Recently, I was invited to visit the town of Loverna, SK, a stone’s throw from the Alberta border, with a documentary film company out of Saskatoon.
This experience — wandering through a virtually empty town, scaring the pigeon who had made his home in the curling rink foyer, visiting the still-used Anglican church, peeking in the windows of the old Elk’s Hall and garage — was a fun way to spend a day, if a little sad (even for a historian).
There were surprises: the artifact I had originally dismissed as yet another old wagon proved, on further examination, to be a horse-drawn manure spreader — surely organic groups would hearken to the knowledge of prairie pioneers, pre-commercial fertilizer! The box of empty stubbie beer bottles at the back of the hall were another great find.
Saskatchewan is littered with the remnants of towns, villages, and abandoned farm yards, the detritus of humanity moving through the landscape and sojourning for a short but intense period of time. Other towns, of course, remain vibrant, even growing. New house starts in Biggar, an hour west of Saskatoon (where I live), have been phenomenal over the past six years. The so-called ‘Saskaboom’ is spilling back to the rural regions, at least those within striking distance of the major centers, or near the extractive industrial centers of potash, oil, or gas development. Ironically, although the region around Loverna is crawling with oil and gas workers — we saw no less than two helicopters in the area, in addition to extensive oil pump operations — workers are not moving back to the rural towns. Or at least, not Loverna.
My experiences with the video crew that day got me thinking about ghost towns, and how it has become an urban craze to drive out of the cities to poke through and photograph the remants of the rural past. I recently wrote a blog post for ActiveHistory.ca on the craze. Read it here: http://activehistory.ca/2012/01/sad-empty-places-marketing-ghost-towns-in-saskatchewan/