A simple afternoon car ride turned into a 10,000 km trek and a book of beautiful images and commentary on the province for Humboldt retiree Terry Brown and his wife Rita. They went looking for Romance, an amorously named ghost town on an abandoned railway line between LeRoy and Watson. They found Romance, Brown quipped, but it started an exploration of ghost towns reaching to the far corners of the province. 

The Browns talked about their experience at the Lanigan Branch of the Wheatland Library on Monday, May 2 at 7:00 pm. They projected images from their book Blowing in the Wind: Ghost Towns on the Saskatchewan Grid and dived into the history of the places, names, and people. Brown has been a history aficionado for years, whether it’s tracing his family ancestry back to the 1200’s, or reconnecting family members with the lost crew of a 1940 World War Two air mission. His curiosity and love of research led him to look up ghost towns of Saskatchewan. It began a 6 year long trek that’s carried them to around 250 different identified locations, and there’s more on the list, Brown says. 

Some of those places are tricky to find, say the Browns, even with modern day navigation tools like GPS tracking. 

“We stopped where the GPS said the site was, but there was nothing there, and we were a bit disappointed,” admits Brown. “We turned around and headed back toward the highway, and I noticed a road running to the railway tracks, and I thought we’ll take a drive down there. We came to an old garage and we found Romance.”

There were several dilapidated buildings scattered around at the site, all of which have since been removed. Brown said that it’s sad there are no remnants left of many of these small places, but he feels honoured to have captured the last remaining structures on film as a testament to the community’s once flourishing existence. 

Brown explained that communities dotted the map at 7 to 10 mile intervals along the busy rail lines. They were established at intervals of roughly what an ox or horse drawn cart could travel in a day. 

“Later on in the 40s and 50s, when truck transportation became more of a convenience, a lot of the railway sidings were picked up and abolished too. So that made the towns stretch out further to 20, 30, sometimes even 40 miles apart.”

However, some ghost towns still had structures standing, if no residents or active businesses. One peculiarity Brown pointed out was Admiral in southwest Saskatchewan along the Red Coat Trail. A trio of churches, all within a stone’s throw of one another, mark the once active community. 

Some miles to the east are the remnants of Horizon, on a rail line that’s been refurbished as a short delivery grain line and a tourist attraction. Visitors can hop aboard an authentic Pullman car in Ogema, take a 15 mile ride to the Horizon siding, and tour a 1905 elevator for an inside glimpse of farming history. The church also serves as a destination for those train tourists to have a catered meal during their evening junkets with the Southern Prairie Railway experience.

Other once thriving communities were subject to tragedies that led to their demise, explained Brown. Hatton lies at the crossroads of two prairie grids just off the Number 1 Highway close to the Alberta Border. Once a town of 800 residents, a wildfire in 1931 wiped out 31 homes and much of the business centre. 

The stories of other lost communities are rich and plentiful, and the vibrant photographs chronicle those places, vanishing in the sands of commerce and time. Terry Brown has another book in the works that is arriving shortly. That work tracks Saskatchewan cemeteries.

Attendees swapped stories about their ghost town experiences, all adding to the rich tapestry of Saskatchewan’s early settlement.

Brown’s books are available at amazon.com and at the many trade fairs and bazaars the couple attends.