The Ghost Town of Rowley


Ok, so because I’m writing this post close to Halloween, I was inspired to create this creepy postcard. This ghost town can be enjoyed any time; however, with the best time being the summer months.This is your road trip guide to Rowley Alberta.

Merriam Webster defines a ghost town as:a once-flourishing town wholly or nearly deserted usually as a result of the exhaustion of some natural resource” Source

One can clearly see this when you visit Rowley, Alberta. It’s plainly obvious that this is a town that “once was”: wonderful old abandoned buildings stand in defiance of the bitter & unrelenting sands of time. Although some of the buildings have been preserved, they haven’t been overly restored, but are preserved in their state of disrepair. I feel the right balance has been struck between preservation and restoration. The essence of the town is still alive, even if the town itself is dead. One thing to remember if you go is that even though the town may be gone, the entirety of the land is private property.

The awesome grain elevators and an old caboose. What’s not to like?

Table of Contents

Click on a title to be taken down the page to that section

How to get there
The Town
Best time to visit
what to expect when you visit
What to do after you visit
My reviews of Rowley

Getting there

It’s not possible/feasible to get to Rowley other than driving there.

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Rowley is about a half an hour drive from Drumheller. Perhaps once you have followed my guide to the Royal Tyrrell Museum you can check both out. You would probably be best off to stay in Drumheller more than a day and once you have checked out the museum and the rest of the town, then go check out Rowley on a different day.

An easy drive from Drumheller

Perhaps you are coming from Calgary? You can always make a full day out of it if you visit the Gopher Hole Museum on the way to or from Rowley to Calgary. If you travel from Calgary directly to Rowley it’s 1 hour and 48 minutes.

2 hours doesn’t include stopping time at the Gopher hole. Just using it as a frame of reference.

your road trip guide to Rowley Alberta.

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Rowley the town

Even Wikipedia doesn’t have a lot to say about Rowley, and other information is pretty sparse. The synopsis is that the town rapidly declined in the 70’s after the closure of the freight railway link. A story sadly repeated in many parts of Alberta. There was a resurgence in the eighties and there used to be limited passenger service from the heritage line of the Alberta Prairie Railway, but that closed in 1997, pretty much sinking the last nail in Rowley’s coffin.

The town’s heyday was in the 20’s. The obvious source of revenue being grain, as evidenced by the surviving grain elevators which were very well preserved by the remaining locals. The elevators were finally closed for business in 1989, bu they were quickly bought by the locals and preserved. I can’t find information when they were restored, but I’m happy to see they are. You should ask someone there if you go, and perhaps let me know in the comments?

your road trip guide to Rowley Alberta.

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When to visit

The best time to visit is in the summer, as they hire people to give tours. A quote taken from their Facebook Page in 2019 “Just an update for our many visitors to Rowley. We have summer students working everyday between 10am to 5pm in Rowley, including weekends, throughout July and August. They will gladly give you a guided tour through our historic buildings. Tours are free but donations are welcomed and much appreciated” The information on Wikipedia says you can go anytime, with the locals being at the community hall, and offer tours year round. Not sure how reliable that information is, but I’m sure if someone is there, and you are nice enough, you can go at any time. However according to their Facebook, they host a pizza party on the last Saturday of the month, so that is probably another really good time to go.

This shot was taken in July. Even though summer is best, any time of the year is possible.

your road trip guide to Rowley Alberta.

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What to expect

If are lucky enough to get a tour, you can expect to see a lot of cool antiques and vintage items. They have a one room schoolhouse with the desks inhabited by the creepy dolls that you see in my postcard. Many of the shops can be unlocked and have artifacts inside. There are houses you can go inside with period furniture and clothing. What struck me was the baby crib that if it was built today we would be appalled at the poor safety standards. I’m sure it was fabulous in its time.

There is a train station with many artifacts, and there are of course the grain elevators. There is an amazing lithograph machine, and a very nice 1952 Austin of England (I cant figure out what model, I don’t know cars well enough). There is one thing to remember when visiting: just because nobody lives there doesn’t mean it’s not “owned”. Most people who go through are respectful, but there’s the odd person who thinks they can just take things as souvenirs. They even come with metal detectors and dig for antiques. These things are all nonos, and will get you kicked out or the police called.

The old train station, with a railroad “speeder car”

In my heart of hearts I believe these things need to be preserved and displayed for generations. What the property owners are doing is fantastic. They could probably take all the stuff to an antique store and make some money, but they choose to preserve our past. I believe they should be commended.

A closer look at this antique tractor, so cool
You know you are in Alberta when there is more than one antique threshing machine on display

your road trip guide to Rowley Alberta.

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What to do after

Honestly you will have to go at least a half hour away to find a restaurant, or hotel, with Drumheller being the biggest. There is 3 Hills to the west, population just over 3k, which is large enough for a couple of hotels, & a few restaurants. The nearest town to the north is Stettler, with a population of just under 6k. Lastly the nearest town to the East is Hanna, with a population of just over 2.5k.

As I said earlier in this article, you could check out Torrington and the Gopher Hole Museum. If you are still feeling nostalgic you could head to Stettler and ride the Steam train there, the one that used to go to Rowley. I haven’t ridden that one personally, so I can’t comment on how it is, but perhaps in the future.

I still plan on making a post of what to do besides the museum in Drumheller. There is Atlas Coal Mine further south of Drumheller, the Hoodoos Trail is another place you can pair with Atlas. South and slightly West of Drumheller is Horseshoe Canyon: good for a good hike, and you might even find a fossil.

Horseshoe Canyon
Me near in one of the Hoodoo’s. Just be careful not to damage one. They aren’t super fragile (or else I wouldn’t be back there) but still should be respected for future generations.

your road trip guide to Rowley Alberta.

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My Review

Fun Factor: Access 8/10, no access 6/10, pizza party ?/10
This one is subjective, but if you get a guide and can access the buildings it’s good. As far as ghost towns go this is a really good one. If you get unlucky and can’t get access and self guide, it’s still worth it IMHO, but I love historical sites, abandoned buildings and quirky/weird things. The pizza party sounds awesome, I might head out one day to try that.

Antiques and artifacts: 8/10
They have some really cool stuff. If you appreciate antiques, you will love it here.

Abandoned buildings: 8/10
Again there’s some really cool buildings

Creepiness: 7/10
Also subjective, but it has an eeriness to it IMHO. The schoolhouse with its dolls is off the chart.

Worth the drive?: very subjective

  • Calgary: 7.5/10 far but not too far still a fun day out. Pair it with something else or attend the pizza party.
  • Drumheller: 9/10 definitly worth doing
  • Elsewhere? You tell me in the comments section

This is your road trip guide to Rowley Alberta.

Another view of the grain elevators

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Final thoughts

I really am saddened Canadians don’t embrace history and heritage as much as they should. It would be a huge shame if all this awesome stuff were to end up in a landfill. If we don’t support these places, we will wind up losing them, and that tie to our history. I know it is hard to think about an old ghost town when you are balancing spreadsheets or doing your taxes, but visiting one like this really puts things into perspective. Your city or town could be literally crumbling down around you. You could ask “why don’t they just move?” I say “why don’t you just visit, and maybe you will understand?” & I think they would say “why would I want to leave?”

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6 thoughts on “The Ghost Town of Rowley

  1. Great article! Thanks for posting about the property being private, we get many people unfortunately thinking the town is totally abandoned and just wander through our yards. It’s also great to note that the hall has signs posted very clearly specifying where the private land is which makes it really easy to know where not to walk. But just sticking to the roads or sidewalks is the easiest way. Another “request” of sorts is to ask that everyone keeps their pets leashed, the town has feral cats, and the local pet chickens who have become victims to tourist pets in the past and we’d like to not have to go through the aftermath of that again. Again, great article and thank you for encouraging respect to our few remaining locals

    1. Thank you for posting this. It is really nice to get the perspective of a local. I am really happy to hear you enjoyed my article. Part of being a responsible blogger is to respect the community. Not only do I try to inspire people to visit a place, I try and inspire the community to welcome newcomers. Part of that is to get visitors to respect the place of which they are visiting. I’m glad to hear that is what i have achieved.

      Would you mind at all if I used your comment in my “media kit” as a testimonial? So that I can convince people to work with me, and that I do respect the community, and that they should too?

  2. This is amazing and looks very creepy x) I don’t know if i’ll be able to go there haha. I searched this on wikipedia and omg you are right. It doesn’t say much. Thanks for the details. This was fun to read 😀

Any comments are greatly appreciated.