Dorothy Alberta is a charming little town – not quite a ghost town but pretty darn close. It’s home to a number of well known and often photographed landmarks, in particular its two quaint churches and the solitary grain elevator that looms over the highway. Under gorgeous blue skies we take time to explore and photograph this fascinating place.
Located in the Red Deer River Valley, deep in the Alberta badlands, Dorothy is some 35km east of the town of Drumheller. A bit off the beaten path, it’s a great place to get in touch with the past. We parked the car and wandered about, soaking it all up. A great feeling, so melancholy yet exciting at the same time, an strange sense of discovery that comes over us when we explore places like this. Places away from the crowds and the touristy stuff.
I’m instantly drawn into the grain elevator – how could I not be as it towers over everything. I wander about almost in a trance studying and touching it. I get so caught up that I almost forget I have a camera. The lighting is nice with blue skies, white clouds, green fields and that wonderful faded mineral brown colour the elevator is painted in. It’s stunning against the background.
Built in 1928, this elevator only lasted until 1951 before being closed. Since that time it’s sat empty and exposed to the elements, yet in spite of that, this rough looking battle scarred warrior has stood fast against the wind and weather.
An Alberta Pacific Grain Company elevator, this is one a few in all of Alberta painted this way – a real rarity in other words. The lettering is faded but easily readable. I looked inside and it appears beat up yet solid. The old office and engine house had been razed.
In the past, it kept company with an Alberta Wheat Pool elevator (AWP – to the west of this one) also built the same year and torn down in the mid 1970s (thereabouts). A United Grain Growers elevator also stood here, but only for a brief period in the late 1920s and early 1930s. It was quickly closed down.
Located on the CPR’s Rosemary Subdivision, this line travelled from Drumheller, southeast to Rosemary. At the west end there was connections to Calgary and on the east the line took a rather winding route before meeting up with the CPR mainline near Swift Current Saskatchewan. This section was technically a joint CNR/CPR line, an arrangement that ran from a point near Drumheller ending just east of Dorothy at a place called Trefoil (just a siding). Why the CNR wished access past the coal mines at East Coulee (just west of Dorothy) is beyond me and it’s doubtful they ever served or travelled past our town. There was no reason to, yet the arrangement was made.
East Coulee by the way is home to the Historic Atlas Mine and the very cool East Coulee road/rail bridge.
The reason the two railways shared tracks in these valleys was simply due to the tight spaces here. In fact it’s so cramped that some of the highway into Dorothy is built on the roadbed of the railway.
The rail line came through Dorothy in 1928-29 and for the next few decades the track was a conduit for coal travelling from mines up the valley to points east (many trains per day I am told). After that traffic dried up (early 1970s?) the line in the middle was truncated, and our section became a stub branch, ending east of Dorthy in the small town (calling it a town is a stretch) of Finnegan Alberta. By then the only business on the line was grain elevators and even they were few and far between. The railway continued to serve the one elevator here (the AWP) and the others in Finnegan until the mid 1970s before the line was abandoned. Traffic was by the sparse and the line a maintenance headache.
I was not able to find anything about Dorthy’s train station (I assumed it had one) and what sort of passenger service was offered here – one can assume something minimal given the small population in the area.
Friend Larry Buchan worked for the CPR and travelled the line just before it closed had this to say about the little town…
“I remember stopping at Dorothy after we had finished switching out the elevators, and going over to the general store there, it was very old, with two gas pumps with glass cylinders that the gas was pumped into for filling cars, they were sitting there derelict, the store was run by two old brothers, and who knows what they had stored away in the back rooms.”
Which leads us to the store. It’s long closed of course but one can look inside and still see old shelves and piles of records. It’s not clear exactly when it closed but it must have not been long after Larry visited in the mid 1970s. I would have loved to seen those globe gas pumps he mentioned.
Just down from the store and oddly not in front of it, is the town’s one and only phone booth. Still standing but no longer in service, someone has mounted a kids phone inside it – hilarious!
Nearby we find a 1964 Plymouth Valiant. A nice car, it sits abandoned (or at least looking that way) and fits in well with the whole empty and lonely vibe we so crave and enjoy. There is an old dilapidated garage next to and I’d sure love to see what’s inside. These building ALWAYS hold treasures it seems.
Next, we make our way to the twin churches. In one corner, in white, we have the Dorothy Catholic Church and in the other corner, also in white, the Dorothy United Church. Ding, Ding! Sitting at the edge of town, the badlands in behind make for a great background. A sign in front of the former warns us to watch out for the ant highway below.
Originally the Catholic Church was a school. After it closed in the 1930s, the building was brought here, opening in the mid 1940s (that was a long reno). It was last used in 1967 and afterwards was presumably abandoned.
The United Church was formerly a house in nearby Finnegan brought here, and services began in the early 1930s. This church lasted until 1961 before it to was closed and again, presumably abandoned.
Odd that such a small place has two places of worship, and so close together too. One can see the congregations glaring at each other as they attend their respective services, thinking only they’ve picked the right team.
At the time of our last visit in the early 2000s, these building were in rough shape with time and elements taking their toll. In 2006 they were renovated and shored up, Thank God – both the Catholic God and the United Church God (just to be safe). They’ve done a great job and each is furnished accordingly. I understand that a marriage has even been performed at the United Church.
I am so happy the church have been saved (church – saved – get it) and keeping with that God theme I pray that the elevator is saved from the same fate.
Dorthy as a town existed prior to the railway, but it was the coming of trains where the town enjoyed it greatest prosperity (albeit brief). At one time, it had the usual trappings – stores, schools restaurants and the like. Most were gone or closed by the 1950s. A few people still live here.
To see some other Dorothy reports, click the links below…
Brokeback Mountain then and now – finding dead body flashback.
Dorothy Alberta the little grain elevator in the valley.
To see another photogenic little church, go here…
Little Church on the Prairie.
A post you’ll enjoy…
Beachwood Estates – Big shout out to the King, Daily Mail Photojournalist Seph Lawless!
If you wish more information about this place, by all means contact us!
Date: May, 2013.
Location: Dorothy, AB.