Saskatchewan musician finds familial roots amid ruins of ghost town
According to the Saskatchewan Census, West Bend once had a population of 25 in 1981. But those days are long done.
By 1996 the town was down to seven inhabitants. Fast-forward to 2013 and the most action you’ll see in West Bend are those who come to pick up their mail at the PO box that lies amongst the ruins. Otherwise the town barely exists, either on maps or in the physical sense.
However, for Nick Faye, a Regina-based folk musician, West Bend remains a dusty connection to his family history and agrarian roots.
“My grandparents lived near the town of Kelliher, which is about 20 minutes away and is an actual small town,” he says. “But West Bend is actually closer to the family farm. And whenever we trucked grain to Foam Lake we would drive by it.
“My grandfather told me that it was really important town for the agricultural people back then since it had machine shops. And obviously it was important for the people who attended the church that is nearby.”
However, despite being in close proximity to the town, Faye only recently began to explore the shambling, forgotten buildings of West Bend.
“My dad would tell me stories about going to school there,” he says. “The basement of the school is essentially built like a prison, but he said that kids would always run around down there during recess.
“It’s crazy that the schoolhouse is even still standing.”
The prominent Polish-Ukrainian culture of the area is actually noticeable in the schoolhouse, which retains its bizarre Eastern-European structure. Inside, the floors are disintegrating into the basement, and sunlight filters in through where the ceilings have caved in. The neighbouring houses aren’t fairing much better, although we did notice that the walls had recently been shot with a paintball gun – the yield sign just out of town had been blasted with a real one, shotgun most likely.
Amazingly enough, just a few minutes out of West Bend is the Model Farm, a Ukrainian church and graveyard that is immaculately maintained to this day.
Faye, who also sang in the now-defunct Saskatoon hardcore band Stallions, says the ghost town has also been a source of musical inspiration. Back in February of 2013, Nick Faye and the Deputies released a three song EP entitled Harvest, which was partially written while he was working on his family’s farm.
“We went out there to try and capture that lifestyle,” says Faye. “I have no idea how much longer these places will be around. And I wanted to capture a snapshot of that. I would help my dad during the summer up until when he retired, so those elements definitely filtered into my songwriting.”
There’s not much in the way of an official reason why West Bend became a ghost town, but Faye conjectures that the reasons are fairly typical of most prairie villages.
“It seems like a lot of these towns in the area, like Wishart, are off the beaten path. So when the main highways were being established a lot of these towns didn’t see a lot of traffic. The railway was also huge, so towns like Kelliher had a lot more going on.”