the town’s history and we have a great time photographing them, getting creative with the angles and light.

These vignettes show the town’s train station (moved to Champion Park, Okotoks), an old school, the cenotaph and others. Interesting they also show a coal mine and prior to this I did not know any existed in this area.

Next door is an abandoned gas and service station, an all too common sight in these small towns. And next to it is another building that might be yet a second garage and it has some simple but pleasant art-deco-ish lines. Inside the frosted window was this disturbing doll, which really creeped me out.

Turning around, we head back down the other side of Main Street photographing this and that in no particular order. What ever caught our eye or inspired us, and not everything did.

I am always drawn to train tracks ever since I was a kid, and before long I’m there. This is the CPR’s Aldersyde Subdivision, a secondary north/south line that sees a reasonable number of trains a day. This town and the others on this line owe their very existence to the railway, but now the two seem disconnected. Trains used to be the life blood of the community. Grain was shipped out, supplies shipped in, and passengers came and went. Now the trains pass through as through Champion never existed with the town seemingly forgetting the intimate connection the two used to share. The railway did not tear out the old elevator sidings so one can still imagine where those buildings were located with a large open space marking where they used to sit.

I find an old section of track rolled way back in 1902 and what makes it interesting is the manufacturer’s markings. Typically they used simple block text to mark the data on the rail the but this manufacturer used rather elaborate cursive lettering. Cool! The information shows it was made for the CPR, by the steel mill RSW (Rheinische Stahlwerke AG or Rheinische Steel Works, Germany). It was rolled in December 1902 and weights in at 80lbs per yard. It may seem odd that such an old track would still exists today but railways always get good use out of everything they buy, and ancient rail sections from the 1890s on can be found all over. Most exists on sidings, back tracks, secondary lines and the like.

In the area by the track where the train station and elevators used to be, a park of sorts has been set up, and there are miniaturized versions of various building, structures and machinery that could be found in the area – grain elevators, mining cars, a pump jack, and so on.

Our time is almost done and on the way back to the car we shoot some other interesting bits. Connie finds a plate that reads “Vulcan Combination Chain Drive made by the Vulcan Iron Works of Winnipeg, MB”. Anyone care to chime in what it could be from?

As mentioned earlier we have only touched on things and we could return to Champion time and time again and not get all the shots we want, nor absorb all the extensive history the town has to offer. I always like that we can return and find new things to explore in places we have already been to.

To see a very interesting Church in the nearby town of Carmangay Alberta, follow this link…
Little Church on the Prairie.

Also in Carmangay is a very impressive railway bridge and it see it, go here…
Bridge hunting – Carmangay Alberta.

If you wish more information on this place, by all means contact us!

Date: February, 2013.
Location: Champion, AB.

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Champion Alberta

The mountains far off in the west.

Inuksuk Champion Alberta

Inuksuk: A stone cairn used for navigation or as a marker.

1939-1947 Fargo truck

This Fargo truck dates from 1939-1947.

1965 Pontiac Catalina

A 1965 (good year) Pontiac Catalina.

Champion AB Legacy Corner

Legacy Corner, vignettes from the town’s past.

Champion AB School

Time for school!

One million bushels

In 1915, Champion was “The Million Bushel town”.

Champion AB train

Champion’s train station, like the steam locomotive and grain elevator, are all long gone.

Champion AB farmer

Loading grain to take it to market.

Champion AB veteran

Lest we forget…

Champion AB church

Time for church!

Champion AB coal mine

At one time there were a number of coal mines in the area.

Champion AB cattle

The raising of cattle is important to the area’s economy.

Champion AB gas station

An old gas station and garage.

Champion Alberta gas station

And next door, another garage.

Creepy doll

This doll was creeping me out.

Champion AB Main Street

Champion’s Main Street, looking west.

Champion town shield

The town shield.

Champion AB town office

The town offices.

Champion AB Main St.

Old buildings on the quiet main street.

Champion AB seniors centre

Behind the senior’s centre.

Champion Inn

A sign on the closed Champion Inn mentions that it’s hopefully only temporary.

Champion AB park

There used to be real grain elevators just behind these ones.

Old rail Champion Alberta

An ancient rail on the old grain elevator siding.

Champion Alberta park

A pump jack and coal mine car in the park.

Welcome to Champion

Welcome to Champion!

Vulcan Iron Works Winnipeg

From a Vulcan Combination Chain Drive made by the Vulcan Iron Works of Winnipeg, MB.

Champion AB senior's centre

Tow old timers rock the day away.

Fargo truck

One last look…

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15 Comments on "Champion Alberta"

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Jessica
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Jessica

Very interesting, old town. Whoever did those metal sculptures/laser cutouts did a great job! There’s an old hotel for sale next door to our business…I’ve always thought it would be a fun project. Such a shame to see them sit empty.

Great article!

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ChrisBigDoer

Agreed, I really like those cut outs and we had a ton of fun photographing them. Yes, an empty hotel is a sad place. Which hotel is next to you? Are you the Stone’s Throw in Blairmore?

Mr Ferrell
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Mr Ferrell

Wow what a cool little town!

Cody Kapcsos
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Cody Kapcsos

One of SAB neatest communities!

Guest
ChrisBigDoer

Agreed!

Pat
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Pat

The large building next to the hotel in Champion was a general store from the early 1900s to the mid 1970s. My parents owned it from 1950 to 1963. The store, the main street of Champion and the highway south of town appear in the movie “Leaving Normal”. The interior of the store was transformed into a bar for the movie. Great place to grow up!

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ChrisBigDoer

Cool, thanks for posting. I’ve seen the movie Leaving Normal and instantly recognized your town in those scenes.

Big Maeck
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Big Maeck

Am heading out to CGY in May and will definitely be making a stop in Champion to see what there is to see. I will definitely watch “Leaving Normal” as well – Thanks for the tip! Me Gran was a homesteader and school teacher from Scotland who settled there during the days of the Dustbowl, and married my Grandfather, who was a lumberman. She actually turned 100 in 2011 – the same year that Champion celebrated their 100th so got a nice pic of her in your Centennial T-shirt. Sadly she passed in 2012 at 101, but had many fond memories of Champion.

Karl Fischer
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Karl Fischer
Hi, Nice website and blog post on Champion. Although I don’t completely agree with some of the things in your post, I can certainly understand how a visitor would get an impression similar to yours. I’d like to take the opportunity to update and correct some of the things in your post. The restaurant in the hotel has opened for business again. The fellow who ran it was named Mike, and he was running it alone which eventually overwhelmed him. A couple moved from Fernie BC moved here and took over – it’s now renamed “Eric’s kitchen” and is a great spot for decent Chinese and Western dinners. As far as the “abandoned” garages go, the white garage next to legacy corner was actually purchased by the town a long time ago and is used by the town volunteers for the local chapter of communities in bloom – they store… Read more »
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