Story and Photography by Mike Grandmaison
Exploring old buildings has never been a passion of mine, but from time to time I’ve been known to explore the occasional deserted homestead or ghost town. My interest in exploring these abandoned structures is partly due to my curiosity; wondering what happened over the years that motivated someone to set roots in this particular place and then, for whatever reason, leave or abandon their home. While my focus in this piece is on Saskatchewan’s “ghost towns,” the story is similar to those from the other Prairie provinces of Manitoba and Alberta, or from any other Canadian province for that matter. While the local history may be different, the end result is the same — abandonment.
Around the turn of the 20th century, both the Canadian government and the railway began to entice folks to colonize the Canadian Prairie. With the promise of a new beginning, adventure and cheap land, thousands of Europeans and Americans settled the Prairies. Grasslands were turned into wheat fields and the fertile soils and adequate rains ensured a plentiful harvest. Towns sprang up nearly every 10 kilometres along the railway and the grain elevator became both a landmark and an icon of the Prairie. The west was a vibrant place, a real hub of activity. Towns flourished and prosperity followed. By the 1920s, however, the rains fell more infrequently and a widespread drought soon followed, giving way to the period known as the “Dirty Thirties.” Amidst the dust storms and the grasshoppers, farmers, homesteaders and businessman alike fled the “Dust Bowl,” as it was also called. Many rural Saskatchewan towns were transformed from bustling Prairie towns into hamlets, and some eventually into “ghost towns.” They became victims of rural depopulation, rail line and grain elevator closures, rock-bottom crop prices, rising transportation costs and farm consolidation. Many of these towns are no longer shown on the maps. Some of the more popular Saskatchewan ghost towns include Neidpath, Robsart, Bents, Loverna and Lepine.
Take a trip back in time with OPC’s roving photographer as he explores forgotten towns of the Canadian Prairie. Learn how to best capture those leaning barns, derelict houses and old general stores that can be found in Saskatchewan’s ghost towns, along with how to stay safe while venturing through these old structures. To read more of Mike’s Discovering Canada feature please purchase the Summer/Fall 2015 issue, or to never miss an issue please subscribe today!