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

BatemanGrave in a field

Estuary had an active village council. The most noteworthy member was Oswald Schneider, who owned a livery, feed barn, a rooming house, a power plant and the Sunset Theatre, built in 1917 at a cost of $20,000 and considered the most elegant commercial building in Estuary.

He had a wife named Mary and nine children. Oswald Schneider was also a transvestite, which he flaunted, especially in his later years in the village.

Wardill's book details Schneider's battles with the community. By the early 1920s, he was booted off village council over the operation of his power plant, and his business empire was by then collapsing. After 1930, his wife and children were gone, replaced by a Mrs. Bailey who moved in with Schneider along with her two children.

In "Sand Castles", Wardill details a story from two residents who lived in the nearby town of Empress and who were frequent visitors to the bizarre household: "The woman remembers that Mrs. Bailey used to call Schneider "Oswood" and that she took great pleasure in helping him transform his masculine appearance. She applied the depilatories to his face, selected outfits from his expensive wardrobe, and was also his photographer. Some of the modeling sessions lasted for hours. The man remembers Oswald was of medium height and rather stocky. His dresses were a poor fit for Bailey, but she often appropriated one to wear to a dance."

Schneider left Estuary in 1938. Today, his last home remains, and in 2001, it was bought and renovated by new owners.

Long before Schneider left, ghosts had already moved into Estuary. Several fires, especially devastating ones in 1917 and 1923, crippled the town. The fire of 1917 destroyed 18 properties.

There were also several more blazes, not as destructive, but just as mysterious. In fact, arson has long been suspected. There was one minor arrest for attempted arson, but the cause of the major blazes has never been solved. With Estuary's fortunes in serious decline after the First World War, rumours were rampant that the fires were deliberately set to collect insurance.

Following the war, the town was delivered a different type of blow. Canadian Pacific Railway decided in 1919 to go ahead with plans to build branch line from nearby Leader to the new townsite of Burstall. The plan was a disaster for Estuary, as it would mean a reduction in the flow of grain coming into town. Instead, the grain moved to easier delivery points south of Estuary. Citizens felt betrayed by the rail company and began moving out in droves, taking everything with them, including their houses and businesses.

Estuary lost its village status in 1930. Over a few short years, the town became more and more a ghost town. The fuel dealership shut down in 1951. The community store closed in 1966, the railway station hauled away in 1970, and the last three grain elevators dismantled in 1982.

Today, one or two houses remain. But Estuary as a town is long gone. The blazing hot summers bearing down on the semi-desert terrain underscores the hardship dealt to the early pioneers. The haunting sense of barren abandonment can be seen and felt from all directions.

In September, 1993, while visiting Estuary, William Wardill noted there was little of anything left to remind visitors that the town once held great promise. He said the cemetery throbbed with loneliness and sorrow:

"This is where the sense of betrayal is the strongest. I touch the wind-scoured wood of a teetering fence which encloses a small grave. The fence has a gate with a rusty padlock. I wonder when that gate was opened last. I wonder who left a few bright flowers on the little grave, and then locked the gate and went away.

"And never came back."

For more information on Estuary, be sure to visit Speargrass Specialties