It’s 2010 and Brooks, Alberta is celebrating its 100 year anniversary
Murals showing its history of cattle farming, cowboys and the oil and gas industry are painted around the city.
“A hundred years ago Brooks was nothing but a spot on the prairie,” explains Jamie Nesbitt, the Editor of the Brooks Bulletin. “The CPR realized that the ranchers needed to ship cattle from here and so they built a siding on the rail. Along the stockyards a rooming house popped up, a small store and little bit by little bit there were buildings built downtown, a small business community.”
The Canadian Pacific Railway advertised across the world calling for settlers to set up farms on the land. Immigrants came from across Canada, the United States, England, Scotland and the rest of Europe.
“A lot of the times the man of the family would come out and find his spot and get things ready and then he would call for the rest of the family,” says Nesbitt. “There were a number of pretty disappointed women who came to this new land, one especially, she remembers she came out on the train and the train had stopped at Brooks and she looked out the window and there was nothing here but bald, dry prairie, and she said why are we stopping here? The conductor said this is your new home, and she started to cry.”
When the settlers first arrived the land was dry and inhospitable but once irrigation was introduced it became an oasis in the desert for cattle farmers.
The Duke of Sutherland was important to the community because he built ready-made farms just east of Brooks and attracted settlers from Scotland and England to move there. His plan was extremely successful and by 1914 his farms were thriving.
“The Duke of Sutherland was an extremely wealthy man, one of the richest people in Europe at the time,” explains Sandra Hajash, the current owner of the Duke of Sutherland House. “He was a major investor, and he saw Canada as a great way to invest in the future. He purchased the land in about 1910, there were roughly 7,000 acres.”
Sandra Hajash has opened up the Duke of Sutherland House for residents of Brooks to see during the Centennial celebration.
Over the decades immigrants continued to come to Brooks. Harry Burk bought a farm there in 1970 after moving to Canada from Germany. Now in his seventies, he has become an artist and creates sculptures depicting Brooks’ past. One of his first sculptures was of John Ware, the famous black cowboy who was a former slave from the United States who came to the area around 1900.
“He was a legend who lived around Brooks,” says Burk. “I chose him because he was outstanding in my selection as a model citizen at that time. It fits in with our culture aspects right now too in Brooks. It gives the black African community something to look forward to–to have a model citizen here.”