Mar 282013
 
Mitford AB graves

Mitford Alberta, founded in the mid 1880s and dead by the turn of the twentieth century. Somewhat of a sad tale, it’s a story of hopes and dreams dashed. In spite of the fact it’s within sight of a large population, few have ever heard of this forgotten little town. That’s not surprising I guess given its relative obscurity and short life – it had already come and gone before most towns in the province were even established.

Home to a sawmill, a logging railway, and a brick works, not much can be found of the former townsite (now an empty field) except for some scattered bits and evidence of the rail line. There is however one very interesting remnant, the Mitford Cemetery, the final resting place for a number of souls.

Located just beyond Cochrane town limits, it’s my fear that the site will soon be swallowed up by the fast encroaching development. With that in mind I’ve made it my goal to document, via field research, as much of the town’s history as possible. There’s not much to see but with a little work we mange to find some fascinating things.

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The town dates from the early days long before Alberta was even a province (it was called the North West Territories then) and it was the coming of the CPR in the mid 1880s that gave birth to it and its various enterprises. Lumber was needed and so a sawmill was established with the CPR shipping out the final product to markets in Calgary and elsewhere. Mitford was founded by Thomas (Tom) Cochrane. He also established the sawmill and logging railway mentioned here and had in hands in other endeavours too, beyond the scope of this report. Mitford was the name of a friend of Cochrane’s wife.

In addition to the industries mentioned, the town also had the usual assortment of businesses, a hotel, livery stable, drug store and so on. Plus a number of houses too. Outside of the sawmill, brick factory and church, the locations of any other buildings have not been established.

In 1890 a saloon was built which was later converted to the town’s school. A couple years later a church was established as well, the All Saints Anglican. Interestingly these two buildings were later moved to Cochrane and both still stand to this day and will appear in a follow up report (links below)

Once the sawmill was in place it needed to be feed and so logs were brought in by horse from an area north of here. That method of transport soon proved inadequate and so a railway was built to tap the further reaches of the valley they were working. It was a lightly built and cheaply engineered narrow gauge line. Its path took it to a point above town at the edge of the escarpment, were it doubled back heading to hills in the northwest. One would question how a logging railway could thrive on the mostly barren prairies, however once a few kilometres from town, the hills were (and are) well forested.

To reach the bluff above the town the trains had to negotiate an incredibly steep grade, so challenging that sometimes horses were used to assist the locomotive. On the down trip I guess a runaway train was not unheard of and they mention lots of derailments along the whole line, not surprising given temporary nature of the line.

This author has seen a map from the time and it makes mention that the line was laid with steel rails for the first few kilometres, with wood rails being used further up. It was very lightly built. In addition to logs the line also handled coal brought in from a spur line, but I guess that endeavour did not last long, the coal being too expensive to extract and of spotty quality. This mine was located on the bank of the aptly named Coal Creek a few kilometres west of here.

It was relatively easy to find the old rail grade. Just north of the empty field where the town stood there was clear evidence of the roadbed, which I followed for many kilometres. In spite of being built a hundred and twenty five years ago, it was in remarkably fine shape. I was doubtful I’d find anything and so discovering it and following it was a wonderful experience.

The sawmill operated into 1890 and with its closing, the logging railway was abandoned and torn up. There is mention that the locomotive was sold to a lumber company in Golden BC at that time. While this should have been a death knell for the little village, it manged to hang on a little while longer, until the turn of the century when it was basically abandoned.

After the sawmill closed a brick works was established, but it only lasted a couple seasons before it too shut down. In searching the empty field where the factory was located I was able to stumble across a couple broken examples.

Above town on the bluffs overlooking Horse Creek, we manged to find two parallel lines of stones, clearly placed here by man. But what they are is anyone’s guess. Back down and just east of the sawmill and brick works site another row of round and flat stones were seen and these could have been a foundation or perhaps steps. We also saw more bricks here.

Crossing Horse Creek, which bisects the town site, we come to the biggest prize of the day, Mitford’s cemetery. Sitting in a cow pasture it’s fenced in and contains five visible grave stones with one having two names on it. All are in rough shape and tilting at various angles and one has a nice picket fence around it. One is so worn and heavily weathered as to be mostly unreadable. It’s also possible there are other internees here as there were other depressions found, but no other grave stones.

The cemetery yard was also where Mitford’s Anglican Church sat, built in 1892 and moved to Cochrane some seven years later. Today it’s known as All Saints Anglican Church.

Interestingly, even though the church was moved by the turn of the twentieth century, the cemetery continued to be used after that. In fact all dates are after that. Three say 1902, one 1905, one 1909 and one is unreadable.

This information was taken from the five gravestones…

1) In loving memory (the only parts readable).
2) Arthur S Townsend, died 1902 aged 41 years. Evelyn Annie and Mary Elizabeth infant children of A.S. Townsend and Mary Ann Townsend, now at rest. (Does this mean those kids are buried here too?)
3) John Williams, died 1909, aged 36 years.
4) Walter Jones, 1856-1902. James William Jones, 1892-1905 (perhaps Walter’s son?)
5) Richard Smith 1858-1902

Heading back to the train bridge, we look for evince of the toll bridge that stood beside it. Nothing could be found.

Mitord is on private property but I was unable to find who the current owners are to get permission. If you visit here and are asked to leave, do so without complaint and take nothing but pictures. We had no troubles though and outside of a passing train the only other thing to keep us company was the din of construction machinery in the new neighbourhood not far behind us.

What’s in store for Mitford and its little cemetery? With the town of Cochrane fast encroaching, I have a feeling that what little is left will either be swallowed up or bulldozed in oblivion. A sad final chapter perhaps?

In the next instalment of this series we have plans to visit the location of he coal mine mentioned in this article, along with more of the railway line. We’ll also shoot the old saloon and church both of which stand in Cochrane, Plus, the biggest part is we hope to make a trek into a different coal mine, one that operated west of Mitford, on the south side of the Bow River near the CPR tracks. The latter will require a fair trek in. These will be done in no particular order.

To see part two and three of this report, follow these links…
In search of Mitford Alberta part 2.
In search of Mitford Alberta part 3: Bow River Coal

To get to Mitford, we hiked along Cochrane’s river pathway and to read a report on about that adventure, go here…
Cochrane river path.

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

Date: March, 2013.
Location: Mitford, AB.
Mitford is on private property.

CPR Mitford AB

This train was my only company, although the din of construction could be heard in the distance.

Mitford Alberta bricks

Mitford was once home to a brick works but it lasted only a couple seasons.

Cochrane's logging railway

The grade of Cochrane’s logging railway still visible after 125 years.

Mitford AB townsite

The field below was home to the sawmill and brick works and in the foreground we can see the railway grade.

Cochrane logging railway grade

Hard to see in pictures, the rail line was easily followed.

Logging railway Cochrane

The old railbed stretches off in the distance.

Devil's Head mountain

Devil’s Head mountain 70km away.

Old railway grade Mitford

The railway grade here is easy to see.

Mitford AB remains

These stones in a line hint at human activity.

Remains Mitford Alberta

Not far away from the first, another line of stones is found.

Horse Creek Cochrane

Horse Creek near the town site.

Old bricks Miford AB

Some more old bricks in the area near the town site.

Old foundation Mitford

An old foundation or some steps, but clearly something man made.

Mitford cemetery

The first headstone we found was badly worn and mostly unreadable.

Mitford AB cemetery

Arthur Townsend passed in 1902.

Mitford Alberta Cemetery

John Williams is the newest resident here, having bought the farm in 1909.

Cemetery Mitford AB

Walter Jones 1856-1902.

Cemetery Mitford Alberta

James William Jones, 1892-1905, on the same headstone as Walter Jones.

Mitford AB graveyard

This was the most elaborate grave at the site.

Mitford AB graves

Richard Smith 1858-1902.

Mitford Alberta graves

There are five headstones in total, four of which can be seen here. This site was also home the Anglican Church.

Mitford AB cemetery plot

The town of Cochrane can be seen in the distance.

Mitford grave stones

I fear it won’t be long before Mitford is swallowed up by the encroaching development.

Mitford AB bridge

At one time there was a toll (road) bridge beside this one.

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37 Comments on "In search of Mitford Alberta part 1"

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Attrell
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Attrell

When me and my wife tried to go there in 2003, it seemed impossible to get access!

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ChrisBigDoer

I came in from the river, which was longer but easier. I heard stories about an angry old lady who owned the site, who would confront you if you tried to enter, but she must be gone now.

Lori M
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Lori M

Wow, I’ve been looking for that cemetery from some time. I see the city behind but still can’t figure out where it is. Can you help?

Guest
ChrisBigDoer

Yes, I’ll email you where it is. You’ll have to jump at least two barbed wire fences though.

Lee Ellis UK
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Lee Ellis UK
I am looking to find the spot where my great grandfather is buried so that I can visit him. This is the only information I have. My great grandfather’s name was John Williams and he came to Canada at the beginning of the twentieth century to be a cowboy. He was born in Darlington UK and and died in 1909 in Cochrane Alberta at the age of 36 years. His last job was at a local ranch and so he died a cowboy! I do not know what he died of. A lot matches the John Williams grave you found except for the location. But I wonder if it’s him? You see, his name does not show up in the Cochrane Cemetery records and since you say Mitford is close by, maybe he’s buried there? He did belong to the Church of England which is affiliated with the Anglicans. It’s… Read more »
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ChrisBigDoer

Wow, it does seem to fit. By all means email us and I’ll fill you in on what we know. Fingers crossed – I hope this puts an end to that mystery.

Cochrane
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Cochrane

Thanks for this, I visited over a decade ago (I was the one who had the reported “angry old lady” run-in.) The land was sold in 2011, not sure to who, but the whole section sold for over $6 million. If there’s development there I hope they can incorporate the tiny cemetery somehow as a nod to the area’s pioneers. And it sure sounds likely that Lee Ellis Darlington’s great-grandfather has been found. Good work.

Guest
ChrisBigDoer

I recall your post and it’s what actually motivated me to start the Mitford series. I am worried all of the former town will be bulldozed soon, but hopefully the cemetery can be saved. There must be regulations protecting places like this. Six million – wow! Yes, I am confident that Lee’s ancestor has been found. Everything points to it being the right grave, expect for one small detail. He was supposed to be interned in Cochrane, but there is no such entry at the cemetery there. Since Mitford is so close to the former, this could easily explain that discrepancy.

RomanyStew
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RomanyStew

Great photo’s Chris,I had never heard of it before. I had to look it up and I will have to check it out before it’s gone.

Guest
ChrisBigDoer

Cochrane is fast encroaching, so check it out as soon as you can!

Ming
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Ming

Hi, Chris and Connie,

I went Mitford yesterday, I hiked along both the river bank and the railway track for about 500 meters, but I can not find any cemetery and townsite ruins. I got to the creek and was very close to the steel bridge.

Can you tell me how to find it ?

Thanks
Ming

Guest
ChrisBigDoer

Hi Ming, I’m happy to help and will email you directions.

Francesco
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Francesco

The “In Search of Mitford” series is remarkably well researched and written and I can’t wait for more updates, which I hope are coming. I’ve visited the cemetery once, a few years ago, and always wanted to know more about the town and its history.

Thank you,
Francesco
Cochrane Alberta

Guest
ChrisBigDoer

I hope there will be more to come. There is still a lot left to research. Thanks for posting.

Jeff
Guest
Jeff

Hi Chris and Connie,
Just read your page on Mitford. Well done!
My name is Jeff and my family has been in Cochrane and area for over a hundred years.
As I get older history seems to be more and more a passion of mine.
I always knew Mitford was over there “somewhere” but thanks to your research I will be visiting
Mitford this summer.
Thanks and Cheers.
Jeff

Cochrane
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Cochrane

I had an e-mail today from findagrave.com where I’ve recorded these names. It read: “I am looking for a Arthur Samuel Townsend, born in England, who was married to a Mary Ann Bottomley (#133122737) I know of two sons, William Ernest Townsend (#133122597) and Albert Cusworth Townsend (#10839576). I know William was born in Alberta and hope this memorial is his father.” It seems likely, though not a certainty. I can’t read the entire headstone, but it seems two girls and Arthur’s wife are buried there as well? Please let me know (via e-mail as well as here please, I may not get back here enough.) It would be incredible if your work and this internet sleuthing led to the protection of a cemetery where development is likely to result in the exhumation and reburying of these pioneers.

Brenda Spilker
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Brenda Spilker

Thanks for your posts on Mitford. I hadn’t been there since 1981 ish and had understood the gravestones were going to be ‘adopted’ by the Anglican Church and moved to a ‘memorial’ area under their care. Will have to turn up some heat on that. As descendants, we want the headstones treated respectfully and preserved. After the death of Arthur S. Townsend, his wife and 4 surviving children lived in Cochrane for a spell. Ultimately they moved to Golden BC. No other Townsends are buried in Mitford. Thanks again. You and your website are a wonderful find!! I enjoy your reverence for all things old and historical!

Warren Hall
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Warren Hall

I am thinking of taking a walk around the area to view. I live in Cochrane and would love to see this area. Would it be possible for you to send me directions or a map of how to get there.

Thanks

Wilfred Alan Phillips
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Wilfred Alan Phillips

Hello Chris,
I have a marriage record of my great grand father Thomas George Phillips marring a Nancy Lewis in 1893 in Calgary. His residency is stated as rancher from Mitford. Both came from England. The family story I have is that he lost his ranch in a poker game before they moved to Vernon BC. resulting in a divorce around 1908. I have not found any conclusive records of the ranches location but appreciate if you come across any information on Thomas and Nancy to email me. Thanks for your time.

John Frey
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John Frey

I ran into your site while researching Lord Tom and Lady Adele Cochrane. I think I know a little about Richard Smith, who is buried in the Mitford grave yard. I believe that his wife, Amy Ellen Coombs, returned to England to study midwifery. She returned to the Didsbury area, married again to Charles Brown of Rugby, and practiced midwifery into her ’70’s. My mother, who taught at the Rugby school, knew her well. I was the last infant she delivered – in 1938.

Sarah U.
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Sarah U.

Lived in this area most my life, and had no idea! So cool to learn about this! Also curious to know if you have more info on this,… The brick factory mentioned… Is that the old one located east of Cochrane, in what is now Glenbow Ranch?? There’s one at the bottom of the hill, could that be it? Would it have been moved? Or would there have been more than one in the area? Thanks!

Fred & Sandra Land
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Fred & Sandra Land

So glad I found this site. So much real AB history. Thank you.

Louise Patrick
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Louise Patrick

Tks, I read the articles – great pics – I hope someone is able to preserve it at least as a park maybe.

Carolyn Thorne
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Carolyn Thorne

Thanks for posting this. Interesting article. I’d previously read about Mitford but couldn’t pinpoint it’s exact location. I had wondered if it had been closer to the park and school that bears it name. I will keep an eye out next time I’m walking by as I live just up the road from it!

Marie Sinclair
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Marie Sinclair

(via Facebook)
Thanks for documenting our history!

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