Linda Miller was napping during the afternoon of July 22 when she was suddenly awakened by a thunderous boom.
“There was terrible wind, terrible noise. There was rain and hail,” said Miller, a sixth-generation resident of Dorothy, a popular ghost town tourism destination along Highway 570 at the southeastern end of the Drumheller Badlands.
The powerful thunderstorm caused massive damage to many ranchers’ outbuildings and ripped off hundreds of shingles from the hamlet’s newly restored Catholic Church. Most alarming, the storm’s fury tore off the roof from the nearby 87-year-old Alberta Pacific grain elevator, leaving the iconic structure leaning precariously.
“I look at it as the gateway to the Special Areas. It’s kind of an icon,” said Miller, who operates a bed and breakfast at the hamlet.
Since the storm, the community has agonized whether the grain elevator can be repaired and who would pick up the cost. The structure is legally owned by Alberta’s Special Areas.
“We’ve never had to deal with something like this. We are so small and with this storm we are learning as we go,” said Joanne Hoff, president of the Dorothy Community Club.
She said the club’s limited funds are earmarked for a new camp kitchen on the hamlet’s townsite.
However, a Bluegrass for Dorothy fundraiser is scheduled for Oct. 3 in nearby East Coulee. Some of the proceeds may go towards fixing Dorothy’s elevator.
Jim Faubion, another sixth-generation resident, has climbed into the damaged elevator five times and maintains it’s fixable.
“The top plate is perfect up there. Everything looks really good, structure-wise. We are not fighting a losing battle,” said Faubion.
“I think a guy could build a roof on the ground and with a big crane we could lift it up and put it on top.”
He said the overall undetermined cost could be mitigated with volunteer labour and donated equipment.
If funds are required, the Special Areas Board is willing to seriously consider a grant, said Darcy Ferguson, the agency’s director of finance and administration.
“We all want to develop our tourism industry. It’s iconic in nature — that is certainly a consideration,” said Ferguson, adding he’s waiting for Faubion to provide a cost estimate. “As the community drives at what it wants to do, that certainly helps us respond.”
However, not everyone is hoping a new roof is put on the revered Badlands landmark.
“I would like to see it stay there just as it is with the roof off. That tells a story, too,” said former resident Barry Randall, a retired CFL all-star lineman who regularly visits Dorothy.
“What I would not like to see is the structure falling over. If it fell over Special Areas might not do anything and there could be a pile of lumber there that sits for years and years. I would not like to see that.”