It was never a town to speak of, more a locality, some crossroad, a dot on the map, a reference point for a general area. There might have been a post office here, perhaps a rural school close by, maybe a church or two, but not an organized community in any sense. Still, it has a name, this place, on the expansive plains east of Edmonton. It’s called Shandro, named after an early settler and home to something pretty darn interesting to people like us.
Here, along the highway, off to one side is a museum. A closed museum, last open to the public a couple decades back (give or take), but intact and kept up, looking a bit tired but still welcoming, yet welcoming no one. This is Shandro Village, sometimes Shandro Historic Village, or officially, the Historical Village and Pioneer Museum at Shandro. The museum’s theme: Ukrainian Culture. Lots of settlers in the area came from the old county there.
There’s a good compliment of buildings here, curious relics I supposed to those driving the road that passes in front. “What’s that place?” “A museum…darn it’s closed.” Words mumbled a lot I bet.
Anyway, there’s the old Willingdon Train Station, brought in from that nearby town, a wind powered grist mill…very cool. There’s a hall where functions were once held, an old river ferry that once replaced by a bridge was out of work and then brought here and put on display.
There’s several Ukrainian style farm houses, a one room school (there used to be thousands of these across the province). God I hated class, with a passion, so the building fills me with disdain in spite of myself.
The centrepiece at Shandro is a traditional Ukrainian Style Church, You may know the type, with prominent domes topped by those crosses unique to the Orthodox Faiths – with three cross-pieces, not one, the bottom one usually at a tilt and often the others with elaborate club-shaped capped ends. These places are also called Ukrainian Orthodox Churches, Russian Orthodox Churches, or Russo/Greek Orthodox Churches. Overall similar in appearance and layout, they’re usually quite elaborately decorated inside.
This one’s a very early example and dates back well over a century.
A mock cemetery sits outs back. Lettering on them is in old county Cyrillic.
There’s a small collection of farm machinery, equipment, various old-school conveyances, sleighs and wagons, and things like that. The main focus here were the buildings however. And that Ukrainian vibe.
Shandro Historic Village dates back to the 1960s when some locals got together and decided it was important, and pressing, to document the early history of the area. Most of the buildings and other bits were brought in at that time and others into the 1970s. It was a “living history” museum, one with volunteers playing interactive characters from the past. Someone might be baking bread, another might be working the smithy, all dressed in period wear of course.
Visitor counts at the start were good but dropped off over the years, the group struggling to keep the place open at the end. Then, in the late 1990s, they closed the doors. Since then the place has been kept up and used we understand from time to time for community events, the occasional wedding, and every once in while, they let the public in. Most of the time, the place is empty, silent, and seemingly forgotten.
The future is uncertain. It’s being taken care of, and watched over by protective neighbours. But one must ask, how long can a closed museum exist? No money coming in, the caretakers and such growing older with no one to take their place. No one caring to take their place. Consider it a holding pattern at best.
We get in, cause that’s what our historical society does. Not a boast, that’s our job, our mission, we, the chroniclers of all things old, historic, abandoned, forgotten or unloved. We get the keys, the gate’s opened for us. Just be sure to lock up when you leave, they remark as they drive away. And we always do. Once in a while a local drops by to check us out, and satisfied we’re here on official business, soon up and leave.
We wander about, Team BIGDoer, along with art photographer Rob Pohl, with his giant view camera, this strange thing, an odd anachronism that shoots film. Big film. Seems fitting, given the setting I guess.
We separate and shoot, capturing what ever angle Shandro Village offers up and draws us in, each in their own special way (turns out, we end up capturing a lot of similar pics). Being a train buff, the ex-CPR station get’s it fair share of attention from us. Boxes of old papers inside get a look. The Alberta Social Credit Party? Before our time, this once juggernaut of provincial politics has been basically dead since, what, the 1970s? Their platform was conservative…many in the know we’ve spoken with say “ultra” conservative. One said “Trump” conservative. Waiting on the emails…
MacLeod’s Catalogues…remember that firm…thumbing through them keeps us busy. The fashion, the style, it’s both amusing and it takes us back. I’m pretty sure my mom had that kitchen set…and that cabinet TV! God, the prices, so cheap. But a TV commanded a princely sum back then, relative of course to the income at the time.
With every corner turned, there’s new stuff to Shandro Village. The big picture, the little minute details, everything in between. So many things that once meant something to someone and now collecting dust. We sit in the school for a moment, with bird droppings, scattered feathers, and mummified remains of some unfortunate winged beastie that passed on and reminisce. As much as I hated school it was important.
The church – Team BIGDoer has a thing for them. Never attended but still have a fine respect for those who did, and had the faith, which ever branch of faith they followed. Find them serene and peaceful and a great subject for photography.
Wander more. The ferry’s looking pretty rotten. Small trees grow in its deck. Inside, a building, an old chest full of plates. There, an old phone – another thing we gotta thing for. Uncle Ben’s? Lord, the old man love his cheap beer, and this was often his go-to brand. Damn swill from the old days. “Brewed with Pure Manitoba Spring Water” – translation: a hose running to the nearest ditch in Transcona where the brewery was. Uncle Ben, aka Ben Ginter, really rocked that flat top. He looked the part, a real man’s man. A drunk man’s man perhaps, but one none the less. Ah, the beer memories.
Inside the farm houses, it’s hard to believe people lived so humbly. Damn, we got it cushy. These people were, as we say waaaay too often, hard core. Most people today wouldn’t last a week in their shoes. I bet most wouldn’t last a day. Hard work, no smartphones, simple food (some might say boring or bland), no internet, remote farm living, no modern conveniences. Let me outa this place!
Just strolling about Shandro. Some weird machinery…not sure its purpose. Ewww, the rotting head of a dead deer! Wait, it’s a stuffed one.
It took all this, this windmill, to make flour? A bag of Robin Hood from the local Safeway was not an option I guess. Communal kitchen…smell the stuff cooking. Perogies, Cabbage Rolls, Beet Soup, all staples. A row of storage jars are filled with spices and preserved stuff. Storage Jars? Snicker…damn, now I can’t get that Monty Python sketch out of my head…”On tonight’s programme Mikos Antoniarkis, the Greek rebel leader who seized power in Athens this morning, tells us what he keeps in storage jars…”
Look at the watch. We’ve been here that many hours? That old time flies saying sure was spot on here. I guess that’s why the SD card is full. And Rob’s, he’s shot, what, ten or twelve frames…yup that’s about right for the time. Shooting his was means realllllllllly slooooooooooowing dooooooooooooooooown.
Pull out, lock the gate, once parting glance back, say goodbye. Shandro Village/Shandro Pioneer Museum/Shandro how ever we call you…this visit we’ll remember for a long, long time. You’re only a cluster of old buildings, seen by few, but what a great host you were. We see so many special places…and you’re right up there as one of most memorable. Sorry it took so long to publish this piece. I guess I let it get away from me. It happens.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: November, 2016.
Location: Shandro, AB.
Article references (and thanks): The Museum Caretaker, Photographer Robert Pohl, TheCanadianEncyclopedia.ca and OurRoots.ca.
The Historical Village and Pioneer Museum at Shandro is not open to the public. BIGDoer.com was on site with permission.
The images that follow come from Rob Pohl’s huge film camera. He joined us on this adventure…no…rather, we joined him…no, we collaborated as we often do. Swing by his website, it’s a worthwhile diversion during your busy day: http://robertspohl.blogspot.ca/.