In The Hand Hills


Tucked away in the scenic Hand Hills, this house and barn were built in 1909 on the present land owner's great uncle Mark Lenfesty's homestead. When the family, consisting of William and Anna Elsie Lenfesty and their children Sterrie, Mark, Day, and Stella (Babe) Lenfesty, moved to the Hand Hills, they spent the first winter in a sod shack a mile and a half south of Mark's future homestead. In the spring they acquired the lumber from Stettler and built the house and barn on Mark's property. They all lived there until they were able to finish building on each of their own properties. Mark lived on his property until the well went dry in the 1960s when he moved in with family who farmed the land to the south.

William “Grandpa” Lenfesty was a stonecutter by trade, but like many settlers worked a variety of jobs. Driving a food wagon in the Riel Rebellion, he took an arrow to the forehead. Carrying nitro-glycerin, the man showing him how to handle it lost his hand when he accidentally bumped a small container on a rock. Grandpa Lenfesty worked as a steam shovel operator for the Grand Trunk Railway and later the C.P.R. He followed the railway west and homesteaded near Shepard in 1902.

The present land owner, Day Lenfesty's grandfather took first place in saddle bronc at the first Hand Hills Stampede and was a founding member of the Hand Hills Lake Club House. The Lenfesty family has been an essential part of the rodeo's success over the last 100 years. Day is treasurer of the Hand Hills Lake Community Club. He handles most of the community functions, cooks for catering events, and mans the food booth at the stampede with his famous saskatoon pie.

On July 20, 1917, the first Handhills Stampede was held on J.J. Miller's ranch at the south end of Hand Hills Lake. The local branch of the Red Cross sold admission ribbons for $1 a piece; women and children received free admission. They raised $3200 with all proceeds going to the Red Cross. Many locals pitched in to make the first show a success, and that community spirit continues 100 years later.

Currently, Day Lenfesty and his brother Tim and family farm the homestead lands of Grandpa Lenfesty, Sterrie, Mark, and his grandfather Day, as well as the land acquired by his Aunt Babe and her husband, Lawrence Ringrose.

Rose Lynn School


The first post office in the area was on the farm of Albert and Martha Strong. Mrs. Strong named the post office Rose Lynn due to the abundant wild roses in the area.

When the Canadian National Railway acquired land for the 'Pea Vine' line, from Hanna to Wardlow, the townsite of Rose Lynn was established. The 'Pea Vine' line was completed in 1919.

In 1920 a store was built by Tom Fendall. The store sold groceries, dry goods, hardware, gas and was also the post office for the village. In 1924 Si and Edna Livingstone operated a restaurant and blacksmith shop. 1920 saw the construction of an Alberta Pacific Grain Company elevator.  In June of 1928 an Alberta Wheat Pool elevator was erected.

In 1925 a house was moved in from Richdale by the Alberta Pacific Grain Co. for their elevator agent, Frank Brocklebank.  Ralph Hickle removed the living room window and drove his team of horses from the living room. They got stuck in a coulee, and the house was snowed in for the winter but managed to complete the journey when the snows melted and the ground dried. The current landowners Hugh and Doreen Fitchett lived in this house when they moved to Rose Lynn in the fall of 1971 until they built a new house in autumn of 1986.

The Alberta Pacific elevator was sold to the Alberta Wheat Pool sometime in the 1940s and was torn down in the summer of 1949. Rose Lynn's Wheat Pool elevator burned in 1956 when it was suspected to have been struck by lightning.

The school house pictured was moved into Rose Lynn from Mizpah in the 1940s.



Coal was discovered in the Sheerness area by a cattleman who was wintering his herd in 1905/1906. His water supply was running low, so he decided to dig a well. At a depth of about ten feet he found a coal seam that was five feet thick. Not only did he find water, he discovered a coal field that would supply many settlers with a source of fuel and later, provide power to a large number of Albertans.

Colonel Walker of Calgary and Tex Oscar, with John Smith as a partner, were the first to operate a mine in the area. Tex Oscar farmed with his family a few miles north of the mine site. John Smith and his mother owned most of the land that the town would be developed on. John owned and operated the first livery barn along with the first pool hall. Together they started the first boarding house. John later acquired the general store that was operated by two Englishmen, Alf Minto and Lou Fields.

Mr. George Crozier, who ran the first post office at his homestead chose the name of Sheerness in memory of a seaport town on the east coast of England. The post office was moved from the Crozier farm to the mine site in 1910.

The school (pictured) came from a few miles north and was moved to the mine site in 1918.  Later, the Richdale school was moved into town and added onto the existing Sheerness school making a three room school house. The Richdale school can be seen as the 'front' section of school now. It was built in 1917 by Bill Williams and Fred Blackmore.

With the coming of the railroad in 1919 the town site was moved a short distance northwest in order to be closer to the train station. Many new businesses came into existence, serving the growing population. A meat market, Chinese restaurant, lumberyard, general store, a Bank of Toronto, and a laundry all made up the town. Friday night dances, a yearly stampede, a tennis court, pool hall, and ball games against neighboring communities on Sundays all provided residents with entertainment.

The store (pictured) opened in 1923 by Harold (Pop) Lucke after the previous store, owned by Erb Debow, burnt in a fire that also claimed the pool hall. Mr Lucke's house and barn were moved off of the family farm and into Sheerness in 1925. The Lucke family sold the store to Mr. McConkey when they moved to B.C. In 1935.

An Alberta Pacific Grain Company elevator was built in 1923. Alberta Wheat Pool bought the elevator in 1948, closed it in 1961, and dismantled it in 1963.

Over the years Sheerness was home to many different coal mines that changed hands several times. With natural gas becoming a more viable source of energy, coal became less important and many of the mine workers transferred to other mines in Alberta. By 1970 the school, store, and post office had all closed and the remaining residents moved to Hanna. In the 1950s approximately 150 people lived in Sheerness. Today only one family is still living on the original town site.

The Sheerness area is still known for coal mining. The Westmoreland Coal Company mine and the coal fired power plant are co-owned by ATCO Power and TransAlta. The 780 megawatt Sheerness thermal generating station has been in operation since 1986.

1937 Chevrolet Master


A blackbird sits perched on this 1937 Chevrolet Master, taking in another spectacular prairie sunset.

For the 1937 model year Chevrolet introduced it's most complete redesign since 1929. Bodies were wider, roomier and now made completely of steel marking the departure from using wood in the body's construction. The Chevrolet is a 5 passenger sedan with trunk that cost $817 when new. It was equipped with the 216 cubic inch Blue Flame inline six cylinder that made 85 horsepower. The Master Deluxe model cost $70 more than the Master. Upgrades included dual taillights, two windshield wipers, better upholstery, an engine temperature gauge, a lower axle ratio, and most notable was the 'knee action' independent front suspension. This was the last body style where cars and trucks shared a similar appearance.

While working under America's Car Design Pioneer, Harley Earl, Jules Agramonte and Lewis Simon were responsible for the 1937 (and '38) Chevrolet's styling. Understated details made the Chevrolet stand out from its competitors. The 'diamond crown speedline', a body crease sweeping back from the front fenders down into the doors, gave the car an extended body look. The 1937 Chevys are still considered some of the most beautiful cars ever made.

Esther, Alberta


Never a large settlement, only ever reaching about 65 residents, Esther has always been known for its community spirit. People would come from far and wide to attend social gatherings, they would lend a helping hand whenever needed, and undertake projects for the betterment of their community. The area saw most of its settlement happen between 1910 and 1915. Esther is named for the first postmaster Yens B. Olsen's daughter, Anna Esther Landreth.

With the onset of the First World War, many were prosperous. 1914-1916 were booming years. Crops were good, wheat was at a premium, roads were built and school districts organized. In 1913 the Municipal District of Canmer was formed. The name was chosen because many of the settlers came from Canada and America. In late 1937 the municipality was disorganized and along with many others became what is now known as 'Special Areas'.

The late 20s and 1930s were some of the worst years the area has ever seen. Dust storms and weeds started to appear. There was drought, hail, and grasshoppers almost every year. In 1932 wheat sold for as low as 19 cents per bushel and cattle as low as 2 cents a pound. Taxes could not be paid and people were leaving in large numbers, reverting their land to the municipality. Those who stayed were able to purchase this land, often for the cost of taxes owed on it.

In 1932 the Alberta Government awarded Canmer Municipality a relief contract to build nine miles of Highway 9 north of Oyen. This helped some make it through the winter, but the Alberta government deemed it too costly of a way for providing relief.  This, in turn, brought about a direct relief program where a family of three would receive $8 a month for groceries, $15 a year for clothing, as well as coal and extra vegetables when needed. This continued until the start of World War II when work became available again.

The Second World War saw the mechanization of farms intensify. Tractors were replacing horses and combines started appearing in the district. With these machines men were able to work longer hours on their expanding acreage, often into the night.

Esther's only elevator, an Alberta Wheat Pool, was built in 1926 and closed in 1979. It was the third Wheat Pool elevator to be built in the Province and is the last one still standing. Prior to the train coming to Esther farmers made the 14 mile trip to Loverna Saskatchewan to sell their grain. The railroad arrived in Loverna in 1913. Before that Alsask, Saskatchewan was the nearest market town.

Today, many of the original homesteading families have left the area in search of other opportunities. Those who have stayed are farming larger acreage and raising cattle as means to make a living. The owner of the grain elevator and many of the other buildings remaining in Esther has made efforts to secure funding, hoping to preserve these historic structures, but has met with little success.

Nielsen - Penner Barn


The original homesteaders on this land came from Denmark.  The farm was passed down in the Nielsen family from 1903 until they sold to Bob Penner in 1971.  The barn was built in 1914 as part of a mixed farming operation.  From 1914 to the end of 1941 the barn was used for the horses that worked the land.  In later years it was home to dairy cows and hogs.  The barn received power in 1947, a cement floor was poured in 1964 and by 1968 the barn was no longer in use.  It still stands as a testament to the hard work and determination it took to settle the land.   



Sharples, Alberta is named after John Sharples, a C.P.R. railway fireman who won the Distinguished Conduct Medal during the First World War. Even though Sharples has always been a small settlement, it handled an exceptional amount of grain. Being located in the picturesque Kneehill Creek valley, Sharples' elevators were vital to farms on the north side of the creek as crossings were few and far between. This P&H elevator was constructed in July of 1923 with a capacity of 28000 bushels. It still wears much of it's original tin siding. The elevator was abandoned in 1982 when the Alberta Wheat Pool elevator (built in 1927 by Alberta Pacific Grain Co.) that stood beside it was demolished. Two annexes were built in the early forties. The one on the west side is still standing and held 26000 bushels. The smaller annex on the east side held 14000 bushels and has disappeared from the scene.

Parrish and Heimbecker was established in 1909 by William Parrish and Norman G. Heimbecker and has grown to be one of the largest grain handling companies in Canada.

International Gray Day


This barn dates from the 1940s with the current owner being in possession since the 50s. An old wagon and a couple of International pick ups are on the property. One truck is from the 1950s and the other from the mid 60s. I had this property on my list, trying to track down the owner and get permission to take photos. I lucked out one day while driving by and found the owner out fixing fences. He let me take a couple of photos and shared some of the history with me. Even though the buildings are no longer in use, he still maintains the property. The grass was cut, the fences in good repair and the windows are still in the buildings. It is amazing how far some maintenance can go in preserving these historic structures. Maybe one day they can be used again.

A Buick And A Half


Here are one and a half late 20's Buicks, resting temporarily before they become yard art.

Automobiles revolutionized personal transportation in the 1920s. Throughout the 20s cars became more accessible and affordable, dawning the 'oil age' in Canada.

In the late teens the Calgary Auto Club assisted in the formation of 25 automobile clubs in Southern Alberta.  Edmonton, Lethbridge, and Medicine Hat also assisted in forming auto clubs in communities near the urban centres.  The clubs worked toward the further development of highways and good roads throughout the province. By 1929 a total of 833 miles of highway had been graveled.

The popularity of the automobiles gave rise to a thriving do it yourself car repair industry. Canadian Tire being one of the more notable companies, started in Toronto in 1922 and has grown to become one of Canada's largest retailers.

Maple Leaf Barn


This barn was built in 1912 and only fell into disuse about 10 years ago. The builder's grandson still lives on and farms the same land that his ancestors made their living on.  Only one of the wooden cupolas still survives on the roof of this very large barn.     

What I believe to be a 1948 Maple Leaf badged Chevrolet sits in the farm yard. My research (which may be flawed) tells me the 1947-53 Chevrolet pick ups known as the Advance Design series were the last body style to carry the Maple Leaf badge. Maple leaf trucks were built in Oshawa, Ontario from the 1930s until the 1950s. Right hand drive models were made in Canada and assembled by Holden in Australia. Canada, Australia and other British Commonwealth countries put high tariffs on US built products because the US didn't import much from them.  Having a Canadian made truck allowed GM to offer trucks at a more affordable cost.

An Allis Chalmers AC5040 2 wheel drive tractor also sits on the property. These were manufactured in Romania from 1976-1980 with an original price of $9823USD. They were equipped with a 3 cylinder diesel that made 35 horse power.

Golden Hour Barn


The current landowners acquired this property in 1960. By that time all of the buildings had fallen out of use. By the late 1970's the house and other buildings had to be demolished after descending into disrepair due to vandalism. The shed on the side of the barn looks ready to fall but, the barn itself appears remarkably stable from the outside. It is believed that the barn was built sometime between 1905 and 1910.



Future Classics?


Here is another great Southern Alberta barn.  The owner tells me it is at least 100 years old and hasn't been in use for quite some time.  It is strange to see so many newer vehicles abandoned behind the barn.  I wonder if any will ever become as collectible as the vehicles we currently consider classics?  

Our Country And Its People


This is the book mentioned in my last post - 'Woodley Barn'.  Published in 1938 'Our Country And Its People'  was part of grade 7 Social Studies in Alberta schools.  The authors wrote of Canada's natural beauty, our abundant resources, the settlers and their homelands.  It is interesting to read about our history from a past perspective.

Woodley Barn


With the rocky mountains stretching across the western horizon, this barn and house were built in 1912 on a scenic piece of the Alberta prairie. The current owners, the Woodleys, acquired the land in 2010. They were happy to let me take photos, creating memories of a structure that may fall after a couple of heavy snows. They gifted me a book that was found in the house titled “Our Country And Its' People” by W.D. McDougall and Gilbert Paterson . Inside the book, I found clippings containing information on some of the animals that were found in the area. I can imagine the owner studying the area before his long, difficult journey to the place he and his family would call home for generations to come. The Woodleys purchased the land from an elderly lady who didn't have any remaining family, so many of the details are now lost to time. 

Dorothy Elevator


This photo is included for the month of November in this year's Alberta Motor Association calendar. I took the shot on the morning of Christmas eve, during the unusually warm winter of 2014. On July 22, 2015 a storm ripped the roof off of the elevator and damaged other structures in the hamlet of Dorothy, Alberta.

The Alberta Pacific elevator was built in 1928, alongside two others. An Alberta Wheat Pool and a United Grain Growers elevator completed the row of three. After the last train went through, the elevator fell into disuse. Although it's future is uncertain, the elevator still stands as a reminder of the past and serves as an iconic landmark as you leave the Red Deer River valley, heading East on highway 570. Here's hoping that this historic piece of our prairie heritage will be preserved.

W. Mays Barn


This magnificent barn was built in 1925 by Walter Mays, a carpenter originally from England. It was home to a half dozen milk cows. The current owners still use the barn today, mostly for calving. Their parents acquired the property in 1948-49. A pair of great horned owls roost under the hay loft peak during the day. They have returned every year for the last five years, nesting in the nearby trees. The first thing that caught my eye were the ornate cupolas on the roof. Their purpose is to provide ventilation for the fodder stored in the hayloft, preventing it from molding or catching fire. Originally cupolas were made of wood but, by about 1910 most were manufactured from galvanized steel.  

The Stories Behind The Structures


For many years I have enjoyed photographing old homesteads and landscapes found on the Alberta prairie and surrounding area. During this time I have seen many structures fall to the ground, never to be seen again. I have decided to gather as much history as possible on these subjects and share them with you on this blog. These historic structures are disappearing from our landscape, I feel that photographing them is an important form of preservation, meant to honour the structure's existence as well as those that built and cared for it. Barry Broadfoot wrote a book titled 'Next Year Country : Voices Of Prairie People'. One sentence has really stuck with me over the years. He says that “Every old home place in the west today is a monument to their (the settlers') determination”. If it wasn't for our forefather's hard work and perseverance we wouldn't enjoy many of the comforts that we have today.

If you own or know of any historic structures that you would like to share please contact me so that we can arrange a photo shoot.