It was more than 25 years ago when Mayor Robb Stuart was sitting with friends in the Bowden Hotel when he was jolted from his chair by a thunderously explosive crack from outside.
He was literally thunderstruck. A bolt of lightning struck the top of the town’s last remaining wooden grain elevator along the rail tracks. A fire started. It was quickly put out.
But the lightning strike on the aging relic was nevertheless an ominous sign the glory days for country grain elevators in town were about to end.
A quarter century later lightning had metaphorically struck again in the community but this time bringing a sense of relief and optimism, a clear sign the good times were about to return to Bowden.
For decades after becoming a village in 1904, Bowden has been a place dependent on the agriculture industry. The country grain elevators may be long gone, but earlier this month Paterson Grain announced it was constructing a state-of-the-art 55,000 metric tonne terminal just outside the northwestern edge of town close to the intersection of Highway 587 and Rge. Rd. 12.
The quarter section site, which is on land under the jurisdiction of Red Deer County, will have a 3,594-metre loop track for loading up to 150 railcars in seven hours. It’s a dream come true for local farmers, who will save valuable time and thousands of dollars in transportation costs from not having to drive all the way to grain handling facilities in either Olds or Lacombe.
Most importantly for Bowden, the construction project, which could start almost immediately and cost tens of millions of dollars and employ scores of skilled workers, will inject new lifesaving prosperity into the town of just under 1,300 citizens.
“There has been a decline. We have a lot of vacant land. Next to the post office is commercial land that has sat there for 10 or 12 years. There used to be a pharmacy there and now it is gone,” said Stuart, noting that while there are currently just over 25 businesses in town, along with about 60 to 70 home-based commercial ventures, Bowden will at last be viewed as a town of opportunity, even during this painful recession. “This news (Paterson) has to be positive, even the spinoffs. I think somebody will look into putting in a grocery store. I think there would be some spinoffs for the gas (station) and Reddi Mart.
“There will be jobs available. The workers are going to come here,” he added. “If you know you are going to be employed for eight months or even a year you are going to buy a house in Bowden, Innisfail or an acreage.”
However, there is at least one issue of concern Stuart wants addressed, and that is safety along Highway 587 with the expected increased westbound traffic to the new grain terminal and beyond. Stuart noted there is a blind corner for westbound motorists after crossing the rail tracks, just before the cemetery on the south side of the highway.
“If this terminal goes ahead that will be major traffic flow, trucks and tankers, so we are definitely going to have to work on the transportation to try to keep that area safe, especially in the summer when you get the trailers and boats heading out west,” said Stuart, who met with provincial transportation officials earlier this month to talk about the issue.
And then there are those who live on acreages west of town who are not farmers but choose the rural lifestyle for the peace and tranquility it offers.
Len Kobewka, a small business owner, has lived with his family on a five-acre acreage at the north end of the planned terminal site for the past 12 years. When Paterson’s announcement came this month he was in the planning stage for a new home and market garden. He fears his idyllic lifestyle may soon come to an end.
“I have no objections to it because every Albertan wants to look at diversifying the economy, and this is one of those ways. I understand that and certainly for the local community, Innisfail included, it is an asset,” said Kobewka. “Unfortunately it is not an asset for adjacent landowners, especially if you are not a farmer. We enjoy the nature. We enjoy the tranquility of it and some 14- to 20-storey structure that is taking up the great big chunk of land that is adjacent to you all of a sudden changes the whole environment. I am not comfortable with that at all now, myself or my wife.”
In the meantime, Red Deer County is expected to formally approve a development permit for Paterson this month. There is already a contractor’s trailer at the site, ready to begin work once official approval is granted.
For Stuart and Bowden citizens, it’s the beginning of a promising new era for the town amidst a time of great uncertainty for much of the rest of the province.
“We are very supportive,” said Stuart. “We can’t see anything negative in it, except for this transportation issue and even that should be solved.”
Mayor Robb Stuart
“There will be jobs available. The workers are going to come here. If you know you are going to be employed for eight months or even a year you are going to buy a house in Bowden, Innisfail or an acreage.”