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A Visit with Bruce

January is not my favourite time of the year. The month is typically dark and cold with spring still a long way off. This year the winter is shaping up to be much warmer than usual but January is still January. I decided to head east of Edmonton for a photo trip to help escape the January doldrums. The day became wonderful, for a January, with blue skies and interesting clouds. My first destination was Bruce, Alberta. Bruce isn’t a big place, in fact Bruce isn’t even a village. Bruce is a hamlet of 60 people in Beaver County.

What’s in a name?

Let’s start with the name of Bruce. Unlike some old communities in Alberta, the hamlet of Bruce did not take a word and reverse the letters to produce a unique name. Consider “Retlaw, which is in the south of the province and sounds somewhat exotic until you realize that it’s really just “Walter” spelled backwards. Another such community is “Niton” in west central Alberta, where a theory suggests that it was the reversal of “not in” and refers to the railway agent that was apparently frequently absent from his duties. If you reverse “Bruce” the result is “Ecurb” which I quite like but they didn’t ask me. They, being the early settlers who saw the beginnings of a community, decided to call it Bruce.

According to the ultimate authority on place names in Alberta, the aptly named book, “Place Names In Alberta – Volume III,” Bruce is named after A. Bruce Smith. It says therein that, “A post office was established here in 1909 and named after A. Bruce Smith, manager of the Grand Trunk Pacific Telegraph Company”. Apparently the name was changed from “Hurry.” So there you have the name of Bruce. I wonder what they would have done if Ichabod Crane was the name of the telegraph company manager?

Bruce Main Street. You can see Rose’s Meat Market to the left, the Bruce Hotel in the background by the train and the general store that I photographed for this blog can be seen on the right as the last building before the hotel. Image complements of Glen Lundeen. Glen Lundeen’s website with many other prairie towns featured is at www.prairie-towns.com (prairie-towns.com)

Back to the sights of Bruce

I saw a number of fine photo subjects in Bruce but I was in a hurry (or should I say “in Hurry”) so I only stopped for two structures. The first is an old church that ceased to be used as a church a long time ago. The county office said that their current software doesn’t go back very far so they could only confirm that the church has been owned by a private individual since at least the late 90s. I had hoped that they would know what kind of a church it was but they couldn’t help me with that. Fortunately in a comment on this blog made to Facebook, Dave Frebrowski provided the information I was looking for. He said this used to be St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church. The last service was held in 1976.

It’s a fine looking old church but there are absolutely no exterior markings, beyond the cross, to suggest what denomination the old church was. It’s only from the memories of people who read this blog that I have learned that this was St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church. There’s also little to suggest it’s now a residence except at the back where a deck is attached.

A historic image of St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church (date unknown but prior to 1976)

Moving on in Bruce I found a general store, or at least what was once a general store. It’s a large building that probably had a residence inside as well as lots of warehouse space for goods. This is the kind of general store that back in the day you might have been greeted by a man wearing sleeve garters.

The general store in Bruck in better times shown here in the early century based on the car in the image. This image was submitted by Marilynn Ratke which is the same name on the store sign. How cool is that?

Fun Bruce Fact One – High Places

Akasu or sometimes called Sickman Hill is not in Bruce but it’s not too far away, albeit in a different county. At 750 meters it’s the highest point between Edmonton and Winnipeg. For context, Edmonton’s average altitude is 645 meters while Winnipeg averages an altitude of 236 meters above sea level. Interestingly Vancouver averages 282 meters above sea level so, in a bizarre juxtaposition of words and meanings, you could actually say that Winnipeg is closer to the sea than Vancouver, but I digress. Here is what I was able to extract from a website about Askasu.

“Akasu is an age old Historical Site encompassing both Akasu Lake & Akasu Hill. The Hill was a rest stop for native tribes. Akasu is the Cree Indian word meaning “sick”. It is believed the name originates from natives who got sick drinking the water from the lake and the hill was where they came to perish. Akasu (Sickman Hill) is the highest geodetic elevation between Edmonton & Winnipeg, Manitoba (750 meters or 2500 ft. above sea level). It is an outstanding viewpoint east of Vegreville, and overlooks the hamlet of Lavoy. The turn off (Rg Rd 133) is just east of Lavoy on Hwy 16, watch for the signs. (Note: the road is not recommended for RVs or large trucks). A new historical brochure is available from the County Office”.

Kalyna Country

Fun Bruce Fact Two – Old Stampede

Bruce is the home of one of Alberta’s oldest Stampedes, and is the oldest one-day rodeo in Alberta. The Bruce Stampede began in 1914 and continues to this day (excluding cancelled year(s) due to COVID-19). Check out the link at Bruce Stampede.

The photo says “The Wild Bunch.” Image by Dean Jeffrey, 1980, The Bruce Stampede

Fun Bruce Fact Three – Great Dining and a Ghost

Bruce Hotel is well known as one of the best places in the area for a old fashion barbecued steak. I didn’t get around to photographing the building on this visit but click on the link here in red type to see the renovated 1911 hotel and the new owners. The Bruce Hotel just might be a good excuse to return to Bruce. It’s not just any country hotel though. Prior to (and hopefully after) the pandemic they served 200 steak dinners a night for two nights a week. Bruce only has a population of 60 people so most of the guests come from Camrose and Edmonton. The steaks have got to be good if people are driving an hour to dine there. Of course it is a very old hotel having been built in 1911, burned to the ground in 1928, then rebuilt and reopened on the original 1911 foundation in 1930. The hotel also has a resident ghost whose name is Peter! Don’t worry if ghosts put you off because there are no known instances of the ghost bothering guests who are dining (not even if they’re vegetarians). Presently the hotel’s second floor is the home of the current owners Carlene and Jason Walsh. However if they ever decide to convert the building back to a real hotel that rents rooms, be sure to ask for somewhere other than room number 5. I’ll say no more about that. I’m already looking forward to summer when a drive to Bruce would make for a nice evening out and a fine country dinner.

An old cattle drive right in front of the Bruce Hotel
The Bruce Hotel in 1955. Image complements of Glen Lundeen. Glen Lundeen’s website with many other prairie towns featured is at www.prairie-towns.com (prairie-towns.com)

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29 thoughts on “A Visit with Bruce

  1. Gee I was hoping the town was named after me and my time in Edmonton! When I was young we often called each other by our reverse names “Ecurb, Ynnek, Yrag” so your post brought back memories as well as giving us more history lessons. Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Did you really use the reverse of your name? That’s hilarious. I didn’t know that it was a thing. Well Ecurb, or rather Bruce, thanks for commenting.

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  2. You should have spoke to someone in Bruce. Our hamlet has a lot of really cool history. I was born and raised here ,left when I was 16.in 2008 I returned back to Bruce to retire .
    If there’s a time you’d return I’d love to share some history with you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Judy. I spoke with Carlene at the Bruce Hotel yesterday and added a lot of extra information to the blog. I’m still trying to locate a copy of the book, Hurry to Bruce, but our archives are closed during the pandemic. I would like to add more historic images. If you can help with that contact me at the email address at the bottom of the blog with a phone number and I’ll call you later this morning or when it’s convenient.

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  3. I have an extra copy of the book Hurry to Bruce if you would like it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I sure would Lorraine. How much would you like for it? Are you in Edmonton or Bruce?

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    2. Lorraine I’d be delighted to be able to obtain the book Hurry to Bruce. How or where can I go to obtain it?

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  4. Thank you so much in keeping Bruce’s history alive. We lived in the Bruce Train Station for many years. If you ever get the opportunity to post a picture of the train station that would be great! We still come back every 3 years and host our Family Reunion of 200 plus people at the old School. Still so much fun!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Debra. It sounds like I missed some places so I’ll just have to go back for some more photos. Was the train station moved and converted to a house?

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  5. I so enjoy reading all these about little towns that people may not even know exist. Please continue. And yes there is so much more you have missed in Bruce so please go back soon. I will be waiting for your next chapter.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much Verna. My blogs are always a work in progress. Once I post a blog, people often provide interesting stories and even old photos. This was a tough one because the pandemic has closed the archives and some libraries making it impossible to get my hands on the book, Hurry to Bruce.

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  6. Hmm! I’m curious – do you have a grounding in Calgary? A place/establishment called the Glenbow Foundation???

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Carl that is a story all in itself. I was born in Calgary. My mom said it just never occurred to them that I would have the same name as the museum. If I give out my name in Calgary people will sometimes respond with comments like, “are you serious?” I live in Edmonton now so that is rarely a problem here.

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  7. I have a handmade scoop (used for bulk grocery purchases) that is most likely from that decaying store in Bruce. My grandmother, Alice Page, was horrified to find it among her purchases when she arrived home, and the story is that she was too embarrassed to return it, fearing that she would be accuse of theft.

    The Bruce Community Hall, also abandoned and still standing – I think called something like Stampede Hall – was the site of my childhood visits to dances, which were attended by people of all ages.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope that your grandmother is getting good use from that scoop. She need not worry about it anymore. I’ve never seen a hand made scoop. Was it made of wood? It could be a museum piece someday. Thanks for sharing your story Anita.

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    2. I have a old beer bottle opener from the hotel. My dad awaited that at some point but I claimed it. So worn down that it barely opens a bottle anymore 😂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well no wonder that Bruce fell on hard times. It sounds like a lot of people have a piece of Bruce with them, (just kidding). Thanks for sharing this story Terra.

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  8. As children, we spent a great deal of time in the Bruce area visiting my Dad’s Erikson cousins & Ben & Betty Modin who owned the Bruce Hotel at that time.
    I recognize the general store. Yikes, I may be an antique!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Not an antique, Maureen, but rather a classic. The Bruce Hotel seems to be a catalyst for many good memories.

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  9. Once again I very much enjoyed reading your post Glen – and the comments were interesting too. I love the picture of the ‘Wild Bunch’ – their faces show a life well-lived.

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    1. I’m glad that you enjoyed it Mary Anne. I can’t take credit for the photo of the wild bunch, except for the decision to include it.

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  10. I follow the Holden Museum Facebook page and about a month ago a picture of the Bruce General Store was posted. I am sure I have a side view of the store with the name G. Ratke General Store. If interested I can scan and email. Love all the history. I was born and raised in Holden.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If the images are different views from what I’ve posted I would certainly like to see them in the blog. Please include the name of the photographer so I can give credit. Send to 3181glen@gmail.com and thank you Marilynn.

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  11. This was an awesome article! I am a 17 year old girl. I have close family who live in Bruce today! I haven’t visited in a few years due to Covid. But I sure loved going there and walking no more then 10 minutes to get around the whole downtown area! What a great place of great history!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much Marae. I’m glad you enjoyed the blog. We plan to return to Bruce for a fine meal at the hotel but just haven’t gotten around to it yet.

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  12. I love hearing how these old towns got their name. Sometimes it harkens back to the old country, sometimes it relates to a person and still other times, it is what they saw. Great shots with the mare’s tail clouds. Skies can add such drama. Thanks for sharing Glen. Have a great day. Allan

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for stopping by and commenting Allan.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Barbara Houghton April 1, 2022 — 11:39 am

    Hi
    I recently saw some of the pictures of Bruce, Alberta on Facebook
    This is a special place for me as in 1976 we had a lunch break in front of Rudy’s General Store.
    I love the shot so much I use it for my memory cards I hand out .
    We were not driving a vehicle at the time but a steel rim wheeled covered wagon drawn buy a team of bay geldings. We were a lone wagon ,the last of 13 that started back in April 1/75 from Toronto.Ontario on our way to finish in Peace River ,AB. A trip that took 8 months spread over 2 years and covered 3200 miles .
    It was a adventure of a lifetime and a wonderful way to see the West.
    Today marks the 47th year since that fateful day .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow Barbara that must have been quite a trip. Was it a fund raising trip or just an opportunity to travel the way the pioneers did? You could probably write a book about it. Thanks for visiting my blog site and commenting. 🙂

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