Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Welcome to My Grandparents’ Village by Margaret Hanna

“Village of Meyronne and Hanna farm, ca. 1927"

I grew up on the farm that my grandparents, Abe and Addie Hanna, homesteaded in 1909 and in the farm house that they built in stages between 1917 and 1926. The village of Meyronne, Saskatchewan, only a quarter-mile south of the farmhouse, was carved out of the southwest corner of the farm when the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) came through in 1913.

Where is Meyronne? you ask.

The village – what is left of it – is situated on Highway 13 in southwestern Saskatchewan. The highway is officially known as the Redcoat Trail but it might be more correctly called the Ghost Town Trail. Drive along it and you are hard pressed to see many of the towns that used to exist. Now that almost every grain elevator is gone, what is left seems to disappear into the landscape. A few houses and trees. Possibly a church. Maybe an abandoned school or garage. Maybe a falling-in rink. Perhaps a gas station alongside the highway. Nothing more.

A hundred years ago, it was very different. Thanks to the Canadian government’s propaganda, everyone wanted a piece of Saskatchewan where all you had to do was throw the seed on the ground and sit back and wait for the bumper crop to put itself into the bins. Or so the brochures implied. The reality was somewhat different as the homesteaders soon discovered.

The place was booming. Farmsteads consisting of a house, barn, and granaries existed on almost every quarter-section. Towns were strung along the rail line like beads on a necklace, six to seven miles apart. Each town had elevators, churches, schools, town halls, hotels, banks and businesses, and upwards of 100 to 300 inhabitants, plus the surrounding farm population.

So many people settled in Saskatchewan in the early years of the 20th century that some optimistic soul predicted the province’s population would soon reach 20 million!

Boy, was he wrong!

Today, Saskatchewan's population hovers just above 1 million. Most people live in cities. The surviving towns and villages are mere shadows of what they once were. They were emptied out as younger generations moved into cities where better education and job opportunities awaited.

I was one of those who left.

Meyronne has pretty much dried up and blown away. Only a few families still live there. Almost all lots are vacant.

“Meyronne Main Street, 1913"

It wasn’t always thus. At its height, in the late 1920s, about 350 people lived there. The village boasted three grocery stores, two hardware stores, a butcher shop, a druggist, three cafes (run by Chinese), a laundry (also run by Chinese), a shoe repair shop, a boarding house, two livery stables, three lumber yards, a post office, a pool hall, the Bank of Toronto, a blacksmith shop, three garages that sold either Chevrolet or Ford cars or Massey Harris farm equipment, a three-storey hotel complete with cafĂ© and beer parlour, a lawyer, a doctor, the Royal North West Mount Police barracks, the CPR station, a confectionary (ice cream, anyone?), Knox Presbyterian (later United) Church, Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, the public school, the separate (Catholic) school, the Memorial Rink with both skating ice and two curling sheets, a post office, a telephone office, five grain elevators, and a nursing home/hospital.  To the east was the sports ground, the cenotaph, and the cemeteries – one for the Presbyterians and one for the Catholics, well-separated by a fence.

Village and district gossip, as well as news from elsewhere, was disseminated via The Meyronne Independent, run by R. “Bobby” Johnson.

CPR Station, Meyronne, ca. 1920”

It was the junction of two CPR lines – one from Moose Jaw to Shaunavon, the other from Swift Current to Meyronne. The station master was busy with shipping and receiving freight, sending and receiving telegrams, and selling passenger tickets. The CPR section manager lived there; he monitored the rail lines and ensured the water tower and coal shed were full for the steam engines that passed through twice daily. Highway 13 ran through the centre of town.

It was a happening place.

Then came 1929. A combination of the depression and drought – the “Dirty Thirties” – hit  southwestern Saskatchewan particularly hard. It was essentially the end of Meyronne and many other villages in the area. The decline was slow but steady. By the 1950s, when I was growing up, the village was only a shadow of what it had been. It declined even more after Highway 13 was re-routed a half-mile north and when the CPR stopped, first, passenger service and eventually freight service. Today, only a few houses, the Catholic church and the cemetery remain.

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