The flat prairie lands of southeast Alberta begin to change around Drumheller, as Hoodoos spring up without notice. Bordering each side of the secondary highway, the landscape rises skyward, in a unique, bumpy, hilly kind-of way.
Taking highway 56 travelling 28 minutes north of Drumheller, there is a small, roadside sign at Township Road 324 announcing “Rowley”. Turning onto the dirt road, the ghost town is immediately visible.
It’s actually a ghost hamlet rather than a ghost town. In fact, unlike many other Albertan ghost towns, Rowley is where Casper the friendly ghost would live if he had the choice. It is not spooky, nor scary nor completely abandoned. It’s friendly, welcoming and a gem in the middle of the grasslands. Eleven residents call Rowley home.
Big, black crows circle overhead, squawking in a way only a crow can. Cats roam freely between the few homes, the vintage playground and the open prairie fields. The crows’ and cats’ presence and their sounds would add to a ghostly feel if in fact there were one. But, the few residents are out and about, mowing their lawn, picking up their mail and preparing for Saturday night pizza get-togethers. Two roosters waddle about on the dirt road, crowing as if dawn had just arrived. It was 3 p.m.
There is a church, a bank, a funeral home; all restored to near-former glory. The train station remains, and doubles as a museum.
There are several newer homes, recently built, constructed near residences that have been there for more than 50 years. An abandoned livery stable, home and shed have been left to weather in the elements. The old schoolhouse remains standing, living in the shadows of the majestic grain elevators. Main street has had a face lift, with a wooden boardwalk for traversing both sides of the street. The ghost hamlet, in the spring and summer, is surrounded on all sides by green, green grass, open fields and farmer’s hay crops.
An old two-storey home remains standing on Main street, history and character and intrigue oozing from its broken windows. What once was a hospital, then a family home, then a backdrop for a movie, stands abandoned and untouched. . .the best kind of homage to the past. It’s peeling paint is somehow appealing. Its’ rotting veranda, where the children of the town wait for the school bus, is vintage and charming. It’s second storey begs a second look. As one sweet and outgoing long-time resident explains,
“Unless they shore it up from the inside, the whole house will come down someday soon.”
Nature hugs this place. God is here in the breeze swaying the trees, the friendly wave of the neighbour on her tractor, and the way your eye seeks out the glory of the view toward the horizon. Bring your favourite canine along for the ride. They will love it!
Take care everyone.