Legendary photographer Harry Palmer sent us an image showing “downtown” Alsask Saskatchewan in 1985 to use in one of our trademark then and now series. Thirty years after he captured his wonderful photo, we venture back to the exact spot where he stood to record how the scene looks today. Some of what was is long gone and some is still there. Change is guaranteed, but is rarely a constant.
Alsask is located close to the ALberta/SASKatchewan border, from where it gets its name (it’s just on the SK side). Founded just over a century ago, it’s a tiny village today, home to just over a hundred people. Downtown is comprised of several former businesses flanking a wide boulevard, all of them closed with some being used as residences.
Of the three buildings seen in the old photo, two are no longer around. The grain elevator with the “Pool” lettering was from 1912, constructed just after the town was established, and when seen belonged to the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool (in the past other grain firms owned it). By 1985 it was not in use having been closed a couple years prior. When it was torn down is not known, but a couple local residents we spoke with seemed to think sometime before 1990. The Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, like the elevator, is no more. Is ceased to be as a firm in the 2000s.
There used to be other grain elevators in Alsask, the last coming down in the 1990s. These would have been just off camera to the left or right.
A Canadian National Railway line (former Canadian Northern), built around 1910, did and still does pass through town. The track today is pretty quiet and not used much. It travels between Saskatoon and Oyen Alberta, the latter not terribly far from Alsask. In the past it used to run all the way to Calgary. Commodities carried include grain (of course) and oil.
The corner of the old train station can be seen in the “then” photo. We spoke with some people in town, casually, who happened to be in their yards and within ear shot of us, and most seem to think it was gone by 1990. In 1985 it was likely used by the railway for storage space or some other utilitarian function.
The Alsask Hotel, front and centre, was open in the 1980s but by today is shuttered. We have not found when it was built and no one we spoke with seemed to know for certain, We can safely assume it dates back to the early days of the towns history however (so the 1910s or 1920s). If you can help fill in the blanks on this or anything else mentioned in this article, fire off an email to us.
From what we can find the hotel closed about a decade ago. You’ll notice in the old photo it was a Greyhound Bus Lines stop. I recall in the late 1980s riding to Saskatoon from Calgary with the restaurant here being used for the dinner stop.
Nearly all the “then” photos used in these posts are supplied to us by our readers. If you have a vintage photo (scanned, prints or slides), yours or in the public domain, at least 25-30 years old or more, showing a street scene such as this, send it to us and we’ll go to the place shown to record how things are today. Drop us a line if you’re interested.
The old photo is copyright Harry Palmer and is used with permission. He’s supplied us other photos for use in these then and nows posts. A legend, he’s been photographing people, places and things for decades. We’re honoured to include his work here.
Our “now” shots are composed in camera, freehand, using a special grid system we’ve developed over the years. Of course, this quick and dirty method means our results won’t be prefect, but we often get close most of the time. You’ll notice the hotel in the now photo seems to fall away at steeper angle than that in the then photo. This is for the most part an optical illusion, which so far I have not found an explanation for. When the two photos are overlaid, they match up much better. Check out the second image to see that for yourself
This same day we did a second then and now in Alsask, which will be posted here soon. That subject will be the old school house in town, a wonderful brick structure that’s no longer used. Also explored this trip was the decommissioned Alsask Canadian Forces military installation that includes a Cold War era radar dome tower, we were given special permission to explore, once used to scan for approaching enemy (meaning Russian) aircraft or missiles. It was an early warning system, that in the end was never really of much use.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: June, 2015.
Location: Alsask. SK.
Article sources: Statistics Canada, Casual conversations with local residents.
Our photographs were shot from public property.