May 292013
Dorothy AB Catholic Church

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.

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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.

Dorothy AB grain elevator

Dorothy’s charming little grain elevator.

Dorothy Alberta grain elevator

This gem was built in 1928.

Dorothy Alberta sign

A faded sign.

Dorothy grain elevator

Closed in the early 1950s it’s sat empty ever since.

Dorothy grain elevator office

The office and engine house would have sat here.

Alberta Pacific Grain Co., Ltd.

An Alberta Pacific Grain Company elevator, this is one of a handful left so painted.

Dorothy AB pay phone


Phone booth and grain elevator

Two anachronisms, a phone booth and wooden grain elevator.

1964 Plymouth Valiant

A 1964 Plymouth Valiant, and there’s that elevator again.

Dorothy AB grocery store

Dorothy’s former grocery store.

Dorothy Catholic Church

The cute little Catholic Church.

Ant highway

Warning, ant highway.

Bird on a cross

Bird on a cross and those lovely blue skies.

Dorothy Catholic Church inside

The last time we were here the church was unrestored – it’s nice to see it fixed up.

Dorothy church reflection

The Catholic Church reflected in the window of the United Church.

Dorothy church and elevator

I’m drawn to the elevator again.

Dorothy AB United Church

Dorothy United Church.

Dorothy United Church inside

Like the Catholic Church, this building sat abandoned for a time before being fixed up.

Dorothy AB two churches

The Catholic Church from the United.

Dorothy AB Catholic Church

One last look at the photogenic little building.

Grain elevator Dorothy AB

The old elevator seen from across the river.

Dorothy AB and Chris BIGDoer

It draws me in…


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30 Comments on "Dorothy Alberta"

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Lila C
Lila C

I do not remember a phone booth in Dorothy… is it new??? :>

Janel Florida 1980
Janel Florida 1980

I so want to get married in this place! The churches are amazing and the scenery and ambiance wonderful. Great photos!

Janel in Florida.

Molly Manx
Molly Manx

Classic shots!

Kerry B
Kerry B

Like the report you did on the Kirkpatrick elevator, I’ve driven past this one too many times to count, but I never really thought about it. Thanks for opening my eyes to the history that lives in my valley.

Coal Man
Coal Man


Hollywood Kim
Hollywood Kim

Great article about Dorothy! Really enjoyed reading it 🙂 Love that phone booth!

Nancy Bright
Nancy Bright

Dorothy is gorgeous! I needed to thank you for this good read!! I absolutely loved every bit of it! I have got you bookmarked!

Maurice Smith
Maurice Smith

I went to school in Dorothy from 1949 to 1957 and moved from the valley in 1980.

Marti Moore
Marti Moore

I lived with the Mashon’s back around 1960 and went to school in Dorothy. I remember going to the town store and taking the country bus back out to the ranch. Does anyone remember the Rose’s? I remember Johnny Rose and he had a sister. My name was Martha White…I was about 11 then. My aunt and uncle had me move to New York in May 1961.


Now I am no railway historian, but I think I know where the tracks converged, and left and why. Using Google Maps, and 2 photos I am estimating this:
The tracks through Drumheller were both railroads. The CP section bordered each side of Drumheller. Beginning at the north where the CN line went north across the river, CP kept going north, then west. I have no idea what this line was, but it connected with the CP line adjacent to the CN Three Hills Subdivision. Back at Drumheller the line left CN at what is known as “Elseor Junction (Ell-sa-door)” at Rosesale, AB where the line went south to Rosemary, as you said.

Madeleine Duke
Madeleine Duke

I have just discovered that my great Uncle, Alan Northeast Light became a homesteader in Dorothy in November 1910. Sadly he was killed in WW1. Thanks for the information and photos. It is interesting to see the place he emigrated to – albeit for such a short time.

Marie Nagloren Minaker
Marie Nagloren Minaker

Just came across the site. We lived out near Duck Lake and I remember waiting on the river bank for Frank Skrogie to come out and winch the ferry across the river. Then we went to Pugh’s store afterwards. So pleased to see the United church looked after and painted.

Ralph Smith
Ralph Smith

When I was a U of C student, I used to work the summers for the Special Areas, based out of Youngstown. I think it was during my first summer (1973 ?) that Ed Kautz (foreman) and I built the original camp kitchen from scratch. As I remember, we were a little “off” on the alignment of the cinder block chimney and it had a slight bend to it in order to pass through the hole in the roof. Looks like the old kitchen has been scrapped and a new one built in its place (guess it wasn’t as sturdy as the elevator !)