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Okotoks historian bringing town's past to life

Karen Peters is inviting the public on a tour of less travelled streets in Okotoks' downtown, as well as through the Okotoks Cemetery, as she shares the history of the region.
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Cemetery Tours 01 KC
Historian Karen Peters takes a group through the Okotoks Cemetery during a previous tour. Peters' tour on Aug. 31 will focus on those who worked in the oilfields in Black Diamond and Turner Valley.

Stories rarely told of Okotoks’ earlier years will be the focus of two walking tours led by a local historian in August.

Karen Peters will share the history of Okotoks’ first homes along North Railway Street, Poplar Avenue, Maple Street and the residential section of McRae Street on Aug. 3, before discussing the area’s oil and gas history during a cemetery tour on Aug. 31.

Although Peters has been leading guided walking tours through Okotoks’ downtown for years, she said these streets are often overlooked due to the rich history on Elma Street and the business section of North Railway and McRae streets.

“I’m hoping to tell some new stories that people haven’t heard before,” she said. “We’ve done the main street and Elma Street so much, maybe they’ll learn something new about Okotoks.”

For Peters, it’s about sharing the history of territory less travelled.

“On McRae Street we’ve got the Macleod House and the Herbert Carr House and on Maple Street there’s the Banister House,” she said. “On Poplar there’s a building standing that’s been renovated but was originally Okotoks first school.”

McRae Street boasts a lot of history, said Peters, including the Ardiel House and Quinton House, while North Railway Street was home to the train station and Wentworth Store (now Rumpled Quit Skins). The street also has a heritage home that was built on Okotoks’ west side and now serves as the museum.

Peters will also talk about the Victoria Dance Hall that used to be on the east end of McRae Street, built in the late 1800s and used for dances and meetings.

“We’ve never done anything on Maple and Poplar, which are some of the older streets of Okotoks,” she said. “People like to see the old homes and hear the stories of the people who owned them.”

Peters will bring along photographs of some of Okotoks’ first buildings on these streets, including the community’s first school.

Then on Aug. 31, Peters will lead people through a different part of the community that boasts its own unique history – the Okotoks Cemetery.

The tour will tell the stories of about 20 men buried in the cemetery who played a role in Black Diamond and Turner Valley’s rich oilfield history, including John Lineham, Ronald Banister and Jerry F. D’Arcy.

“When going through our history book, The Century of Memories, so many families started out as ranchers and farmers and then their children and grandchildren – I bet you two thirds of them – were in the oil industry in some aspect,” said Peters. “Turner Valley didn’t have a cemetery until the early 1970s, I think, so we had a lot of people from that area buried in our cemetery.”

Peters said she will also tell the story of two men buried in the cemetery who were killed in the oil patch.

“A lot of them died from being hit on the head and from dangerous fumes,” she said. “In the early years there wasn’t the same safety standards so some part of the oil rig would come down and hit them on the head.”

Anyone wanting to attend the free tours must meet at the Okotoks Museum & Archives at 2 p.m. on Aug. 3 for the walking tour and the Okotoks Cemetery at 2 p.m. on Aug. 31 for the cemetery tour.




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Tammy Rollie

About the Author: Tammy Rollie

Tammy Rollie is a staff reporter at OkotoksToday.ca and the Western Wheel newspaper, focusing on Wheel's West, local arts and culture and entertainment. For story tips contact trollie@okotoks.greatwest.ca
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