Meeting Creek: Ghost Town Meets Art Town

By Richard White, 

Recently we were travelling the back roads of Alberta from Calgary to Lac La Biche and needed a place to stop and stretch our legs.  We came upon Meeting Creek in a picturesque valley and Miss B thought this would be a good place to stop.  But I wasn't convinced as it didn't look like much, however Miss B insisted and I am glad she did.  

We saw a relatively new looking church and thought it would be a good place to stop and check out.  Soon we were headed over to an strange looking abandoned industrial building that had lots of character.  Here we discovered a strange patio with domed roof and old picnic tables and an auction notice - entire building for sale, minimum bid $100,000.  

Then we noticed the quaint train station next to the two grain elevators all looking as if they were still operational.  It was eerie as there was nobody around, yet the train station was in good shape, grass cut and the grain elevators also looked as if they could operate.  We wandered over and yes there are tours if somebody is available. It was July 1st, Canada Day so I guest everyone was off celebrating.  

Found out Meeting Creek is an Alberta Heritage Site and there was enough Information that we could piece together some of the history. 

The Meeting Creek depot was built by the Canadian Northern Railway in 1913 to a "Standard Third Class" plan issued by the company. The building provided passenger, freight and telegraph services on the main floor and living quarters for the company representative and his family above.  

 

Meeting Creek Train depot

Detail image of Train Station 

This typical branch line operated until 1977 when the last elevators between Steller and Camrose were closed and the line was abandoned. A short section of the original railway line remains preserved, along with the board walk, the Depot and two grain elevators.  

In 1915, there were 15 grain elevators on this branch line with a capacity to handle 505,000 bushels of grain. By 1930, 51 elevators were located at 22 points between Vegreville and Drumheller and were handling 2.1 million bushel and by 1954, grain elevators grew in size enabling the line to handle 3.1 million bushels.   

The number of grain elevators was a benchmark of a town's economic importance, much like a skyscraper is for a city, or a big box retailer for a smaller city or town.  An area had to produce 35,000 bushels to be considered as a site for an elevator.  

The train track disappears into the grassland in both directions. 

This 40,000 bushel elevator was constructed by the Alberta Pacific Grain Company in 1917 or 1918 depending on what didactic panel you believe. It was subsequently acquired by the Alberta Wheat Pool and operated until 1984.  In 1989, it when it was donated to the Canadian Northern Railway Society.  It has been refurbished and opened for public display.   

The grain elevator was the cathedral of the prairies. There were like sentinel on the horizon, landmarks for the early pioneers.  The grain elevator was the proud architectural icon of the prairies, which was the "bread basket "of the world in the early 20th century.  While there was once thousands of elevators dotting the landscape there are only a few left today.  A reminder that nothing stays the same.  

Meeting Creek is a visual artist's paradise.  It would make for a great artist's colony.  I could see the abandoned industrial building transformed into studios for sculptors, painters, ceramic artists and photographers.  It would be a great spot for a music festival.  I couldn't resist trying my hand at some creative photography. 

This is close up of the garage door to the industrial building.  I loved the rich blue blurred reflected images like a colourfield painting with the strong grey lines. The juxtaposition of the hard-edge with the Rothko like background was intriguing.   

The area around the industrial building was like a found art park with hidden gems everywhere.  This cluster of metal pieces reminded me of the Edmonton metal sculptors of the late 20th Century. 

Another found sculpture, an assemblage of cut pieces of a plastic tank piled randomly in the junk yard.  

I have not idea what this large piece of metal was originally but it could provide endless inspiration for photography, painting and drawing.  A metal sculptor would be in heaven. 

I loved the rhythm of these pieces of metal and the shadows.  It has a musical quality that seemed to ring out visually.  There is also a  bit of an optical illusion if you stare at it long enough.  What is material and what is shadow?

There are several of these domed objects in the yard, looking something from outer space...definitely a UO..unidentified object.  I loved the composition of shapes, colours and textures in this photograph. 

Found this patio that was so cool it could be in South Miami Beach or it could be a David Hockney painting. 

The roof of the patio is extraterrestrial or cosmic in nature and enhances the eerie ghost town sense of place that is Meeting Creek. 

There is an infinite number of light, textures and patterns for artists to explore in Meeting Creek.

Imagine, I didn't want to stop at Meeting Creek? Upon getting home I found out that the name "Meeting Creek" is attributed to the fact that during buffalo hunts the nearby creek was once a meeting place for the Cree to the north and the Blackfoot- speaking people to the south.  Perhaps in the future it will be a meeting place for artists from the northern and southern Alberta.  

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