One of the questions I’m frequently asked is how I find my subject matter. In most cases, the answer is that I just happen to stumble across it. Whenever I hit the road, my camera gear is always in tow. If I stumble across something interesting along the way, I have no problems stopping to take a few shots. Of course, this may help to explain some of the issues I have with being on time!!
On other occasions, I may find myself travelling near someplace I have heard about and will plan my itinerary to include a slight detour.
Case in point… last weekend I found myself making a day trip to Calgary. A couple of weeks earlier while doing some research on the web, I happened to stumble across the small town of Rowley. The story of this town is really quite fascinating.
Located north of Drumheller and east of Three Hills, this was definitely no “slight detour” on the Calgary – Edmonton run!! However, after reading about the history of Rowley and the efforts of its residents to preserve the town I just had to make the trip to see it for myself.
With the closing of the grain elevators and departure of the railway, this town seemed destined to a fate like many others. The residents, however, have stepped up and not let the town fade away. It’s now become a popular shooting location for film crews from around the world. It’s also a common site to see large motor coaches pulling into town full of tour groups looking for a glimpse of how prairie life used to be.
Ironically, the evening I was there I got to experience both of these new “industries” first hand. The town was in the midst of straightening up after a German film crew had wrapped up shooting a few weeks earlier. Buildings were in the process of receiving yet another paint job after being painted for the film, signs were being re-hung, and window displays replaced. In addition, about 15 minutes after I arrived a large motor coach pulled in with a tour group. By the time the bus was finished unloading, I swear the town’s population had increased 10 fold!!
One of the highlights of the visit was getting to talk with the proprietor of Sam’s Saloon. His first impression of me, however, was quite likely one of pure bewilderment. As he came out of the saloon through the swinging doors, he found me lying on the sidewalk behind my tripod. After a brief pause, and a confused glance, he continued across the street. On his way back, he paused long enough to ask what I was shooting before continuing back into the saloon. I still don’t think he can fathom why someone would photograph a pair of broken wagon wheels!! On his second trip out of the saloon, we started to chat. Shortly after, I was invited into the saloon and we talked for some time. He was an absolute treasure trove of information on the town and its history. I could have sat and talked with him for hours.
Thinking back to my childhood memories, I recall many towns like this one that were in their twilight years. Unfortunately, the vast majority of them have since faded into exactly that… memories. I applaud the efforts of the residents of Rowley, and I thank them for preserving this nugget of our rural history and heritage. At some point in time, this town will likely become yet another footnote in the history books; but that time has not come yet. Before it does, you can rest assured that I will be seeing it through my lens again.