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Tag: Oldman River

Dried Up, What Now? attracts engaged local audience

A locally filmed 30-minute documentary that hones in on the region’s ongoing water crisis offered up its first two viewings last Saturday in Lundbreck and Pincher Creek.

Dried Up, What Now? features close to two dozen voices, including those of residents, scientists, the environmental community and local government, on the current state of the Oldman River Reservoir both upstream and downstream.

While not meant to be politically charged, the Livingstone Landowners Group says it’s a story that needs to be told “to help raise awareness of the impact of declining water levels in the region and spur discussion on solutions.”

The film, part of a trilogy, follows Finding Water and Running Dry by producers Yvan Lebel, who resides in Saskatchewan, and Kevin Van Tighem of Lethbridge, a well-known naturalist and author.

“I’ve been concerned about headwaters health for years,” said Van Tighem, when asked why he became involved in the first venture some five years ago.

“When I retired, I decided to write a book, Headwaters of the Bow River, and what each different creek has to tell us in terms of a story. The more I got into that, the more I woke up to the fact that we just don’t understand that our land-use decisions are actually water-management decisions and we are not always making the best water commitment decisions.”

He added that the province’s population is growing yet its water supply is not improving.


Table setting of wedding venue — the Cowley Lions Campground Stockade near Pincher Creek in southwestern Alberta.


Like the Livingstone Landowners Group, Lebel doesn’t necessarily see this film, or the others, as political statements.

“The message is just to warn us to be aware and, in a sense, to invite people to do something,” he said before the second showing of the documentary, at the Vertical Church in Pincher Creek.

“We’re giving the facts. We’re showing what is happening and bringing some solutions. The goal is more to educate people. No ranting. No accusing anyone of anything.”

That sentiment is shared by Bobbi Lambright, communications co-ordinator for the Livingstone Landowners Group.

“We try to be a very fact-based organization. So, when it comes to issues and concerns, we like to do our homework. We want to make sure we have the correct information,” she told Shootin’ the Breeze.

“As this became a major issue, we felt it was worthwhile documenting it and getting some insight.”

In one instance, the film shows the rings of a large tree, which indicate both historical long periods of drought and stretches of high-water flows.

Aerial footage of sections of the reservoir as they looked in 2019 versus bone-dry river beds from last year is also featured during the production.

While those behind the project say they aren’t finger-pointing, Van Tighem, like most, is concerned about what the coming summer will bring, checking the snowpack as recently as last Saturday.

“We’re still about 25 per cent below normal. We have less snow storage in the headwaters than we had last year and last year was a disaster … we had an early thaw,” he said.

“We get an early thaw this year, with that lousy snowpack, it makes our message that much more critical because we don’t want to waste a single bit of water when there’s so little to begin with.”

“Our landscape is leaking like a sieve,” he said. “We gotta get it fixed.”



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Three white envelopes blow in the wind in front of an open grey mailbox

Alberta’s water crisis is just beginning

In the past week, Albertans have been confronted with a triple whammy of water crises.

On Feb. 20, the Government of Alberta declared the start of wildfire season, 10 days earlier than the usual March 1 start due to this season’s warm temperatures, which have been compounded by the fact that large parts of Alberta are under severe or extreme drought.

On Feb. 23, the Crowsnest River in southern Alberta was reported to have run dry upstream of Cowley. (The claim was later disputed, with the halted water flow being blamed on ice buildup.) The Crowsnest River is a tributary to the Old Man, which has seen record-low river levels and extremely low reservoir levels this year.

While many Albertans were astonished by these two announcements, the Alberta Energy Regulator also announced in an internal letter that it had accepted initial applications and is open to public hearings for the controversial Grassy Mountain coal mine on the Eastern Slopes, a project which has already been turned down twice. An application for a water diversion licence has been submitted to AER.

What does the potential coal mine have to do with water? Coal mines use 250 litres of fresh water and about 750 litres of recycled water per tonne of coal produced. According to estimates, Grassy Mountain will divert 1.125 billion litres of fresh water per year from the Old Man watershed.

Though they appeared as separate stories, this past week’s news demonstrates the interrelatedness of our crises. Alberta is experiencing a critical water shortage, and action is needed immediately.


Ace of spades card on ad for Chase the Ace at the Pincher Creek Legion


We need a new holistic approach to water in this province that looks at the cumulative impacts and interconnections between water usage and water shortage. This holistic approach also needs to consider the role of climate change in driving both increased water usage and drought.

The Government of Alberta has taken some steps to tackling our water crisis by creating a new drought advisory committee earlier this month. This committee, however, poorly represents the diversity of stakeholders and communities impacted by drought. Specifically, it does not include the communities most impacted. Alarmingly, this committee does not include water and/or drought researchers. 

The lack of scientists is troubling but not surprising considering the GOA’s acceptance of recent recommendations to consider “non-scientific evidence during an emergency.” Alberta Environment Minister Rebecca Schulz has failed to mention the impact of climate change on Alberta’s long-term droughts. Instead she blamed El Niño, a periodic system associated with warm dry weather, even while a group of scientists in her very department published research warning of extreme drought in Alberta due to global warming.

The GOA has also started, as of Feb. 1, unprecedented negotiations with Alberta’s current water licence holders, who operate under a “first in time, first in right” system. But all negotiations are occurring behind closed doors, with no indication of whether changes in water licensing are forthcoming.

Alberta needs an independent water board that has teeth and the ability to make policy, licensing and emergency decisions, apart from both the GOA and AER. An independent water board would guarantee both transparency and the more substantial inclusion of stakeholders, communities and experts than we see currently.


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An independent water board could not only manage the province’s water licenses and complex water license transfer system, but also include Indigenous communities, industry, agriculture, tourism, scientists, wildfire specialists, as well as a limited number of municipal and provincial government members. 

There is already a precedent for independent water boards in Canada, in the Yukon and Northwest Territories, where water co-governance is mandated by modern treaties. While these systems too have limitations, they could be built and improved upon.

The GOA already greatly benefits from its partnership with the Alberta Water Council, Watershed Planning and Advisory Councils and Watershed Stewardship Groups, according to the GOA’s Water for Life Strategy. Why not provide these collaborators the opportunity to act directly and authoritatively through an empowered water board?

If water really is “a life source” as the GOA describes it, all Albertans should be taking a much more active role in its governance than they have been allowed to do. It is time that Albertans get serious about our water because the consequences of our water crises are just getting started.

Sabrina Perić

Energy anthropologist, associate professor at the University of Calgary, and co-director of the Energy Stories Lab



Shootin’ the Breeze welcomes submissions about local issues and activities. Personal views expressed in Mailbox articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect views of Shootin’ the Breeze management and staff. 

Homesteaders of the Tennessee and Pincher City districts

The pioneering Boag brothers

The Boag brothers, Lawrence and Charles, had early agricultural connections with the Tennessee and Pincher City districts.

Perhaps the better remembered of the siblings was Lawrence John Boag, the younger of the two, who was born Aug. 12, 1882, in Guildford, England. He homesteaded on the southeast quarter of 36-7-30-W4.

Although this was located immediately north of the Oldman River in the Tennessee district, most historical references to Lawrence John Boag list him as a pioneer of Pincher City. Folklore indicates that he may have picked up his mail and completed his business transactions at this more southerly point.

His homestead was applied for on May 16, 1904. He listed his age as 22 years at this time. Boag established near-continuous residency on his quarter. His absences were spent working as a labourer and bridge man with the railway. 

Most of his efforts went into farming. He had 10 acres plowed and cultivated in 1905. This increased to 25 acres some two years later. Boag estimated that 120 acres on his homestead were suitable for farming, with none of the property being covered in swamp or by timber.

His homestead file noted that his house had a value of $100 and that his stable was being constructed. The fencing for his quarter-section was worth $225.

Some 13 years following his homestead application, Lawrence Boag continued his railway connections by taking up a job with the Canadian Pacific Railway. During the 1920s he was stationed at Macleod, transferring late in that decade to Calgary, where eventually he secured employment as a conductor. Retirement came two years after the close of the Second World War.

On March 18, 1909, Lawrence Boag and Elizabeth Elsie Harrad, the eldest daughter of Charles and Eliza Harrad, were united in marriage at St. John’s Anglican Church in Pincher Creek. Boag’s brother Charles served as his best man for the ceremony.


Indoor and outdoor view of wedding venue — the Cowley Lions Campground Stockade near Pincher Creek in southwestern Alberta.


Elizabeth’s birth in England dated to Aug. 3, 1890. Lawrence and Elizabeth celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in 1959. Lawrence passed away Jan. 18, 1960, and Elizabeth on Sept. 5, 1965. Both are buried in Queen’s Park Cemetery in Calgary.

Charles Henry Boag was born in March 1877 in England, immigrating to Canada in 1902. His homestead was located on the northeast quarter of 6-8-29-W4, just northeast of his brother’s spread. He applied for it on April 26, 1904, and received patent for the property on Dec. 2, 1908. Boag established near-continuous residency on his quarter from 1904 through 1908, his absences being caused by being “in the mountains working in the woods.”

Farming on his homestead was successful. In 1905 he plowed and cultivated nearly a dozen acres, which by 1908 had increased to over 40 acres. Old-timers remembered an abundance of good crops being grown on his quarter.

Boag had two horses in 1905, which increased to five some three years later. No cattle were listed in his homestead file.

Buildings included a frame house measuring 12 by 20 feet. It was valued at $150. He also had a 16-by-20-foot stable worth $80 and a 10-foot-deep well valued at $20. He installed two miles of fencing worth $200.

Charles did not have a family of his own and eventually sold his property to the Lewis family, whereupon he returned to England.

Pincher City adventures of Walter Sage

Walter Sage was a pioneer of the Ashvale and Pincher City districts.

Sage was born in Ontario on May 21, 1865. His parents and ancestry were English. Religiously, he was affiliated with the Church of England and, while residing in southwestern Alberta, he at times attended St. John’s Church in Pincher Creek.


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As a young adult he settled in Vancouver.

Sage initially arrived on the local scene in the very early 1900s. That year’s census lists him as a boarder at the George and Elizabeth Fair dwelling in Pincher City. Sage’s occupation already was listed as a rancher.

On May 12, 1900, he filed on a homestead on the northeast quarter of 14-7-30-W4. It was located south of the Oldman River, less than two miles north of the settlement of Pincher City. He received patent to the quarter effective Dec. 13, 1903, and there he remained for a decade and a half or more.

The property thrived for farming purposes but not for ranching. In 1900 he had 2½ acres plowed, which increased to 40 acres plowed and seeded in 1902. Walter Sage did not have any cattle, horses or pigs on the homestead.

His buildings were modest. They featured a 12-by-12 frame house worth $40. He had 1½ miles of fencing constructed at a cost of $50.

A career change for Walter Sage came in the late 1910s when he purchased the former Richard Morgan garage in Pincher City. Local historian William Laidlaw claimed that “during Prohibition, [the garage] was a frequent spot for the ‘rum runners’ to park their big fancy cars.”

Several years later, likely after 1928-29, when Sage still was listed as a garage owner in the Henderson’s Directory, he sold his business to a couple of younger fellows.

At this point, Walter Sage retired and resided in the first of the Laidlaw grocery store buildings, also located at Pincher City. He was recalled as being very kind to his neighbours Mr. and Mrs. White, who hailed from England. Weather permitting, he ensured that Mrs. White attended church every Sunday.

Walter Sage, who remained a bachelor, passed away at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Pincher Creek on July 12, 1945. He was buried in the Fairview Cemetery.

Sources for these biographical sketches included old newspaper clippings, homestead records housed at the Provincial Archives of Alberta as accessed by, Dominion of Canada Censuses for 1901 and 1911, and the historical recollections of pioneer William Laidlaw.

Old fashioned log cabin with wooden bench in front – heading for Frontier Canadian Recollections

Documents shed new light on early Pincher Creek ranches

Many locals are keenly aware of the varied and rich agricultural heritage that has blessed the Pincher Creek area for nearly a century and a half. Yet our historical research here at Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village has uncovered old promotional materials from the late 1880s that shed some new light on the nature of some of the early family ranches.

Let’s have a look at a few of those early ranching operations.


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Excellent stock-raising area

The promotional literature made note of the excellent stock-raising attributes of the Pincher Creek area. Initial concerns that this district was too close to the mountains, thereby endangering ranching operations through a lack of open rangeland accompanied by heavy winter snowfalls, proved to be largely erroneous.

Early experiences established, with a few exceptions such as the harsh blizzards of 1886-87, that the local winters were not plagued with large snow accumulations. The large grazing areas indeed were a blessing for the early ranchers.

Promotional campaigns made note of the abundance of the local rivers and creeks, which provided adequate water for stock raising. The ranching potential along the South, Middle and North forks of the Oldman River, including those tributaries such as Todd and Ross creeks, was emphasized.

Pincher, Mill and Halifax creeks also were heralded as excellent year-round water sources for those looking for early endeavours raising cattle and horses. The southwest was a ranching paradise second to none.



Butte Ranch partnership

One of the earliest cattle operations established in the Pincher Creek vicinity was the Butte Ranch, originally connected with pioneer Frederick W. Godsal.

This ranching giant later went into partnership with a Mr. Allfrey (of whom we now know little; he seems to have disappeared into the pages of history) and Lionel Brooke, our area’s most infamous remittance man. Brooke later bought out most of the ranch from Allfrey and Godsal.

Situated adjacent to the South Fork, the ranch was enhanced by many improvements over the years. By February 1888, it was “well provided with good stables and sheds” as well as two fresh-water wells. Much of the ranch was fenced, and Brooke had built up the cattle herd to include 200 head of stock, bred by polled Angus bulls.

In spite of Brooke’s lack of hands-on ranching experience, the Butte Ranch did flourish during those early years.



South Fork Ranch envied by many

By the late 1880s, F.W. Godsal also was connected with his nearby South Fork Ranch. It was publicly touted as being “one of the best-improved in the country.”

Godsal, considered one of the premier ranchers attached to the southwestern corner of the Canadian Prairies, had painstakingly changed the system by which he had ranched. After a few years of practical experience, he had come to the conclusion that there was more financial profit in ranching with smaller numbers of cattle, well cared for, than having a large herd that had to be left to the uncertainties of the open range.

His cattle on the South Fork Ranch numbered an annual average of 400, which Godsal maintained provided easy access to those animals that were weak and needed veterinary attention. Feed, primarily alfalfa and timothy (which too were raised on the ranch) was readily available during the cold, snow-filled weeks of winter.

The ranch numbered over 5,000 acres in size, most of which was unfenced pastureland.


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The modern South Fork Ranch buildings were the envy of many a non-local rancher. The well-constructed main ranch house utilized local logs, and was designed to withstand the massive weather fluctuations so common to the area. Inside, the structure consisted of a parlour, a kitchen, a pantry and two bedrooms.

Surrounding the house was a fenced yard, a portion of which was cultivated for a garden. Nearby was a second house, measuring 18 by 20 feet, which was for the ranch hands.

The outbuildings included a large barn, half of which was used for the horses and a harness room. The second half of this 30-by-40-foot log structure was for the calves.

An extensive system of corrals and sheds complemented the ranch operation. The arrangements well suited the ever-particular Godsal.



Clear Water Ranche and French Flats

The Clear Water Ranche was located at French Flats, near the present village of Cowley, close to a mile and a half from the South Fork. French Flats derived its name early in our settlement history as a result of the large number of French Canadian and Métis families who settled there in order to take up ranching.

The Clear Water was operated under a partnership of Jones and Sharpe, two pioneers in their own right. The ranch was well known locally for its extensive cattle and horse breeding operations. The horse stock was being improved with two Clydesdale stallions named Atlas and Prince.

On the ranch, nearly 320 acres was fenced, most of which was utilized as pasture. Also grown was an annual allotment of 1,100 bushels of grain and smaller amounts of timothy.



The ranch buildings were extensive and well utilized. Featured was a log stable measuring 30 by 40 feet and complete with a loft. Farther down the yard were several outbuildings highlighted by a solid granary, a cow stable measuring 160 feet in length, and several sheds.

A solidly constructed 50-by-18-foot house, expanded during the summer of 1888, complemented the ranch buildings.

The Jones and Sharpe partnership worked well: the Clear Water Ranche was a flourishing success.

Each of these agricultural entities was well known for its cattle and horses.

Wedding banquet view of wedding venue — the Cowley Lions Campground Stockade near Pincher Creek in southwestern Alberta.



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