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Background and history

With each passing day, grain elevators, once the symbol of prairie prosperity, vanish from the Saskatchewan landscape. And so too have dozens of pioneer towns, villages and settlements. They are now the ghost towns of Saskatchewan.

Before rail lines stretched across the prairies in the late 1800s, the wind-swept grasslands were home only to trappers, fur traders and natives. It was a time of high pioneer drama and adventure. But for authorities in Ottawa, it became too wild and the first wave of the Northwest Mounted Police — known as the Red Coats — were dispatched to restore law and order. A force of 300 Red Coats formed the Thin Red Line to stop the whiskey trade and to make peace with the fleeing American Sioux Indians who defeated General George Custer at Little Bighorn.

By the turn of the 20th century, massive railway and federal government promotional campaigns attracted thousands of Europeans and Americans to the prairies. The green grasslands became instant golden wheat fields. Every 10 kilometres along rail lines, towns sprang up overnight. For a few decades, rail transportation was cheap; the rain plentiful and the harvest bounty truly golden.

However, by the 1920s, the once reliable rains suddenly stopped. Soon there was widespread drought, dust storms, flies, and marauding grasshoppers and rabbits. Farmers and homesteaders fled. It was the beginning of the end.

More than 80 years later into the 21st century, scores of rural Saskatchewan towns have either recently become ghost towns or are close to extinction; victims of rural depopulation, rail line and grain elevator closures, rock-bottom crop prices, rising transportation costs, and farm consolidation. Government officials say from 1985 to 2000, more than 30 towns and villages throughout Saskatchewan have been deserted — half of which are scattered along the south's Red Coat Trail region.

One by one, as grain elevators are toppled and rail lines dug up, prairie phantoms overtake towns like Colgate, Verwood, Flintoft, Bateman, St. Boswells, Crichton, Admiral, Scotsguard, Robsart; Vidora, Senate, Govenlock, and countless others .........