New book ‘Along the Western Front’ shows resiliency of ranching community in Alberta

By Tim Kalinowski


While Calgary-based photo-journalist Leah Hennel spends a great deal of time out in the countryside chronicling the lives of farm and ranch families, she would never claim any special insight into what makes those families lives the way they are.

“I am an outsider,” she admits. “I just skim the surface. Being a photo-journalist and a photographer, I just see a little, and I am just dabbling in it. But I just really appreciate it.”

What her book of collected photos entitled Along the Western Front, published by Rocky Mountain Books, brings to the table, says Hennel, is an experienced eye and a particular set of photo-journalistic skills which allow the viewer to see the Southern Alberta ranching world as it has not been captured before.

“I just want to capture those moments,” she explains. “That’s the difference between a photo-journalist and a photographer. As a photo-journalist, we’re looking to tell a story in that image. It’s all about capturing a slice-of-life and that decisive moment.”

Hennel says she also tries to give space in her photos for unique stories found in today’s ranching community, which is extremely diverse and vastly interconnected.

“It appeals to me because I love being alongside while they are doing their cattle drives, and it just reminds me of when I was young growing up on the farm near Stettler,” she says.

“There is definitely a sense of nostalgia; especially at branding time. There is a huge central community on these farms and ranches at branding where everyone comes out to help, the neighbours come out to help, and you have members from the Hutterite colonies and the Indigenous communities coming out to help, and they all pitch in. Every weekend there is a branding going on from May until late June.”

Getting out to the country also gives Hennel a valuable, new perspective which is difficult to attain among the office towers and general busy activity of Calgary.

“I enjoy going out to places that haven’t really changed in 100 years,” she says. “They are still doing it the same way; especially on the ranches of Southern Alberta.

“In Western Canada agriculture is huge with all the farming and ranching,” Hennel adds.

“When I drive out into the country from Calgary I just feel that sense of being under big skies. I get away from the hustle and bustle, and it’s a slower pace of life out in the country; even though it’s still a lot of hard work.”

Along the Western Front is available for pre-order on and will be out in most book stores by April 2020.

Novice steer rider Kade McDonald of Melville, Sask. poses for a portrait after his muddy ride at the Calgary Stampede. Leah Hennel photo