Canada's Worst Handyman 2009
Contact Noble Ghosts is a national award winning journalist from Red Deer, Alberta who has explored thousands of ghost town and pioneer institution sites across western and northern Canada since the mid 1990s.

His heritage writing and photography has been sought for many government, academic and community historical projects. As well, he has consulted and been featured in historical television and film documentaries.

And yes, Johnnie Bachusky was Discovery Channel’s Canada's Worst Handyman in 2009.

Brian Rice moved backwards in the present to save the past for Innisfail’s future.

With a forklift, Rice, the 54-year-old founder of Innisfail’s Red Willow Welding, drove in reverse on Oct. 24, almost a kilometre and a half through the streets of town to transport an ancient relic to its forever resting place at the Innisfail and District Historical Village. After 30 minutes the coveted historical artifact successfully arrived at its new rightful forever home.

Rice’s delicate task was the crowning moment for a remarkable journey by village officials and the community at large that began 14 months earlier.

Since the summer of 2011, historical village officials were seized on the opportunity to acquire the one-room Poplar Grove log cabin, believed to have been built in 1887 by pioneer Napoleon Remillard.

“It will go down in history as a marker of time,” said Lawrence Gould, a member of the board of directors for the Innisfail and District Historical Society. “It is a priceless artifact, as important as The Spruces stopping house.”

Remillard and Arthur Content first journeyed to the area from Montana in 1886. Along with about a half dozen other early pioneers the pair helped create the new settlement of Poplar Grove. The log cabin, originally located in the Napoleon’s Lake area, is believed to have been a trading post and the home of Remillard, as well as the first mail stop located on the C & E Trail.

After the railroad came through the area in 1891 the CPR renamed the growing community to Innisfail. Poplar Grove was no more. Within a few years every trace of the original settlement either disappeared or was forgotten.

The log cabin, meanwhile, was moved from its original location. The date and place of its next location is a mystery but what is known is that the Poplar Grove cabin eventually came into the possession of Cecil Bioletti, a bachelor, avid artifacts collector and former Town of Innisfail public works employee, some time before 1973. About 25 years ago, the cabin was acquired by Howard Milligan. For the past quarter century, until Oct. 24, the ancient relic sat almost unnoticed and unappreciated on Milligan’s corner lot at 50 Avenue and 57 Street.

Dean Jorden, the curator of the historical village, did notice. He took special note of Remillard’s signature etched on wood inside the cabin. In August of 2011 he approached Milligan, who said the historical society was contacted 20 years earlier about the cabin but there was little interest.

In 2011, however, the historical village was very interested. The province was contacted. Heritage officials came to Innisfail to see the cabin. Yes, the relic is of great historical significance, said the province, but it does not qualify for heritage designation as it is no longer on its original site. As well, the cost to move and restore the building appeared to be out of reach.

But that did not deter Jorden, the society, nor the community. With unprecedented commitment and sense of civic duty the community rallied.

“It became a total community project,” said Jorden. “It was done without any government grants and with volunteers – volunteer machinery and volunteer labour.”

Milligan donated the cabin. Financial contributions were secured, including $1,200 from Jackson's Pharmasave and $500 from the Royal Canadian Legion Innisfail Branch 104. Howell's Excavating donated its time and machinery to prepare the site at the historical village.

LaFarge Canada provided cement. For the move, Innisfail Co-op lent bin mover wheels. A team of inmates from Bowden Institution volunteered on Oct. 22 and 23 to brace the cabin’s interior with wood.

And of course Rice volunteered his time on Oct. 24 for the big move. After the cabin was braced and blocked by the Bowden inmates, and steel beams welded, set and tied with chains underneath, Rice pulled out backwards with his forklift to the historical village.

“I always wanted to help out,” said Rice, who has previously moved grain bins and utility sheds. “It is neat that people want to restore it, instead of burning it to the ground.”

Today, Napoleon Remillard’s old log cabin, which still has its Poplar Grove sign, sits just west of the train station at the historical village. Although it is in remarkably good condition, more restoration needs to be done, notably to the interior and roof. It will ultimately house exhibits, homestead maps and storyboards from the time Remillard first arrived in the area.

“Everyone was pleased with the move,” said Jorden. “It was a community project. We are glad it went that way.”

—Johnnie Bachusky is an Alberta journalist and ghoster
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