WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP
“A wise traveler never despises his own country.”
Some historical journeys are shorter than others. Just off the highway near our home town, down a winding gravel road, is a piece of the past called Glenbow Ranch. In a meadow beside a river called the Bow is a weathered grey building. You can’t drive up to it. You have to purposefully travel down a path, back down in time, to a place that now only spirits call home. The ramshackle building, once a post office and school, is all that remains from a townsite that was home to 150 people in the early 1900s.
Visiting the Past
The closer you look at the site from a perch up on one of the hills at Glenbow Ranch, the more you see. Scanning the fescue grasslands it becomes easy to visualize herds of bison moving through as they grazed the prairie. Look closer and you’ll see tipi camps of the native tribes that depended on the bison for their survival. This land has a history dating back thousands, not just hundreds of years.
Settle in and you will see a change. The bison are gone and cattle from the historic Cochrane Ranche have taken their place. Move ahead slightly in time and watch as a ribbon of wood and steel is built through the valley bottom. By 1891, Glenbow became a water stop for the Canadian Pacific Railway’s steam engines. Twelve years later, a CPR station would be be built here.
Becoming a Townsite
Take your gaze up on to the hillsides and you’ll see remnants of another era. In 1907, the sounds of quarrying rang out across the valley. Sandstone blocks, hewn from these hills were used in the construction of Alberta’s Legislature Building in Edmonton. A growing population meant a demand for a postal service and in 1909, the post office building was open for business.
When the quarry closed in 1912, a brick-making plant was opened and soon 100,000 bricks a day were being manufactured. The wooden frame of the post office building was originally painted green and then faced with brick. Glenbow bricks – still visible in a few of the older homes in the nearby town of Cochrane – were yellowy-orange to red in colour.
End of an Era
Unfortunately, these bricks tended to crumble easily over time and the brick plant had a short lifespan. In 1914, the brick-making plant was closed. The post office and store stayed in business in 1920 before shutting down forever. The last Glenbow residents moved away in 1927.
The property became part of Eric Harvie’s ranch in 1934. Glenbow Ranch remained a private ranch for over 70 years until the park was established.
Isn’t it amazing what you can see when you look back in time? Some historical journeys are shorter than others; some are found in our own backyards.
If You Go:
Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park, established in 2008, is one of Alberta’s newest parks. You can find a park map and directions online.