On my recent visit to our local museum I also took the chance to walk around our little downtown core and photograph some of the fantastic buildings we have. Thanks to a little brochure entitled “Okotoks Heritage Walking Tour”, which I picked up at the museum I am able to give you a little more detail of each of these buildings.
This is our railway station, which is no longer in use. The original station was a wood frame structure built in 1892, which was destroyed by a fire in 1928 and was then replaced by this structure in 1929. The upper floor housed agents and their families, with the railway business being conducted downstairs. The station closed in 1970 and was restored in 1981 by the Town and the Arts Council and now houses our Cultural Centre, with an art gallery and a small gift store inside.
When the railroad came to the Canadian West it opened up a whole new world to settlers and traders, but it also spelled the end for businesses like stagecoach services and the bulltrain freighting and meant the demise of the open range ranches in the foothills area. Back then a lot of communities lobbied the railway companies to build their tracks through their town, knowing it would bring prosperity to the town. So it was with Okotoks, new settlers arrived from Ontario after having emigrated from Great Britain to seek their fortunes in the West. The town grew up around this station; it was a bustling spot for travellers, the point of import for goods and distribution of products such as beef, wheat, and lumber. From this station men and women would depart for wars and, for the fortunate ones, it would be the station they would return to once the war was over. Families from all over the world stepped onto the platform in Okotoks in search of better lives. One quote I saw in the museum from a new settler named Sybil (Welch) Young made me smile: “Having come from the even then fairly large city of Oshawa, Ontario, we thought our new home [Okotoks] was some kind of an April Fool’s joke, but we soon came to love the small village and hoped we would never have to live anywhere else.”
The General Store was constructed in 1906 and owned by H. Beattie until 1925 when he sold it to Cliff Wentworth. According to the testament of residents, both gentlemen ran a first-rate general store. You could get all sorts here: groceries, dry goods, hardware, ladies and men’s ware, books, to name but a few items. The upper floor at one point was a couple of apartments. This building is a two-storey brick structure on a sandstone foundation with a detailed cornice molding, which I always admire when I walk past this building. The building originally had a balcony above the shop windows; it was destroyed by the fire of 1928, which also destroyed the train station on the opposite side of the road (must have been quite a fire). It now houses a Quilt Shop and I always love their very traditional window displays.
Next door to the former General Store is the French Bistro Provence, which used to be the town’s Post Office, which moved into this building in 1909 after it had moved from its original location at Macmillan’s Stopping Place near our present-day train bridge to the Paterson & Sons store. This building is a tin building (I didn’t even know these existed) and notable features are the pressed tin siding designed to look like stone and the unusual angle of the building, which is not square with the street. Keen eyes are able to spot the original post office lettering over the front windows. I love this building, as no matter what season, it always has pretty Christmas lights on which frame the front of the building; in fact, a lot of our downtown businesses do this.
Right in the heart of our downtown core sits this former Baptist Church, which is now home to a cafe, with a great lunch service. The church was built in 1902 with a simple gable roof and decorative shingles in the gable end. Typical of early prairie church designs, the windows are a pointed arch and the building is surfaced in drop-siding , an easily obtained construction material back then. The expansion at the front arrived in the 1930s to house the Evangelical Free Church, which congregated here until 1997.
Looking at this fabulous building I always thought it was as old as its neighbours, but I learned that in fact this building was built in 1992! It was designed to fit right into our downtown core and up until a year or so ago was the home of one of the best restaurants this town had; Divine (and so was the food). The owners unfortunately sold up and it underwent some renovations before reopening as a Dental practice. This is probably one of my favourite buildings in the downtown area, purely because it looks just like us Europeans always imagine what the houses of the great wild west must have looked liked.
Okotoks has a lot more treasures that I haven’t photographed yet, but most of them reside on Elma Street, one of the town’s first streets, and are private residential houses and I don’t really feel comfortable to photograph those, as I might get mistaken for some weird person, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.