December 3rd, 2014 ~ Vol. 84 No. 48
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The one and only Last Chance Saloon and Rosedeer Hotel
In the heart of the Alberta Badlands you will find the tiny village of Wayne, a coal-mining town that once had a population of 3,000 which has now dwindled to about forty diehard residents. Wayne is just a few miles southeast of Drumheller and if you are ever in the area don’t miss taking this side trip because it is a hoot.
To get there one must drive six miles south east of Drumheller on the main highway (#10) and then turn right and head four miles up Highway 10X to Wayne and the Last Chance Saloon and Rosedeer Hotel therein. Along the way you will have to cross no less than eleven single lane bridges that span the Rosebud River. That’s eleven bridges in 6 ½ kilometers!
The visual setting up this classic moonscape-like valley is spectacular and you just know that the area is rife with rich fossil beds. The coal seams are often visible up this valley, like the bones of ancient dinosaurs, in the layers of sandstone, sculpted by time. Along the way you pass relics of the past, like abandoned homes and lots of ancient coal mining machinery. But it is the bridges and the final destination, a cold beer and a great burger at the Last Chance Saloon, that will be your ultimate reward.
Each bridge is uniquely different and according to Lawrence Chrismas, renowned coal miner photographer and historian each bridge has a story and a special name. I made the trip up to Wayne last May and fell in love with the place. There were no less than 21 coal mines that operated at one time or another along this 11 bridge stretch with names like Excelsior, Western Commercial, Jewel, Sunshine and the huge Rosedeer Mine. This did not surprise me as the whole of the Drumheller area had a total of 141 different coal mines of different sizes spread out through this ancient dinosaur bone bed.
Lawrence has recently published a calendar of these bridges done in his classic style of high quality black and white images. Each bridge has a small explanation of its honourary name but it was Bridge No. 4, called the Sunshine Mine Bridge, that brought a memorable Drumheller mining story to mind. It was shared with me by Linda Digby who was for many years the executive director of the Historic Atlas Coal Mine, a must see when you visit the Drumheller/East Coulee area.
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The story is called Brilliant Sunshine and is of a man named Joe Guidolin who worked 39 years underground at different Drumheller Mines including the Sunshine Mine near Wayne and the Brilliant Mine on the north side of Drumheller. The story goes that in March of 1948 there was lots of snow and then it started to rain. The Drumheller history books are full of pictures of the flooding that came with this disastrous event as water ran wild over still frozen ground.
Somehow the water broke through into the top seam of the Brilliant Mine where Joe was working. For Joe Guidolin came the realization that the mine ponies were stabled there and that the water must be rising up around them. Drumheller mines used small ponies underground and oftimes they were kept in underground stables. Joe decided he and a buddy had to get them out and headed down the slope to the stable area. Just as he figured the ponies were up to their bellies in water and scared as hell. So was Joe. Wouldn’t you be? Imagine if you will what it must have been like for these sixteen ponies that day.
Joe decided the best thing to do would be to tie the tail of one to the bridle of the other and then lead them out in a line. Here is what Joe said about this as transcribed by Carla Powell for storyteller Digby. “He started to move them through the tunnel and he felt something was not quite right. He couldn’t figure out what it was until he realized that none of those ponies were making a sound... Ponies were always making noise but these ones were totally silent. He looked back and shone his cap lamp on the line of ponies. He could see them gently stepping through the water trying to feel for the railroad ties beneath the water. And that is what they did all the way out, moving silently through the water.”
Now doesn’t that paint an amazing picture? Suffice to say they trusted Joe and when they started up the slope and saw the light coming in they started kicking up a fuss. They had spent months in that dark mine and Joe knew that the brilliant sunshine would be too hard on their eyes so he wrapped rags around their eyes as he brought them out. Just one of thousands of stories from an area that eventually produced fifty seven million tons of domestic coal before the industry died.
Once you have crossed all eleven bridges you will find yourself at the Last Chance Saloon and Rosedeer Hotel and exploring the memorabilia, historic photographs, signs and posters in this frontier saloon built in 1913 is a rare treat. There are bullet holes in the wall above the piano and word is there was a beer drinking pony named Tinkerbelle who frequented the hotel, encouraged by customers who would buy it a glass of beer or two. At one time the Wayne area had 1200 miners working there and the Rosedeer fed up to 250 bachelors in its two kitchens. It had a small post office and store and the post office boxes are still there.
People from all over the world seek out the hotel and it is a favourite stop for car and bike clubs and sporting events. So if you’re ever in the area make sure you take that crazy trip over the eleven bridges to Wayne.
Author’s Note: Lawrence Chrismas has some copies that he is selling on behalf of the Last Chance Saloon. They are $20 each and that includes shipping. You can let him know at cambria@telus.net
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December 3rd ~ Vol. 84 No. 48
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