Highway 13 in southwestern Saskatchewan is officially known as the Redcoat Trail but it might be more correctly called the Ghost Town Trail. Drive west from Assiniboia and you are hard pressed to see many of the towns that used to exist along that highway. Now that almost every grain elevator is gone, what is left seems to disappear into the landscape. A few houses and trees. Possibly a church. Maybe an abandoned school or garage. Maybe a falling-in rink. Perhaps a gas station alongside the highway. Nothing more.
A hundred years ago, it was very different. Thanks to the Canadian government’s propaganda, everyone wanted a piece of Saskatchewan where all you had to do was throw the seed on the ground and sit back and wait for the bumper crop to put itself into the bins. Or so the brochures implied. The reality was somewhat different as the homesteaders soon discovered.
The place was booming. Farmsteads consisting of a house, barn, and granaries existed on almost every quarter-section. Towns were strung along the rail line like beads on a necklace, six to seven miles apart (this was in pre-metric days). Each town had elevators, churches, schools, town halls, hotels, banks and businesses, and upwards of 100 to 300 inhabitants, plus the surrounding farm population.
So many people settled in Saskatchewan in the early years of the 20th century that some optimistic soul predicted the province’s population would soon reach 20 million!
Boy, was he wrong!
Today, Saskatchewan’s population hovers just above 1 million. Most people live in cities. The surviving towns and villages are mere shadows of what they once were. They were emptied out as younger generations moved into cities where better education and job opportunities awaited.
I was one of those who left.
My home town, Meyronne, followed that road from boom to bust. The depression and drought of the Dirty Thirties brought an end to the boom. It was well into decline when I was growing up in the 1950s. Today, only a few houses, the Catholic church and the cemetery remain.
You can read about Meyronne’s beginnings in Chapter 12: The Year the Train Arrived, in my book “Our Bull’s Loose in Town!” Tales from the Homestead, published by Books We Love.