In our first report on the ghost town of Mitford Alberta, we took a look at the town site itself (what little is left), the faint remains of the logging railway, and the jewel of that trip, the still extant cemetery. For this second report, we examine two buildings that were moved out of the village when it was abandoned, that still stand today not that far away. This includes the saloon, which was later a school, along with the Mitford Anglican Church.
For those unfamiliar with Mitford, it was a small village that existed just west of present day Cochrane. Now being encroached on by same, it sprang to life in the mid 1880s soon after the Canadian Pacific Railway came through. It thrived, for a brief period, being home to a sawmill and a brick works (plus there was coal not that far away).
Its life was fleeting though and by the turn of the twentieth century, it was all but abandoned, having never reached the potential envisioned by its founders. At the time the town was founded the province of Alberta did not exist and instead the area was part of the North West Territories (Alberta became a province in 1905).
With its passing, those buildings left standing in the empty town were dismantled. Except for two structures that is, which were moved a short distance away to the growing centre of Cochrane. As of 2013 both these still stand and are the subject of this report.
The first one seen, located a short distance away from downtown Cochrane, is what was Mitford’s former saloon and later its school. Built in 1891 it functioned as a watering hole for only a short period, being converted to a school almost immediately (1891 or 1892, reports vary). Not long after and with the town near death, it was moved to Cochrane in 1899. As the crow flies it’s only a few kilometres between these two locations. At the new site it continued to be used in a similar fashion, finding use first as a classroom and later as a gym when that school expanded.
Later the structure was purchased by the local Masonic lodge, in 1929, who were in need of permanent facilitates after their last meeting place burned down some years earlier. Moved to its current location at that time*, we fast forward to today and it’s still home the same King Solomon Masonic Lodge that purchased it over eighty years ago. These owners have done a number of changes to the building, modernizing it of course, and doubling its size – it’s not a big structure even now so in its first incarnation it must have been quite small!
While it’s clearly old, the building is a rather unassuming structure, quite plain with no real stand-out architectural features. Regardless, it’s still an historical structure and is protected. The interior, I am willing to bet, has been modified a great deal and likely does not retain much of it’s original personality. I’d like to peek inside anyway, but your know those Masons and their mysterious ways. First step, learning the secret handshake!
The second building from Mitford still standing today is the Anglican Church. Built in 1892 it was located at a pleasant spot overlooking Horse Creek just east of town. Originally representing the Church of England, it operated in it original location until 1899, when it was moved to a spot just north of downtown Cochrane. An early picture shows it surrounded by a nice picket fence, sitting right next to the North West Mounted Police barracks (NWMP – later the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the RCMP). The St. Mary’s Catholic Church can also be seen in that same picture and it was located just northwest of ours.
Unit 1916 it still operated under the Church of England but later became the All Saints Anglican Church, a name it retains to this day, although the congregation has since moved. These two religious organizations were closely affiliated anyway, with both following similar doctrines, making this transition easy to understand. This facility clearly served the congregation well and was expanded upon many times as membership grew. By the end, the little building was just a small part of a much larger complex but in spite of that, manged to retain most of its original exterior, even if it was somewhat overwhelmed by those large additions.
Having outgrown even that however, the congregation moved into a new larger location with our little church being moved to the Bethany Care Centre, an old folks home. This happened in 2004-2005 and happily the residents of that facility still use it as chapel. It’s been incorporated into the complex nicely, while still retaining its individual charm. The old site (the Cochrane location, not Mitford) is now a health food store.
Interestingly, at its most recent location, the church sits roughly a kilometre away from it’s original site in Mitford. There is an old cemetery at that site, somewhat neglected, with are six verified internees (according to my field research, they may be others in unmarked graves too).
The church appears in fantastic shape and we’d like to document its insides, along with that of the Masonic lodge. Who knows, we may have updates for our readers.
Coincidentally, one person plays a large part in the creation of both these buildings. Lady Adele Cochrane not only seemed to be the catalyst for the saloon being converted to a school, but she had a hand in the founding and building of the church. She was married to Tom Cochrane, who was the force behind the sawmill and brick works (amongst others) in Mitford. The town of Cochrane was not named after him however, but rather for Mathew Cochrane who founded the nearby Cochrane Ranche in the early 1880s. It’s assumed these two Cochrane’s were related, but I have been unable to find out exactly how.
As Mitford faded away, Cochrane grew. The former was actually the first town in the area and what little is left of it will soon to be devoured by its fast encroaching neighbour. Happily, the two buildings discussed in this report will carry on the Mitford legacy.
*Oddly, I have been unable to find exactly where the building was located when it was being used as a school and gym in Cochrane. Various historical papers mention it being moved to its current spot when the Mason’s purchased it, but they don’t say from where.
To see part one and three of this report, go here…
In search of Mitford Alberta part 1.
In search of Mitford Alberta part 3: Bow River coal.
If you wish more information on the places seen in this report, by all means contact us!
Date: March and April 2013.
Location: Cochrane, AB.