Ozada

A WWII German Prisoner of War camp, coal processing plant, and now a barren flat in the Stoney Indian Reserve. Ozada's history is elusive to the Albertan who drives past the forlorn locality on the TransCanada Highway. Many buildings remain in Ozada as an epitaph to its epic history. A word of caution: the general public are not welcome in this ghost town as it is on reserve land. Please be respectful and use this page as your guide of Ozada, Alberta.
Route to Ozada from Calgary, AB.
Map Legend
Red: Building ruins
 
Black: Coal Slack heaps
 
Green: Coal tipple ruins
 
White Border: Townsite location and additional ruins
 
            .   Before I begin to discuss Ozada Alberta I want to clarify a few things. Even though Ozada was once a prisoner of war (POW) camp and a coal-processing town, it is also within the Stoney Indian Reserve. Indian Reserves are First Nations lands and unauthorized travel to them is illegal. If you want to visit this site, ask for permission first from the Stoney Council at Morley. Ozada is located 80 km’s west from Calgary on Highway 1. The town is peppered with many old buildings still standing, massive coal slag piles, and an old mine tipple that is situated right by the train tracks where the coal used to be loaded on a CPR train to market.      
            Ozada was initially a temporary prisoner of war camp, which had about 3,400 military tents that was surrounded by barbed wire fences and 28 guard towers. It was used between May and November 1942, and was at full capacity with about 10,000 prisoners by October in the same year (Hogg, n.d.). The camp was mostly Nazi troops captured in Africa, along with some French Foreign Legion prisoners in the same area. The Veteran’s Guard of Canada were the service that guarded the camp, armed with Reising submachine guns, who stayed in wooden shacks on higher ground just outside of the camp’s perimeter (Hogg, n.d.).
            In an interview, Doug Hogg, a Canadian soldier during WWII, describes a historical predicament in Ozada that never surfaced in any textbooks or mainstream Canadian media. He was stationed at the time in Vancouver at the Seaforth Barracks when his regiment received orders to leave the city by troop train with full battle gear and ammunition to an emergency assignment at the Ozada POW camp. The government of Canada was informed that Canadian POW’s were being shackled in German prison camps overseas. As a result, the government of Canada wanted to reciprocate this to the Germans. This brought an immediate reaction from the German prisoners, where they threatened to riot if these attempts to shackle them were made. Doug Hogg’s regiment was at the camp to supervise the shackling and provide riot control should it occur. The Veteran Guard officials conducted meetings to carry out the directive, with the prisoners not withdrawing their threat to riot. Of course the soldiers had to carry out their orders, and with 10,000 rioting prisoners and 1,000 heavily armed guards this could have turned into a bloodbath. Luckily the government of Canada ordered the troops to stand down due to the German government allowing the Canadian POW’s to be unshackled (Hogg, n.d.). A wave of relief swept over everyone involved in the event.
            After being a war camp, Ozada was the destination for coal from the Ribbon Creek  (also known as Kovach) strip mine to be processed. In 1947 the Rocky Mountain Collieries, owned by Nordegg’s Brazeau Collieries, took one square mile of land to build the Ozada processing plant and a small town for the workers to live. The company transferred many of its employees from Nordegg to Ozada and Ribbon Creek to spur the operation. Unfortunately, unlike the Nordegg townsite, the living conditions were poor. There was no plumbing, school, or basic amenities you would normally find in a resource-based community. All of the children living within the community had to be driven to Seebe for school, which was 32 kilometers away (Bachusy, 2013). There was a bunkhouse that housed up to 100 single men with a dining room, and most of the entertainment came in the form of hiking, horseback riding, and fishing. In later years the workers were able to buy three-room houses for $1,200 from the Rocky Mountain Collieries. However lack of food was a major problem, with the nearest grocery store being in Canmore, Banff, or Seebe. Luckily they were able to get groceries hauled in once a week (Bachusy, 2013). With the lack of amenities, compared to most communities, life in Ozada was extremely hardy and simple.
            The citizens of Ozada mingled with the Stoney People quite frequently, with children going to school with them in Seebe, as well as employing the First Nation men to help run the Ozada operation. As the operation progressed the camaraderie between the Stonies and the white men at Ozada became stronger, with the Stonies inviting trusted non-Stonies to ceremonies like the Sun Dance, in addition to visiting sacred places such as a secret burial ground (Bachusky, 2009, pg. 83). Of course, there were the residential schools that impacted the First Nation people across Canada, which affected trust between the unfamiliar white men and the Stonies. The best icebreaker was found to be horseback riding whether it was bareback or saddle, if you rode you had something in common with the First Nations of the area (Bachusky, 2009, pg. 80). Eventually the town had two communal water wells and had outhouses for each home, as well as a school built in 1950 with the first schoolteacher arriving to the town. Isabel Shanks, the daughter of mine manager David Shanks, was only 21 when she moved to Ozada to teach over 20 students in Grade one to eight. This made all of the single and lonely men in the town excited (Bachusky, 2009, pg. 93).
            Ozada and Ribbon Creek’s greatest challenge was the transportation of coal from the mine to the tipple. The coal had to be hauled 35 kilometers north up steep rock faces where the cost and conditions were prohibitive for adequate transportation. Contracting out truckers to face the challenging route through the winding gravel and dirt roads was the only way to get the coal to Ozada in a timely manner. The fleet of about 40 drivers to haul the coal would work in two shifts, one at 8:00 am and the other at 4:00 pm. Each shift would have a maximum of twenty-one trucks with seven metre trailers that hauled up to 24 tons of coal per run. Each trucker was paid 25 percent of what the load was worth. Of course this operation was not cheap or for the weak of heart, with the first mountain storm resulting in five trucks being lost. During regular operations the trucks would burn through tires like they were toilet paper, with tire bills being no cheaper than $3,500 a month for the entire fleet (Bachusky, 2009, pg. 90).
            In February 1952, the operation in both Ribbon Creek and Ozada had to be shut down because of the lack of demand from the Ontario markets and high cost of production with the lack of access to transportation. Therefore there was no need for the tipple, processing plant, and transportation operation, which was the entire reason Ozada existed. All of the workers scattered from Ozada and Ribbon Creek to find work in Canmore, or went to Nordegg to maintain employment with the Brazeau Collieries, only to be shut down a few years later. Within the 1950’s the Brazeau Collieries alone created three ghost towns almost simultaneously. Today the forlorn remains of the operation still stand within the flats of the Stoney reserve, an epitaph to the efforts of the Brazeau Collieries to capitalize on Martin Nordegg’s original stake in Kananaskis.
    
 
Photos
  1. Building Foundations
    Building Foundations
    Photo by Phillip Van Hooft
  2. Slack Heaps
    Slack Heaps
    Photo by Phillip Van Hooft
  3. Destroyed Building
    Destroyed Building
    Photo by Phillip Van Hooft
  4. Inside the Old Shacks
    Inside the Old Shacks
    Photo by Phillip Van Hooft
  5. Tins and Coal
    Tins and Coal
    Photo by Phillip Van Hooft
  6. Stoney Flats
    Stoney Flats
    Photo by Phillip Van Hooft
  7. Destroyed Building
    Destroyed Building
    Photo by Phillip Van Hooft
  8. Inside an Old Corral
    Inside an Old Corral
    Photo by Phillip Van Hooft
  9. Weathered by the Passage of Time
    Weathered by the Passage of Time
    Photo by Phillip Van Hooft
  10. Abandoned Truck...
    Abandoned Truck...
    Photo by Phillip Van Hooft
  11. A True Ghost Town...
    A True Ghost Town...
    Photo by Phillip Van Hooft
  12. Mine Tipple
    Mine Tipple
    Photo by Phillip Van Hooft
References
Bachusky, Johnnie. Ghost Town Stories of Alberta: Abandoned Dreams in the
Shadows of the Canadian Rockies. Victoria, B.C.: Heritage House Pub., 2009. Print.
 
Bachusky, Johnnie. History of Kananaskis, Alberta. 2013. Web. 28 June 2015.
.
 
Hogg, Doug. "Doug Hogg - Veteran Stories - The Memory Project." The Memory
Project. Web. 4 Aug. 2015. .
Photos Taken by Phillip Van Hooft (TRUNK Studios)