"Winter has settled down over the Divide again; the season in which Nature recuperates, in which she sinks to sleep between the fruitfulness of autumn and the passion of spring. The birds have gone. The teeming life that goes on down in the long grass is exterminated. The prairie-dog keeps his hole. The rabbits run shivering from one frozen garden patch to another and are hard put to it to find frost-bitten cabbage-stalks. At night the coyotes roam the wintry waste, howling for food. The variegated fields are all one color now; the pastures, the stubble, the roads, the sky are the same leaden gray. The hedgerows and trees are scarcely perceptible against the bare earth, whose slaty hue they have taken on. The ground is frozen so hard that it bruises the foot to walk in the roads or in the ploughed fields. It is like an iron country, and the spirit is oppressed by its rigor and melancholy. One could easily believe that in that dead landscape the germs of life and fruitfulness were extinct forever." ~ Willa Cather, ‘O Pioneers!’ c.1913
The following images were taken this past February along the Yellowhead Highway between Winnipeg, Manitoba, and Edmonton, Alberta. Having travelled across the Prairies four times previous, this was the first time taking the northern route. In comparison to the Trans-Canada route further south, a separated highway which runs through Regina and Calgary, this two lane highway is a bit slower but offers a more interesting experience. Rather than truck stops and a plethora of fast food chains, you pass through small prairie towns, grain elevators, abandoned farms and other Canadiana. In the depths of winter, the landscape felt frozen in time and space.
The Inglis Grain Elevators are a row of five grain elevators built along a Canadian Pacific Railway bed from the early 1920’s. Rows like this were once a prominent and common feature of larger communities across the Canadian Prairies. Today, this row is the only remaining collection of grain elevators left in Canada. Although they are now protected as a National Historic Site of Canada, the grain elevators likely owe their existence to the dedication of the Inglis area people, who recognized early on that they were an enduring symbol of the Praries, agriculture and way of life.
The amount of abandoned farms is very noticeable along the Yellowhead Highway. Much of this abandonment occurred during a collapse in wheat prices followed by the Great Depression and a series of drought-propelled dust storms known as the ‘Dust Bowl’ in the mid to late 1930s. In 1936 alone, some 14,000 farms like this one were abandoned.
The closer you get to Edmonton along the Yellowhead Highway, the more refineries, oil and gas wells you encounter. A sign of the times; no longer does wealth come from farming the rolling hills, but from drilling deep beneath it.