Hidden community maintains unique Albertan culture

My home town is tucked away in a little pocket of the countryside halfway between Strathmore and Drumheller. I could tell you about the rolling hills surrounding the village, the underwhelming ratio of businesses to houses and the numerous farms around town, but it’s the things that the average eye doesn’t catch that makes Carbon what it is.

Children fill the streets with laughter, rambunctious teenagers drink on the railroad tracks at night and high school students roam from the hills looking for any kind of amusement they can find. These scenes are responsible for the unique culture that exists within Carbon, Alta, and is the main force that keeps me connected to this little slice of the country.

Once you travel down the lone curving road into the valley, the first thing that captures your attention is the way in which everything in the town seems to be covered in a layer of molasses. This isn’t a reference of stickiness or filthiness, but instead refers to the way in which there appears to be no sense of urgency to anything. It brings an intense accuracy to the phrase “I spent a week there one evening.”

While some people would find this sluggish lifestyle tedious or challenging, it keeps me at ease. It’s as if entering the village thrusts me into another time and place, where all my worldly problems are washed away and what remains is a mentally naked man who’s finally free to enjoy the beauty of simple nature.

An aerial overlook of the village covered under a blanket of snow.

Photo courtesy of Jeremy KranzlerCanada as a whole has a reputation of being friendly, but the essence of Carbon is different from that. It almost transcends that reputation and after mingling with the townsfolk for a few minutes, you already feel like you’re one of them. After reaching this point of acceptance, it won’t be long before you’re invited to become part of the behind-the-scenes Carbon that most visitors aren’t aware exists.

This world of climbing over chain-link fences into unwatched pools under the cover of nightfall and driving down desolate dirt roads to explore the abandoned remains of the houses, which once stood tall and proud, is the backbone to the culture that Carbon has continued to emit for many decades.

It seems plausible that such an environment could’ve been designed in some kind of underground laboratory to be specifically purposed to raise children safely. Heavy drugs are not passed from hand to hand. The only kind of “predator” that children need worry about is the occasional coyote that will wander on the hills and confrontations do not end in stabbings or shootings. Instead, they are settled by drag races or sometimes a quick fistfight.

However, unique cultures of even the most secluded places, such as Carbon, are not entirely safe from the dynamic waves of city society. Although this once endearing village was home to a thriving rodeo and high school, the last decade has seen the demise of both. They are now only a ghost of what this little slice of the countryside used to be. People no longer come from nearby towns to the heart of Carbon to be submersed in the proceedings of their wonder-filled rodeo, which for so long acted as a representation and essence of the village. There will also never be another high school graduating class to gracefully walk across the stage and stand ever so proudly as they receive their diploma that 12 arduous years of school has worked towards.

Despite these iconic pieces of Carbon’s culture being snatched away, this place has not lost its magical shimmer in my eyes. I will always find a smile, a remnant of a simpler time and most importantly, my home in Carbon. 

btucker@cjournal.ca