Sep 182012
Retlaw AB ghost town

The ghost town of Retlaw is situated in the dry belt region of south central Alberta and sits along the former Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) Suffield Subdivision branch. Well off any major highways the place is seldom visited and is accessible only by a dusty back road. What little that is left of the town however offers a lot to the history explorer.

For example, the Retlaw United Church. Having been built almost a hundred years ago, this structure has been kept up and is still used for the occasional service. It was renovated recently.

Just beside the church is a well equipped picnic site inviting the few visitors who pass by to stop. We did! There is clean shelter with tables, bench seats and a propane BBQ. Damn I should have brought a steak!

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Just down the street is what we called the Retlaw show home. It’s sagging and leaning, is missing windows and some of the roof, and inside the floors flex and squeak. But it can be entered and it contains various things you’d expect to find in a rural or small town home. There is a McClary Quebec Heater cast stove with a teapot on top, there is a kitchen table with chair, jars in the cupboard, and a radio sitting against the wall. Plus there is two old sewing machines and other bric-a-brac.

Everything looks in place as if staged (and I think it was), but regardless the feeling is though the owner just up and left one day. A broom inside could be put to good use.

The only other building of historical note in the town is what appears to be a garage. It looks to be used by a local homeowner (one of only a couple in the area) and while sagging, seems to be reasonably solid.

Scattered throughout the town site are interpretative signs that document every building that once stood here. Someone went through a lot of trouble making them and another goes through a lot of trouble mowing all the areas around them. They give great and detailed insight into what the place was about.

Lots of old foundation can be found, plus other debris scattered here and there. Bed frames seem to turn up a lot in ghost towns and here is no exception. In a shed, some old railway cross bucks are found, remnant of the branch that once passed here. Large shade trees help us place where some buildings were.

Near the former train tracks is the Retlaw Cenotaph. Given the small size of the town, it amazing how many people from here served their country well.

Retlaw is Walter spelled backwards and the town was named for a CPR official. Little settlement took place in the region before the trains came in 1913. Concurrent with the railway, the plans were to build irrigation canals so the often bone dry prairies here could be successfully farmed. With these plans in place, the town prospered and grew – they had grand ambitions.

In the end the canal never came and it was instead routed well away from town. Without water, Retlaw and those who farmed nearby were doomed and in no time farms were failing, businesses were following suit and soon everyone just moved away. Into the 1920s the town was in a death spiral and by the 1950s the place was essentially the ghost town we see today. The only visitors at that time were the occasional freight trains passing through on the CPR line.

Retlaw was for a short period in 1913 the terminus of this CPR branch. This line connected to the mainline in the east near Suffield Alberta, and later (by 1930) was built west to the CPR Aldersyde line connecting to it at a point just south of Calgary.

This branch continued to see trains into the late 1990s or early 2000s when the line was abandoned (the exact date has still not been confirmed). Oddly, through the 1990s when I often travelled in the area delivering oilfield equipment, I never once saw a train along this branch or even a rail car at an elevator siding. The line was used, but not that often it seems.

There is little indicate where the Retlaw train station was, although the former rail line, elevator siding and locomotive turning wye can be easily discerned.

At one time, a diverging route was planned that was to head south of here towards Lethbridge, but it never got beyond the planning stages. Had that line been built, it’d be interesting to imagine how this could have impacted Retlaw.

Not in here, but rather a nearby town called Grantham, we find a string of old boxcars in a farmers field. I’d love to explore these!

To see some other ghost towns we’ve visited, follow any of these links…
Rowley Alberta ghost town.
In search of Mitford Alberta part 1.
Lumberton ghost town.

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

Date of adventure: September 2012.
Location: Retlaw Alberta.

Retlaw Alberta

The Retlaw “Showhome”.

Retlaw AB ghost town

It’s like they just up and left.

Retlaw Alberta ghost town

There are a couple sewing machines in the house.

Retlaw ghost town

The bedroom could use a coat of paint.

McClary Quebec heater

A McClary Quebec heater. The tea’s on!

Ghost town Retlaw

Another sewing machine.

Ghost town Retlaw AB

This old radio must have been gorgeous in its day. That broom could come in handy here.

Ghost town Retlaw Alberta

An old bed frame in the yard.

Retlaw AB old building

The railway line through Retlaw was abandoned in the early 2000s.

Retlaw AB ghosts

The location of a building.

Retlaw Alberta church

The church has been recently renovated.

Retlaw interpretative sign

These interpretative signs were posted at various locations in town.

Retlaw Alberta picnic site

The picnic site.

Old foundation Retlaw Alberta

An old foundation.

Town of Retlaw AB

The entire town seen from the former site of the train station.

Garage Retlaw AB

An old garage.

Retlaw AB Cenotaph

Retlaw cenotaph – given the small size of the town, a lot of men served in both world wars.

Old boxcars Grantham AB

Some old wood framed boxcars in a farmer’s field, in the nearby town of Grantham.


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16 Comments on "Retlaw ghost town"

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Jonathan Koch
Jonathan Koch

Great post. Retlaw is a neat place, the church is in great condition still. I have managed to miss the cenotaph the couple times I have been there, I will have to keep an eye open for it next time through.


My sister inherited a sewing machine looking much like the one on the ironing board. It can from an aunt who passed away recently.

Diane Tilma
Diane Tilma

Hi! I am glad you made it to our little area. I am a descendant from Retlaw. This is a look at our past. The church was really called the Retlaw united union church and is a historical site. The restoration of the church brought on all other things in Retlaw that you see today. Recently they celebrated 100 years and there were many visitors. The little ghost town came back to life for a weekend. This is home still to this day for many of us even though we no longer live here. You can find a lot of info on Retlaw I am happy you stopped by and I hope you signed the guest book in the church! Happy travels!

Kerrie (nee - Woods)
Kerrie (nee - Woods)

Hello Diane,

My dad (Harold John Woods) and his parents and siblings lived in Retlaw, I’m guessing late 20’s and into the 30’s. One of my dad’s siblings is buried in Retlaw, and I was wondering if you could give me some directions to the Retlaw Cemetery?

Thank you,

Jason Sailer

Those were wooden boxcars by Grantham? I noticed them driving by, but wasn’t sure if they were or if they were wooden sheds… Good to know! Did spot a motor car in the former hamlet.


Ghost Town Hunters send me here. Great webpage!


My ggrandparents lived in Retlaw at least from 1916-1921, when my ggrandmother died there. She is buried in Lethbridge, though. We are planning a trip through there this summer and hope these old building survived another winter.