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