By Kevin J Sabo For the Advance
The landscape of Western Canada is littered with ghosts of the past.
In the big population boom that occurred during the early days of the last century, many towns appeared across the prairies. Some flourished and others were scrubbed away by the passage of time.
One such ghost in the County of Paintearth is the ghost town of Bulwark. Very little remains today of the community, which is located around 20 km east of Castor off the north side of Hwy 599.
Bulwark was first settled in the early 1900s, however, it wasn’t recognised as a village until 1914 with the completion of the railway from Coronation, a short distance to the southeast. Big plans were held for this town, with the railway having an ambition of continuing the line from Bulwark and eventually connecting it to Edmonton.
The school moved in 1927. Five grain elevators were constructed and managed to achieve the second largest grain haul seen in the entire province at the time. As the town grew one general store moved in, then another. Three lumberyards, a post office, two churches, a hardware store, a bank, a garage, a drug store, a butcher shop, and a livery all moved into the town. Social functions were held regularly at the dancehall and poolroom.
Never drawing a population of more than 100 people, the town flourished for awhile due to its strategic location. Then the winds of fate started to change. The railway that was intended to run from Bulwark to Edmonton was never completed. First the terrain north of town slowed down the progress, driving up costs. That problem may have been surmountable, but the next wasn’t. The labour force of young men working on the railroad dried up. The Second World War started.
Post war, the town kept going, but the long-promised tracks to Edmonton were forgotten. First one business closed. One family left for greener pastures. Then another. The school closed its doors for the last time in 1960. The railway pulled up it’s tracks from Coronation a few short years later.
Communities in the first half of the 1900s lived and died by the railways that serviced them. With the rail line pulling out and no one willing to step in, the writing was on the wall. The pace of the families leaving Bulwark picked up. The once bustling dancehall went silent. The crack of the pool balls connecting to each other no longer echoed off the walls of the poolhall. The abandoned structures began getting demolished, making way for farmers fields.
Bulwark is now a ghost town, its only inhabitants the deer and coyotes roaming the plains. What structures remain are no longer safe to enter as time has taken their toll them. Yet they stand as a testament to the past, a reminder of the men and women who risked all coming to Canada to homestead and start a new life.