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?
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.
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.
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.
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.