Day 678: Drop Jaw in Retlaw

Sophie and her group began the day by hiking in the Twin River Heritage Rangeland Natural Area just west of Milk River. Of particular note were all the birds of prey in this grassland area. They saw prairie falcons, golden eagles, and ferruginous hawks.

Afterward they drove north to Retlaw, a community named after Canadian Pacific Railway employee Walter Baker. No one is sure why, but his first name wasn’t interesting enough, so they spelled it backward for fun. The village was anticipated to really go places, and after WWI its population soared to 250 persons. It had a hotel and a Royal Northwest Mounted Police station. But drought, coupled with mismanagement and the CPR pulling out of town, led to its dissolution in 1925. There were still two families living there in the 1950s, but today its lovely little chapel is the most prominent building around for miles. Though the chapel sat empty for half a century, in the 1980s local farmers joined in a restoration effort, and it is now used for small church and community events.

While the members of Sophie’s tour group were ambling around the church and grounds, Sophie talked to the caretaker. When she told him about the tours she conducted and how each ended with a limerick, he told her a story about an infamous happening at the church. Because southern Alberta is tornado country, there is a storm cellar accessible through a removable panel in the church foundation just to the left of the front steps. During a church restoration fundraiser held on the church grounds, the panel opened, and a bewildered and disheveled couple appeared just as the lucky raffle ticket was drawn from the box and the emcee announced, “The winner is …” Apparently they were so preoccupied they didn’t hear the guests arriving for the drawing.

Afterward, Sophie took her group to Lethbridge, where they were spending the evening. When her guests went to their hotel rooms to freshen up for dinner, Sophie went to hers and wrote the limerick of the day.

Reverend Hugh didn’t like what he saw
In the little ghost town of Retlaw
‘Neath the local white chapel
Where a couple did grapple
And emerged ‘midst a church raffle draw.