My favourite subject at school was Geography. I enjoyed every class, but the ones I liked the best were the ones about the Canadian Prairies. I come from a country where everything is small, including the landscape. So, the vastness of the Prairies seemed wonderful to me.The place that caught my eye on the map was a place called Medicine Hat.When I finally got the opportunity to go to Canada, I flew into Vancouver, hired a car and decided to drive all the way across the Rockies and the Prairies to Medicine Hat. I was not to be disappointed. The Canadian Prairies were everything I expected them to be and more. I got out of my car in the middle of a seemingly endless sea of flat wheatfields and savoured the moment. It felt as if the sky was so big that it was almost touching my head. It is something that I will never forget.
Just before I finally reached Medicine Hat, I came across a ghost town. Whitla is a truly off the beaten path place. It is a place that before I started my journey across the Prairies I had never heard of, but it is a place with a unique, wistful atmosphere. There was a heavy summer silence, broken only by the cry of a kestrel soaring above the grain elevators. I couldn't better this evocative description of the place: "Whitla is a whole street of abandoned buildings. Located 20 miles southwest of Medicine Hat, it is a real ghost town. The town began with the opening of the area to homesteading in 1908. It was named for R. J. Whitla, a Winnipeg merchant who visited the district in 1885 when it was a mere siding on the newly built Turkey Track Railway. In 1910 there was a general store followed by a lumberyard, a hardware store, a farm machinery firm, a Union Bank, several cafes, and three auto repair shops. During 1917 drought, dust storms, grasshoppers, and rabbits began consuming the crops and chasing the settlers away. The exodus from Whitla had been gradual throughout the 1920s and increased noticeably through the ‘30s and ‘40s. By the end of World War II, the town had all but vanished." H.B. Chenoweth.
Twenty years ago, when I was there, only two grain elevators remained. Now, even they are gone, but hopefully the descendants of that kestrel still patrol the Whitla wheat fields.