Title image


A story of shattered dreams, betrayal, mysterious fires and a flamboyant transvestite village councillor.

RuinsEstuary ruins

Since 1950, Estuary has been a place that has stirred fiery passion for William Wardill, a retired postmaster, former mayor of Eatonia, and now accomplished author and historian. During one blustery December night that year, he was considering marrying a young woman from the town. While love may have been blooming, the town - once a prairie dry belt railway settlement with grandiose ambitions of everlasting prosperity - was already more than three decades into a tragic and permanent decline.

Wardill's memories that evening have always remained clear, taking careful note of Estuary's obvious decay - empty homes and buildings, three pitiful street lamps and a sense of loss and abandonment as far as the eyes could stretch across the vast prairie expanses.

More than five decades later, little has changed, except the abandonment is more complete. A few homes are still visible. But the street lamps are gone.

Wardill's passion for Estuary remains. He is still married to the girl he knew half a century ago, but since those first visits, he has made it a mission to know more about Estuary. Maybe too much.

For many years, he has scoured provincial and municipal archives in his quest to bring back the heartbeat of Estuary. Wardill, who lives an hour's drive away in Eatonia, still visits the graveyard at Cemetery Hill, above the now abandoned townsite and overlooking the South Saskatchewan River. A passionate believer in divining, he has mapped out and discovered scores of graves in the derelict cemetery.

His decades-long quest result in the 1996 publication of the book, "Sand Castles", a history of the remarkably short and tragic lifespan of Estuary, which in many respects is similar to the story of Alderson, an early 20th century town in the dry belt of southern Alberta.

Without this dedicated passion, it's doubtful any meaningful record of Estuary, or the cemetery would exist today.

"This is a God-forsaken place," declared Wardill during a visit to the town and Cemetery Hill in the summer of 2001. "They were betrayed."

From its very beginning, Estuary was a railway town. It's hope and dreams rested with the railway's bold ambitious plans to expand west, bringing with it the surging tide of pioneer landseekers.

The first development plan for the townsite was registered on April 19, 1914. The Canadian Pacific Railway was coming through and so were the hungry and hopeful, carting with them dreams of prosperity in this vast new land.

The First World War had started but for a few short years, it was a time of spectacular growth for Estuary. The town's population swelled to 800.

Although detailed records during the war years are sketchy, Wardill's research shows that Estuary had at least 163 businesses from 1914 to 1954, including a weekly newspaper, six blacksmith shops, 10 livery barns, six rooming houses, six hardware stores, 10 cafes or restaurants, 13 various service stations, 23 grocery stores and one department store. There were of course an assortment of doctors, dentists, schools and churches either in the town or nearby. At its peak, Estuary had seven grain elevators. Most of the businesses were in operation before 1921.