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Okotoks museum exhibit features forgotten communities

Forgotten Foothills: Traces of the Past offers details about once bustling communities in the Foothills that no longer exist.
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Five communities that once thrived in the Foothills are now long forgotten, except in history books.

The early part of last century saw the development of Lew, Frankburg, Norma, Little Chicago and Little Philadelphia, yet what remains today are cairns, remnants of homes, cemeteries and, in some cases, nothing.

To remind the public that these once bustling communities existed, the Okotoks Museum & Archives created the exhibit Forgotten Foothills: Traces of the Past that offers details about the communities with photographs and artifacts.

“The primary theme of the exhibit is villages and towns that don’t exist anymore within the Foothills County,” said museum specialist Kathy Coutts.

Among them is Frankburg, established in 1902 southeast of High River by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who immigrated from Salt Lake City, Utah.

In its heyday, Frankburg had a school, meeting house, post office, church, cemetery and about 25 homes, said Coutts. All that remains today is a fenced cemetery.

“From my research I learned that the demise of Frankburg began in the Dirty 30s when crops started to fail,” she said. “The post office closed in 1932 and by 1935 most people had moved away.”

A 1936 High River Times article reported that only one family remained in Frankburg.

Shortly after Frankburg was established, the community of Norma popped up north of present-day Aldersyde.

Coutts said early newspaper articles in the Okotoks Review and High River Times told of land surveyed for residential and commercial lots. The Okotoks Review advertised 200 town lots for $15 to $75 each, she said.

The community boasted a lumberyard, stone quarry, blacksmith shop, boarding house, general store and brickyard and had plans for a creamery, power plant and post office, said Coutts.

“In 1906, there was great hope and potential for this new town called Norma.”

It was short-lived.

In 1907, newspaper articles shared news of another community in close proximity being surveyed for development: Aldersyde.

When the Canadian Pacific Railway announced it would put a train station at Aldersyde, the great plans for Norma evaporated, Coutts said.

“In late 1907, a lot of the businesses that established in Norma relocated to the new community of Aldersyde,” she said. “There’s nothing at all left of Norma.”

About four miles west of Okotoks grew the community of Sandstone, named after the abundance of Sandstone and rich clay in the hillsides.

“It really was considered an industrial village established primarily to service the four brickyards that operated in Sandstone Coulee,” said Coutts.

There was a post office, community hall and various homes from tents to large brick houses. Sandstone had a population of about 100 people.

The community was established in 1900, but didn’t last long after the last brickyard closed in 1923. All that remains are remnants of a few homes on, what’s now, private property.

Following Sandstone’s demise, another area was flourishing thanks to the booming oil and gas industry southwest of Okotoks. Little Chicago, Little Philadelphia and Little New York (now Longview) south of Black Diamond became the area’s newest communities.

Little Chicago was founded in 1936, name by American drillers because of its proximity to a big slough the drillers called Lake Michigan. Little Chicago was later renamed Royalties to honour the first oil well.

The community was located north of Little New York along Highway 22, and during its boom days it had a population of 1,700 people. It had a Hudson's Bay store, two oil well supply depots, three trucking firms, a machine shop, three lumber mills, two garages, a furniture store, three grocery stores, and several boarding houses and restaurants, said Coutts.

“It was quite a vibrant community, primarily to serve the oilfield industry and the families who worked there,” she said.

The community lasted only a few decades before the post office closed in 1970. All that remains is a large cairn with plaques sharing its history.

Little Philadelphia, also dubbed River Bend, located west of Longview along the Highwood River, was considered a suburb of Little New York.

At one time it boasted 22 homes, but when drilling activities ceased residents moved away, said Coutts.

“Longview was the only one that survived after the drilling was exhausted,” she said.

Further west, in the Millarville area, the community of Kew also thrived for a short time.

Phonetically named after the Q Ranch established by John Quirk in 1882, Kew had a store, one room schoolhouse, post office and community hall.

“It was a bustling little rural community,” said Coutts. “One of the most famous residents in the Kew area was John Ware.”

After the post office closed in 1955, the school and community hall were relocated to Square Butte and the community evaporated.

The Forgotten Foothills exhibit also explores long forgotten rural districts that didn’t rank as hamlets or villages, like Lineham west of Turner Valley, and how existing Foothills communities got their names.

The Okotoks Museum & Archives is open Tuesdays to Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The exhibit will be on display until Oct. 31. Admission is by donation.




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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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