Picture Perfect PRAIRIES
Grain elevators: Canada’s vanishing sentinels?
Exploring abandoned ghost towns Preparing perfect pork chops!
As far back as I can remember, whenever I‘ d spot old houses and barns crumbling by the roadside, I’d wonder about the stories behind them and about the families that had lived there. Ghost towns spark many a person’s interest, but each person’s story and experience is a little different. Not too long ago, my sister Ann asked if I’d like to come to Saskatchewan to do a tour of some old ghost towns and of course I was excited to go.
We decided to meet halfway, in Regina, so we could spend some time together and then leave the next morning on our trip—wherever it led us.
We had been told by several people what to do and not do while visiting these places, so we were very respectful of our surroundings. We didn’t have GPS, so on our map, we circled names of small ghost towns that were scattered in and around southern Saskatchewan, and plotted our route.
At 9 a. m. the following day, after a hearty breakfast, and with a thermos of coffee in hand, we headed out, planning to stop for lunch at some point. The weather wasn’t great, but we thought it was all the more fitting for seeing and photographing these gloomy places.
We headed west a fair bit before turning south. Along the way, we encountered many homesteads beside the highway that had begun to decay and crumble. Our cameras were ready to go and we began taking
a lot of pictures. At some stops, we had to tread very gingerly through the tall grass— often linking arms— as we weren’t sure what was beneath us. Now and then I’d call out to Ann if I couldn’t see her, just to make sure she was okay. We’d been warned to keep an eye out for open wells—scary!
In order to see the really rustic homesteads and empty towns, you need to get off the beaten path and head out into the boonies, where it seemed there was not a soul to be seen.
By early afternoon, our thermos was empty and we were hoping to spot a café for lunch. Little did we know there were no restaurants for miles around.
Now and then we would run into someone driving by who would stop to chat as we were taking photographs— some folks even told us we were doing a wonderful thing by keeping these historic buildings alive through our photos. Others requested we send them the images of these places we were capturing.
Back on the road, we began looking for a ghost town called Bayard. We drove for ages, sometimes along gravel roads. After a while, you begin thinking that you’re driving in circles. With no air conditioning in my car, we had the windows open and were breathing in a lot of dust. Eventually, we came across a run-down house-trailer with a lone occupant. We asked for directions to Bayard and she responded, “Well this is it, but there’s nothing here but old buildings.” We couldn’t help but laugh.
After our fun- filled day, we were hungry and thirsty, so we decided to head back to Regina
for the night. Arriving back around 9 p.m., the first thing we did was eat, followed by long, hot baths and finally, bed. Boy, did we sleep!
The next day, we were a little more prepared. We packed plenty of food and also brought along a lot of water.
We headed towards what’s referred to as the Ghost Town Trail, which coincides with Highway 13 between Wauchope and Govenlock. There are 32 ghost towns along this highway, many of which we visited. Little did we know the wonders, feelings and different emotions we would experience as we arrived at each place and speculated about the hardships their occupants might have faced.
Some places were hard to leave, as we strolled around in thigh-high grass, feeling an inner comfort, imagining happy families and kids playing on the now-broken swings or with the old toys lying in the deep grass. Other places evoked different feelings, leaving us somewhat cold; I don’t know why. In these spots, we’d take a quick look around and leave, with no desire to linger. I wonder about that from time to time as I sit daydreaming on my couch at home.
The whole experience left me with a lot of questions about the lives of the people who once lived there. Ann and I also experienced many moments of sadness as we sat on the steps of old, abandoned homes with nothing but the wind whispering in the stillness of the early evening sunshine.
All too soon, our trip ended and we had to say our goodbyes. The experience itself, combined with the opportunity to spend time with my sister, made it a trip I will always cherish. ■
Above: An old, abandoned train sitting alongside a Saskatchewan highway backlit by an evening sunset. Left: Helen snuck into an abandoned building to capture this shot—beautiful view!
Clockwise from top left: Helen came across this broken canoe and anchor next to a beautiful lake; a retired pair of skates hanging on the blackboard of an old school; Helen says her heart feels lighter every time she photographs a church, this one is in Kayville, Sask.; a shot of a small homestead on a rainy day in rural southern Saskatchewan.
Clockwise from top left: Helen’s favourite old gas station in Bromhead, Sask; a cute little abandoned house in Robsart, Sask.; an old truck put out to pasture in Carrot River, Sask.