Where Midian is

Clive Barker's novel Cabal (filmed as Nightbreed) is about a man searching for Midian, a ghost town somewhere in the wilds of Alberta, Canada. There, a refuge for the monstrous and outcast among us may be found.

The location is mysterious and vague, like its biblical inspiration. You're not supposed to find Midian if you don't belong there, after all, and the refuge is further concealed under an old rural cemetery.

I remember poring over an atlas as a kid trying to figure out where Midian is supposed to be, prompted by the sparse clues Barker offers. Re-reading the book recently it struck me that thanks to Wikipedia, Google Maps and other services, it's now easier to retrace the literary steps an author thought were well-hidden. So off I went.

A casual search won't get you far. If you ask google where Midian is, you'll likely find a quote—"north off Peace River, East off Athabasca"—that makes no sense. This is because it's a misquote of the text (both book and screenplay), which entirely contradicts it:

"Northwest of Athabasca … East of Peace River, near Shere Neck, north of Dwyer"

Like Midian itself, Shere Neck and Dwyer are literary places that don't exist.

The book offers the following clues, references to real places.

•Northwest of Athabasca
•East of Peace River
•East of Highway 67 (now Highway 88)
•Heading northwest on Highway 2 from Athabasca, you've already gone too far if you get to High Prairie.
•Turning north earlier would save nearly 200 miles compared to going via Peace River.
•You'd get there by noon setting out from McLennan early in the morning, driving via Peace River
•Somewhere east of Peace River you can take a wrong turn and then head 40 miles before arriving at a settlement with a gas station. The only place this can be is a community named Atikameg.
•Finally, you have to turn onto an eastbound road off Highway 67 (88).

Midian, Shere Neck and Dwyer, all fictional, are described as being within a few miles of one another; Midian a few hours on foot northbound of Dwyer, crossing fields and at least one other road to get there.

I guess it should be pointed out that Barker describes the landscape as "prairie" and rapeseed, but the wilds of Alberta east of Highway 88 are boreal forest pockmarked with oilfield installations. (The movie was shot around Calgary, way off to the south)

But let's cut some narrative slack. We're adding a cluster of communities with a population of at least 5k in the middle of the woods. That's a transformative exurban environment that would likely end up surrounded with agriculture and infrastructure, just as nearby towns such as Peace River and Fort William are. This could create something of a smalltown prairie feel.

Midian must, then, be located between Highway 686, which seems to be the only good road east from 88, and the Wabasca river.

It could be further north, but we soon end up more than a couple hours' drive from Peace River, and generally disconnected from the reference points given.

(To save fully 200 miles setting out from Athabasca, per one character's remark, there would have to be another northbound route toward Midian that's further east of 88. But the 150 miles saved by going north on 88 seems good enough.)

If you want a specific location, I'd conclude Midian was very close to this oil battery.

Pack your bags, monsters!

P.S. For the movie, a prop map (below) was made showing Midian in British Columbia. The map moves around real places, is otherwise geographically impossible, and doesn't seem to be actually have been used in the movie.