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Where women were the first to arrive and last to leave

Crichton elevator houseCrichton elevator house

The history of Saskatchewan's Crichton - its beginnings and ultimate doom - is not as romantic as its Scot namesake, but it was a memorable prairie home for almost 90 families who lived in the hamlet since the first decade of the 20th century.

Old-timers marvel that the hamlet's first and last official residents were women - Granny Westlake, a midwife, being the original trailblazer because of the land's good water - and Anne Covlin, a school teacher, being the "official" final resident.

However, Aime Lacelle, whose family first came to Crichton in the 1940s, returned to the dying town in the mid-1980s after working in Alberta and northeastern Saskatchewan. Since his return, Aime and his wife Brenda have raised four children at the hamlet.

"I am not unhappy. Crichton has been good for us," said Aime, who raises sheep - and lovingly cares for his collection of dogs on his acreage.

Over the decades, Crichton enjoyed periods of modest prosperity; the site of three grain elevators, a school, a café and pool hall, garage, boarding house, a blacksmith shop, lumberyard, post office, livery barn, water tower, and a large warehouse attached to the general store - owned for many years by Abraham Gibbs. The warehouse also served as the hamlet's community centre, dance hall, theatre and auditorium. There was even a golf course and tennis courts built for the settlement, as well as a ball diamond near the school site.

"Although Crichton was the smallest community in the area, there was more activity here than in Admiral or Cadillac," said Aime, whose father Emile operated the general store after Gibbs died in 1942. "Traveling artists and entertainers would get off the train and put on shows in the warehouse."

Because of its central location in the area, Crichton also laid claim to be the busiest shipping point of hatching eggs in Saskatchewan between 1930 and 1940.

But like most small pioneer communities along the Red Coat Trail, Crichton could not sustain itself over the 20th century decades, and one by one, families and businesses left, never to be replaced. The water tower and CPR section house were closed and torn down in the early 1960s. The last of the three grain elevators was burned to the ground in 1985. The general store, which included the post office, was closed for the last time in 1970 and moved to a nearby farm. In 2000, the school was transported to a nearby Bible camp.

There are a few buildings still left along Main Street, as well as a few houses in the adjacent field to the east of the townsite, but they stand today only in quiet abandonment, except for the home of Aime Lacelle and his family.

For several years after he returned to Crichton, Lacelle would welcome visitors to the ghost town, many of them intrigued by the historical cairn down below near the highway. But nowadays, the curious are fewer and fewer.

"This summer (2002) has been the least number of visitors. Usually, there are some who come in and who slowly drive by to see things," said Aime. "The last guy was the fellow who was walking along the track."