At first glance, you might mistake it for a typical prairie hamlet. Nestled in the cozy valley of a river that winds through fields of wheat and magnificent badlands, Rosebud is a peacefully picturesque community with rural roots and country charm. There is no gas station, no convenience store, and fewer than 100 residents, but Rosebud is a vital tourist and fine arts attraction visited by over 40 thousand people every year.
Located on Highway 840, Rosebud, Alberta, Canada is located 100 km northeast of Calgary, and 35 km southwest of Drumheller. The name Rosebud derives from the native term Akokiniskway, which means “valley of roses.”
European settlers began homesteading in Rosebud in 1883, laying the foundation for a strong farming and ranching community. The village flourished in the early 1900s, reaching a population of 300 in the 1920s. By the early 1970s, however, the population dropped to less than thirty, and the abandoned buildings awaited demolition.
It was into this setting that Rosebud School of the Arts was born. In 1973, LaVerne Erickson, a music and art teacher in Calgary, started the Rosebud Camp of the Arts as a summer outreach program for Calgary youth who had rarely been outside of the city. Staffed by school teachers, artists and fine arts students, the Rosebud camping program drew campers from across Western Canada. The summer programs soon expanded into weekend vacations throughout the school year. Restoration of historic buildings was begun and the valley was awakened to a new dream. In 1977 the Rosebud Fine Arts High School was formed with five students attending. The school combined academics, arts and work experience with individualized attention to every student.
In 1986, Rosebud School of the Arts launched its post-secondary apprenticeship program focussed on theatre, music and creative arts ministry training. In 1988, the Alberta Legislature passed the Rosebud School of the Arts Act, creating a unique Christian arts guild school designed to assist other Canadian communities. A 25th Anniversary celebration held in the summer of 1998 was attended by alumni from different programs over the years and by local MLA Shirley McClellan and Alberta premier Ralph Klein. The summer of 1998 also saw the establishment of the Canadian Badlands Performing Arts Summer School in cooperation with Golden Hills School Division, Drumheller Composite High School and the Canadian Badlands Passion Play.
In 2001-02, over 90 students from Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, the United States and Switzerland participated in the various secondary and post-secondary programs offered by Rosebud School of the Arts.
The Visitor Experience
As part of Rosebud’s centenary in 1983, the School’s drama department launched the Rosebud Historical Music Theatre. Staff and students wrote the play, rehearsed it, and performed it on an outdoor stage, drawing hundreds of interested theatre goers. Thus began the widely-acclaimed Rosebud Theatre which now attracts thousands annually to its productions. The old community hall, originally a grain storage facility, was renovated into a 220-seat Opera House that includes indoor washrooms. Veteran theatre-goers may remember having to use the outhouses.
Rosebud Theatre stages seven plays a year – five at the Opera House and two at the BMO Studio Stage, offering matinee and evening shows up to seven times a week. In addition, other performers and their acts are brought in through the year to put on plays, concerts, and presentations as part of its Rosebud Presents series. Some of the shows from 2015 included, The Miracle Worker, Last Train to Nibroc, and A Wind in the Willows Christmas in Rosebud. Before each Opera House performance, guests dine at the historic Haskayne-Kenney Mercantile where they enjoy a full buffet and live dinner music in the quaintly-decorated dining rooms. Patrons of the theatre come from all over Alberta, and during the summer many tourists from across Canada and around the world will find themselves in Rosebud.
Rosebud, however, offers more than theatre. It is an experience. The scenic nine-hole Akokiniskway Golf Course offers a challenging game. The Centennial Museum, once the local Chinese laundry, displays artifacts and photographs of pioneer life. The historic United Church now houses an art gallery and recording studio. Rosebud Gifts & Crafts and other shops display and sell local and regional items from jewelry and clothing to pillows and books. During the warmer months, you can discover Rosebud’s pioneer history through a self-guided walking tour around the hamlet. Charming accommodation awaits at the Stage Door Bed & Breakfast, the Rose Cottage Bed & Breakfast and the Rosebud Country Inn, overlooking the river valley and golf course. And tasty treats tempt at Thorny Rose Cafe, Sarah’s Ice Cream, and Wild Horse Jack’s Grill.
Rosebud School of the Arts is an expanding operation with specific plans for growth and development, but is keeping in mind at the same time that one of its major assets is its small community and rural setting.
The Rosebud Mercantile Co. / The Haskayne-Kenney Mercantile
Rosebud Mercantile Co. Store was a general store selling fruit and vegetables, butchered meat, hardware, clothing, dry goods, sewing supplies and patent medicines.
In 1918, Jack Sangster operated the store with the assistance of employees and family. Some of the employees that worked at the store were: Ed Church, Charlie Simpson, Nellie Gross, Bill Spears, Jimmy Burn, and Eva Jones. Claude Sangster, Jack’s brother, also assisted in the store as bookkeeper from 1925 until he took over the management of the Rosebud Hotel, which had been purchased by Jack. When Jack retired in 1934, Eva Jones took over management for a period of time. When Eva left in 1934 to go back to the States, the store was managed by Don Bond, then George Andersen, and finally Spence Hughes who later bought it. The last owner of the Mercantile was Gordon Milgate.
The Rosebud Hotel / The Hotel
In 1914 Fred Gilbert of Gilbert Bros. Real Estate saw a need for accommodation for land seekers passing through Rosebud. The Hotel was built and finished the next year, when it was sold to C.A. Vigar for $2,300. It was then rented by Mrs. Lewis from Pittsburgh. It changed hands many times after that and was finally purchased in 1924 by brothers Claude and Jack Sangster. It was sold to John Vermont in 1945, to Laurence Gaulin in 1948, and John Petrashuyk in 1951. In 1956, Queenie Marshall bought the Hotel and was the last to run it as such. It was then bought by Rosebud Fellowship to use for classrooms and a dormitory. The Hotel is currently used as the Administration Offices and in 2013 was designated a Provincial Historic Resource.
Rosebud Memorial Hall / Rosebud Opera House
After the war, the Alberta Pacific Grain Company planned to demolish a large grain bin but it was saved by a committee of townspeople and farmers for use as a hall. It was cut in two and moved up from the tracks to its present site and became the Rosebud Opera House.
Rosebud United Church / Akokiniskway Art Gallery
Originally, believers in Rosebud had their worship services in homes on weekday evenings. As a Sunday School was also organized and Rosebud grew, there was more need for a church building. The site was donated by the Bigars, and the Protestant families of the district took part in building the Church. It was completed the summer of 1922 with the dedication service in October of the same year. Though built by a joint effort of many denominational backgrounds, it became a Presbyterian Church.
Later, in 1925, the Rosebud Church became a member of the newly formed United Church of Canada. Many pastors came and went until the illness of the minister in 1970 when the congregations of Rockyford and Rosebud decided to alternate services in hope that both congregations would attend the one service, thus adding interest with larger numbers. This led to the amalgamation of the two congregations and the closing in 1972 of the Rosebud Church.
Rosebud now has a new church, the Rosebud Church, which was built about 1984. The current pastor is Ray Wall.