Netherhill, a pinhead-sized dot on the map, blink and you’ll miss it kind of place, a mostly forgotten backwater on the great plains of western south-central Saskatchewan. It’s a tiny community, a few blocks square, and a wee bit quaint, as small prairie towns often are. Off the beaten path (a tired old cliche we so love it’s become a title for what we do), few people driving by on the busy highway just to the north know it’s there and even less take the time to visit. But we did.
And our goal, to shoot a trademark Chris & Connie/BIGDoer.com “then and now”, one of our favourite sub-genres to appear on this website. Armed with a century old photo – well a scan of a century old postcard, sent to us by a reader – we make our way to “downtown”, at the corner of Main and Railway – every small town has/had a Main and Railway – to see if it’s possible to capture something similar.
Netherhill was founded in the early 1910s. Looking at the old image, which our expert skills tell us is from around that time, hopes were high for the town. One can see a hotel, the only building connecting the then and now shots, and a long row of businesses flanking the wide main street. It looks a happening place.
While not immediately identifiable, the various businesses seen in the old photo probably included a general store, restaurant, blacksmith, barber/pool hall, insurance agency, the whole gamut of businesses one would expect to see in that era. They’re all gone. Mostly likely, long gone.
The hotel looks a little worse for wear in 2015. Once straight and true, there is nary a square edge on the building today. But it is lived in, or so it appears, and is named “Steve’s Castle”. We knocked on the door to see if anyone was home, to maybe see if we could get some background information, but only a cat greeted us. And he wasn’t taking.
Netherhill today has a population of a couple dozen. Given what’s seen in the old photo clearly it was much larger back then. Notice all the people milling about, and the passing horse and wagon in front of the hotel. Some parts of the sign in the mid-ground can be read and it’s an ad for a local lumber yard.
Notice the bare prairie off in the distance in the old photo. Houses are not seen but would have been been located left and right of downtown, just off frame.
The only other element that ties the old to the new is the railway. This line is from the early 1910s – the town and railway arrived on the scene near the same time, which was common back then – and was built by the Canadian Northern Railway. Since the 1920s it’s belonged to Canadian National Railways. The track is still active, but much less so when compared to the old days. The line, until a half dozen years ago or so, traveled all the way between Saskatoon Saskatchewan and Calgary Alberta, but today has been cut back. A small grain terminal, just behind our shooting position, loads grain cars.
On this same trip we explored the old Netherhill school which will be the subject of its own report, sometime soon.
This is not the best then and now we’ve done in terms of lining things up, but what we like is how it shows, dramatically so, how much Netherhill has changed over the years. It’s a sad state of decline, something that’s not unique to here. It’s happening all over the prairies. Where there was once hope and promise, today there is a quiet atrophy. We’re looking at a once vibrant community in its autumn years.
What a difference a century makes.
Our now shots, as always, are lined up in camera and the results, good or bad, are displayed here.
Thanks to a BIGDoer fan, Johnathan Williams of Saskatoon, for sending in the “then” photo. We encourage our readers to send in images like this, showing a street scene or old building, for use in this ongoing series. They must yours, say from your family collection, or be in public domain (most postcards are). Scans are fine, or we can do that for you.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: June, 2015.
Location: Netherhill, SK.
Article sources: CNR records.
Please keep clear of railway tracks.