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The Rocky View Weekly's top Rural Routes stories of 2023

Here are the Rocky View Weekly editorial team's picks for our top Rural Routes stories of the year.

The 'creative cowboy' who painted the Irricana Hotel mural

Starting off with a piece of history, our Rural Routes section took us to the dilapidated Irricana Hotel where an original artwork dating back to the generation of the early pioneers was rediscovered. The collection of murals painted on the tavern walls around 1925 belonged to Guy Martin Welch, an impressionist and modern artist of the early west. 

Born in 1886, Welch was raised near the Rosebud Reservation in Nebraska and made his way to Alberta in 1906 with his horse trader father. His paintings featured cowboys, Indigenous peoples, buffalo, cavalry and the “real old wild west,” according to a memoir written by his daughter. Some of his works depict the Calgary Stampede and the Alberta prairies in the early 1900s.

Welch was a prolific artist and his work critically acclaimed throughout the nation. He mixed his own pigments, learned his techniques through the necessity of an economic depression, put together his own frames, and painted long hours to support his family.  He retired in the 1950s, but continued his art until he passed away in 1958.  

A trail of his murals and art can be found from Canada through to the Salinas Valley in California, and as far south as Mexico. The Irricana Hotel's mural is one of few depression-era murals remaining on the walls of bars, hotels, and other establishments in North America. The new owner of the hotel planned to restore it to its former glory.  

Welch’s granddaughter told the Rocky View Weekly in February she was happy his murals in Irricana would be restored and given new life for a new generation to see.



One of Canada’s most romantic restaurants found in Bragg Creek

A beloved Italian bistro in Bragg Creek was named one of the top 100 ‘most romantic’ restaurants in Canada just before Valentine's Day on Feb. 14. The Italian Farmhouse Restaurant and Bar was founded approximately 15 years ago after a change of name and ownership gave the rustic restaurant a new lease on life.  

As of March, the restaurant was operating under its third ownership but has never changed its popular menu. Prior to its tenure as a food establishment, the Farmhouse was an early 20th century residence. The building was later converted into an antique store, with many relics remaining in the restaurant to this day having been repurposed as elements of the restaurant’s decor.  

Though a dinner at the Italian Farmhouse can come with a hefty price tag, the current owner told the Rocky View Weekly that the food and experience are worth every penny. 

New library space in Langdon


The opening of the Qualico Resource Centre in Langdon in June meant a new space for the Langdon Library. Though construction took a little bit longer than the society had originally hoped, the library opened with help from the community.

Back in March, the Langdon Community Association (LCA) called on residents to pledge funds and support for the building of a new library and youth centre in the hamlet. Extra code-related issues were discovered during the building process that weren’t accounted for in the original project budget, and so the LCA petitioned the community to pitch in.

The library held a successful GoFundMe campaign and managed to raise just over $23,000 to help put some of the finishing touches on construction. At the time, the Langdon Library had already sold about 100 new library memberships.

A library was donated to the hamlet two years prior by the since-dissolved Village of Cereal, including books and fittings, but Langdon lacked the space to situate it. ATCO trailers were permanently placed within the park to house the library and youth centre.

Trails connecting the County


Two major trail projects were celebrated this year including a Bragg Creek Trails paving project and the Meadowlark Trail connecting Beiseker and Irricana.

The Bragg Creek Trails Association (BCTA) announced in October it completed the remaining 3.1 kilometres (km) of the Trans Canada Trail from Meadow View Road going west to Range Road 54, and then south on Range Road 54 to Iron Creek Trail.

The association secured grant funding in April from multiple levels of government to complete the trail-paving project that began in 2020. The motivation for paving the paths was primarily related to the safety of the trails' users, as it would minimize potential risk of traffic collisions with pedestrians who opted for the paved road instead of the gravel path, according to the earlier report.

Moving over to the Meadowlark Trail, 150 people came out to celebrate the completion on June 4. A ribbon-cutting for the Meadowlark Trail took place bringing to fruition a project that started in 2018. Talks about developing the nearly 10-kilometre trail began in the mid-2000s.

The trail is intended for runners and cyclists for recreational purposes, commuting, or otherwise. The Meadowlark Trail Society worked with both municipal councils in Irricana and Beiseker to see the project through, and also liaised with Rocky View County to redesignate some of the land. The trail faced a few delays that postponed its public unveiling, including the COVID-19 pandemic, bureaucratic red tape, and some push-back from area residents who own parts of land the trail passes through.

Sixty skydives in one day at the Beiseker airport


One man decided to spend his 60th birthday taking 60 skydives at the Beiseker Airport, lightening the mood for the airport that was subject to some controversy this year.

Lance Lefebvre celebrated his 60th birthday on June 24 by sky-diving 60 times in a single day. Starting in the early morning for a 12-hour day of jumping, Lefebvre hopped into a small-engine plane for his first of five-dozen jumps that day. 

He felt optimistic as he made his way to the sky, according to our earlier report. Lefebvre first took on a similar challenge 10 years ago when he turned 50 by sky-diving 50 times in a single day. A decade later, he was ready to do it all over again and then some.

In addition to celebrating his birthday, Lefebvre hoped his sky-diving challenge would raise awareness for mental health and the importance of persevering through tough situations. Lefebvre has been sky-diving for 25 years and is a Skydive Extreme Calgary tandem instructor and a jump-master. 

Archaeologist marvel over Balzac Site


Another Rural Routes story that turned heads this year was that of a uniquely important archaeological site west of Highway 2 between Balzac and the northern boundary of Calgary.

The Balzac Archaeological Site documents Indigenous subsistence and cultural activities spanning a time period of 2,000 years. The site, connected with the ancestors of the current Blackfoot, Stoney Nakoda and Tsuut'ina peoples who still dwell in the region today, was first rediscovered in the late 1970s. 

An archaeologist part of the excavation in the early 1980s recalled the clearly stratified layers of Indigenous occupation of the site stemming back at least 1,800 years to what is known as Late Prehistoric. 

Because it was in a river valley, Indigenous peoples would come and use the site to process their bison kills, and the sediment from what is now known as Nose Creek would rise up and bury the site, preserving the archaeology perfectly. This happened over and over again.

The earliest occupation levels of the site have been reliably dated to the Avonlea period – a time when Indigenous peoples, who, still without horses, were adopting their first bow-and-arrow technology. The latest occupations of the site, metal arrow points were found there, which dates to the fur trade era.

For 1,500 years people have been coming back to that site again and again, and in the stratification you can separate out all those periods of time, according to the archeologist.

Recognition of rural residents achievements

Rocky View County celebrated many individuals who received awards, medals, and praise for their accomplishments this year.

Starting off in January, former Beiseker Mayor and long-time resident, Ray Courtman, received the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Medal for his decades of service to the community.

The Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Medal was awarded to 7,000 Albertans in recognition of significant contributions to the province, and Courtman wasn’t the only RVC resident to receive one.

Crossfield Fire Captain Joe Holstein was awarded the Platinum Jubilee Medal for his nearly four decades of providing extraordinary public service to the community.

Catriona Matheson was awarded a Platinum Jubilee Medal in recognition of her work rehabilitating wildlife at the Cochrane Ecological Institute (CEI), where she is the director and volunteer.

Lastly, former Irricana resident Judy Unsworth was awarded the Platinum Jubilee Medal for her years of service as a firefighter, two decades in a leadership role, her service across four fire departments, and her work to encourage more women to enter the fire service as a potential career.

Aside from these medals, Mark Norregaard, a 17-year-old student at George McDougall High School and a resident of Balzac, was named one of the winners of this year's 4-H Canada Science Fair. This year is Norregaard's second win at the 4-H Canada Science Fair, having won last year as well as the Calgary Youth Science Fair.

The Wray Ranch, located just west of Irricana, not only won this year’s Alberta Beef Producers (ABP) Environmental Stewardship Award winner, but also took home the 2023 Environmental Stewardship Award (TESA) by the Canadian Cattle Association (CCA).

The Wray family received the awards for their regenerative agriculture practices and their work on enhancing soil health and reducing erosion. 

Rocky View County resident Milton Scott won his third World Stock Dog Championship at the Calgary Stampede on July 12.

And for the second year in a row, Springbank's Molly Hamilton was a semifinalist in the Toastmaster World Championship of Public Speaking after beating out over 33,000 competitors from 143 countries.

Finally, long-time Chestermere resident, Marla Forth, was inducted into the Governor General's Honorary Curling Club of Canada on Sept. 12 in recognition for making a significant contribution to curling, not just as a curler, but also as a builder and administrator.

Celebrating rural history

Rocky View County also marked several anniversaries throughout the county, including at the Bragg Creek dance hall, the Indus School, the Irricana fire station, and the Mount St. Francis Retreat Centre.

The historic Bragg Creek dance hall celebrated its 100th anniversary this year with a big bash.

A dance with a live band was held to celebrate the centennial on Sept. 16 and a more subdued evening a couple weeks later to share some memories.

The dance hall was originally built in 1923 and was the social hub of the community for decades– school Christmas concerts, fundraisers, a polling station, birthday parties, and other events were hosted there.

The hall slowly fell into disrepair after the 1970s when the dances came to an end, but was completely restored by 2015.

The school of the small rural hamlet of Indus’ celebrated its 70th reunion on April 28.

Built in 1952, Indus School has changed a lot over the years, according to assistant principal Liz Kane.

There are currently 197 students enrolled at the school and they all participated in the reunion events.

The Irricana Fire Station celebrated 30 years of operations with an open house event on July 1.

The Canada Day-coinciding event featured a special ribbon-cutting ceremony to honour members of the local fire service, both past and present.

And lastly, Mount St. Francis celebrated its 75th anniversary on Aug. 10 and 11.

The spiritual centre of peace, healing, and prayer opened its doors in 1949, at the invitation of the then Catholic Bishop Francis Carroll of Calgary.

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