On a frigid weekend, April 2017, Chris ‘n’ Connie roll into east-central Saskatchewan accompanied by friends. We’re here filming a documentary “Forgotten Prairie”, a production highlighting this crazy obsession we have with all things abandoned and old. This day’s stop is the tiny little (almost) ghost town of Hoosier Saskatchewan. Our rag-tag group descends on this “lost” burg, doubling or tripling the population for a time, to take in what it has to offer, in particular the old school and church.
Hoosier dates back to the early 1910s. What’s in a name? Seems a lot of local settlers came in from Indiana, the “Hoosier” State. Now you know. We looked up the meaning behind the word – why does Hoosier means someone from there – seems no one we spoke with had a clue. They’re called Hoosiers, because they’ve always been called Hoosiers is generally the response we got. Anyway…
The town was founded concurrent with the railway arriving. This line ran west from Biggar Saskatchewan, through Hoosier, before heading into Alberta. It was built by the Grand Trunk Pacific, a firm seemingly always on a slippery footing financially, that later got folded into Canadian National Railways in around 1920. The line lasted till the early 1980s before it was abandoned. It was never more than a sleepy grain gathering branch with at best sporadic service.
The town boomed for a time, briefly, as was always the case when the tracks arrived. They got up to a few dozen people we’re told with lots more on farms in the area. Then it settled into a long slow decline, a fate that befell most small prairie towns. Today, it’s home to a few people, a Co-op store and card lock, and a small post office/restaurant.
Our first subject, the Hoosier School. An imposing brick structure with several class rooms, it was built in 1930 and replaced an earlier school that burned down. It’s good sized – used to be a lots of kids in the area, especially on nearby farms. The school remained in use into the 1966. In later years, only lower grades were taught here.
It’s not said if it was abandoned right away or used for other functions. We did find a fair number of 1970s era papers scattered about inside – make of it what you will. Interestingly, one page in an open book, staring us right in the face, has the headline “Easter 1977”. So what? Well, we visited on Easter Sunday 2017, forty years later. What a crazy coincidence. There’s one small room on the upper floor. Principal’s office maybe? As is the case with most abandoned buildings, it’s been vandalized.
The roof is collapsing in a couple places. Still, the building seems solid overall. The classroom level is mostly empty. In the basement, old desks are piled several deep. A snow-squall moves in and take refuge down there, the wind and cold outside near insufferable. We find every excuse we can to keep shooting in the bowels of the school till it passes.
We attempt a BBQ on the front steps – a good twenty minutes to cook a weenie. A local comes by suggesting the restaurant might open up for us if we ask nicely. But we tough it out. Easter Sunday hot-dogs. Somehow it seems fitting.
Behind the school, an empty house demands attention. Looks like it was lived in up until the 1990s or thereabouts. Out back, a Sekine “ten speed”. When you author was in school back in the ’70s, this was the “cool” brand to own – most of us were burdened with crappy CCM or Canadian Tire “Super Cycles” instead. A bright orange Case Tractor (1950s era) is the only colour on an otherwise dreary day. A cat comes up to say hi.
The sky breaks. The snow vanishes. Wintry hell mere moments ago, it’s now…well…almost nice. And even a bit warm. Don’t like the weather in Hoosier? Wait a minute.
Next we visit the Hoosier United Church which dates from 1916. Regular services were held here until 1966, although it functioned as a community centre of sort for a time after (till the 1990s). Today, it’s silent, although with everything in place, it looks like a service could be held at any time. A photo dated 1955 shows it with a pretty good sized congregation.
The building is suffering from a collapsing foundation. Somehow we missed photographing it – or maybe didn’t want to photograph it. This just might be terminal if not acted upon soon. Hoosier United is historically recognized – not that it means much. Recognized is one thing, the money to fix problems is another. BTW, the building, and school visited earlier, are not completely abandoned and belong to someone. We visited with permission…if that means anything.
And much like the school, the church has been made a mess by trouble makers. Seems particularly disrespectful here.
The United Church is one of the larger denominations in Canada. It dates from 1925 and came about as a amalgamation of several protestant groups, including the Association of Local Union Churches here on the prairies.
Some local pooches drop by to say hi as we shoot and photobomb almost every frame. Late in the day, we rush Connie to the nearest Greyhound depot (well, a gas station on the highway many clicks away). She’s got to rush home for work while we stay behind for one more day of shooting.
Joining us this trip were good friends Rob Pohl and Byron Robb. Regular readers will recognize these guys – we’ve hung with them many times. Rob’s that weird fellow that shoots old style view cameras. He brought out the “big guns” for this trip, an 8×10” monster, this microwave oven sized thing that weights a ton or two (perhaps a bit of an over-exaggeration). Normally he uses a 4×5”, still a good sized camera, but ones that’s more manageable and portable. Relatively speaking of course.
And Byron – look for the bright orange jacket – another friend with a camera who we shoot with when we can. We insist the people we hang with be fun and interesting and this here fellow is no exception. He joined us when we did the Beechwood Estates (Seph Lawless shoutout!) and Seven Houses …and holding articles.
And what of this film we’ve been speaking of? Stay tuned people, it’ll be premier soon here at BIGDoer.com. In the meantime it can be watched on YouTube and Telus Optic TV under the title “Forgotten Prairie”. A production of Rueben Tschetter’s Cache Productions, it’s a simple film. The premise – as a group let’s explore some towns that time seemingly has passed by and speak with locals connected to these places. Pretty straightforward really. But damn powerful. More on this in the coming weeks.
Over a four day weekend, we visited four towns (and one metal yard) while shooting Forgotten Prairie. Beside Hoosier, we toured Esther Alberta, just over the border, along with Loverna and Fusilier Saskatchewan, all with the participation of those who own them.
We’ve been to Hoosier before…
A few minutes in Hoosier.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: April, 2017.
Location: Hoosier, SK.
Article references (and thanks): Book – Prairie Sod to Golden Acres – History of Hoosier District, HistoricPlaces.ca, United Church of Canada, Rueben Tschetter, Byron Robb, Rob Pohl.
If you visit Hoosier, please show the school and church respect. Take nothing but photos.