In the 2005 movie Brokeback Mountain, Cowley Alberta doubles for the fictional town of Signal Wyoming. It’s not surprising the producers selected the community and it does a fine job convincing us its a 1960s era small prairie town in Middle America. Many scenes were filmed there and for this report we do our best to duplicate them.
The scenes we see here cover two separate chapters in the movie, but we’ll lump them all together for the sake of simplicity.
In the first shot, some of the earliest in the movie, we see Ennis (Heath Ledger) walking down the street, headed to a building where he hopes to obtain employment. Not long after, Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) arrives in his old truck. It’s this soon to happen meeting where the relationship between the men starts. Our shot duplicates those scenes, minus the cowboys and old truck of course.
The second and third set are from early in the movie too and these help set up the overall mood. That small town lonely feeling the producers captured so well.
We do our best to duplicate those scenes too and since the movie was shot less than a decade ago, little has changed in the time since. That makes it easy for us. All the buildings still exist, although some have been repainted or had new siding put on. They and the empty road and those large trees and the various telephone poles all help line things up.
Nearby is a busy rail line. This track, by the way, is the CPR’s southern mainline, it’s Crowsnest Subdivision extending west from Lethbridge Alberta. Train geeks will spot an obvious error from the movie, the scene where a train passes by. The cars are far too modern to represent those from the 1960s and of course back then all trains had a caboose bringing up the rear (the rear…snicker…let the Brokeback jokes start).
The structures that play a big roll in the film include the Co-op building materials store (hence the lumber seen), a meat processor, the post office housed in a Masonic Lodge, the town’s fire station and others. All these front on Railway Avenue (every small town seems to have one so named). It’s a quiet main street likely due to its location away from the highway which almost bypasses the town on it’s south side. That quiet off the beaten path feeling is perfect for setting the mood in this film.
In the next two sets we are further along in the movie at a point where the two main characters go their separate ways. At least for a time anyway and they will hook up occasionally over the ensuing years. In this melancholy scene, Jack drives away as Ennis walks down the empty street and the last view we have, an excellent parting scene, is from the truck’s rear view mirror (rear….oh, never mind). That shot makes it clear there is a deep connection between the characters. We do our best to capture those two shots.
Seen in both our pictures and those from the film are the large puffy clouds and striking blue sky often seen in the area.
Cowley is located just east of the Crowsnest Pass and is the last community before the foothills. On most days, facing west, one has excellent views of the mountains not far away. The place is famous for its wind too, and there are numerous wind farms nearby. It’s also a popular area for gliding and a small airport sits north of town.
Jack’s truck is a 1950 GMC pickup, and based upon our experience, one of the most common farm trucks from that era. At least around here – we see them all the time. Lots of other interesting vehicles can be seen in the movie too.
Images from the movie are copyright Focus Features.
To see some other Brokeback Mountain then and now shots we’ve done, click the links below…
Brokeback Mountain then and now – getting married and drive in movie.
Brokeback Mountain then and now – Riverton Wy bar.
Check out this post…
Genealogists don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.
If you wish more information about this place, by all means contact us!
Date: June, 2013.
Location: Cowley, AB.