This is the first of a series of excerpts from a book of my essays on photography which will be published in 2016.
Golden Prairie is a village in southwestern Saskatchewan, north of Maple Creek and the Cypress Hills. Settled in the early years of the twentieth century primarily by Germans from Russia who came to Canada via North Dakota and incorporated as a village in 1928, Golden Prairie became a thriving service centre for a relatively small farming area.
I spent my first eight years on the family farm six miles east and one mile south of Golden Prairie and attended a one-room school a mile and a half from our farm for Grade One (referred to as First Grade in the USA). One teacher taught 10 students in Grades One to Nine.
I was the only student in Grade One. I still have my report card from that year, which my teacher, Miss Hucksted, had created from a page of foolscap. I was late five times, missed 24.5 days of school and received my lowest grade (a B-) in art.
We moved to Golden Prairie in 1949 so that my sister and I could attend a larger school and my father could take a job as an elevator agent with Federal Grain to supplement our income from the grain and cattle farm. We farmed from town for the next eleven years.
We lived temporarily in what my sister and I referred to as the shack house, before moving several months later to a fine dwelling which had been purchased by the grain company. My mother cried when she saw the interior of the house. She was almost as upset the legions of mice whose lives were about to be changed abruptly. But we were happy to be living in a fine community, with schools, churches, three grocery stores and a community hall which functioned as a movie theatre on Friday and Saturday nights and a venue for weddings, dances, whist drives and other community events during the rest of the week.
I became a documentary photographer in 1955 in Golden Prairie, at the age of 13. I did not know what a documentary photographer was, but my teacher asked me to photograph the town for a publication which would celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Province of Saskatchewan (created in 1905). I was delighted to be asked to do what she asked. Photographing the town for posterity seemed like an important assignment, and the idea of having my photographs in a publication was very appealing.
I owned a Brownie Hawkeye camera and a custom leather case that my parents bought for me in Montana. I purchased two rolls of 620 black and white film in Broome’s store and began photographing on a Saturday morning. The assignment took a couple of Saturdays to complete. I then sent the films to Winnipeg to be processed.
By the time I had received my prints and negatives my teacher told me that the school no longer needed these photos. My photographs were not published until 2007 when I created Golden Prairie, an e-book which included photographs (1955 – 2001), text and audio. I had the original photographs from 1955, but chose to print new images in my darkroom, using the original negatives.
Photography became an important part of my life. My work has been published and may also be found in public and private collections.
I took Grades Two to Ten and Grade Twelve in Golden Prairie. The local School District was unable to find teachers for Grade Eleven and, as a result, six of us went to school that year in Maple Creek, boarding with families in that relatively large town (2000 people). Maple Creek was 30 miles from Golden Prairie. We spent weekdays there, but came home for weekends.
In 1960 my parents built a new house on the farm and moved back to full-time rural life, while I spent the summer in BC taking an officer’s training course with the Canadian Army, then enrolled in the College of Agriculture at the University of Saskatchewan.
I published Golden Prairie as a free ebook in 2008; it includes photographs that I made between 1955 and 2001, as well as text and audio. You’ll find it at spottedcowpress.ca. Download it and take a walk with me through Golden Prairie, first, as I photographed town streets and buildings in 1955, then 46 years later.
The village survives in a gentle way. Deer graze in abandoned lots, while trucks drive quietly through the wide streets. The schools have all been closed, so there are no sounds of bells or students at recess, although I can still hear both as I walk through the school yard.
It’s still my town, and I thank those who have kept it so well for so long.