In early August, Connie and I were out exploring a lonely section of Alberta, the dry belt region southeast of Hanna. It’s a forgotten and empty place with few inhabitants, ghost towns and seemingly more abandoned farms then those that are lived in. In other words, it’s the perfect playground for us.
The farm seen here was the first one we explored this day, one we almost missed had Connie not pointed it out. It was hidden behind some huge shrubs and trees, out of site from the road. While we did not know it at the time, afterwards we were able to find small snippets of history about the place, hereafter known as the Burns Farm, so named for the original family that lived there.
Built around a century ago (conflicting data shows 1912 or 1917) it remained in the Burns family until 1941, when they sold out due to continuing crop failures and challenging conditions. That’s a common theme in the area and the reason so many farms were abandoned. Farming here was tough!
No mention is made of who they sold it to, nor how long it was lived in after that, but one can assume it was occupied for a time afterwards. I’d guess until the late 1950s or perhaps a bit after that, based upon some dated papers found in one shed.
A few pictures have been found showing the Burns family, and in one they are standing near the front door (undated). In another, the whole house is seen on the sale day in 1941. Looking at the structure today, little has changed since then and it otherwise appears the same (albeit a bit weathered) as it did so long ago.
In fact it’s so unchanged, one can easily imagine the hustle and bustle of a house being lived in. You can step back in time – breakfast is being cooked, the kids are getting ready to head off to school, the farmer, who’s been at work for hours already, returns from the field for a quick bite to eat. A dog barks, the chicken cluck – it’s a busy place. Now, it’s an empty shell, lonely, forgotten and exposed.
In the data we’ve found, it appears that many Burns children were born while the family lived at the house. Most it appears quickly moved away, to green pastures I’d assume, on reaching adulthood.
We explore the old house peering in various windows and while there is nothing left inside, save for a single blue plastic chair, one can easily make out what each room was for. The whole building sags somewhat but does appear fairly solid. Like nearly every old farm, its missing its doors and windows, allowing birds, animals and the elements inside. The front door that once welcomed visitors, now welcomes no one.
Wandering around the site we find old farm machinery, remains of old trucks and the like, you know stuff you find at nearly every old farm. While I don’t know much about the former, the latter are fairly easily identified, one as a late 1930s Chevrolet pickup (because of its grill). The other is only a bare cab, so it could be either a GMC or Chevrolet pickup, dating from the late 1930s until 1946. The same cab was used all those years for both makes.
On the other side of the yard I find a makers plate on a mangled piece of automotive steel. The embossing tells us the vehicle is a 1941 one ton (not sure if GMC or Chevrolet). Perhaps it belongs to the second cab we found? That sort of fits. What’s interesting, this vehicle was built at the GM Regina Saskatchewan plant, which makes it pretty rare and unusual. I note this vehicle had a very low serial number (#194).
This factory, built to serve Western Canada, operated from the late 1920s before being closed by the great depression. It reopened in 1937, before closing again, but this time for war production, in mid 1941. The plant never produced cars again after that date. My understanding the modest operation produced Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Buick cars, plus GMC and Chevrolet trucks. Quite a varied output!
In the data we have, mention is made of a barn on the property. There is not one standing today, nor could evidence be found of it, although the grass was knee deep and an old foundation could have easily been missed. There are a couple sheds, full of the usual flotsam – bails of barbed wire, old tractor parts and the like. There is also a very large biffy.
Living in the house was a family of Great Horned Owls and they scared the heck out of us, flying out a window as we approached. The three birds perched on a nearby shed, keeping an eye on us the whole time. These would not be the last Owls we’d see this day and we encountered more at the Mink Ranch, another abandoned farm we explored later.
While the area this farm is in was populated for over a century, it was not until the coming of the railway (nearby) in the early 1920s that things really took off. At least for a time anyway, until everyone realized the area was just not that good for farming. An exodus started almost immediately and in the decades that followed the population dwindled to near nothing. The railway pulled out in the late 1970s but most residents were long gone by then. Today, there is oil and gas activity in the area, plus a large coal mine and power plant. Some farming still takes place.
Rain fell for most of the morning and this made taking pictures difficult. However, the grey skies added a nice sombre feel.
One this same trip, we explored some old towns in the area, and to see that report, click the link below…
If you’d like to know more about the old farm seen in this post, by all means contact us!
Date: August 2013.
Location: Near Rose Lynn AB.