My Home­town

Pho­tograph­ing Saskatchewan’s ter­rain and his­toric build­ings helps pre­serve pre­cious mem­o­ries

Our Canada - - Features | Departments - by Teresa Wother­spoon Wil­son, Melville, Sask.

Be­yond the flat­lands that Saskatchewan is com­monly known for, there are many unique trea­sures and his­tory that I took for granted un­til I dis­cov­ered pho­tog­ra­phy.

My passion for photo­gra­phy be­gan ten years ago when I moved back home to Saskatchewan from Al­berta. I moved into Melville, which is 41 kilo­me­tres south­east of Springside in the east cen­tral por­tion of Saskatchewan. My fond­est mem­o­ries are of the fam­ily farm and White­sand district, which is about ten miles north­east of Springside. Pho­tograph­ing sites from my home area be­came a way for me to pre­serve these mem­o­ries.

In 1963, my grand­par­ents de­cided to leave the White­sand farm district and move into Springside. My un­cle and aunt took over the fam­ily farm, and I spent a lot of time there as a child. At that time, there was no run­ning wa­ter—it was pumped from the well. To this day, my un­cle and aunt re­side on the farm, but in a dif­fer­ent home and with mod­ern fa­cil­i­ties. The out­house, sum­mer kitchen, barn and other older struc­tures that sur­round the farm still re­main.

Most of the pi­o­neers that im­mi­grated to the White­sand district came from Ukraine, Aus­tria and Ger­many. My great-grand­par­ents, who came to Canada from Ukraine, set­tled in that area in 1907.

White­sand church, also known as Pa­tron­age of the Blessed Vir­gin Mary, is a mile north of the fam­ily farm. Un­der the Presbyterian clergy, the first White­sand church was built in 1911. In 1938, they dis­man­tled the old church and con­structed a new one, and it then be­came a Ukrainian Greek Catholic church. My great-grand­fa­ther was one of the founders of this church. Many peo­ple may as­sume these older churches in the coun­try­side stand de­serted; for­tu­nately, my fam­ily church is one of few that still opens

its doors for Mass. Ser­vices run from spring to fall. Lo­cal pri­ests from nearby cities still travel to some of these coun­try churches to ac­com­mo­date the re­main­ing faith­ful parish­ioners.

The con­gre­ga­tions have dwin­dled through the years, and the num­ber of peo­ple is much lower than when my an­ces­tors were at­tend­ing. As times have changed, so has the size of the fam­i­lies. Cur­rently, there are 25 parish­ioners at White­sand; my mother, my daugh­ter and I still at­tend Mass at our fam­ily church.

Two miles east of White­sand church was Be­blo School, built in 1918. My grand­par­ents, my mother and my aunts and un­cles at­tended this one-room school. The teacher resided in the small house next to it. On win­ter morn­ings, the teacher would build a fire in the stove to heat the school be­fore the stu­dents ar­rived. At one time, there was also a horse sta­ble, since pupils trav­elled by horse or on foot to at­tend school. Shortly af­ter I pho­tographed Be­blo School, it was de­stroyed by fire.

The first post of­fice and store were built in the White­sand district in 1905, but they no longer ex­ist. The first team of horses was pur­chased in 1909.

When I was younger, I was in­trigued by many sto­ries my baba (grandma) shared with us. I was also sad­dened by the hard­ships they en­dured in those days. My baba was a spir­i­tual woman, and her fam­ily and faith were very im­por­tant to her. She was one of those peo­ple who kept ev­ery­thing, in­clud­ing old let­ters, which pro­vide a lot of his­tory and mem­o­ries. When I was younger, I re­mem­ber read­ing a let­ter writ­ten by my grea­tun­cle. At that time, he was serv­ing our coun­try in Hol­land in World War II. Like many other sol­diers who served in the army, he didn’t make it back home and was killed in ac­tion. That’s another rea­son I had an urge to pho­to­graph all the old home­steads and struc­tures—to cap­ture the mem­o­ries and his­tory that go with them. As time passes, more home­steads will crum­ble to the ground or be de­stroyed, and it’s dis­heart­en­ing to see these old struc­tures fade away from our prov­ince.

My fa­ther, who was very pas­sion­ate about pho­tog­ra­phy, thought my coun­try photos

were unique. He felt I had a good eye with the cam­era and en­cour­aged me to up­grade from my cheap $100 cam­era to a $500 cam­era. He also taught me to shoot in man­ual mode and gave me a crash course on the ba­sics. Shortly af­ter that, he was di­ag­nosed with ter­mi­nal can­cer, and he passed away a few months later. A cou­ple of months af­ter that, I picked up the cam­era again. I be­gan re­search­ing on­line and learned more about shoot­ing in man­ual mode. Once I headed to the coun­try, I was back to where I wanted to be, and I am grate­ful I re­turned. I’m hop­ing my dad is look­ing down at me smil­ing, as I think of him every time I’m out there be­hind the lens.

My favourite photo is one I shot about a year ago of a sun­set by a slough. The sky was ab­so­lutely breath­tak­ing; it was like some­one took a large brush and painted the sky. When pho­tograph­ing sun­sets and sun­rises, I’m con­stantly watch­ing the sky, hop­ing to cap­ture its re­flec­tions in a body of wa­ter. Who knew that be­ing sur­rounded by sloughs could be such an ad­van­tage? Once I started pho­tograph­ing sun­sets and their re­flec­tions, I be­gan to add wild grasses, plants and cat­tails to the im­ages, as I found these com­ple­mented the photos.

Ob­vi­ously, I wasn’t able to cap­ture re­flec­tions in the win­ter be­cause of the freeze up, so I be­gan in­clud­ing sil­hou­ettes of old rick­ety fence­lines, grain bins or any­thing else that cap­tured my eye to high­light the beau­ti­ful colours of the Saskatchewan sky.

There were count­less times when I was parked along­side the road, hazard lights on, and ve­hi­cles would stop and ask me if ev­ery­thing was okay. I would just smile and say, “Thank you, I’m just out here tak­ing pic­tures.” I of­ten won­dered if they thought I was nuts, es­pe­cially on frigid days when it was -30°C or colder. There were nu­mer­ous times when I’d freeze my gloved fin­gers to the point where I couldn’t press the shut­ter but­ton any more. That was my cue, and knew it was time to pack it in. Per­haps many still view Saskatchewan as flat, never-end­ing land. I hope through my home­town story, fam­ily his­tory and photos, many will em­brace the beauty and his­tory that I once took for granted. I found so much hid­den beauty in trav­els through­out the prov­ince’s coun­try­side, and I’m very proud to call it my home. n

Top left: This old fence­line and colour­ful sky cap­tured Teresa’s eye last March; top right: the White­sand Ukrainian Greek Catholic church is the only re­main­ing build­ing in the district that con­nects Teresa to her roots.

This is one of Teresa’s first sun­set photos, and re­mains her favourite.

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