Friday, 01 August 2014 08:00

Former Bow City site to get a heritage marker

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This is a photograph of the main street of Bow City in about 1919. The Campbell Brothers Hardware and Harness Store (left) and the Bow City Trading Company store (right) are visible. This is a photograph of the main street of Bow City in about 1919. The Campbell Brothers Hardware and Harness Store (left) and the Bow City Trading Company store (right) are visible. Image courtesy Galt Archives

The former site of what was meant to be a metropolis — Bow City — will be remembered for years to come with an Alberta heritage marker.

Vulcan County officials were successful in seeing their application approved. It was submitted to the Heritage Markers Program at the end of January.
The program is meant to support the installation of markers that “promote  greater awareness of the historic people, places, events and themes that have defined the character of the province.”
Jonathan Koch, who operates the Forgotten Alberta website which showcases history of the southeast corner of the province, was instrumental in helping pull the application together, along with Liza Dawber, grants and program co-ordinator for Vulcan County.
Vulcan County officials have become more aware of the history in their area since starting the municipal heritage partnership project in 2011.
“This is a very cool, interesting story,” says Dawber, about Bow City. “We’ve become much more aware of some of the very interesting stories that happened throughout time in Vulcan County.”
The heritage marker program is best known for the distinctive blue signs along highways and secondary highways in the province, telling the stories of historical points of interest. It will take between two to three years for the Bow City project to be completed, but the application proposed a marker be located on the north side of Highway 539 along the Bow River.
The signage is paid for by the provincial government and all of the work is done by the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation with input from the applicants.
“We’re very excited about the project,” adds Dawber.
Koch, who has written extensively about Bow City, says the original community existed across the river from where the current Bow City sits today.
“We felt a heritage marker would be the best way to preserve that memory,” he adds.
It was also fitting that those involved received word of the application’s success, right around the time Bow City celebrated 100 years on July 13.
According to a history about Bow City written by Koch, a land rush a century ago to the area about 30 km southwest of Brooks, was what started the community. It was “a settlement some some predicted would rival Calgary and Regina for prominence as the Pittsburgh of the prairies.”
The 320-acre townsite overlooked the Bow River.
In early 1913 it boasted a general store, hardware store, butcher, pool hall, implement agency, two livery barns and a lumberyard. The Bow City Hotel opened in 1914. By July 13, 1914, the Village of Bow City was incorporated.
The community boasted an impressive tax base due to the number of lots purchased by speculators, but the decline didn’t take long to start. A nearby irrigation project lost British backing and construction of CPR’s Suffield Branch was built 40 kilometres south of the village.
By 1915 half of the village’s residents moved to Retlaw, Enchant, Travers and Lomond to be along the Suffield rail line and in late June of 1915 the Bow City hotel burned down, writes Koch.
Within a year, fewer than 30 residents remained and in April 1918, the village was disorganized by the Department of Municipal Affairs. By the 1940s, Bow City had relocated to the river’s north side.
As there is nothing left to mark the community, there is a danger the history of the original Bow City could be forgotten. This was the concern of municipal officials and Koch.
As part of the application, Vulcan County received numerous letters of support for the heritage marker including from Vulcan and District Historical Society Archives and Museum, Vulcan Business Development Society, EID Historical Park, Brooks and District Museum, and the County of Newell.
For Koch, the project was near and dear to his heart.
“My family history is wrapped up with the history of Bow City,” he points out. “It’s always been something I’ve been interested in.”
Because that history lies with the grandfathers and great grandfathers of previous generations, it is in real danger of being lost.
“There aren’t too many people around who know that history anymore,” says Koch. “It’s important it is recognized and commemorated because no one is left to remember that history.”
Ryan Andrews, a former County of Newell councillor and resident of Bow City, says a lot of credit should be given to Koch for keeping southeast Alberta history known.
“I hadn’t realized it had been 100 years,” he says about the anniversary of the former Bow City site. “It’s nice to hear somebody is looking after (remembering that history).”
Andrews, who was born and raised around Bow City, had the 100-year celebration of his own farming family in 2010. His family farmsteaded on the south side of the river, near Lomond. Then his grandfather and grandfather’s brother, moved to the north side of the river when the Eastern Irrigation District opened up irrigated land.
Andrews is glad to see neighbouring municipalities working together to ensure history of the area isn’t lost.
“The County of Newell has been very proactive in working with all of its neighbours,” he points out. “It helps everybody get the job done.”

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Rose Sanchez

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