The Saskatchewan countryside is full of empty spaces. Spaces that were once occupied by the settlers that arrived and then as time as passed have been abandoned as people began to settle in towns.
From schoolhouses to churches to stores and countless homesteads each one full of history.
After our work days were over, my brother and I would grab our cameras, hop in the purple pick-up truck, choose a direction to drive and make stops whenever we saw something that peaked our curiosity.
Our main interest was exploring long abandoned prairie homesteads. Surprisingly, most of the homes are still filled inside: books, pots and pans, and clothes. One of the houses we discovered was filled with so much stuff that we physically could not enter. It often feels as though someone was living there and, suddenly, they were gone and no one came to collect their belongings. There is still medicine in the cabinets, plates in the cupboard and the kettle is left on stove waiting for the next cup of tea to be made.
The highlight of our explorations was going to see a house that we have passed countless times on Highway 16. It is a large house in the middle of a canola field. We walked fifteen minutes through the field swatting mosquitos from our faces to reach the house, which was so much more impressive up close. This particular house stands out because it is not in the same style as traditional prairie homes, it is a very tall, large house and because of its grandeur look we wondered if it had been the town of Theodore’s train station at one point. Not much remains inside the house besides a few remnants of wallpaper, a sink and a tin coffee can (that is one of the consistent things you will find in these old ghost houses: coffee and Roger syrup tin cans). While the staircase still exists to lead to the second level, we did not venture any further as there was a vicious looking bird standing guard over the old place.
While recounting our exploration to a dinner guest later in the week, she said “Oh no, that was not a train station! It was a very wealthy family from Britain who decided to settle there and the house was so large because they were so wealthy.” Our guest then told us the mother of the family, who was in her fifties, hated living on the prairies and had decided to move back to England. She packed up her suitcase and rode her horse to Yorkton to catch the train back to Toronto and, eventually, the boat to return to England. She exerted the horse so much to arrive on time for the train that the horse died upon arrival at the station. The woman, however, simply got on the train and kept going.
Another highlight was entering a one-room countryside school house. Many of these school house structures are in great condition as they were built to be last with sturdy bricks. The insides are a different story, most of the empty rooms are full of garbage, decay and the occasional a dead animal. But if you don’t mind a bit of renovating, there is a number to call to inquire about renting the building.
Most of these abandoned buildings are locked up but sometimes just a turn of the door handle with let you in. We found a few stores with the shelves still stocked with products, mostly oils, chemicals and medicine for livestock, and the two essentials of homesteader life – tobacco and coffee. We also entered an old Catholic church near the hamlet of Parkerview, which had suffered a bad fire, but the floors were still sturdy enough to stand on.
Exploring these abandoned places helps us understand the history of this area. Most people came from Eastern Europe came to the prairies and settled this wild, barren land. At first their houses were mud, then log homes and now the landscape is dotted with modern structures. While the people who lived in these homes, owned the stores and attended the churches and schools are long gone, exploring these structures is a way for us to connect with them and piece together what their life might have been like.