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Rowley, Alberta: The Never Say Die Prairie Town

by Johnnie Bachusky

Many locals in the Rowley area agree the town slipped into ghost town status in the seventies. But slowly, and then spectacularly in the eighties, it rebounded to prominence. But now the prairie phantoms are once again calling.

Since the early years of the 20th century, Rowley has been a train town, a place Rowley Train Stationwhere people crowded the station daily to meet people, load grain and receive supplies. Before roads and highways were built, trains carried their hopes and dreams through drought, grasshoppers, storms, fires, depression and modern-day urbanization. But in 1997, the last engine passed, and the ghosts are calling again.

Grain ElevatorsThe weathered old grain elevators that stand in Rowley are the monuments of the town's heritage and identity.

When they were built following the railroad's construction through town in 1911, homesteaders staked their purpose in the new undeveloped territory of Central Alberta. They were farmers and cattle ranchers; simple people who came to this remote dry plain near Alberta's Badlands with grand hopes of prosperity. They came from all parts of the Canadian and American west. But there was plenty of land for homesteaders, and grain grew in the dry heat of summer and early fall. Soon, there was a growing clutter of prairie homesteads.

railway building The railroad came to carry the grain. It also delivered mail, and George Swallow became the first postmaster in 1912. Rowley was officially born. When the rail line was built, it serviced homesteaders from Stettler in the north to Drumheller in the south. Rowley, along with nearby Rumsey and Morrin, was one of several whistle stops established every 10 kilometres.

The train was the vital lifeline, driving dreams of prosperity, bringing passengers, freight and mail. Slowly, homesteaders built a community, but with each advance, came challenges. Year after year, there was the blazing heart of summer and fierce winter snowstorms. The dryness led to many fires in town and at homesteads.

Like every prairie region, there were also droughts and dust storms, particularly during the great Depression. But most homesteaders stayed and worked the land the best they could. Even today, nobody seems to know how big a town Rowley became. But everyone seems to agree the late twenties was its heyday, reaching a population anywhere between 80 to 300 people.
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Reprinted with the permission of Johnnie Bachusky.
 
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