A drive down a dusty back road finds us in Loverna Saskatchewan. We’ve arrived! The community is that close to earning the title of “ghost town” and wandering quiet streets, we pass empty buildings, some near collapse, vacant lots, forgotten churches and other scattered remnants of human habitation. The silence, the stillness, it’s powerful and at times near overwhelming…and is in stark contrast to the Loverna of a century past which was a bustling boom-town with much hope and promise.
First off: this is not a regular outing for the Team. We’re here to be part of a documentary being filmed, “Forgotten Prairie” from Rueben Tschetter’s Cache Productions. He follows us and some fellow photographers, Byron Robb and view camera jockey Rob Pohl, as we explore a number of abandoned type places near the Alberta/Saskatchewan Border, taking pictures and speaking with locals. The film can be seen on Telus Optik TV and Youtube and will be available here at BIGDoer.com in the coming weeks.
Loverna was founded in 1913. Like near every other small community in the province, it sprang to life with the coming of the railway. Steel was laid into generally uninhabited regions and people and towns would soon follow. That was the plan anyway – a bit of a cart before the horse methodology – but it seemed to work. This line was built by Grand Trunk Pacific. In the early 1920s, Canadian National Railways took over. It was conceived as a major through route but in the end was only a lightly trafficked “grain” branch.
For the next number of years Loverna prospered. A good size grew out of this, with a downtown core several blocks square down there by the tracks and a good sized residential area further behind. The future was bright – heck no, it was blinding. At the peak there was some five hundred people here, along with every type of business a prosperous community could ever need. There were hotels, restaurants and stores of every description. Many more people lived on farms in the area.
In summary, if you were in this part of Saskatchewan in those days, this was the place to be and was the largest town for some distance around. Loverna, by the way, is a stone’s throw from the Alberta border.
Then the downward slide started, slowly at first but building with each passing year. Fires ravaged parts of downtown – people left, businesses closed. Each year the population fell. The railway was pulled up in the 1980s – not that anyone really noticed. This sort of sad decline played out in many small prairie communities.
Fast forward to 2017 and Loverna has a permanent population counted on one hand (a few others live here seasonally). In downtown there’s a couple old buildings that once were businesses, closed long ago. And they’re collapsing or close to. Empty lots outnumber those with something on them by a huge margin. In the residential area, more houses are vacant than lived in.
Let’s take a tour!
The town is laid out in a grid about five blocks square and five deep. Main and First, by the old railway line marks downtown. There would have been a train station just over there. And grain elevators in behind. Main is mostly empty now, but markers tells us what used to be here. There was a big business district in Loverna! A Chinese Laundry here, a hotel there, a confectionery on this plot, a hardware store on that. East/west avenues are numbered and north/south streets given names (King, Queens, Saskatchewan, Dominion, etc).
On 2nd Avenue the old Canadian Legion is the only old building standing. At one time every small town had a “Legion”, a place for servicemen or former servicemen to hang out. The organization still exists, although today anyone can join. Most small town chapters have long since closed, however.
In old photos there used to be a White Rose gas station next door. Oh, it was beautiful. In behind a 1940s Ford Two Ton, in “BIGDoer Yellow” begs to be photographed.
Further east, at the town’s only business, a repair shop, an old Calgary Transit “Fishbowl” bus in retirement is seen. They got that nickname from the expansive front window. The design, officially was called “New Look” by the maker General Motors. This one dates from the mid-1970s – and was retired, we believe in the later half of the 1990s. New Looks were made from the late-1950s to the mid-1980s and for that era were the most popular transit bus.
In back, a Winnebago Brave. This iconic design was the first mass-produced motor home (1970s era) and in many ways started it all. Compared to the battleship sized monster rigs today, it’s quite modest in proportions.
There’s good number of houses in the residential area, some lived in some not and in decay. Please, if you photograph any of them, do it from the street.
Turning back, the south end of main street reached and is home to a couple churches, Grace United and All Saint’s Anglican (“always open for prayer”). We got a thing for churches, so we’re happy. Both are well kept and used occasionally for special services and the like, funerals and the odd wedding. Between the two is the Loverna Cenotaph honouring those who fought and died for our freedoms. It’s staggering how many small town boys volunteered in service of their country. And it’s sobering to know how many didn’t return.
A third church sits on private property a bit to the west.
The community hall is used from time to time. Old signs decorate the walls. For Loverna’s 100th Birthday a few years back, a big party was held here. Loverna hasn’t seen this many people in a long, long time.
Most all of what we’ve looked at so far dates from the early period (1910s-1920s).
Caraganas have taken over and many vacant buildings are obscured by this fast growing shrub. This plant is not native to Canada but thrives in the harsh conditions here. That’s why it was brought over, to be used as decorative wind breaks (nice yellow flowers come spring). But if left unchecked it grows like a weed. Most lawns, including places not lived in or used, still get a good mowing. For a ghost town or near ghost town, it’s a rather tidy place.
Over behind downtown is the Curling Rink. Every small prairie town had a rink…and near everybody in the small prairie towns participated. This one is fairly modern, dating from the 1970s. Old advertisements adorns the walls – a good read – many from long gone businesses – the Pool went the way of the Dinosaur. Games were played here into the 1990s. On the opposite side of town old baseball diamonds are seen. Been a while since they were used I bet.
So our motley group wanders about, sometimes together, sometimes each going their own way. Free range photographers on the loose, we bump into each other as we explore the place each in our own special way. All the while, filming of the documentary continues. We’ve been at this for four days now so hardly notice our filmmaker.
It’s chilly but it does little to dampen our enthusiasm and resolve. It’s gotta be done. Time is taken to speak with residents…and grab a welcome coffee.
Loverna was one of four separate towns we visited while filming Forgotten Prairie (also hit up a metal yard). It was in fact, the last one we took in. From here we all went our own way and headed home, each knowing they were part of something special in the making of this production. It’s understanding our past, knowing where we came from and maybe learning something that we hope has been shared.
We visited Loverna, briefly, the year before…
A Few Minutes in Loverna.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: April, 2017.
Location: Loverna SK.
Article references (and thanks): Book – Borderline memories : a history of the town of Loverna and the school districts of Antelope, Claremont, Grattle, Pizarro, Rock Plains, Saskalta, Springville, South Loverna and Stratton (whew!), Glenbow Archives, Johnnie Bachusky, Canadian Public Transit Discussion Board.
You can walk the streets of Loverna and go inside the Anglican Church. Please do not enter any other buildings. BIGDoer.com visited with permission.