After nearly 110 years, Granum is no longer a town

Located north of Fort MacLeod, Alta., the community of Granum clung to its “town” status for more than 100 years — despite the fact that, under the Municipal Government Act, it didn’t officially meet town thresholds.

“We used to always brag that we were the smallest town in Alberta. Because we weren’t supposed to be a town to begin with,” said resident and former mayor Mike Sherman. “But we were incorporated before the Municipal Government Act was written.”

To qualify as a town, municipalities in Alberta must exceed 1,000 people. Granum, with a population of 406 as of 2016, was permitted to keep its designation — until now.

Granum was dissolved as a town and became part of the surrounding M.D. of Willow Creek as of Feb. 1, after a November vote which saw nearly three quarters of residents cast ballots to dissolve.

That means Granum will no longer have a local council or mayor, and all municipal business will now run through Willow Creek — something the former mayor did not vote in favour of.

“It’s about the changing demographics of the town. A lot of newer people came into town that are not, ‘old timers,’ if you will. [They thought] the present government wasn’t working,” Sherman said. “The vote wasn’t even close.”

And though the vote didn’t go the way Sherman hoped, he said he’s looking forward to a new chapter in Granum — a place he said has a full history, full of interesting characters and rich rural Albertan history.

Leavings by trail, Granum by rail

The small community has been home to many families, including Sherman’s, since the late 1800s.

The community was originally known as the Village of Leavings, named as such due to the fact that teams of eight or 16 oxen pulling freight wagons would stop in the community for water and to unload cargo.

At the turn of the century, three North-West Mounted Police stations were located in the community, riding between Granum and Fort MacLeod to arrest whiskey traders and smugglers.

The community had a number of grain elevators in 1907 which were crucial to its economy at the time. (Granum Old Jail and Museum)

In 1908, the community changed its name to Granum, the Latin term for grain.

“We grow the best spring wheat in the entire world, here,” Sherman said.

Colourful history

Some stories are passed down from generation to generation, like when one notorious Alberta resident was arrested and ended up in Alcatraz.

As told in his 1954 autobiography Rap Sheet, bank robber and longtime underworld figure James Henry “Blackie” Audett — who grew up on a farm just outside Calgary — was on the run after looting an express car of $560,000.

With an Alberta Provincial Police officer on his trail, Audett retreated and holed up in the small community of Granum.

“He was arrested in a rooming house in Granum,” Sherman said. “And, apparently, he had a suitcase full of money under the bed. Of course, these stories are embellished, sometimes, you see.”

James Henry “Blackie” Audett, left, standing with warden Paul Madigan at the famed Alcatraz prison. (Granum Old Jail and Museum)

According to his autobiography, Audett was jailed in nearby Fort MacLeod but was eventually able to escape after hitting a police officer over the head with a brick. He and an accomplice made their way to the Alberta border, but were eventually captured again.

Audett had numerous other exploits, in and out of prison, and eventually was jailed at the famed Alcatraz prison in San Francisco.

Field of dreams

Another one of the town’s more famed pieces of history surrounds the community’s fabled Granum White Sox — the “best baseball team in Alberta.”

“This was against all-comers, from Edmonton to Medicine Hat,” Sherman said.

In the 1950s, a wealthy rancher who lived west of Granum named George Wesley — an avid baseball fan — decided to import players from all over North America to come to the small Alberta community to play ball.

Players arrived in Alberta from Texas, Oklahoma, California, Arizona and other areas of the United States to join the suddenly talent-rich roster.

“The only local player on the team was his son, who played second base,” Sherman said.

The Granum White Sox were known as the best baseball team in Alberta. (Granum Old Jail and Museum)

The team went on to win league and provincial championships before moving to Lethbridge. It also was the former team of Earl Ingarfield Sr., who would go on to play professional hockey with the New York Rangers.

“These were young kids straight out of colleges and universities in the United States,” Sherman said. “[Ingarfield] has been to our museum, and he said it was the best time of his whole life, playing baseball for Granum. And he made some like, $250 a month.”

Now a hamlet

Having joined the M.D. of Willow Creek, the new hamlet of Granum will now have a new councillor who will represent its interests in the larger district.

An open house will take place this month for residents to provide feedback to the district.

“I’m disappointed we lost the town, but we’re looking forward to better days ahead,” Sherman said. “Hopefully, we’ll work toward it, and we’ll work with the M.D. to make this town flourish again.”

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