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.
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.