Friday, May 29, 2009

Ghost Town in the Prairies




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.


If you'd like to read more about the ghost towns and disappearing grain elevators of the Prairies, these are two of my favourite sites: Ghost Towns Canada and Grain Elevators Canada .

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9 comments:

  1. ... and after your comment, thanks for the "voyage" ! ;)

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  2. Sigh. I lived in the suburbs but I'm a country girl at heart and I understand your appreciation for the wide open fields. It can be very calming. It's also a coincidence that I am heading to Canada for a study aboard program this summer! I don't think i'll see the ghost town but this post makes me more excited about my trip!!
    If you know any interesting facts or tidbits about Quebec, please don't hesitate to give me a shoutout!

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  3. I ever heard the expansive wild prairies in Canada from a collegue ten years ago. Your wonderful writing makes Canada more allurable. I will visit there someday. Nice post. The black background feels mystic.

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  4. love the history. now i want to go to medicine hat... have a happy weekend ian:)

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  5. Wonderful post. Back home in Argentina I loved riding in the car and seeing the endless expanse of the pampas. How funny that you should comment on how things are so small in England. A friend of mine and I were just saying the other day that in the States everything is gigantic: the washers and other home appliances, the luggage, the cars, the landscape.
    Thanks again for the post.

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  6. Those pictures are really really good.

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  7. Thanks, Caitlin. They are scanned copies from slides, which is what I took back then.

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  8. I really love wide open spaces - we once went on a school trip to a place called Golden Gate National Park in South Africa which was this amazing expanse of land, a real African plane. It left such a big impression on me. I would love to see the Canadian prairies.

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  9. beautiful....let's go to the beach

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