I frequently go hunting for interesting sites to photograph with a friend. One such fellow photographer likes to drive and navigate and have some company to help pass the time. I like to not have to drive or navigate and, with a little effort, I think I can be good company, so we get along just fine. It was on just such a recent trip in early 2021 that we spotted this grand looking old house on a hill. This house wasn’t the special place that we originally set out to find – and did find – but the best places are often found through some serendipity. That’s how we discovered this majestic old home so now lets talk about this house on the hill.
I doubt if very many photographers have seen this house other than perhaps a few of the locals. The house is far from a major road, town or village. There would have been railways and villages at one time but when the trains stopped coming the towns and villages disappeared. This house is surrounded by dead-end roads that lead to one season mud roads where a Jeep or a horse is the best mode of transport. If you don’t mind driving, stopping, evaluating the chances of getting stuck in the mud or snow, and then driving around some more, you might actually find today’s blog subject. I should add that this homestead is close to the dry lands of southeastern Alberta. The dry lands are places that rarely receive enough rain to grow sufficient crops to make the whole exercise worthwhile. Many a homesteader in the dry lands had lost everything well before the great depression and drought that we know of as the dirty thirties. Don’t worry, I’m not leading up to a sad story. The house on a hill is close to, but not part of, the dry lands so the land likely did receive enough rain to grow a crop. Indeed the homesteaders who arrived in this part of Alberta in the early part of the century could probably count on sufficient crops to pay the bills in most years. With some skill, luck, and maybe even divine intervention, these farmers could even aspire to owning a car when car ownership became fashionable. Some of the local farmers managed to earn enough money to at least have some of their children finish high school, or beyond to university. It wouldn’t be easy though and there was tangible evidence of some troubles at the corners of most farms. Where normally a small pile of rocks – each about the size of a soccer ball – might be found at the corner of nearly any Alberta farm, in this area they stacked boulders the size of beach balls in piles so large that they might be mistaken for the ruins of an old granary. The homesteaders would frequently comb through their fields in an effort to find the rocks that posed hidden dangers to farm equipment. The bigger the rock pile the worse the land or at least the worse the rock problem was.
In short, this was neither good nor bad land. Life was tough but never so tough to make a family leave here without another reason to set them on their way. There ought to be a name for places like this, something like “the in between lands” or the “good but not great lands”, or even the “unexceptional lands”. Names like that would be descriptive but perhaps not ideal from a marketing perspective. Now that I’ve set the scene for you, lets look and see what we discovered.
Time for some photographs and history
The Back Story
I like to know something about the people who lived in the old places that I photograph and this house is no exception. It began with Henri Anton Brouwers, also known as “Henry Anton Browers”, and his family soon after they arrived in Canada from Holland in 1907 or 1908. Their names must have caused some difficulty for others to handle in English because different spellings of their names, first and last, that can be seen in a number of documents. Even the handwritten homestead records show that the local land agent was struggling with the spelling of their last name. Regardless of how you spell it, this family immediately applied to homestead so Henry took the NW quarter of section 22 and his son, Henry Jean Browers, (born August 24, 1888) took the NE and SW quarters of section 22. Later one of them also picked up the SE quarter of section 28 and 22 (giving them one full section and an adjoining quarter section) so they must have done well at farming or alternatively they brought a lot of money as well as optimism with them from Holland. The Browers built their two storey house upon a hill where it could be seen for miles around. It is here that Henry and Adrianna Browers lived, farmed and eventually died.
Henry’s wife, Adrianna Anna Maria “Jean” (Metzel) Brouwers, died in 1933 but I could find no information about her. Henry Browers died in this house on July 18, 1941 at the age of 85. Their second son, Myers Browers, (also possibly called Arnoldus Albertus Brouwer) became a skilled pianist and taught piano in Coronation, Alberta, until he retired in Victoria, British Columbia. In 1942, following the death of their father, the brothers; Henry Jean, and Myers, held an auction to sell the farm and equipment. Frank Dummett bought the Browers farm and lived in the house on the hill for an unknown period of time before it was finally abandoned to the elements. The Browers sons lived in Coronation for a while after the farm was sold and then they both moved to Victoria where they later died.
What’s in a name?
You can see the confusion about the names of the owners of this house from the cemetery records in Alberta and the record of death from British Columbia. The document from BC is for their oldest son, Henry Jean Browers who died in Victoria on October 14, 1961. It’s not surprising that he uses the Browers name rather than “Brouwers” but then the document reverts to the Dutch version of the first name “Henri”. To add to the confusion, his father’s name is shown as Browers but it appears that his father hadn’t legally changed his name as it shows “Brouwers” on his grave marker in Alberta. Also his mother, shown at the third image below which is based on her Alberta cemetery information as “Adrianna Anna M. ‘Jeanne’ Metzel Browers” appears on the BC document under the line for Henry Jean’s mother as “Adriane Anna Maria (Metzel) Browers”. Oh and despite the information I’ve read in the Coronation local history book about this family, one son’s name appears be “Arnoldus Abertus” rather than Myers. I’m adding this information not to confuse you but rather to amaze you as to the amount of effort a blogger goes to in order to find the long forgotten true facts about people. Hey I’m not above some self-affirmation now and then.
Back to the house.
Marvellous image – so typical of abandoned farm houses, and, as you say, one can’t help but wonder what it was like with a family roaming around. The lack of paint may bother some people, but from a maintenance perspective, natural wood is much easier to deal with than having to repaint every five years (more like 10 years before the manufacturers were forced to remove lead from the paint).Frank Korvemaker -Construction Historian
This house looks like it’s sad, especially in the above photograph. Is it sad because of the process of age and decay, or does something else cause such melancholy? Perhaps it’s because of the naming confusion of the family who lived here. “Oh who built me and whose house am I?” “Was it Henry Brower or Henri Brouwer.” “When will the record be set straight?” Sadly some information is destined to be lost to posterity.
I could only find the name of Browers in one place and that is the book called, In The Beginning, A history of Coronation, Throne, Federal and Fleet Districts, published 1979, Coronation T & C Golden Age Club.
The website for “Find A Grave” including their army of volunteers was immensely helpful in clarifying to some degree, the names and final resting places of this family.
Frank Korvemaker, M.S.M.; SAA (Hon), Construction Historian. Frank Korvemaker generally deals with Saskatchewan sites, with emphasis on brick structures. Here he has added the quote dealing with the frequency of paint required to maintain these old wood homesteads. http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/people/korvemaker_f.shtml
15 thoughts on “The House on the Hill”
The Coronation book continues talking about this structure as it was purchased by The Dummett family and lived in from 1942 until some time thereafter (apparently as late as 1978) as discussed in the Dummett family writeup. Also seemed that this house on the hill could also have been the Stannards as they built a house “on a hill” in 1908 (there is a picture of it in the book under the Stannard family) and it was reportedly right next to the Browers homestead. The last known occupant of the Browers was Frank Dummett and his wife. The Stannards moved to Coronation in 1921 and worked for the town’s Blacksmith Mr. Sobey (later Mr. Bittner) and worked the coal dock in Coronation. You must have also passed near or over the gravel bed for the Youngstown Coronation line that was never completed as it was just north of the Stannards. – All information courtesy of the book you cited above “The Beginning, A history of Coronation, Throne, Federal, and Fleet Districts, published 1979, Coronation T & C Golden Age Club”.
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All things are possible when it comes to the distant history in Alberta but this was the Browers based on the legal land description. I didn’t knowingly pass over the gravel bed for the Yongstown Coronation line. It seems that a lot of lines were promised, and even started, but not built. That’s for the tip about the Stannards as I’ll have to read about them. Do you know if their house is still standing?
I do not know if it still stands or not. The write-up on the Dummett family does mention that the Browers house was lived in though after the sale since it was sold to them and that it was close to the Stannards. If it is on the homestead land, then it is the Browers as they were there at the same time.
A.A. and Henry are listed as buried in the same cemetery in Victoria:
BROWERS A. A. ROBP Royal Oak Burial Park & Crematorium VICTORIA, BC
BROWERS Henri J. ROBP Royal Oak Burial Park & Crematorium VICTORIA, BC
Thank you Joan for commenting. Yes Arnoldus and Henri are both buried in the same cemetery.
How interesting! I can see why the Canadian authorities struggled with the name… Henri Anton was born as Henrij Anton Brouwers, a rather unusual spelling. That was in Zutphen, in the Netherlands; his father was a trumpeter of the Dutch army (3rd Regiment of Dragoons).
Henrij Anton became an office clerk. In 1875, he was supposed to serve in the army, but because a brother already did that, he was exempted. The records give a description of him at this time: 1,65 meter tall, light brown eyes, broad nose, small mouth, round chin and brown hair: https://noord-hollandsarchief.nl/personen/databases?mivast=236&miadt=236&mizig=100&miview=tbl&milang=nl&micols=1&mip1=brouwers&mip3=henry.
When Henrij Anton was 30 years old, he got married in The Hague to 20 year old Adriane Anna Maria Metzel (born in Utrecht, 6 January 1864): https://www.openarch.nl/hga:7F3CE438-6228-4C92-ADA8-E21B6FADF2DF/en. The website shows that they had three children: Arnoldus Albertus Marie Brouwers (The Hague, 2 April 1887), Henri Jean Brouwers (The Hague, 24 August 1888), and Alberta Rudolphina Brouwers (The Hague, 10 October 1890). On their birth certificates, their father’s name is given as Henry Anton Brouwers.
Thank you for this information.
Interesting history lesson! My husband’s grandparents farmed NE of Thorsby and my husband remembers the times when he was a young boy slowly driving the tractor (pulling a stone boat) while his grandfather picked rocks.
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Thank you Margy. Even though I lived mostly in the city, we knew people with farms. In fact it was my dentist that invited us our to his land for rock picking. I was too young to drive the tractor but I could pick smaller stones. He said that more and more stones keep coming up. At least they weren’t boulders.
Another wonderful bit of Travel History!
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Thank you Brenda. Stay tuned for my next blog as it will be situated in Saskatchewan and have a very different subject matter.
I’m behind in commenting Glen – sorry (cataract surgery meant I can’t see for a few weeks until I can get new glasses). Anyway…wanted to ask you if you would grant me permission to use one of the photos in this post for inspiration for one of my fabric landscapes? I love this ole house and it would be great fun to attempt to recreate it. I would give full credit to you as the photographer of course! (if you want to see what I do, check out my blog https://magpiesmumblings.blogspot.com and click on the ‘landscapes’ label in my sidebar.
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That’s a coincidence, I just had cataract surgery on my first eye done this week with the second one scheduled for Tuesday. It seems that cataract surgery has become a rite of passage to the 60s. As for using an image for your art work, I would be honoured and delighted if you can find inspiration in my photography for your work. Personally I think that the images in the Gray Homestead blog are nicer but choose the ones you like best. Please contact me when you have finished to send me an image or a link to the image you created so that I don’t miss seeing the final result. Thank you for finding inspiration in my work and for reading my blogs. By the way, future blogs will feature a number of stone structures that I recently photographed in southern Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
Thank you Glen! I love working with old structures and this house caught my eye (such as it is in my semi-blind state – hurry up glasses!!). It might be a little bit til I get to working on it so don’t think I’ve forgotten if you don’t see it for awhile. I will give you credit both on my blog and also on the back of the piece when it’s done. Now the hard part will be picking just which image to actually use!
Good luck with your surgeries – the drops are the worst part!
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I worked down in SE Alberta for a year (in Oyen) and often took the back roads to get home to the NW of the province quicker. I saw many such dilapidated structures, but never stopped to photograph them. Given the lack of trees in the area, they are easy to spot, for sure. Allan
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This one was completely by chance and good fortune. Thanks for reading it Allan.
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