This old farm is a particularity photogenic one, discovered in an arid and remote corner of Alberta, along a forgotten highway. What makes this find even more interesting is that using our detective skills, we were able to dig up information on who lived there – amazing! Unlike most farms, whose former occupants are anonymous, we have some back story here. Not a lot, but enough to allow us to connect with those who used to call this farm their home.
The subject for this report is located on the empty prairie, near the tiny village of Pollockville Alberta. Surrounded by overgrown hedges, the huge yard has a house as it’s centre piece, along with several what appear to be hired hand’s living quarters, odd outbuildings, remains of old cars and equipment, and a good number of what I thought were chicken coops. As it turned out, the these buildings were actually mink sheds (more on this below), proving how little I know about raising animals or farming in general.
There did not appear to be a barn, nor even the remains of of one. Of course, I could have missed the latter since the grass was knee high if not better, hiding much from us.
Entering the yard, we of course are drawn to the house. It’s an archetypal two storey farm residence with a large front yard along with the remains of a picket fence. An ivy clings to the west side of the building, the vibrant greens contrasting with the weather worn browns and greys of the building itself. Sitting on a crumbling foundation, this has caused the house to shift a bit and like most old farm houses, it’s leaning and sagging in places. The once inviting and welcoming front door, sits ajar.
All the windows are gone, which seems to be par for the course. It’s seems rare to find such a building with the glass intact. The gaping holes of course lets in the birds, who nest inside, leaving their calling cards (poop) everywhere. On approaching, I see lots of pigeons, who often take up residence in these abandoned buildings. A couple very large Great Horned Owls also live here as it turns out, scaring the daylights out of me as they fly out a window I was just about to look in. Why the pigeons choose to roost so close to predators like this surprises me. The owls take off, perching on fence posts at the far side of the farm yard, watching our every move as we explore.
I elect not to go into the house. It’s appears rotted in places and unsafe and the thick layer of bird poop are hardly inviting. Outside of the second floor, which looks downright dangerous, we can see most of the building’s interior anyway and it’s otherwise empty and devoid of any artifacts.
Making our way to the westerly part of the yard, we pass through a mine field of badger holes (easy to twist an ankle) and old boards and shingles with nails in them. The thick grass hides these dangers all too well, it’s could be a nasty place.
This part of the yard has a few bits of old farm machinery, a water well and the remains of a 1920-ish carm. The latter was perhaps once the farmer’s pride and joy. I also found a single cylinder McCormick-Deering stationary engine. Very cool!
Behind the house, are some various work and storage sheds, and other out buildings.
To the east of the house are a large number of those mink sheds that I though were for chickens. Beside them are some buildings that I assume were in support of that operation, along with what looks to be a house for farm workers. Just a guess on my part, but it does look like living quarters and perhaps the operation was large enough to require outside help. In this area I find a nice old cast iron stove. I look inside one of the sheds and like nearly any abandoned farm building open to the air, it’s ankle deep in bird droppings. Yuck!
Heading back, we shoot the house some more, it’s just so photogenic and it draws us in. The owls are still watching us as we take our last pictures and head back to the car. I presume they are happy to see us go so they can return to their nest in the house.
While we did not know it at the time, we had just visited the “Brander Farm”. Various members of that family lived here from the early 1920s, until the 1960s (exact dates unknown), when the site was abandoned. This information is from the book “Echoes from this, our Land, 1909-1990”, a history of the area. A photograph in that book, dated 1988, shows the very farm we just visted, abandoned even then.
There is a short passage on the family and it’s stated that mink farming took place here in the later part of the 1930s, lasting for over a decade. Most of what we see is from that era. In addition to their animal pelt business, they also grew grain, raised sheep and horses and such…all typical farming endeavours. It was not a chicken ranch as I had mistakenly assumed. Who would have guessed furs however?
The houses and other buildings have been in this abandoned state for some forty plus years and given that, they are in surprisingly good shape. However, the weather and birds have taken their toll and I wonder how long the buildings have before they too succumb to time and the elements.
In researching this article I found the obituary of a person who’s connected to this very farm house. This lady, Kathleen, who passed in 2005 at an advanced age of 84 in Regina Saskatchewan, was one of the Brander children, their only daughter, who grew up here. That’s interesting.
We enjoyed our visit to this farm, and it was discovered as we explored towns along the long abandoned CNR Sheerness Subdivision (the Peavine Line). The railway came though in the early 1920s and abandoned in the 1970s. The region was and is lightly populated and very remote.
If you’d like to know more about this place, by all means contact us!
Date: August 2013.
Location: Near Pollockville, AB (IE., in the middle of nowhere).