Historic Walking Tour
The Places that have been Lost
Since the founding of Okotoks 130 years ago, the face of the town has changed many times. Buildings that were once focal points of the community have vanished forever. Fires and floods, recessions and depressions, development and technological change, all have taken their toll on the buildings of Okotoks. When new buildings have risen to take their place, the memory of what was there before fades, but it is not lost. With the aid of historic photographs, we can reconjure these lost structures, and create a tangible connection with the past. In this tour we will see some of the buildings that no longer stand, learn about the roles they fulfilled and meet the people who lived, worked, or played in them. We will see why some buildings survive, while others do not, and remind ourselves of the importance of preserving our shared built heritage whenever we can. This tour begins near the former site of the Catholic Church on Northridge Drive, and continues down Elizabeth Street to see some of the homes and shops that once lined that thoroughfare. Then we'll continue down North Railway Street, the town's centre of gravity in its early years. Finally we'll loop back along the town's old industrial waterfront, and learn how the industries that powered Okotoks early economy have faded away, leaving behind a beautiful and tranquil urban park along the banks of the Sheep River.
This project is a partnership with the Okotoks & District Historical Society. We also would like to thank the Ridge at Okotoks for sponsoring our work trip.
1. St. James Catholic Church
Construction of the church began in early 1903 on land donated by John Lineham, west of the town's central core at the time. It was built in the Gothic Revival style, and included "stained glass, wood finished interior, hand-built altar made by Fr. Dubois from apple crates, [a] curved ceiling and a choir loft."xx1 At a solemn ceremony on July 26, 1903, the new church was consecrated by Bishop Emile Legal, the Bishop of St. Albert. The ceremony was attended by 70 Catholics from the Okotoks area, but also 140 Protestants--much of the town turned out for the occasion. The first parish priest, Father Lestance, as well as priests from elsewhere in the region attended. The famous Father Albert Lacombe may have been there as well; an invitation to him for the blessing survives in the Provincial Archives, though it's unclear if he ever made the journey.xx2 The tightly-knit Catholic community was always a small minority in Okotoks, and this church served as its focal point. St. James's parish records kept track of all the births, baptisms, marriages, and deaths amongst the flock. This church building fulfilled its purpose well for much of the 20th Century, since the local population didn't grow much beyond its early size around 500. Once the population began to grow again in the 1970s, a new and larger church was needed. In 1983 a new St. James Church was built to the north-east of town along Range Road 293. As Okotoks kept growing so too did the Catholic congregation, and in 2007 a new and even larger church replaced that one, giving worshippers in Okotoks a new home that they continue to use today.
2. The Toll of Floods
People in Okotoks have enormous experience of flooding. Just in the 21st Century, the town's been flooded in 2005, 2008, 2011, and 2013. It also occurred in the town's early years too. An account of the 1916 flood (pictured above), appeared in the Okotoks Review. It illustrates how the swelling river quickly overwhelmed the town, damaging many buildings in the process. It also shows the community banding together to relieve the situation under intense pressure, and taking care of each other in the aftermath. "Okotoks was visited by a bad flood last Saturday when our usually quiet and peaceable Sheep Creek went on the rampage in the early morning hours. The creek crossed the track and the little bridge at Spring Creek and poured down the roadway. "Considerable relief was given to the situation by a number of volunteers in the early hours who cleared out the culverts under the C.P.R. tracks south of Hughes store. While they were doing this a large portion of the roadway under the track beside the culvert washed out and the water commenced to pour through and back to the creek. At its height the water was from 6 in. to 2 feet deep on Main Street and in the western portions of the town which are a little low the water was from three to five feet deep. "The damage done was not nearly as great as was anticipated at first but the inconvenience to many was great. The families of C.O. Saunders, D. Morrison, Geo. Scott, Jack Thompson, Grindell, Rev. Rogers and several others had to flee in the middle of the night with water all around their houses. "The water got into nearly all the cellars in town and the greatest amount of loss was done to the stock of the tenants of the Lineham Block... and also to the stock in the cellar of Ritchie & Allen's store at the corner. It is not certain yet what the total damage all over the town amounts to but probably a couple of thousand dollars would cover it. "The worst inconvenience was caused by the bursting of the gas main where it crosses Sheep Creek close to the railway bridge. The company with commendable energy immediately got to work and by Sunday noon had a temporary connection made across the bridge. Those who had coal ranges were kept busy cooking for themselves and their neighbors. "A relic of the flood is seen in the quantities of loose sidewalk floating around in the west end. The Council have put men to work however repairing and generally fixing things up, including the culvert beside the rink which was washed out. "One of the saddest incidents connected with the recent flood was the death of Eddie Buckler of Black Diamond who drowned while attempting to cross the creek near Lineham. Owing to the extremely strong current the rig was upset and the seat was separated from the wagon taking Mr. Buckler with it. His body was recovered later. The horses succeeded in getting to land and brought the wagon with them."xx1
3. The Daggetts
Ernest Austin Daggett was born in New Brunswick in 1867. Starting life as a lighthouse keeper, he decided to seek opportunity out West, and eventually settled in Calgary in March 1892. The next year he became John Lineham's bookkeeper, and a few years after that the general manager of the Lineham Lumber Company. While it might seem these responsibilities would be enough for a young man, Ernest Daggett kept himself busy with all kinds of side projects. Daggett bought a 320 acre ranch near Davisburg and became an active member of the community there throughout the 1890s. Near the end of the decade he began a new homesteading ranch, near Blackie, Alberta, where he bred Clydesdales and raised Aberdeen Angus cattle. Having saved up enough, he returned to New Brunswick in 1898 to marry Alberta Grace Watt, to whom he had been engaged for almost nine years. The newlyweds returned to Alberta the next year and bought a house in Okotoks (not this one). Ernest began working at the Lineham Lumber Company, supervising the mills at Okotoks and High River in the summer, and the logging camps up the Sheep River in winter. He quickly became well known in the town, not just for his work at the mill, but as an avid curler, and an elected member of the town council. Mrs. Daggett stayed on at their ranch during the weekdays to maintain their homestead rights, and rode a horse and buggy to their Okotoks home on the weekends. The couple had their first and only child, Mary, in 1904. Mary was an enthusiastic horsewoman, and rode from their ranch to school every day. She would eventually attend the University of Alberta and become a teacher in the region. Finally in 1909 the Daggetts built their new home in Okotoks, the one you see here. They also built a barn and shed on the property that housed a milk cow and horses for pulling buggies. They also bought a McLaughlin Buick, making them one of the first car owners in town. "As in keeping with the pioneer spirit, the Daggett home was always open to everyone and many impromptu meals were served to visitors including Indian friends of the Blackfoot, Stoney, and Sacree Bands. Mrs. Daggett's mother, Mrs. Mary Watt lived with the Daggetts from 1912 until she died in 1921 at which time she was reputed to be Alberta's oldest resident at the age of ninety-nine. "Grandma Watt", although crippled with arthritis, knit many mittens and socks for the Red Cross during the World War I and for the needy in Okotoks."xx1 Ernest passed away in 1936, and his wife returned to New Brunswick, where she passed away in 1957. Their descendants continue to call Okotoks home.
4. McFarland Lumber Yard
Before modern zoning laws came into place, it was common for large industrial or wholesale businesses to be clustered in downtown cores butting up against homes or businesses like hotels. For instance, in this photo we can see the Willingdon Hotel (today the Royal Duke) just beyond the lumber yard. Thanks to changing economic conditions, new zoning laws, and the growing availability of cars, businesses like the lumber yards were moved further away from downtown to places where more space was available, and neighbours were less likely to complain about the noise or pollution.
5. The Lineham Block
The Lineham Block was named for the man who commissioned it, John Lineham, the most towering figure in the early history of the town. Kathy Coutts, director of the Okotoks Museum, finds Lineham's legacy "quite remarkable," marvelling how much he accomplished in the 52 years before his death in 1913. “I don’t think anyone else in the history of Okotoks had as much impact in a wide range of aspects – politics, ranching, industry (both oil and lumber)."xx2 John Lineham's far-reaching impact in Okotoks, especially his saw mill, is covered in the other three walking tours in Okotoks, but we should also mention here his interests in real estate. His first forays into property were in Calgary and actually predated the sawmill he established at Okotoks. They included the Leeson-Lineham Block on 8th Avenue in downtown Calgary, which was built in 1889 and survives to this day. Lineham went on to amass a small property empire on 8th Avenue that also included the Sharpies McLean Block and the Elma Block (named for his daughter). The Lineham Block in Okotoks came a bit later, and was one of three imposing brick commercial blocks in early Okotoks, the others being the Stockton Block (which survives) and the Macleod Block (which also burned down). As we can see, despite their sturdy construction, these buildings were still vulnerable to the elements. Twenty years before fire claimed this building, it also suffered heavy damage in a flood. The local newspaper described the effect the disastrous 1916 flood had on the building: "The water got into nearly all the cellars in town and the greatest amount of loss was done to the stock of the tenants of the Lineham Block, G.L. McCandless, A.Z. Hicks, McKay and Thompson and also to the stock in the cellar of Ritchie & Allen's store at the corner. It is not certain yet what the total damage all over the town amounts to but probably a couple of thousand dollars would cover it."xx3
6. Baptist Church
The 1901 census counted 671 people living in and around Okotoks. Amongst them were 91 Baptists, a small but significant minority.xx1 That same year those Baptists organized the New Testament Church, and held meetings at the Orange Hall. A more suitable place of worship was needed, and $1,500 was borrowed to build the church you see here.xx2 Work began on the church right away, and it opened in 1902. In 1905 an organ was added too. However, despite the 91 identified Baptists in the community, only around 15 attended Sunday services, and the church had trouble raising money to pay a reverend's salary, making it difficult to keep a full-time minister in the town. Between 1908 and 1910 five different ministers cycled through the church, though finally a Reverend Bracken was persuaded to stay on for a weekly salary of $8.65. Nevertheless as the town modernized so did the church, and in 1909 electric lighting was installed, and a gas furnace in 1915. In the 1920s and 1930s ongoing financial problems were compounded by a congregation that shrank by almost two-thirds--only 36 people identified as Baptist in the census of 1931.xx3 In 1928 the church was left vacant, and would remain so until 1939 when it was purchased by Helmer Jacobson and rechristened the new Gospel Chapel, which eventually became the Evangelical Free Church. The major renovations that you can see, the removal of the bell tower and the remodelling of the front doors, occurred in 1988. Finally in 1996 the Evangelical Free Church had outgrown this old building, and moved to its new location on Southridge Drive. This old church then became home to the Bowker & Scudds Garden Shop, then the Old Country Store, and finally in 2009, the Heartland Cafe.xx4
7. Ingram Bros. Meat Market
Before modern supermarkets combined most food sellers under one roof, the local butcher played an important role in local community life. In this part of Alberta ranching and stock-raising were a pivotal part of the economy, and beef and pork an integral part of the diet. One of the first businesses in Okotoks was the D. MacKay Murray butcher, who Tom Fyfe fondly credits with "the best sausages in southern Alberta."xx1 Lillian Armstrong, daughter of some of the first farmers to arrive in Okotoks, recalls how butchers operated: "In those days there were no government meat inspectors. When the butchers wanted some meat for their shops they contacted a farmer. The farmer or the butcher killed and "dressed" the meat, and took it to the meat market. They tanned the hides from the animals that they butchered and used some of these hides to put on the seats of the farm implements for warmth. "In the early years the women canned much of their meat for use during the summer. During the winter they kept it frozen in a granary full of wheat. If there was a Chinook or a prolonged warm spell, the meat had to be canned. Before canning it Mom often roasted or fried some of the meat, or made small hamburger patties. Her canned chicken was a real delicacy in the summer. They cured pork by rubbing it with a special smoked salt and stored it in a brine in a large wooden barrel."xx2 Like many businesses, butchers and general stores often hired kids like 12-year-old Danny Evelyn to deliver meat to customers around the community. During the Great Depression many farmers banded together to help feed each other. Annie Minue recalls how her parents were part of the 'Beef Ring.' Every Friday one of the farmers would slaughter a cow and get up early in the morning to cut and package it into sixteen shares, one for each member of the group.xx3 The Ingrams Bros. were only one of many butchers that have existed in Okotoks throughout its history. Today, even after supermarkets have come to dominate Alberta communities, the people of Okotoks continue to be served by a wide array of speciality butchers.
8. The Alberta Hotel
There were two other hotels in the town's early years, including the Royal (which was located next door) and the Willingdon (which survives as the Royal Duke today on the corner of Elizabeth and Veterans Way). The hotel's location right across the street from the railway station made it a popular destination with travellers just arriving in the town, and ensured a lively atmosphere. A bit of a damper may have been put on the well known festivities in the establishment when Joe Miller, the first Alberta Provincial Police constable in Okotoks, took the job as manager.
9. Grain Elevators
The elevators were central collection points for the grain grown by local farmers, who would haul it from their farms in horse-drawn wagons. Once grain was deposited at an elevator a pneumatic hoist would lift the grain up so it could be dumped in waiting train wagons. Peggy Brown remembers how as a child she loved watching the elevators in action: When the hoist was activated it would release a huge rush of air, making a loud bang that would make the horses "go ape."xx1 For the farmers, depositing grain at these elevators was the final step in a long, arduous process. Farming was endless, back-breaking labour. One Okotoks area farmer remembers that seeding a 1,000 acre farm required no less than 46 horses, as well as a huge crew of seasonal labourers.xx2 It was not made easier by the fact their yields were dependent on the vagaries of the weather. A hail storm, early frost, or prolonged drought could ruin an entire crop, and render months of effort wasted. Finally, the farmers would negotiate a price for their produce with the elevator company, who then sold the grain onto the global market. Before World War II, the vast majority of farmers didn't have trucks to take their produce to competing neighbouring towns with other elevators operated by other companies, and had no option but to rely on the elevator company in the nearest town. This meant in many places elevator companies could establish local monopolies and effectively dictate grain prices paid to farmers. Even worse, many of these elevator companies were based far away in Eastern Canada, and their executives had little appreciation of the challenges faced by the prairie farmers, and they didn't hesitate to use their leverage to set arbitrarily low rates on the grain. In the early 1900s the rates paid by elevator companies became one of the defining political issues in Alberta. Farmers banded together to form farmer's cooperatives and lobbying organizations like the United Farmer's of Alberta, which eventually became a political party that unexpectedly won a majority in Alberta's provincial election in 1921. The UFA government quickly established the Alberta Wheat Pool, which built its own elevators, seeking to break the monopoly power of the eastern elevator companies. Grain elevator politics represented the first bout of Alberta's alienation from Canada's industrial heartland in eastern Canada. It would not be the last.
10. End of the Elevators
A billowing fire in a towering grain elevator was a shocking sight. Jack Brown, speaking in the 1970s, recalls witnessing another elevator fire in 1944: "When the P & H elevator burned late one cold night, consternation for the large Esso gas tanks exploding was indeed very real. The women and children bundled up in warm clothes and waited the long night to see if we were to be evacuated. Dad, along with every able-bodied man in town, fought the blaze with large hoses of water pouring on the tanks... To us as young children, this made a lasting impression."xx1 During the 1930s and 1940s agricultural technology evolved, as one Okotoks area farmer recalls: "During the Hungry Thirties we farmed with horse-drawn equipment and threshing machines, then hauled the grain to the elevator with four or six horse teams hitched to grain tanks. However, as the years progressed, the tractor replaced horses, and combines replaced threshing machines. This eliminated the extra help during harvest time, and the women appreciated not having to cook for large threshing crews."xx2 By 1949, the same year the Midland & Pacific elevator burned down, Marie Indergaard remembered using a tractor and trailer to deliver grain to the National Elevator. "While the grain was being unloaded," she said, "I heard a gentleman say, "First time I ever saw a woman deliver grain to an elevator."xx3 The trucks and tractors meant farmers could go further afield to sell their grain to elevators, but it also meant fewer elevators were needed and they began to be consolidated into larger collection points. This was an important and decisive trend. In 1961 there were 1,642 so-called "country elevators" across Alberta, holding 3.5 million tonnes of grain. By 2010 this number had shrunk to merely 79, holding 1.6 million tonnes.xx4 The mighty elevators began to disappear from the Alberta townscape, and today work is under way to preserve those few that survive as heritage sites, since they were such an important part of each community's identity throughout the 20th Century. Unfortunately in Okotoks none of the elevators survived, and we are left only with the memories of the great buildings that once towered over this landscape.
11. The Skating Rink
The arena you see here was actually the third one built in the town. The first was built sometime in the early 1900s on land donated by John Lineham on the northwest corner of Elizabeth Street and Highway 2A. As two local hockey historians write: "Hockey in those days was a far cry from what it is today. A good sturdy magazine filled in for padding on many occasions and helmets and masks were unheard of. Boys walked in to town from the country, or rode horseback, in 30° below weather."xx1 Okotokians excelled at hockey in those early years and won southern Alberta championships in 1909 and 1914. Many players went off to fight in the First World War, putting much hockey on hold in those years, and unfortunately the first arena burned down in 1918. Nevertheless, after the war Okotoks wanted to promote championship hockey, and invested in a new state-of-the-art arena to be built on the rubble of the old. Unfortunately, it wasn't as structurally sound as hoped, and in 1925 it collapsed under the weight of snow on the roof. As the Turner Valley oilfield boomed in 1927, Imperial Oil and Royalite Oil sponsored a new senior team, the Okotoks-Turner Valley Imperials, bringing in players from all over Alberta and giving them oilfield jobs. They also helped fund the building of a new and even better arena in 1929--the one you see here. From 1930-32 the Imperials played to a crowd of thrilled crowd of 1,400, larger than the population of the town itself at the time. Unfortunately these exciting times were to be shortlived, and the Great Depression led to the disbanding of the senior team in 1931. When the economy had recovered by 1938, the team was reconstituted as the Turner Valley/Okotoks Oilers. "This proved to be one of the great all-time amateur clubs of Alberta continuing to play to packed rinks," write the historians.xx2 Unfortunately this new surge of hockey interest was again to be short-lived, as "a great many star players left to join the armed forces during the Second Great War. At the end of 1941 the team disbanded and the hockey in Okotoks was low profile until the war ended in 1945."xx3 When hockey picked up again, there would be no more interruptions. The game has remained a key part of culture in Okotoks to this day, though the arena itself was torn down in the 1980s. Fortunately it was replaced, and Okotoks now boasts three arenas spread across town.
13. The Horse Barn
Initially, the barn housed the many pack horses required to keep the saw mill running. When the mill closed down during the First World War, most of the buildings on the property quickly fell into disrepair. The horse barn however was sturdily built, and could fulfill many roles. It was quickly snapped up in 1920 by Neil and Hattier Dorsey, who converted it into the Okotoks Creamery. In 1947 they sold the Creamery to E.W. Murray Dawson and Clarence and Vera Otterbein, who continued to operate it until finally shuttering in 1969. Some major renovations allowed the building to live on, serving as a teen centre, lumber store, and finally the Bull Pen pub. Finally in 2014 the town bought the lot, but determined to demolish the building, the last surviving relic of the Lineham Lumber Company's era in Okotoks.
1. St. James Catholic Church
1. "Parish History," St. James Parish Okotoks, online.
2. Okotoks and District Historical Society, A Century of Memories: Okotoks and District, 1883-1983 (Okotoks: Okotoks and District Historical Society, 1983), 25.
2. The Toll of Floods
1. Okotoks and District Historical Society, 63.
3. The Daggetts
1. Okotoks and District Historical Society, 186.
5. The Lineham Block
1. Tammy Rollie, "Walking tour a blast from the past," Okotoks Today, online.
2. Krista Conrad, "Pioneering forefather built foundation of Okotoks," Okotoks Today, Feb. 21, 2018, online.
3. Okotoks and District Historical Society, 63.
6. Baptist Church
1. Thomas, 15.
2. Okotoks and District Historical Society, 20.
3. Thomas, 15.
4. "History", Heartland Cafe, online.
7. Ingram Bros. Meat Market
1. Okotoks and District Historical Society, 279.
2. Okotoks and District Historical Society, 297.
3. Okotoks and District Historical Society, 431.
9. Grain Elevators
1. Okotoks and District Historical Society, 137.
2. Okotoks and District Historical Society, 116.
10. End of the Elevators
1. Okotoks & District Historical Society, 116.
2. Okotoks & District Historical Society, 172.
3. Okotoks & District Historical Society, 317.
4. "Grain Elevators," Wikipedia, online.
11. The Skating Rink
1. Okotoks and District Historical Society, 685.
2. Okotoks and District Historical Society, 687.
3. Okotoks and District Historical Society, 688.