BOWDEN – Brie Leussink and her cousin Matthew Klassen spent countless hours inside the town’s old abandoned nursery last month cleaning up the damage.
Vandals found a way in last September and repeatedly smashed everything in sight at the closed business, formerly known as Alberta Nurseries and Seeds Ltd. and other names over its long history that began in 1922 with the Berggren family. For most of its history the nursery was the economic nerve centre of the town; its largest and most respected employer.
“Everybody in Bowden worked there, a lot of people from my generation,” said 68-year-old Sandy Hengstler, who was raised in Bowden and worked full time at the nursery from 1975 to 1977. “After school a lot of kids would work there. It was generational. There were three sisters from one family I knew, mothers and daughters.”
But for almost the past four years the old nursery was forgotten, until vandals busted in to break windows, office equipment and most of the light fixtures.
“They just wanted to smash, smash and smash everything for no reason,” said Brie, 20, whose home is in Sundre.
While the Innisfail RCMP pursues the culprits, the beat-up Bowden nursery is set to soon rise from the ashes, thanks to Brie’s father Paul Leussink who purchased the site, along with 90 nearby acres, for an undisclosed price in 2016.
Although the elder Leussink is a Sundre-area grain farmer, he is no stranger to the Bowden and Innisfail areas. He was the last owner of the now closed Innisfail Truck Ranch. Leussink is convinced he can make the derelict nursery work with a new business plan, which includes turning it into a dog kennel and pet resort. He also has plans to develop much of the 90 acres he purchased along Highway 2 into a highway-commercial zone that could see a full service truck stop and gas station. When both plans are realized it could mean dozens of new jobs for Bowden and area residents, he said.
But first Leussink has to clean up the vandalized mess, which caused at least $50,000 damage.
“They (vandals) went in on the September 15 weekend and smashed more than 20 windows, smashed out all the lights,” he said. “They (vandals) have since broke into it several more times and done more vandalism, overturning shelves, throwing printers down the stairs and busted fluorescents out of the ceiling.
“We’ve already had several calls from kids who actually participated in the vandalism and basically turned themselves in and turning in the rest of the group,” he added. “There are probably close to a dozen kids involved. There were basically two or three ringleaders.”
In the meantime, Innisfail RCMP Staff Sgt. Chris Matechuk said the investigation into the vandalism is continuing but added he did not know details of the culprits’ contact with the owner.
As the Leussink family continues the cleanup, members of the Bowden Pioneer Museum concede they have received a glorious opportunity to learn more about the nursery’s past.
They were invited by Leussink family members last month to retrieve any historical items at the nursery that could be salvaged and forever preserved.
Hengstler and her husband Grant, both volunteers at the Bowden Pioneer Museum, said they were grateful the museum was able to retrieve artifacts, which included an old hauler machine and packing crates that will fit well with the museum’s old nursery mail order catalogues and old news articles and photos.
“The winter when I went there, I was in the main building where there was 125 people working in there,” said Sandy, recalling the importance of the nursery’s mail order business to the community. “Because of the volume of mail that went out of there, as it was all mail order at that time, it was why Bowden got a new post office (1970) because of the volume of mail that went out.”
She said the donated items will go nicely into the museum’s planned display about the nursery in the summer of 2019.
In the meantime, Hengstler said she’s pleased the site will once again rise to become an essential part of Bowden.
“I am glad it is being used for something. I would hate to see it just fall into the ground,” she said. “I hope these people make a go of it. I know there is lots of demand for dog kennels.”
Sandy Hengstler, volunteer at the Bowden Pioneer Museum
“The winter when I went there I worked in the main building where there was 125 people working in there. Because of the volume of mail that went out of there, as it was all mail order at that time, it was why Bowden got a new post office (1970) because of the volume of mail that went out.”