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Focus … or Obsession? Local History Edition.

23 Oct

I tend to dive wholeheartedly into anything that interests me.  I watch whole seasons of my favorite TV shows at once. I discover a new author I like, and read their whole backlist. If I start writing a new story, I pretty much do nothing else until it’s done.

My friend Stacy says it’s an admirable quality. My brother calls me OCD. He likes cite the time when I was typing away during the previews at the movie theater as evidence to support his theory.

Right now, my thoughts and spare time is wrapped up with the cabin.

In 1908, John Alfke, his wife and their young son homesteaded the quarter section of land where I currently live.  I don’t know a lot about Mr. Alfke, but I do know that he knew how to build a house. The cabin he built for his family is still standing. They moved into the town of Cochrane in 1921, but not before their two younger sons were born in the cabin. Mr. Alfke sold it to John Ward, who then sold to Evan Jones in 1918.

The Jones family lived here only 3 years, moving into Cochrane in 1921, but their baby daughter was born in the cabin.  Evan Jones sold to the Soldier Settlement Board, and the land and cabin was purchased soon after by Norman Cairns and his wife. Their son was born in 1924, the fourth baby to be born in the cabin. The Cairns family stayed much longer than any of the previous occupants.

They had family visiting from Europe when the Second World War broke out, and they had to stay. The cabin wasn’t sufficient for the additional family members, so they built on, adding the lean-to addition.

 

The Cairns family lived in the cabin and operated a mixed farming operation until the late 1940s, when they retired to Calgary.

When my great grandfather, Jack Giles, and my grandfather, Merv Giles, bought land in the area in 1956, the cabin was still being lived in. After they’d moved up from the Sheppard area, they discovered that the young bachelors who called the cabin home had a habit of ‘accidentally’ letting their neighbour’s bulls in with their cows each spring. It was decided the best way to deal with the problem was to buy them out, and the original Alfke homestead became part of the Circle J Ranch.

For the past 50 years, the cabin has stood empty.

The windows have been broken out and the doors are gone, and despite efforts to keep cattle out by nailing boards across the openings, the large hole in the floor of the lean-to would suggest that these efforts were not always successful.

Despite that, the cabin is solid, particularly the original log cabin built over one hundred years ago by John Alfke. A testament to his skill, the (strangely low) windows and doors are still square and true, the floors, walls and even the roof are, for the most part, solid and strong still. The lean-to portion, put up in haste, hasn’t weathered the years as well, but is also standing strong.

It’s only the wallpaper that is coming loose, the squares covering the ceiling hanging down in places, one sporting a bird’s nest. A woodburning stove and a rusted metal headboard are still in the mostly empty rooms. The metal box spring from the old bed is somewhere among the caragana, overgrown by the long grass – I remember bouncing on it with my brother when we were little. The hops have crawled over the back side – which was probably the front door when it was originally built, towards the road – covering the walls, the window, the door, the roof, right up to the chimney. It’s a jungle back there, the hops climbing over the over-grown caragana bushes.

The depression from the root cellar is a hole in the pasture behind our house that the calves love to play in. A few big logs are still visible where the barn once stood. And just a few years ago we pulled down the old pig barn, which we used as a chicken house. Where our house now stands there were once corrals for livestock, and in the middle of our back yard, where we mow around the cement blocks that protect it, is the original old well.

Most of the signs of the busy farmyard that once stood here are gone, but the cabin built by John Alfke still stands strong.

My research was made easy, thanks to ‘Big Hill Country’, the book published by the Cochrane and Area Historical Society in 1977.

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Posted by on October 23, 2011 in history

 

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