Three Alberta ghost towns you really should visit


Beside a dusty gravel road near the town of Vauxhall sits a beautifully restored church, a well-kept cemetery, a community hall and a few other dilapidated buildings. It’s all that remains of the once-thriving community of Retlaw. The wind blows through the prairie grass as my husband and I wander through town reading handwritten interpretive signs and photographing old buildings.

There’s something hauntingly beautiful about ghost towns – and it’s not ghosts. Empty streets and crumbling buildings stand as a testament to the power of time and a reminder of how fleeting life can be. Even communities that were once home to dozens of shops and hundreds of people living busy lives can succumb to economic challenges and dwindle to ghost town status.

“Ruin gazers” is a term used to describe people with a fascination for exploring abandoned places and some ghost towns are prime sites for this kind of tourism. If you want to try a little ruin gazing, here are three fascinating Alberta ghost towns that are well worth a visit.

Retlaw – Walter Spelled Backwards

When the Canadian Pacific Railway arrived in 1913, the community that used to be named “Barney” became “Retlaw” in honour of Walter R. Baker, a CPR official. “Retlaw” is “Walter” spelled backwards and the community was expected to be a major centre. The town had a CPR railway station, four grain elevators, a hotel, a bank, a blacksmith shop, a pool hall, two churches and several other businesses. So what went wrong?

Retlaw is located in a dry region of Alberta that suffered from frequent crop failures. When the province of Alberta built an irrigation canal near Vauxhall in the 1920s, people moved where the water was.

If you visit Retlaw ghost town, start at the cemetery. Inside an unlocked small white building, you’ll find a binder compiled by the Retlaw Historical Society that contains information about births, deaths and marriages in Retlaw. Next, head to downtown Retlaw. As you walk around town, you can read handwritten interpretive signs created by the Retlaw Historical Society. If you want to book an event at the church or go on a guided tour of the town, email in advance.