Having run the width of Fort Macleod eastward as Chief Red Crow Boulevard, the combined Highway No. 3/No. 2 remains divided as it curves south past the new Thriftys Foods emporium and thumps over the level crossing of the CPRs Crows Nest Line. Immediately south of the Crossing a complicated little intersection sends the No. 2 travelling southerly 30 kilometres down to Standoff on the Kainaa Reserve, on through the Mormon temple town of Cardston to the Boundary at Carway, a total of 95 kilometres from The Fort. Freed from No. 2, the Crowsnest Highway, its burden of sobriquets doubled with the addition of The Red Coat Trail, bends in a grand sweep about 120 degrees counter-clockwise to come parallel to the Railway and head north-east on its way to Monarch. To the right a couple of kilometres from the Intersection is a large feedlot which in the spring of 2005 hosted hundreds of horses for purposes unknown to most passers-by. Political pressure from an American special interest group, R-CALF USA, had kept the Boundary closed to imports of Canadian cattle since the spring of 2003, so one would reasonably expect that the feedlots would be full of bovidae, not equi.
With the Porcupine Hills rising behind them, on a fine, clear day, standing high on their pedals and stretching their eye-balls away 45 miles south-east with the aid of a co-operative mirage, cyclists can almost make out the Milk River Ridge, the prominent highlands defining the northern edge of the Louisiana which the U.S. of As third president, Thomas Jefferson, purchased from Napoléon in 1803. Arcing across southern Alberta roughly parallel to the Boundary, the Ridge serves as Gæas guide-post, pointing to that corner near the Logan Pass where the Big Three watersheds of North Americathe Pacific, the Atlantic, and the Arcticmeet.
With the wind bracing their backs at least 300 days in a year, east-bound travellers are off to Lethbridge, a mere 45 kilometres from Fort Macleod. This is the playground of Æolus, Keeper of the Winds. Every day he comes here to exercise his charges on these fields. Sad is the cyclist who is unprepared to partake in the gods games. At this latitude, anemographers will tell you that Zephyrus, the West Wind, prevails. He does, but he doesnt have to. For days into weeks, perhaps summoned by El Niño or Pinatubos guardians, the East Wind, Eurus, overpowers his cousin. On the Prairies, cyclists should expect to become intimate with their lower gears, and prepare for days on end of exertion and extended travel times.
Beneath the Highways pavement is perhaps 50 metres of glacial till consisting of sand and gravel, clays and boulder clays, humped into hills by the last continental glacier perhaps as it melted away to the northward some 11,000 years ago, overlaying some 10,000 feet of sedimentary Púleozoic and Mesozoic strata which themselves rest on Precambrian granites. Beyond the low ridge on the far side of the cut-bankd Oldman, an enormously rich bed of lacustrine loam began attracting settlers in the early 19-aughts and rewards so well still the agricultural efforts of their descendents. Called Coyote Flats, it is bed of Glacial Lake Macleod and the destination of the Lethbridge Northern Irrigation Districts main canal, opened in 1923. To the south of the Highway the countryside appears rolling and treeless. Could one see it from the air, especially at a low oblique angle in the winter time when the slanting sun light and snow in the hollows emphasize topography, one would see, reports Chester B. Beaty in The Landscapes of Southern Alberta - A Regional Geomorphology (University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, 1975), that the hills are actually longitudinal dunes of loess picked up from a nearby lakebed possibly sometime during the two millennia-long drought that began in this area some 7,000 years BP, stripping away the Earths protective blanket of greenery, exposing the soil to the relentless west winds. Orientated 70º east of North, the dunes were stabilized by the prairie grasses which colonized the region when the rains returned. Coming along this way in the early spring, a flash of optical delusion can turn the fenceless fields of weathered-grey grain stubble into native short grasses and, conjuring up an endless herd of great, shaggy black bison grazing on the hillsides, one can almost see the countryside through the centuries-old eyes of a Blackfoot hunter.
Some fifteen kilometres east from The Fort, where the No. 3 curves to strike due east over the mounded loess, Range Road 250 cuts across the Highway. North a couple of kilometres is Pearce, named by the Railway in 1910 for Thomas William Pearce, a long-time promoter of regional irrigation who joined CPRs management team in 1905 after a long career with the Dominion government saw him begin as one of the first land surveyors assigned to subdivide western lands into saleable plots, and end as the Superintendent of Mines for the North-West Territories. Now no more than a railway crossing on a country road, a couple of farmsteads and a siding which sometimes holds a train of cars awaiting distribution, it is hard to believe that on this spot once stood a village with a church and a school, a store, houses, grain elevators, all gathered around a CPR station1 and its ancillary structures. It hit its heyday in the 1940s when the British Commonwealth Air Training Program designated a few fields some four kilometres north of the village as an ideal location for an air field, a feature still prominent on Google Earth at latitude 49º 50'N, longitude 113º 14' 30"W, nestled into a crook in the Oldman River. Fred Manning and Company was contracted to grade a triangle of landing strips in 1940, and soon British accents were heard in Pearces streets as the No. 36 Elementary Flying Training School took up residence at the base. Above, growling, seven-cylinder Jacobs L-6 MB radial enginesShaky Jakesdragged PT-27 Stearman Kaydets2 through the typically clear skies. In September of 1942 the No. 3 Air Observers/Navigators School was transferred in from Regina, and in May of 1943 the No. 2 Flying Instructors School was moved in from Vulcan some 40 miles due north. Come the end of 1944 the base was pretty quiet; most of the personnel had been assigned to other locations as the Program was wound down.
Past Range Road 250, the Highway heads directly east, climbing up onto the tilly hills of the doabthe inter-riparian highlandswhich separates the Oldmans watershed from that of the Belly River, the western limit of the Kainaa Reserve. Gaining elevation, one can look out to the north and make out the 1,891 foot-long, 150 foot-high trestle that John Kelly and Sons of Winnipeg built for the CPR to carry the Railways cut-off3 between Lethbridge and Fort Macleod over the Oldman River. With the enormous Viaduct over the Belly River at Lethbridge well underway, on September 28th, 1908, CP let the construction contract for the Monarch bridge to Kelly and company for $300,000. The Kellys set the concrete footings for the towers and watched with interest as contractors Fresnod a grade across the prairies and crews of navvies laid rail to the abutments of the bridge. On June 22nd, 1909, the Canadian Bridge Companys gigantic erection traveller finished its work on the Viaduct and was rolled up the new trackage to the Oldman bridge site. Elements of the structure that had been pre-fabricated in Canadian Bridges plant in Walkerton, Ontario, were rolled up from the companys yards at Lethbridge as needed. The date of October 22nd, 1909, is associated with the Oldman Bridges completion. The next day, writes Johnston in The CP Rail High Level Bridge …, a short train from Calgary consisting of only an engine and tender, a caboose and the coach Minnedosa crammed with officials chugged along the Cut-off, crossing the new bridges. On November the 3rd the Cut-off was officially opened for traffic, though a few revenue trains had already used the trackage.
The Monarch Quarry
In the vicinity of the Oldman Bridge is the Monarch Quarry, the only place in the province where building-quality sandstone can still be obtained.
There exists some confusion as to who opened up the quarry, [AcadiaValleyCUM-M07-09-21.jpg]and when. A note in the 1963 book down the Trail of Memories by The Dorcas Ladies Aid suggests that it was perhaps Lachlan Carmichael, a mason who settled in the neighbourhood. Likely, however, it was Duncan Maclean, Sr., a Scottish stonecutter who possibly mined stone from the site for the construction of the Queens Hotel in the Town of Macleod in 1904. By the time that Maclean4 organized Freeman & Maclean Company around 19105 to expand his operation to meet the demands of the building boom that was driving Alberta, there was a small community of mainly Macleans compatriots from the auld country settled around the quarry. Known at first as Nevarre, by the time the Post Office opened a bureau under the care of Macleans son, Robert and his wife, Annie, on November 1, 1910, the settlements name had become Staunton, after another of the large Maclean family. The postal bureau was located in a large store around which were arrayed several houses, a big dining hall capable of feeding the companys 70-odd workers, a pool hall and a smithy. A spur line ran north-westward from the CNL about two miles right to the site. Most of the workers chose to reside in Monarch and walk to work, or, if luck, hop a slow west-bound train. Not far from the pit Duncan built himself a fine sandstone two-storey house. With orders for tons of the quarrys durable sandstone sawn to measure coming in from builders in towns and cities from Banff to Regina and Lethbridge to Edmonton, things looked good for Macleans business until the bottom fell out of the North Americas economy as the Europeans girded for the Great War. Maclean disassociated himself from the operation and what mining that was done in the mid-10s was directed by Jack Campbell who, according to remembrances recorded in Sons of the Wind and Soil (Nobleford, Monarch History Book Club, Nobleford, 1976), took over the enterprise with a few other masons. When the War finally exploded, most of the men, with nothing much else to do and the strains of Rule Britannia inflaming patriotism in their breasts, went off to bleed in Belgian trenches. On December 22nd, 1917, Bob and Annie closed their postal bureau. The quarrys machinery was scrapped soon after The Great War, and the pit remained pretty much undisturbed until restoration architects in Calgary, faced with rebuilding some of the beautiful old sandstone buildings which grace that city, cast around for source of compatible stone. In May of 1985 G&A Masonry of Calgary hired Smith Cut Stone and Quarries, Limited, of Shediac, New Brunswick, to mine stone, ship it back to Shediac to finish the blocks and forward them to Calgary.
Monarch this morning
East of the Trestle some four rail miles and exactly 27 kilometres by highway from Fort Macleod, the hamlet of Monarch perches on the top of the Oldmans northern scarp. Leaving the new section of No. 3 to carry straight on to overfly the Oldman on the four lanes of its 1997 pre-stressed concrete bridge, curious travellers head off north-east on the old Highway, 3A.
Coming out of the curve which bends the 3A north-east to Monarch, traffic plummets down the Oldmans escarpment and out onto what in times past your author, mounted on his trusty Giant Escaper bicycle, had judged to be the most dangerous bridge on the Crowsnest Highway. Built in 1957, it is Narrow! Damn narrow, especially when one or two of those 65-tonne Super-B semi-trailer units which cram Albertas highways bombs onto the Bridge heel-to-the-steel straining to maintain momentum for the climb up the valleys far side. Its an endangered cyclist who gets caught trying to share the Bridge with oneor worse, two passingof these monsters. The hurricane-like strength of their bow waves coupled with the not-less-than-brisk breezes which habitually haunt the Valley can make this crossing terrifying enough to give a bowling ball heart palpitations. Happily, since the new section was finished, truckers tend to keep to the high way and cyclists have a much better chance of getting across the old bridge unscathed. Immediately downstream from the Bridge are the piers and abutments of its 1913 predecessor and, a couple of miles farther down, the Highways new bridge.
This little river is a major political boundary in this small part of the World, dividing the Municipal District of Willow Creek from the County of Lethbridge, the federal riding of Macleod from the riding of Lethbridge, and the Alberta electoral districts of Livingstone-Macleod from Little Bow. Northward from the bridge, on the left bank of the River, the Highway heaves up a strenuous grade and cuts into the corner of Monarch (945m). A hamlet,6 the community has collected maybe 100 houses on generous lots in a grid of six avenues by seven streets laid out square to the Crows Nest branch mainline by CPR surveyors in 1908. True to its name, Monarchs the roadways, except for Railway and Kipp avenues and Eastman Road, are either regally entitled or named for dead British royals. Since the loss its elevators in the late 1990s, the royal-blue water tower rising above the communitys glorious parasol of cottonwoods is by far the tallest thing in town. Bought used from the Town of Taber, it was erected on December 4th, 1984. Right at the top of the grade, on the north side of the Highway stands the two-storey wooden blue box that is the Monarch Hotel, supposed to be a surviving addition to the original Monarch Hotel which Richard Urch had built over by the railroad tracks in 1910. It was later torn down, and the later addition was moved in the early 30s to serve travellers on what was then the new highway, the Red Route. Though it is again two years closed in the autumn of 2006, its wide wooden awning offers shelter from the beating afternoon summer sun. Were one allowed access, one would find inside and to the right of the entrance that the main floor is occupied by the beer parlour, on the left, a restaurant which struggled through a succession of proprietors calling it colourful names like Debbies Road Kill and Grill Café. The restaurants restrooms are up on the second floor, and this would give the curious diner a chance to nose around this classic old Prairie hotel. The bathrooms have been refurbished, thankfully, but the rooms preserve the dark wood moulding and décor of the Edwardian era. They looked comfy the last time your guide saw them, back in 1997, and with the No. 3s traffic no longer thundering past the lobby doors, a west facing room would be a quiet retreat from which to watch the sun set behind the distant mountains. Unfortunately, thundering traffic is what keeps little enterprises alive these days, and with the Crowsnest Highway now re-aligned miles from the Hotels doors, the bar cannot attract enough patrons to keep the old place open.
Early Days and the Dutch
This was, of course, all Niitsi-tapiBlackfootterritory in the long ago days, primarily the preserve of the Kainaathe Bloods. For hundreds, if not thousands, of years that Tribe chased buffalo and enemies across the hills and flats of what is now southern Alberta. Then came pale-faced new-comers with exotic goods and diseases which so weakened the Tribes that when the New-comers, increasing in numbers and confidence, offered to protect and teach the Niitsi-tapi their arts in exchange for vast tracts of tribal territory, the elders counselled acceptance and signed papers in 1877. With the buffalo long gone, the Tribes gradually resigned themselves to living on the reserves that the New-comers set aside for them.
The destruction of the buffalo and the confinement of the Niitsi-tapi to reserves left the endless marches of prairie grass to the New-comers. First to arrive were cattlemen in the early 1880s. In their down [sic] the Trail of Memories The Dorcas Ladies Aid note John Wright, W.W. Arnold, Bill Stewart, Joe C. Graves, C. Clark, Ed. Johnson, Robert N. Wilson, the Benjamin and Charles Howe family, and the Duhamel family. Possibly the most influential were Wm. H. Long and his friend, Richard T. Urch. The stage trail between Coal Banks and Fort Macleod cut across Longs lease, and to subsidize his cattle business, around 1883 Long took a job operating the reaction ferry7 which the North Western Coal and Navigation Company had placed there, according to A.A. den Otter in Civilizing the West: The Galts and the development of western Canada (University of Alberta Press, Edmonton, 1982), to shift cargo and passengers from shore to shore during the Oldmans treacherous high water season. Urch joined him in 1884, according to a memoir penned in Sons of the Wind and Soil, and in 1886 they floated some logs down the Old Man from the Porcupine Hills and built their ranch house on the Rivers left bank near a ford just above the Old Mans confluence with the Belly, a few miles south of the present Monarch townsite. This two-storey edifice with a veranda on the front and a lean-to kitchen on the back soon became the Stopover House8 wherein the partners served meals and drinks, offered postal services, and accommodated guests who chose not to continue their journey that day. They were joined in their enterprise in 1889 by Williams brother, Harold G., fresh out from England, and his sister, Elizabeth Jane, who married Urch and took over the operation with her husband when her brothers returned to England in 1894. No one has recorded just how long the Stopover House remained in business, likely right up until the CPR laid the Crows Nest Line across the Kainaa reserve to the south of the stage road in 1897.
Remembers George Hill Todd in Sons of the Wind and Soil, [t]he grass was tall and luscious then [when the first settlers arrived], a beautiful sight to see. Others remember the profusions of crocuses and buttercups. Cattle thrived on this range, and for twenty years the herds increased in size as the animals roamed at will to the fenceless horizons. Cattle, however, didnt pay nearly as much in taxes as farmers did, and slowly even the ranchers friend, the Conservative government in Ottawa, began to favour the limiting of the enormous ranching leases. When the CPR completed the southern branch of the Calgary and Edmonton Railway to West Macleod in September of 1892, much of the land that had been leased to the ranchers was given to the Railway as payment for its construction. Ten years later, discriminatory policy had succeeded in limiting the extent of the ranches and settlers, with much of the free land in the United States taken up, began to look at Alberta. For a homestead entry fee of $10, a farmer could chose a 160-acre square of unoccupied land, and if he had the grit and determination to live on it for at least six months of each of the following three years, and break at least 10 acres of virgin sod during each of those years and plant the soil to crop, the land was his by patent.
Writes Tymen E. Hofman in The Strength of Their Years: The story of a pioneering community (Knight Publishing Ltd., St. Catherines, ON, 1983), in 1903 the first farming families settled in this area. The family of Gerrit Jan Withage, the J.H. Telgtes with Willem Feller, and the Emmelkamps were from Overijssel province in north-eastern Netherlands, and had come into what was soon to be the Province of Alberta under the patronage of the Christlijke Gereformeerde Kerk9 and its colony in Manhattan, Montana. Around Easter of the next year came Evert Aldus with his family, the Johan Huismans, the Jacobus Hijhoffs, the Jan Postmans, Hendrikus Veldhuis and his family, and the Willem Jan van Louhuizens. Each with enough money to cover capital expenditures on livestock, sheltertypically a sod and pole shack for the first few yearsand equipment, and sufficient stamina to break the knotted prairie sod with the walking plowslight, single-shared horse-drawn implements, unsuitable for the hard work of breaking sod, but the only implements available to most farmers at the time. With their tiny fields sown and protected as best they could against the dreaded prairie fires with ploughed fireguards, the men usually went off to work for local ranchers mowing hay, branding or fencing for a dollar a day, or offered their services to the coal mine operators at Coal Banks, Commerce or Diamond City. At home the women tended the younger children and gardens, hauled water from the nearest slough or stream, and struggled to keep wild ranch cattle from eating the crops or enticing the farm animals away to roam with the herds over the boundless plains. Children helped, collecting buffalo chips10 and, if they lived near the Oldman, driftwood, for stove fuel. If the family was lucky the crops survived the dry spells, the cattle, the hail and wind storms. The subsequent harvest was hauled to Granum (formerly Leavings) and exchanged for groceries and dry-goods, tools and fence posts and rolls of barbed wire with names like Sunderland Kink or Upham Snail Barb with which to fence out the ranch cattle and confine the farm stock.
The thousands of wild cattle wandering at will through crops and farm pastures is a theme in many of the memoirs recorded in Sons of the Wind and Soil. This problem was largely solved by the freeze of January, 1907. Wet snow had fallen for a few days, blanketing the prairies of southern Alberta, followed by a Chinook11 that melted much of the snow to water. Then the bottoms fell out of the thermometers as the temperature plummeted into the minus 60s, some say, and stayed there for a few days, sealing the range grasses under a thick layer of ice. Where as bison and horses would kick and paw through the ice, cattle wouldnt or couldnt. Tormented by the bitter winds and literally mad with hunger, the animals attacked anything that moved, piled up in ravines by the hundreds and packed themselves into any building they could crush into. There they perished, their carcasses so thick on the ground the next spring that the government paid people to skin and bury them before they thawed and hosted pestilence. That spring of 1907 saw the last great round-up in southern Alberta when the ranchers banded together to round up the surviving cattle and return them to their home ranges12 where they were confined behind fences so that they could be fed in the event of another icing, leaving the farmlands in peace.
Not until roughly 1908 was there enough money coming in from farming to enable men to stay on their farms during the summer. By then a couple of local men, Emil Hann and H. Meibach, had pooled their spare cash a bought a six-bottom breaking plow and a steam traction engine to pull it. With Joe Cox, Hann bought one of the first threshing machines in the district and processed their neighbours crops for a share of the harvest. By then a bridge across what was then known as the Bellylater determined to be the OldmanRiver made practicable to deliver grain to Lethbridge.
Scattered across several townships eastward from Granum and interspersed with settlers of other ethnic extraction, the Dutch called their community Nieuw Nijverdal they felt rooted enough by the spring of 1905 that they supported a petition to the Territorial Department of Education to organize a school district, the Rose Butte School District No. 1306,13 and raise a school house of the same name some 2.5 miles north north-east from what would become Monarch. Miss Pinneo was the first teacher. Great believers in education, a year later the settlers built a second school, Finley, named for school trustee, J. Alexander Finley, three miles north-west of the future townsite. Mr. McFadgen was the first teacher there.
Spiritually the Dutch community was underpinned by the Christian Reformed Church. The first official service took place in the Jan Postmans farm house two miles north of the present townsite on May 14th, 1905. Conducting the service was Dominee14 James Holwerda from the Manhattan, Montana, church. On November 16th the faithful organized Nijverdal Christian Reformed Church congregation and split it into two groups; the West Zijd which congregated in the new Rocky Coulee School over on the Flats a few miles north of Macleod, and the Oost Zijd which met in Findlay School. Local deacons read the services when itinerant ministers or student preachers from the Churchs seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, were not in the district. On May 20th of 1909 the Oost Zijd group built its church one mile west of Rose Butte School, some three miles due north of what was then the blooming dorp of Monarch. Unfortunately, a schism of sorts cracked the community when, on August 12th, 1909, in the house of W.J. Van Lohuisen, the first Canadian branch of the Dutch Reformed Church was organized. On March 12th of 1911 this congregation opened a house of worship15 two miles north from Monarch, on land donated by J. Nylof. The wound, suggests Hofman, hadnt yet healed when he was writing in the early 1980s.
The Village of Monarch
Monarch is, like the overwhelming majority of Prairie communities, a child of the railroad, planted by CP in the fertile soil of Coyote Flats halfway between Lethbridge and Macleod on the newly re-aligned Crows Nest Line. By rights, Monarch should have been called Vorst, Dutch for both monarch and frost. As it was, the naming of the community was toss-up, the Dutch settlers favouring Nijverdal, the British contingent, probably including D.M. Ross, the owner of the property upon which the townsite was surveyed, plumping for the CPRs suggestion, Monarch. By 1908, CPR crews were well involved in the construction of an 1,891 foot-long trestle bridge to carry the Companys re-aligned Crows Nest Line over the Old Man River a few miles westward from the townsite.
In April of 1908 contractors began levelling a roadbed along the line of stakes which CPR surveyors had pounded earlier that spring. Monarch boomed, with construction crews racing each other to get buildings raised. The first outfit in business was Ford Tylers hardware store, opening its doors on October 15th. An office of the Canadian Bank of Commerce was opened on November 18th. Before the end of the year, Alberta Government Telephones, which had strung Line No. 95 between Macleod and Lethbridge that year, opened a toll office in D.M. Rosss real estate office, wherein was located the postal bureau. Come the end of February of 1909, with the Alberta Pacific Grain Company building a 25,000-bushel grain elevator down by the Railways grade, some 20 buildings had been occupied and 11 businesses vied for trade, among them Crown Lumber, the Merchants Bank, Moore and Brown General Merchandise, F.E. Brown Saddlery, F.H. Bard and Company meat market, and J.G. Hoppers Monarch Hardware. In July R.W. Grieves opened his Monarch Drugs & Stationery. Houses were gradually in-filled the street grid as families moved into the settlement. In September of 1909, writes Ty Hofman in The Strength of Their Years:, Monarch School was opened.16 That November of 1909, with the formal opening of its Lethbridge Viaduct, the CPR began scheduled operations on the new section of the Crows Nest Line. On the 17th of November Monarch welcomed the first child known to have been born within its boundaries; Ruby May Lord.
The year 1910 was a red letter year for Monarch, for the settlement was … erected as a village, wrote Alberta Municipal Affairs advisor Ken Caspell to your author in the spring of 2005, on July 14, 1910, by an Order-in-Council. C.E. Moore was selected as president of the first council. Come that year Jim Blanchards blacksmith shop, A.B. Petersons barber shop and pool room, Cox Livery Stable, and Carlisle Bros. Livery Stable were in business, along with J. Birks grocery store and three restaurants: Wilsons, Clarks, and Kwong Lees. The owner of the latter also ran a laundry. In 1910 the Methodist and Presbyterian congregations organized themselves and met together in the new school house.17 That year CP completed its station and Richard Urch of Stopping House note built the 40-room Monarch Hotel. Come the end of 1910 several other elevators had been built along the line: Norris Grant Company, Sunny Belt, J.W. McClains private, and H.E. Meibachs private, and in the Alexander Milling Company works, Jake Alexander and Henry S. Pelletier were grinding chops and feeds for animals as well as White Lily flour. Pelletier also set up a works about a mile west of town on the CNL where he unsuccessfully tried to fire bricks in a couple of dozen poor kilns. Ninteeen-11 saw the Becker Lumber Company Limited open stores from which it sold sashes and doors and other finishing stock. On January 4th, 1913, construction commenced on the Monarch Bridge, two 200 foot-long through-truss spans being set on concrete abutments and a mid-stream pier. The structure was finished and opened in August to carry Monarchs road traffic to the right bank of the Oldman.
Preserving the Soil
Although competent agriculturists in the Marine Climatic zone of Northern Europe whence most came, on the arid Steppes of North America, the Dutch and Easterners who settled around Monarch found themselves confounded. The soil quickly dried out once the native sod had been turned over by the breaking plough and the land cropped a few times. The problem was basically one of inappropriate farming technique; no one knew how to farm the dry-lands. Huge expanses of territory were broken and set to crop for a few years until, in accordance with tested agricultural practice and accumulated wisdom, a system of crop rotation was effected which saw alternating fields plowed and left idlefallowevery third year. This rest was proven to rejuvenate the soil and prepare it for another two years of cropping. Further, a conscientious, industrious farmer saw to it that all trashstubble, straw, et ceterawas burned off his fields after harvest. In the moist climates of the East and Northern Europe and the East, these practices were effective in controlling weeds and maintaining soil fertility: on the Dry-lands, they were exactly the wrong thing to do. Wide expanses of summer fallow turned to dust under Sols pitiless gaze, and the autumn burning of the trash destroyed the vegetable fibre which would have served to bind the top-soil into a cohesive mass. Unimpeded, playful Zephyrus gaily whipped the soil up into towering clouds of dust and sent them whirling away in a horror that broke many a heart on the Prairies.
In the early days of the first Dutch settlers, the men of the farming families sought work off the farm once seeding was done. Fields cropped the previous fall and not replanted were left trashy, stubble standing and straw scattered about, contrary to the accepted agricultural methodology of the time: idle fields should be plowed to allow the rains to soak into the soil. It wasnt until roughly 1908 in the Monarch district when farmers were well enough established that they could spend all their time on the farm and clean up their fields. Not many noticed that, unlike Europe or down East, little rain fell in their corner of the West. None-the-less, crops were good, with one family harvesting a phenomenal 62.5 bushels to the acre of wheat in 1909. In 1910, when the streak of Halleys Comet decorated the spring skies, so little rain fell that grain failed to germinate in the fields. Nineteen-11 was just the opposite. Plenty of precipitation sprouted thick crops. Rust, however, caused by the moisture, affected many plants, causing concern until the terrible hail storm of August 15th beat everything to the ground. The three following years were remembered as semi-arid, followed by bumper crops in 191518 and 1916.19 Whereas 1917 was dry and windy with crops blown out and hail storms menacing any plantings fortunate enough to survive, 1918, with wheat reaching the heady price of $2.50/bushel, was much worse with towering dust storms and drifted soil burying fences clogged with rolling Russian thistle. Sandy drifts built to the leeward eaves on some buildings during dirty 1919 and for the next four years any farmer who worked his fallow fields by ploughing down or burning the trash saw his topsoil lift into the winds and head east.20 Where there was no irrigation, there was no hope of stabilizing soil drift; drought prevented any vegetation from taking hold in the exposed earth and protecting it against erosion. With water to germinate seed and sustain the growing plant, the story was sometimes different. This period culminated in the blizzards of grit and dust which blackened southern Albertas skies in 1923,21 an omen of the tragedy that was to befall the Prairies in the Dirty 30s.
The Department of Agriculture eventually recognized the harm that trash-burning was doing and set about to educate farmers, but it was two Monarch district brothers, Leonard and Arie Koole, who are credited with figuring out a way to minimize the effects of the wind. By planting their fields in strips of crop perpendicular to the prevailing winds and leaving the necessary fallow land in between, by 1917 the brothers found that the growing crop broke the surface scouring flow of the wind. Through the offices of the Department of Agriculture, the technique spread across the Prairies and the Plains in time to save some soil the bother of migrating during the dirty 30s.
Farming in strips was, however, a dicey business. Soil texture dictated how wide a fields fallow strip could be. If the soil was light, strips had to be narrow. Narrow strips, however, made it easy for sawfly to spread from crop to crop. Not even the waters fed onto the fields from 1924 by the Lethbridge Northern Irrigation District could keep the soil from migrating in clouds when the thirsty west winds combined with a continent-wide drying trend which first affected this area in the late teens and, like a bad tooth, continued to plague settlers here for two decades. Grim indeed are the photographs of farmsteads in this region nearly drowned in drifts of dirt that built up in the lee of the buildings and tumbleweed fouled fences.
As Charles Sherwood Noble saw it, the problem of soil drift was the fault of improper summer fallowing technique. Noble was a gentleman farmer of substantial means who had immigrated to southern Alberta from Iowa in 1903. He owned his propertysome 31,000 acres by 1916though his Noble Foundation Limited, and experimented with crops. He was quite successful, growing a 1,075-acre plot of Banner oats in 1915 which cropped 130 bushels to the acre for which he was dubbed the World Oat King. He became the World Flax King and the World Wheat King, as well. By the early 20s, however, he had lost his entire stake due to the local drought beginning in 1917. He regained ownership of part of his erstwhile holdings by 1930 only to watch the winds take his topsoil. He had observed, though, that when farmers ploughed their fields in an effort to eradicate weeds, they aided in the desiccation and the resultant erosion of their land by burying the straw and root fibres of the last crop and exposing the moist sub-surface soils. On a trip to California in 1936 he saw an implement in a sugar beet field that transversely drew a long sharpened bar horizontally under the soil, freeing the beets for harvest. Inspired, Noble did a little experimenting and returned to his farm to developed a similar tool which would separate pestiferous weeds from their roots with a minimum of soil disturbance, thereby reducing evaporation and leaving the trash as a windbreak. He made several of the long-barred implements for his own use and was pleased with their effects. So were others and Noble made dozens for sale. After evaluating two similar tools developed by neighbourhood innovatorsthe Williamson Vee Blade and the Johnson BladeNoble modified his implement by bolting flat, sharpened Vees of steel onto sprung hooks mounted in gangs on implements called cultivators.22 A few more years of experimentation perfected his blade and in 1942 he patented the design, setting the Noble Cultivators Retail Manufacturing Company in Nobleford, eight kilometres north on the from Monarch on CPs Aldersyde subdivision. For his efforts and tenacity he was honoured in 1951 as the first person inducted into the Alberta Agricultural Hall of Fame. His cultivator has replaced the plow for Prairie summer fallow work and spread world-wide.
Industrial ventures, too, came to the Monarch area. Not counting the sweet water well which Hendrikus Veldhuis dug on his home quarter around 1907 and to which all his neighbours for years came to fill their casks, the first well dug in the region was a coal well which Western Canadian Coal Company sunk in 1910 on a level patch of meadow along the line of the Railway about halfway between Monarch and Kipp. After forcing their old clam-shell rig to pound down 658 feet and finding no worthwhile coal, the outfit moved on. A dozen or so years later the Canadian Western Natural Gas, Light and Power Company sank a couple of gas wells23 that came up dry in the Nobleford area. In 1925 Julius Zaetschky of Calgary sent a Keho Dome Oils Limited rig down to drill a few exploratory wells on the Keho dome, an elusive-to-the-point-of-non-existent petroleum reservoir trapped in the deep sediments of the Monarch Disturbed Belt north of Nobleford. Results were disappointing, though that didnt discourage the Hudsons Bay Oil Company from poking around in the sediments in 1930, before the company realized that the demand for oil was not going to recover its strength in the near future. It wasnt until 1974 that the Monarch area was admitted to the Alberta oil show when Canadian Hunter Exploration Company brought in a bevy of gas and oil wells on the fields north and north-east of Nobleford.
With the oil patch spending money poking holes in the ground around, and with the rains finally returned and the Lethbridge Northern Irrigation District in reliable operation delivering water on demand, the later 20s looked pretty good in Monarch. In 1927 it is thought that the electricity grid reached the Village in 1927, about the same time as the Village of Nobleford signed a contact with Calgary Power that July 4th.24 Remembers the author of the C. Bartz family entry in Sons of the Wind and Soil, come 1928 in Monarch there were four stores, 2 garages, a blacksmiths, the Hotel, the Flour Mill. Bill Plomb, Seniors, band kept them on their feet in the dance hall on many a night. Idlers in Charlie Hopoiss restaurant speculated who would be the first to try growing that promising new crop, sugar beets, and down by the tracks a Voss Brothers Construction crew was spiking together a brand new 34,000-bushel elevator for the Alberta Wheat Pool, slated for completion in November. Then in August, everything froze in the fields. Nineteen-29 was a dry year, and as people were absorbing the implications of Black Tuesday,25 on February 2nd, 1930, fire gutted the old Bank of Commerce building and burnt through walls to destroy the post office and a grocery store. Nineteen-32s 19-cent bushel of wheat and Depression debt sunk the Corporation of the Village of Monarch as tax income blew away with the soil, and on December 31st, 1938, volunteers the above-mentioned Ken Caspell, the Village of Monarch was disorganized. The Alberta Wheat Pool believed in the community, though, and in 1941 added a permanent, 41,000-bushel balloon annex to its 13-year old Pool No. 1 elevator.26
Mormons newly settled from Utah had introduced the sugar beet to southern Alberta in the 19-aughts, and when the LNID brought water to Coyote Flats after 1924, some area farmers began experimenting with the new crop. In 1931 British Columbia Sugar Refining Company bought up the Raymond plant and other assets of the Utah-Idaho Sugar Company and promoted the introduction of sugar beet farming to the Coyote Flats area by building a processing plant at Picture Butte in 1936, 25 kilometres east north-east across The Flats from Monarch on CPs Turin spur. On March 20th, 1937, the Lethbridge Northern Beet Growers Association formed itself with John Green as chairperson.
Labour intensive, the crop was not popular with those land owners who were uncomfortable employing large crews, but by the end of the 1930s beets were a significant cash earner in the local economy. Though the Depression had reduced the demand for sugar, the market had remained relatively strong and beets were the saviour of many a farm whose grain either failed in the field or languished in the bins for want of buyers. During World War Two, area farmers[hornedGrebe070527-2.jpg] put more acreage under beets with the help of cheap Prisoner of War and displaced coastal-Japanese labour. The Flats post-war yield continued to increase in the area, reaching a peak in 1961 when 56 growers harvested 1280 acres out of the 1339 acres contracted by the sugar company, averaging 12.14 tons of beet per acre. Most of it went to the Whitney Receiving station which the company operated on the Aldersyde Subdivision south of Nobleford for several years. Alex Carlson is remembered as the Sugar Beet King in those times for his high production. Then competition form off-shore sugar operations drove down commodity prices and in 1973 the last sugar beet crop was harvested from Coyote Flats.
The Highway-side parking lot of the hotel is empty on a Saturday in April of 2005. Not much is going on in Monarch. The Sugar Shack, a convenience store and former snack bar occupying what used to be a John Deere/ex-BA service station building across Kipp Avenue from the hotel, struggles to make a living. Beyond the west end of the hotel, hiding its disappointment behind a cottonwood tree, a Texaco27 service station is long closed. It was perhaps the Monarch Garage or Tims Service. HiWay Motors once had a presence here. Over by the Railways tracks Country Commodities, Limited, is loading grain onto railcars from a temporary warehouse. Federal Grains had added a 28,000-bushel annex to the old Alberta Pacific elevator in 1956 and sold it all to the Wheat Pool in March of 72. The Pool named it their No. 2 and promptly dismantled it the following year. No. 1 was demolished just before the end of the Millennium. On July 11th, 1944, the Ogilvie Flours elevator located in the neighbourhood burned spectacularly, visible for miles. CP suspended passenger service on the CNL on January 17th, 1964, but the Monarch station had been closed in either 1957 or 1960, was salvaged, and is resident on Princess Street.28.
Finished with his coffee and his prowl around the Hotel and snapping a foto of the new Reformed Congregation in North America church opposite, the traveller departs Monarch. The new Highway was completed in 1997, relegating Monarchs highway to a lettered alternative, 3A. It is mighty quite as a cyclist drifts eastward away from the hamlet. Smell that? That faint fragrance of dust and methane? Youre right; feedlot. But not just a feedlot. We are at the tip of Albertas feedlot alley, a concentration of dozens of lots centred roughly on Picture Butte, 25 kilometres east-northeast of here as the crow flies, where, in October of 1936, the B.C. Sugar Refining Company opened a second sugar beet refinery. When mixed with a bit of molasses, Cattle love the by-product, the mash from the process. Entrepreneurs love it because it was originally a disposal problem for the sugar company, and therefore cheap, and mixed with a little nutritious grain and hay, cattle pile on weight. Reliable water supplied by the Lethbridge Northern Irrigation District grow both beets and grain, not to mention hay, prolifically on this fertile land. Feedlots were a natural, and after a slow start in the 30s, in the 50s with the development of a good transportation network bring in range cattle and send finishedfattenedanimals to market, the industry boomed hereabouts.29 Not without cost, however. All these bovines hanging around all day in a confined areas, eating, digesting, absorbing what they can from their fodder, exhausting methane and finally dropping big pats of fragrant dung all over the land. Only so much of that can be scooped up and spread on the fields, the remainder gets washed away into the stream channels and has now soaked into the ground water. Can U spell Giardia intestinalis? Good ol beaver fever. Dont drink untreated water around here.
A last look back at sleepy Monarch, and the cyclist heads for Coalhurst