ghost town-ing in saskatchewan (Treaty 4 and Treaty 6 territory and the traditional territory of the Cree and Saulteaux, Assiniboine and Métis).
A ghost town is a completely abandoned town or city. The term is sometimes used in a deprecated sense to include cities, towns, and neighborhoods which, while still populated, are significantly less so than in years past.
Ghost towns are towns that once had a considerable population, that have since dwindled in numbers causing some or all its business to close, either due to the rerouting of a highway, train tracks being pulled, or exhaustion of a natural resource. In the province of Saskatchewan, these are communities that no longer exist or former Villages/Towns that have become unincorporated hamlets.
“It’s been estimated that half of all towns that ever existed in Saskatchewan are now ghost towns. A southern stretch of highway reveals just how true this is. The Ghost Town Trail is dotted with tiny farming communities, once thriving, now all but abandoned. In their heyday, these towns were buoyed by a spirit of pioneer optimism. In the early 1900s, the Canadian government had offered free land to settlers, an opportunity that beckoned to many farmers south of the 49th parallel. The region promised a fabulous wheat harvest and, in the first two decades of farming, it delivered. But the Depression and the long drought of the 1930s ended high hopes, as farmers lost land and families went hungry. While a fraction of them managed to hang on to their farms, it would not be forever. Over the next 70 years and even today, the disappearance of farming towns in south Saskatchewan continues.”
We had an incredible time this past weekend exploring the rural areas. We also learned a lot and wanted to share our new-found knowledge with anyone else who wants to ghost-town-it-up-a-notch. It’s a biseenscene recommended activity!
Here’s a step-by-step guide:
1) Buy or print a detailed map of Saskatchewan and decide which direction you want to head. You’ll find places in any direction, literally, so just “Pick a place in Saskatchewan you’ve never been before and go!”
2) Start driving, but keep checking the map. The places on the map with the smallest-font-and-dot-size, indicating the smallest population, are the ghost towns – especially if they’re not located on a major highway and extra especially if they’re located on a railway line. Scads of communities popped up along railroad tracks and then faded into obscurity as rail transit decreased. Some of these small-font-and-dot places are still thriving, or at least existing, but not many. You can usually find a deserted building or two in any of these places. They’re not too far apart, so you can hit quite a few in a day. Older maps, as opposed to up-to-date Google, may even be an asset.
3) If and when you find abandoned homes, businesses and other structures, explore them!
And that’s all there is to it, so do it!
Here’s a list of observations that will make your journey easier:
–> Saskatchewan rural maps are hilariously incorrect and misleading. They even have a label for “gravel highways.” There’s tons of roads that don’t have names or designations and those that do never have any signs. Also, not to sound cliché, but everything looks the same. Roads that end on the map don’t usually end in reality and there’s tons of roads that aren’t even listed. It’s mayhem trying to follow these maps, so have a good attitude and expect to get lost.
–> I’m not sure, but I think some of the old maps have to list every single town/village/hamlet that EVER existed, because lots of the small-font-and-dot locations aren’t there anymore. At all. Nothing left. The strange thing we noticed is that there was a token “old abandoned farmhouse” in almost every place. But just one. A few of the places were occupied farms, with or without crumbling buildings on the property. A few were actual towns, but with a mixture of occupied and abandoned structures. We never went to a small-font-and-dot location that was a normal, non-ghosted town. (But… the town that I grew up in is one, so we know they exist.) It really is a gamble whether or not you’ll find anything, but that’s part of the fun!
–> As anyone from Saskatchewan knows, there’s abandoned buildings all over the countryside, not just in the ghost towns. Explore them on a whim! Barns and sheds are a dime-a-dozen, but the old houses are fantastic!
–> Remember that structures are on other people’s property, and often next door to an occupied place. Be tactful about this, remembering that Saskatchewan is a notoriously racist province. We’re white people, so our experience as we explored and travelled through these places was no doubt a lot safer than it is for others. We had one person yell at us from the road asking why we were on his property, but once we told him we were just snapping some pictures, he was fine with it. He wanted to make sure we weren’t starting a fire. We played it by ear. Some places we drove past, some we looked at from the outside, and some we went right on in. If it was abandoned and no one was around, we went in. If someone was around, we didn’t.
–> Be careful! If you’re not 110% sure that the structure is safe, don’t walk on it. This is some obvious common sense but I had to say it anyways. I don’t want to be reading anything in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix about some adventurous soul who fell to an early grave through the floor of an abandoned farmhouse. Be careful. I will be so mad at you if you die like that. Also, wild animals live in these places. So make lots of noise on your way in to scare them out. I don’t want to read about any badger attacks either. Or skunk. Raccoons, maybe.
–> Be respectful. A lot of places have been previously trashed by partiers and the like, but that doesn’t mean you should jump off that bridge too. These places were once people’s homes and livelihoods and deserve to be tread on lightly. It also leaves them intact for the next ghost-towner who comes through.
–> Do be sure to stop in some of the “bigger” towns on your way through. Eat at the small town restaurants. Shop at the small town thrift and book stores. You’ll find some surprising and interesting items and people in the local businesses.
–> These are things you should bring with you, THAT WE DIDN’T, and will make your life much easier:
– tick-proof pants AKA tuck-your-pants-into-your-socks (ugh. gag. shudder.)
– hand sanitizer (because some of the stuff you touch… ugh. gag. shudder.)
– a flashlight (NOT for nighttime exploration, because that would be dangerous and scarier-than-anything-ever! A lot of the collapsed places have dark nooks, crannies and basements that a good flashlight could illuminate for you.)
– a GPS (Damn, did we wish we had an iPhone on this trip, more than usual! A GPS with google maps, or its equivalent, will keep you from getting so lost AND you can say things like: “The map says I’m in Romance*, Saskatchewan, but there’s NOTHING here!”) (*a real name, I swear. There’s also ghost towns called Expanse, Fertile, Tiny, Feudal, Robinhood, Landscape, Forward, Sandwich and Wolverine. I kid you not, the names!)
– Visit our picture albums, HERE.
– Until next time, this is your sometimes-friendly tour guide wishing you a safe and exciting ghost town hunt! If you have any questions or comments, drop us a line.