Last weekend I drove down to southern Saskatchewan again. I managed to see quite a bit during the weekend and once again was quite baffled by people who say Saskatchewan is flat.
The weather wasn’t promising as I left North Battleford early on Friday morning. It was raining quite heavily and remained that way for much of the drive to Saskatoon; after Saskatoon, the rain was gone!
My first stop worth noting was at the Claybank Brick Plant, a national historic site south of Moose Jaw. When it ceased operation in 1989, it was pretty much left as it was. The next guided tour wasn’t scheduled for about an hour after I arrived so I opted to look around on my own. The site was well-signed and I did learn a fair bit. The clay deposits are conveniently located right near the plant. They made quite a few types of bricks that were shipped all over the world. The weekend before they had there annual event where the machinery is turned on which would have been interesting but, judging by where there were parking signs on the grass, very crowded. The toilet I just had to be flushed with a wire rather than a handle which I found rather surprising.
After leaving Claybank I went to look at some ghost towns, or in some cases, almost ghost towns. Bayard wasn’t in my GPS but it was in my Saskatchewan Road Atlas. The problem with the road atlas is knowing what counts as a road in the atlas as roads in the middle of nowhere very rarely have signs and my GPS more often than not just calls them “unnamed road.” Anyway, I did find Bayard easily enough but because of the way I approached it I wasn’t 100% sure until after I left town as that was when I finally saw a sign! It was rather small and looks like it had always been that way. Other than a nearby farm, it was definitely long abandoned.
I then drove to Spring Valley. It still clearly has a number of residents but was clearly once a much larger town.
I don’t think I actually found Galilee though my GPS though I did! My road atlas indicated that it should have been further off the highway. I did find a couple abandoned houses that were almost attached to each other though.
Crane Valley was far from abandoned but had clearly once been much longer. It also has an abandoned somewhat large, modern school.
Readlyn was probably my favourite town of the day. It was mostly abandoned and had also clearly been a good size once (street lights, sidewalks, paved roads etc.). I noticed another vehicle driving in town. It had BC plates and the guy was taking pictures. He seemed to be in a rush as he couldn’t have been there long at all as he later passed me when I stopped to take pictures not far outside of town.
I then headed to Verwood. I parked not far after entering the town and not long after a car drove by. It also had BC plates but was definitely a different vehicle than the one in Readlyn. I never encounter other people looking at abandoned buildings and towns and only occasionally encounter a local person or dog in semi-ghost towns and here I encountered two different guys from BC in two towns in a row; it was definitely unexpected! Anyway, Verwood was another semi-ghost town with interesting abandoned buildings.
After that I headed to Willow Bunch where I spent the night. I opted to stay there as the motel in Coronach where my tour would leave from had quite horrible reviews and the one in Willow Bunch had good reviews. Willow Bunch is famous for its giant, Edouard Beaupre, who was 8 foot 3. The museum was closed by the time I arrived in town but I was able to see his footprints and statue outside of the museum. I also walked around the town. I thought it was a nice little town.
I was a bit worried about the weather Saturday as the forecast kept changing and the girl I talked to when I booked the tour said that they stopped offering lunch as they’d cancelled the tour a bunch of times last year and the lunches were made and then not needed. Anyway, the tour to the Big Muddy went ahead and the weather was good!
After leaving Coronach we drove near the former and present mine sites. They have a lot of coal here and apparently produce electricity for a third of Saskatchewan. Coal certainly has a bad reputation but the area where mining was finished didn’t look bad at all. I’m not sure the wind power they are talking about replacing it with would be better. I was also introduced to Texas gates. I was apparently the only person who didn’t know what they were.
Then we stopped at Castle Butte. It is the one place on the tour that I wouldn’t have minded more time at. There was only time to either climb it or walk around it. There were also small caves one could explore. I climbed it as how could I not. Apparently it used to be safer than it is now. Climbing up it was actually pretty easy. Getting down was a whole other story. I slowly descended my basically crawling down. Near the bottom I figured I could just kind of run down the rest. It was a lot quicker but the problem was stopping; I ended up really scratching my leg and a couple of the scratches bleed. I guess this is why I don’t run! Some guy rode a unicycle across the top of it recently. Our guide hadn’t heard about this which I thought would have been big news in a small town!
Then it was off to Big Beaver. It may have a population of 17 but it has a open general store. The town was originally to the east but when the railway wasn’t extended any further, the townspeople decided to move their buildings to the where the railway ended. Aust’s General Store’s slogan is “if we don’t have it, you don’t need it.” They had a pretty good variety of items and some of the prices were surprisingly low, like the can of V8 I bought. The owner was working that day and we said he took cash or you could mail him a cheque (apparently, he was serious). The store had a guest book so it is clearly a tourist attraction and not just a store. The town’s campground was completely empty on a long weekend. Apparently they do get occasional campers these days. It was actually created to accommodate tours. Back in the 1970s when these tours started they were only held two weekends per year and the groups were large and they needed a place to stay. Big Beaver’s abandoned curling rink was also interesting.
We stopped for lunch at Paisley Brook School, a one-room schoolhouse. There was a large family reunion going on down the street and apparently some of the people at the reunion had attended the school and would be visiting it later.
Then we visited a former RCMP detachment. This was where the U.S. border was first quite close. If the dividing point wasn’t pointed out, you’d never know there was a border. There are now only foundations of the the buildings because the owner back in the 1970s didn’t like the talk of them becoming heritage sites and tore them down. It really is a scenic location though and it also has a natural spring running through it.
Then we headed to the outlaw caves. They were very tiny but I can see how people (and horses) managed to stay hidden there. The entrances were apparently much smaller originally. Again the border is super closer and if climb too close to the fence apparently helicopters suddenly appear. The property also had a turtle effigy but the tall grass really makes it difficult to see it. There were also several abandoned buildings on site but as the grass was so tall I couldn’t get too close.
We briefly stopped to see an abandoned “mansion.” It really didn’t look at big but at the time it was built it was huge for the area and the wood came from quite a long way away in Montana. There are now holes in the roof as it was later used as a granary.
We then headed to a buffalo effigy which was a bit easier to make out than the turtle effigy. There was also a prayer flag. The site was quite close to a former border crossing. Apparently Canada closed its crossing not long after the Americans built themselves a new building. The Americans keep their crossing going for a few months but ultimately closed theirs too. The communication certainly sounds lacking! Anyway, aboriginals from Montana used to come here and pray all night but they haven’t been here since that crossing closed.
After the tour, I headed to the St. Victor Petroglyphs. The area was very nice but the petroglyphs were difficult to see and thus rather underwhelming. They have lots of signs and fences to prevent people climbing on the petroglyphs but there were still a couple people there climbing on them.
After leaving St. Victor the sky really started to darken and after a bit I saw some lightning. Still, I couldn’t resist a brief detour when I saw an old church and schoolhouse off the highway. This place was called Maxstone.
I then headed to Assiniboia where I spent the night. I stayed at a motel for $50 including tax. While it wasn’t the nicest place I’ve ever stayed, the bed was new and comfortable and I had a great night’s sleep. There really was no reason to spend more.
On Sunday, I stopped by three towns on my way back home. Ardill and Expanse weren’t too far from Assinoboia and not terribly far off the highway and not far from each other. In Ardill, the GPS wanted me to go on what clearly hadn’t been a road in a long time but it wasn’t far to another road. It still had some residents. Expanse was abandoned but a lot smaller.
Later I stopped by Girvin which is right off highway 11, a major highway by Saskatchewan standards. This place isn’t quite abandoned but has a real abandoned feel to it and was clearly pretty large at one point. It was really weird to be places where it looked like you were not near anything but could hear all the cars on the highway.
And then I shopped a little in Saskatoon and headed back to North Battleford.