December 22, 2017
I have such fond memories of driving down the backroads in southern Saskatchewan during my 20s during that winter in the 1980s. Since I was a small child sitting on the front steps of the house our Dad built us in the clearing in the bush in Victoria Beach, Manitoba every summer night and staring into the large round orange ball of the setting sun, I have always longed to be travelling, moving down the road.
So far I have travelled, often extensively, in 22 countries and I keep rolling on.
In the following newspaper column, I wrote about it in Saskatchewan in the days when the number of countries I had travelled only numbered a total of 4:
by Tanya Lester
When I was driving back from Ponteix, where I was ‘gathering’ stories a few weeks ago, I drove through some of the small towns along the way. I did this on the suggestion of my editor who thought it might be a way for me to get some feature story ideas.
Well, maybe it had something to do with the fact that I had just finished talking with a store owner in Ponteix who said the reason that town’s businesses were doing well was because smaller towns in the area had been closing down.
Anyway, when I drove through those smaller towns, the one story idea that immediately came to mind was one I thought I would have some difficulty writing about. As I drove past some of the dilapidated old store fronts that had been abandoned, I thought, “This town is almost a ghost town.”
The thought scared me in a way. It was such a lonely feeling– a town forsaken. But I still thought a story about it would be very interesting.
Who would I interview, though? “Good afternoon, Ms. Ghost. Nice day, isn’t it? Bit chilly in here, mind you. Maybe you have something to do with it,” I could imagine myself saying to the ghost. “Well, what I wanted to start with was to ask you about the ghosts in this town. How many of you live here, anyway?”
No, somehow I thought I would never really find anyone or any spirit to talk to about it.
But that evening, by mere coincidence, I was reading Briarpatch, a Saskatchewan magazine, and an advertisement caught my eye. If I sent away $3.00 to author Frank Moore, I could get a booklet called “Saskatchewan Ghost Towns”. So, there it was. I mailed away a cheque.
In a very short time, I received my copy of the booklet and a note from the author. “I made the book through a make-work grant to make work for some physically handicapped people for one year,” Frank Moore wrote in part. “The information sat in my basement for a few year then through urging my friends I decided to publish it.”
As soon as I took a look at the book, I started to recognize some towns in the area. This made me wonder what the people in those towns would think about living in a ghost town. Of course, the advertisement had mentioned the book was about not only fully ghosted but partially ghosted towns, too. But, still, would someone feel good about sharing his or her town with a few ghosts?
In other words, living in a partly closed-down town might only make its residents fear that it will someday be a fully closed-down town. If that is something to fear. I guess it would depend on each person living in the town.
I felt better, though, when I read a piece Mr. Moore had written at the beginning of the book. “How interesting for us to realize now, several North American economists are predicting the breakdown of our oil-based society,” he wrote, “Those who will survive will be the people with parcels of land they can work, raise their own food and be as self-sufficient as possible.”
“Even now people are returning to some of those towns and buying salvagable buildings,” Mr. Moore continued. “The back-to-the-land move is well documented by the success of such magazines as Harrowsmith and full enrolements in agricultural short course.”
“Many people are coming to realize the slick, future-shocked city life can’t meet their needs. And so they are looking for an alternative — a place where they can enjoy a sense of community, take charge of their lives, and know harmony with their environment.”
“Maybe the ghosts will live again!”
Keeping that in mind, let me tell you a bit more about the book. In the centre, there is a map outlining Ghost Town Trail. Some of the towns listed as part of the trail have a very familiar ring to their names. They are Hazenmore, Limerick, Melaval and Meyronne. You guessed it, Ghost Town Trail is actually part of Highway 13.
St. Boswells is one town that rates a write-up in the book: “The gentle, caring spirit of the prairie communites sang through so clearly in the many responses to the request for information of the St. Boswells.”
“Serious thefts or pilfering were virtually non-existent, with businesses left unlocked during the temperate seasons,” the piece goes on to say.
“Tools and equipment were often borrowed while the stores lay vacant. But they were always returned with a genuine “Thank you.”
“In the winter, the doors were locked to make sure a door wasn’t left open accidentally and the stock frozen.”
“Said one old-timer: “We had the occasional fellow with sticky fingers — but everyone knew who he was. Most people never thought of stealing or vandalism. Even the littlest child knew better.”
“Basic facts tell us St. Boswell’s was a rural post office in 1910. The CNR rolled in in 1921, and St. Boswell enjoyed a multiplicity of services varying from hardware, general and drug stores to an Orange Hall and a Chinese restaurant.”
“Although St. Boswell’s flourished during the thirties and part of the forties, the community declined. Centralization, World War II, urbanization — all stripped the village fabric. Now, of a once 135 population, one family lives where the school once stood.”
“Location: seven miles southeast of Hodgeville, off Highway #19”.
Bateman is another of the “over 100 fully and partially ghosted town” that gets a write-up in the booklet. But I’ve run out of space so if you want to read more of “Saskatchewan Ghost Towns” just sent $3.00 to: Frank Moore, 2834 Lakeview Ave., Regina, Sask. S4S 1G5. The 44-page booklet is well worth the $3.00 and, with Christmas coming up, it could make a nice stocking-stuffer.