Brule

Located close to Hinton, AB, this hamlet is a sleepy community proud of its history. While the new townsite does not resemble anything close to a ghost town with an active Bed and Breakfast, a school, and other ammenities necessary for a community, Brule does have many remnants of its industrial past located throughout the townsite. With the graveyard, building foundations, and old shacks hidden in obscurity within the neighboring woods, one can say that at least that the old townsite still offers the atmosphere of a classic ghost town. 
Legend for Town Map
Orange: Building foundations, abandoned truck and shack.
 
Red: Graveyard and old shacks
 
Blue: Mine tipple
            Unlike other Coal Branch towns and hamlets, Brule is the closest to what we might call civilization. Approximately 20 km west of Hinton, you go west on Highway 16 then turn onto Highway 40, where signs direct you towards Grande Cache/Grande Prairie. Once on the 40, you turn left on a Range Road right by a recreational ranch, and continue on the road until you drive into the Brule townsite. According to the 2011 census, the town of Brule has a bustling population of 76 people. Even though the town of Brule has a school, bed and breakfasts, and plenty of beautiful homes, it claimed to be Alberta’s only true ghost town until the end of WWII. Despite its resident population, Brule at one point had a population of 500 people and 175 miners (Fryer, 1976, pg. 129). All of the old town and mine ruins can be found by turning right on Main Street and driving by a fairly large acreage estate. The ruins of old buildings, old mine shafts, and an old cemetery can still be found often within the forest which has reclaimed areas of the townsite. Behind the water treatment plant for the town is the old mine tipple, standing as a reminder of the town’s once prosperous industry . 
            Brule was born after railway entrepreneurs, William MacKenzie and Donald Mann, the makers of Canada’s second transcontinental Canadian Northern Railway, established the town in 1912 to supply coal for their railway. Later, after the company’s bankruptcy forced the Canadian government to nationalize the line to create the Canadian National Railway in 1918, Brule continued to be a going concern. Brule went through a legitimate boom during the Great War with eventually 175 miners on the company’s payroll. They were able to produce some 500 tons per day (Fryer, 1976, pg. 129). Eventually, MacKenzie and Mann sold the mine to the Blue Diamond Coal Company for $500,000 in 1920 ($5.6 million in 2015 dollars). Today a bed and breakfast in Brule, called the Blue Diamond Mountain Bed and Breakfast, is owned by a woman who has lived in Brule for most of her life. She owns an old brander with the original logo of the Blue Diamond Company. Unfortunately she and her husband are retiring the bed and breakfast business soon.
            The Blue Diamond Coal Company ramped up production after the war to 8—tons a day; by the mid-1920’s,the mine produced as much as 1800 tons per day. To reach such high production the company borrowed $750,000 to build a new mine tipple, as well as to enlarge the hotel, construct a warehouse, and build shops for carpentry and blacksmithing (Fryer, 1976, pg. 129). There was even a golf course. To keep up with the boom, the town had three shifts of men mining throughout the day. In one year alone, the Blue Diamond mine made a profit of $168,000. Of course, the boom could not last forever. The coal seam depleted after 16 years  and the mine closed in July of 1928. Families began abandoning the town, leaving properties behind.. By 1932 the entire townsite with 100 empty buildings, including the golf club house, stood empty and silent. Throughout the 30’s the only people in the town were forest rangers and their families.
            After the forest started to reclaim the old townsite it was becoming a fire hazard to nearby ranches and communities. However, not much was done to the town until 1945 when it was put up for auction. Soren Madsen, the winner, bought the town for $8,000 cash (Fryer, 1976, pg. 129). He intended to sell the lumber from the forest and the timber from the houses he would scrap. However, the city of Edmonton was in dire need of new housing at the time, so he preserved  most of the homes and shipped them off to Edmonton to be rebuilt. As of 1976 the original houses could still to be found to the northeast of Edmonton’s present-day city centre in the block between streets 113 and 114, and avenues 108 and 109.
            Even though most of Brule’s original buildings are not standing in the town anymore, the ruins and old foundations of the larger buildings are still intact and open to exploration. All of the old shacks are standing ominously in the forest, and the old foundations are vivid reminders of the large development once taking place there. The graveyard is found easily by following the path wedged between two old foundations and old shacks. It appears directly before you with many unmarked graves, as well as recently buried graves. The old mine tipple can be located by going up the road by the water treatment plant, and taking the pathway leading up the hill. Along the pathway you will find many artifacts of times of old when the town was a boom-town during its short time of existence.    
  1. Mine Manway
    Mine Manway
    Photo by Caroline Thomas
  2. Brule Tipple
    Brule Tipple
    Photo by Caroline Thomas
  3. Unmarked Graves
    Unmarked Graves
    Photo by Caroline Thomas
  4. Foundation Stairs
    Foundation Stairs
    Photo by Caroline Thomas
  5. Old Oven
    Old Oven
    Photo by Caroline Thomas
  6. Abandoned Truck
    Abandoned Truck
    Photo by Caroline Thomas
  7. Unknown Shack
    Unknown Shack
    Photo by Caroline Thomas
  8. Unknown Shack
    Unknown Shack
    Photo by Caroline Thomas
  9. Building Foundations
    Building Foundations
    Photo by Caroline Thomas
  10. Inside the Foundations
    Inside the Foundations
    Photo by Caroline Thomas

References

Fryer, Harold. "Brule". Ghost Towns of Alberta. Langley, BC. Stagecoach
Publishing Co., 1976. Print. Pg. 127 - 130.
    
Photos taken by:
Caroline Thomas