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
where 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.
The 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
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
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.