As a young girl, driving out to the village of Standard, Alta. for the first time was like driving to outer space. I had rarely ever seen cows in fields or canola growing tall along the side of a double-lane highway. The car ride went on for what seemed like hours, as it usually did in the car when I was small. As I got older, I truly appreciated the drive to my grandparents' house and now that I’m driving there myself it seems shorter than ever.
The Broadway, Standard’s main street, was a lively place when I was younger. My mom had her bridal shower in the senior’s center even though we were from Calgary. We shopped for groceries at the Co-op and often stopped in to get a quick ice cream fix at Cotton and Candy, a small store owned by a local. Even though I was young and didn’t truly fit in with the crowd of middle-aged men and women at church or community dinners, I still felt as if I belonged there.
But Standard has changed over the years. I could tell that something was different when I hit my teens, but I wasn’t sure what it was. Now as an adult I’ve realized that my grandparents don’t shop on the main street, go to church or even have a nice dinner out in the village’s business area anymore. This is because most shops closed and main street Standard is now a desolate roadway that’s driven on by a handful of cars a day.
When I took my dog out for a walk around Standard a couple of weekends ago, I pictured a scavenger hunt I had on my 10th birthday. My parents drove out a few friends and me to my grandparents’ house for the weekend where we made mini pizzas and decorated t-shirts. The highlight of the weekend was the picture scavenger hunt that allowed us to explore nearly the entire village. We took photos outside of Cotton and Candy on the main street. We climbed the new playground equipment at the Standard School and scaled a snow mountain outside the arena by the ball diamonds. But walking around the village with my dog, I couldn’t see the Standard that I knew just a decade ago.
I started on the main street and worked my way up the empty road to the arena. There were at least eight vehicles parked outside and there was a lot of noise coming through the doors when I walked past. This was a good sign, I thought, but as soon as the arena was behind me, I saw no people for the rest of my walk. It was an eerie feeling, just my dog and I in a place where I was surrounded by seemingly empty houses and buildings.
The village might not be busy today, but it was at the start of the 20th century. When it was first created, Standard was originally a place for gathering and building. According to the book From Danaview to Standard, Danish men came from Iowa to look for farmland in 1909. The Canadian Pacific Railway set aside around 21,000 acres for these settlers. In 1911, the railway pushed forward through Standard,“Opening up the village.” The village in those days was more of an agricultural hub while today it is known for its industrial park and oil and gas facilities.
Although in its beginning, Standard was a very small community. People thrived there and started to make a living for themselves. The first store and post office were built along with the completion of the railway and in 1912 a second store was built. People today may recognize this storefront as the Alberta Bakery when touring Heritage Park – a historical village and tourist attraction in Calgary. The Standard Co-op donated this building to the park in 1976 and it has since been restored.
Storefronts typically come and go as time goes on in a small town, but one loss, in particular, has taken a toll on the village residents. The Co-op grocery store that opened in September of 1974 on the main street could no longer support itself with the drop in sales and liquidated its stock in March of 2018.
Brett Gates, a resident in Standard for over 50 years, says, “Everyone wants to go to the [Walmarts] and the Costcos I guess. The mom-and-pop stores, they have a real struggle competing.”
“People come to town still for coffee and the senior's center and to get their mail, but without the store, it’s pretty quiet. People go a different direction instead,” says Gates. Standard’s residents typically drive about 30 minutes west to the competition in Strathmore for their groceries and other amenities.
Standard’s Mayor, Joe Pedersen, remembers a time when Standard was a place filled with mom-and-pop shops. His grandfather was a doctor in town and owned a drugstore with an ice cream store inside. Pedersen remembers the two original grocery stores, a butcher shop, a bakery, a bowling lane and restaurants. “There’s been quite a change in the village since I was a kid.”
Another big change for the community was the closure of the Standard School in the summer of 2016 when the new Wheatland Crossing School opened. This amalgamated all smaller village schools into one about five miles away from Standard.
Pedersen says that the argument was made to the school board to keep at least elementary levels in the villages but that did not make an impact. The new school now has students from kindergarten to grade 12 attending from Rockyford, Rosebud, Standard, Cluny, Gleichen, and Hussar, taking the tradition of small schools out of the villages.
However, Standard still has the community behind it to make a change. Gates, a local business owner himself in the village, is also part of a small local investment group, The Broadway Group. The group bought the old Co-op and is hoping to turn it into a mom-and-pop shop once again. Gates says, “We wanted it to remain as a store, and a viable part of our community because it was all set up for that. We didn’t want somebody else coming in and buying it and just turning it into a storage facility or something like that.”
Even with a lack of businesses in the area, the village itself is moving forward in other ways. The Standard community center was rebuilt and opened in 2013 thanks to fundraising done by locals and the Community Facility Enhancement Program. The village has also supported the Memory Lane project that highlights Standard’s history on a walking pathway on the outskirts of the residential area. There is also a new subdivision of houses being built on the west end. Pedersen says, “It would be nice to have a couple [of] new families out, or families of any description [to] live and work in the community.”
The sense of community and the small-town attributes in Standard is what caused Rosanna Evans and her family to move there in September of this year. Evans has been coming to Standard since she was a young teen and says, “Standard kept calling us back.”
One of her hobbies is astronomy and astrophotography, so the ability to see the stars without light pollution is something she really appreciates about living in Standard.
“The fact that rush hour consists of three trucks and an owl,” she says, is something she also enjoys. “[Standard] reminds me of what I expect from people and community from when I was growing up.”
When I was a kid, it was the people in Standard that really made it what it is. Even without the local businesses, the village is still a place where a stranger will be greeted with a smile and a positive attitude. No matter what happens in the next few months or even years, Standard will always be a great place for a quiet walk with your dog.
- By Kaeliegh Allan