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With an official population of 27, this isolated community was a hub for coal mining in the early 1900s. Hear all about it over a mason jar of Black Label beer at the Last Chance Saloon, a famed miner hangout, best known for its cook-it-yourself steaks, which diners grill on the barbecue outside. Bond with locals over a friendly game of horseshoes in the beer garden or mosey over to the adjacent Rosedeer Hotel, a popular spot for ghost hunters. (Legend has it that at least one miner has never checked out.)

Rosedeer HotelPhoto by Anne Kostalas

East Coulee
Just south of Wayne, East Coulee takes the term “old school” quite literally. At the School Museum, a terrifying Miss Morrison dishes out good old-fashioned discipline during a mock lesson straight out of 1936. Buy your own dunce cap (proof you survived her teachings) at the school museum; then head to the museum’s Willow Tea Room for a hoodoo hotdog, named after the strange rock formations of the Canadian badlands. Down in the Atlas Coal Mine, where old-fashioned carbide lamps still light the way, hear tales of the Wild West, a time when 3,000 folks called this town home. (It’s now down to 160.) Atlas marks the end of an era; it was the last of 139 local mines to close.

An abandoned car in Wayne, AlbertaAn abandoned car in Wayne (photo by Anne Kostalas)

Just 10 minutes down the road from East Coulee, this town’s faded red 1920s grain elevator is one of many – now regarded as icons of the badlands – still standing on abandoned farmland. Take advantage of this photo op before you wander the town’s abandoned buildings and old cars. There aren’t many locals left, but if you find one, he might tell you more about how the town got its name. (Cliff Notes version: It was named for the daughter of a pioneer who ranched here.) Though Dorothy is small, it was the only social centre around, and on Saturday nights the 100 or so locals would kick up their heels in the dance hall. Stop in at the still-used community centre, and you can almost see the nearly century-old ghosts swinging and jiving.

Sam’s Saloon RowleyPhoto courtesy of Canadian Badlands Travel & Tourism

Stroll along Rowley’s weed-covered railway tracks, which lie in the shadow of three imposing grain elevators. (The train stopped coming here in 1999.) The population may be down from 500 to 12, but the schoolhouse museum, church and bar look in fine form after a campaign by locals to spruce them up. On the last Saturday of every month, locals host Pizza Night at Sam’s Saloon, where you can hear all about the town’s past, including how it was used as the set for the 1989 Canadian flick Bye Bye Blues.

Located in southwestern Alberta, Etzikom comes from the Blackfoot word for valley. Take a walk through the museum’s antique windmills, and join visiting bikers for pie and ice cream at the snack counter. Explore replicas of a general store, post office, blacksmith’s forge, barbershop and 1900s home to get a feel for how the 300 residents used to live. (The current population is only 30.) Don’t leave without a visit to the Canadian National Historic Windmill Centre to see how Canadian wind power has evolved over the last 200 years.

For more information, visit the Canadian Badlands website. 



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Comments… or add another

Casandra Alikakos

Monday, June 3rd 2013 16:14
I very much enjoyed reading about the old Ghost Towns. I was born in Lethbridge in 1939 and remember some of the small southern towns. I half expected to see one of them being Coalhurst where my Mother and my now 94 year old Father were born. They went to school in Coalhurst,which was then a mining town. My Grandparents had migrated from the mining town of Springhill Nova Scotia. "Go West young man". Your article brought back fond memories of the southern prairies. Thank You.
Keep up the good writings!
Casandra ( Rhodes, Greece)

S Klassen

Monday, June 3rd 2013 19:00
Originally from Saskatchewan, we spent nearly forty years in Southern Alberta, almost all of it in Lethbridge. For the past 10 years we've been living out our retirement in Kelowna, but these stories brought back some very fond memories!


Monday, June 3rd 2013 19:08
I enjoyed reading about Wayne. A few years back my brother and I visited there for a biker rally. It was an interesting afternoon and I would like to visit once more. I always like to hear about the old ghost towns of Albetra - there are a few.
West Kelowna, BC

Frank Grealy

Monday, June 3rd 2013 22:01
What information do you have on why Rusylvia Alberta, was closed down? My family lived there in 1929-1936.


Wednesday, June 5th 2013 00:18
Might just have to include a couple of these ghost towns in our September rambles in southern Alberta when we show our English relatives around some of Western Canada.... Kelowna BC

Michele Hampton

Wednesday, June 5th 2013 23:18
Rowley is my hometown. I grew up there in the 70's/80's thinking that 'this'was normal. 25 years out I know it's not but am so thankful for the lessons in community that I learned there. It will ALWAYS be my hometown.
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