These are the words oftentimes heard when describing long forgotten places…”if these walls could talk”. It’s a catch all phrase really, some might say an overused one at that, when nothing else comes to mind – “this empty old farm house…if these walls could talk”. Yada, yada, yada. Still, more often than not, it fits, even if a bit cliche. And it most certainly applies here. This stone house, abandoned, damn remote, all alone on the plains, all that’s left, just four walls. Ones that most certainly have a story to tell.
Our location is the Special Areas of Alberta, eastern part of the province. It’s a vast swath of land, fields of grain and pastures, home to far more cows than people. Dry, unforgiving, it’s no place for the timid. Between large gaps of emptiness there’s the occasional farm, and little else. Well, there’s gas wells, everywhere, and gas roads everywhere – a maze of them – damn easy to get spun around here – and rough gravel tracks that somehow pass for highways.
Then, add dried up sloughs, endless views to the horizon, wide open spaces with no signs of civilization and it seems like a scene from some sci-fi movie. ”Welcome…to the forbidden zone!” Fully expecting Lord Humongous to show up at any time along. You know…“Warrior of the Wasteland…The Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla!”…along with the buttless chaps guy. Side tracked again…I guess what we’re sayin’…this place is “Off the Beaten Path”. It is today and always has been. We saw not a single person, nor vehicle the time we were here.
Still people live here and have for some time. Never many though. There was a boom period, briefly in the 1910s-1920s when the population “exploded”. Settlers moved in, the future bright. But most found the land too inhospitable, the conditions too difficult and soon moved away. Seems one thing was missing, rain. Not enough to make a go of it. Crops withered and cattle perished.
From that early era, there’s the house seen here. It dates from the around 1910-ish. The couple that built it (they never had a kids) came in from the Eastern US. Given there was little wood in the area, perhaps no wood, unless shrubs count, they decided to make their dwelling of stone. No problem, Mr Settler (we can’t use his real name), as it turns out, was a stone mason. Easy as pie! Imagine however, the amount of back breaking work it took to collect the rocks. Wow! It’s all held together by a thick mix of concrete.
The house was single story with a wood roof, rather modest in size. That it’s of stone gives it great character.
The couple raised hogs, lots of them I guess. The land here was no good for grain farming. The second smaller building seen, and similarly made of stone, was a smoke house where some of the beasties ended up after being dispatched. I guess the fellow was well know for his tasty smoked pig. Hmmm, smell that? Imagine it wafting across the countryside, all neighbours and neighbours dogs salivating on catching a whiff. Outside this structure, there are no other buildings on the property, nor signs that there ever was (old pics show nothing either). There’s a well out back, stone lined, mostly filled in.
It’s not clear when the people moved away. Photos from the 1970s show the building looking relatively intact but clearly empty (it even had a roof then). No one we spoke with knew for sure, nor did any history books offer insight. Did they retire, move on, pass away? It’s not clear. Research is ongoing and if we find something, of course we’ll update this post.
The house has deteriorated a lot since those 1970s photos were taken. There’s not a lick of wood left in the place. It’s clear there was a root cellar – there’s a deep depression inside. The footprint of the place appears almost a perfect square.
Lots of barbed wire is wrapped around the building. It’s as much to keep the cows out – the land is a grazing pasture now – as it is to keep the place from collapse. Some walls have cracked badly, one bowing inwards a fair bit. I guess they could have bulldozed everything into the cellar and left it at that but it seems, in a round about way, someone wants it to keep standing. Just a hunch. Metal from an old mattress blocks the front door. Weather beaten fence posts are stacked against one wall. Small trees grown inside the building shell. They wouldn’t stand a chance without the walls protecting them.
The house today is a good click or two from the nearest road. Old papers make mention of a fair number of people living in the immediate area on nearby quarter sections. Outside one other abandoned ranch house nearby, which we explored this trip (article soon), there’s zero signs of any others. Time has obliterated all I guess. Recall this area is a tough one to live and many people high-tailed it out of here fairly early on, evidence of their existence long obliterated.
So many broken dreams.
Joining us on this adventure was large format film photographer Rob Pohl. We hang together a lot, and while our styles and equipment are complete polar opposites, it all seems to gel. Odd, but then our world is full of these little mysteries. In the time we filled up an SD card (okay, a gross exaggeration), he fired off, get this, one or two shots. Photography his way causes one to slow down and think.
It always happens. He sets up his giant camera and always curious and in awe of the work and dedication he puts into it, I drop what I’m doing, come on by, put my camera down, and we chat. Then I realize I’m doing it wrong. It’s shouldn’t be click-click-click-click-endless-click-click. But just “click”. Did that make sense?
We do shoot film from time to time, and should do it more. It’s a zen state thing. An odd state for a spaz like your author.
Rob’s 4×4 will be put to good use this weekend. After the stone house, we’d visit a couple old ranches, one mentioned earlier and another, neither of which had anything remotely resembling a road into them. Both date from the 1910s-ish period and have been abandoned since the 1940s. Both are stunning visually and have fascinating histories. Articles coming soon.
You’ll note we’re being rather vague in describing the stone house, it’s location and in regard to some details of its history – this is to protect the site and was done at the landowner’s request. Some bad seeds, trespassers, vandals and “pickers” have ruined it for all.
Random stuff: Asking around it seems everyone’s enjoying the content being presented here at BIGDoer.com (it’s BIGDoer.com, not BigDoer.com, Bigdoer,com or any other incarnation…oh sorry got on a tangent there). Anyway, please do you part and help keep more fine articles like this coming – take a moment or two to social share this post, or any you like we’ve written, and follow that up by commenting – right below the pics on every article. We want to hear from you too! It’s all quick and painless and helps us in countless ways. Appreciate it.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: July, 2017.
Location: Special Areas, AB.
Article references (and thanks): Landowners, Local history books (vague to protect the property).
The stone house is on private property. BIGDoer.com visted with permission.