There’s no place like Dorothy

“Dorothy is a hamlet in southern Alberta, Canada within Special Area No. 2. It is located approximately 21 kilometres (13 mi) east Highway 56 and 85 kilometres (53 mi) northwest of Brooks.”

That’s all you’ll read about Dorothy on its Wikipedia page.

Now make the two-hour trip from Calgary and stand in the short distance between the Catholic and United churches.

Listen to the wind whistle through the hills behind you.

Gaze at the vast blue sky above you.

And smell the crisp, clean air.

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You’ll know something more happened here than two robot-generated sentences can describe.

The village of Dorothy never grew beyond 100 residents, says the Ghost Towns of Canada website, but it was a social centre for the Drumheller area.

There are signs of life.

Twelve residents still reside within village limits but you’ll not see hide nor hair of them very often.

They’ll let their chickens roam on the dirt roads winding around the homes and abandoned buildings.

They’ll roar in and out of town in their new Dodge trucks, reluctantly giving a curt nod or wave, knowing the strangers with cameras will soon be gone and not return again.

This shutterbug keeps going back.

I’m drawn to Dorothy, more so to this town than any other ghost town I’ve visited in Alberta and British Columbia.

I’m not entirely sure why.

It’s a somewhat spiritual excursion, always finding myself heading to Dorothy when life seems out of balance.

When I’m in need of finding my centre.

Sometimes I find it on the drive up the 848, a lonely gravel track through ranch lands that abruptly ends at a coulee over the Red Deer River Valley.

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Sometimes I find it when I’m standing halfway between the two abandoned churches.

Sometimes I find it on the drive back home.

But a visit to Dorothy is always at the core.

Maybe it’s the slow transformation I’ve seen happen at the United Church. A coat of paint here, a new set of doors there …

And the promise of more at the Catholic Church …

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A sign in the foyer details the church’s history.

“The Dorothy Catholic church was originally built as the Wilford School in 1912, by Louis Bottineau, on the NE 1/3 34-26-16. The school was closed in 1933, and was purchased for the church for fifty dollars. It was moved to it’s (sic) present location by Louis Schumacher and refitted by Lyle Tomlinson. The church began services in June 19445, and the last mass was held on October 22, 1967. That year the church was decomissioned, and the building bought by Chris Roes. It remained unused for many years, until the Dorothy Historical Society started restoring the church in 2006.”

I’ve been coming out to Dorothy since 2007 and I’ve not seen a single change in the Catholic church.

I smile every time I see that sign, though, knowing someone somewhere has something planned for me the next time I come out.

For the first time since coming to Dorothy, I start strolling.

For the first time, I find the shacks that are restored, maintained and set up with historical artifacts and memories.

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Arthur Peake’s first ranch house, for instance, was built one mile west of Dorothy in 1897 and moved to its present location in 1986.

And there’s the Smith family shack.

And the old farm equipment left behind as a testament to the work families did to till the soil.

“Suffering the fate of many pioneer towns trying to weather the Depression and the closure of valley mines, Dorothy gradually faded away,” writes Liz Bryan in her book, Country Roads of Alberta. “The buildings that are left sit out in the desert sun like a set from a Western movie.”

Maybe that’s it … like the set of a Western movie.

All my imagination.

Or there’s a spirit left behind by those who had to leave.

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A spirit demanding us to remember who they are and what they did.

And it reminds me to always remember where I came from, otherwise I’ll never know where I’m going.

No matter which lonely gravel road I’m travelling.

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