The last train and dance have come and gone
As Jacob Zlatner walks along Fusilier's Main Street, he recalls a conversation he had several years with an American he met during a world cruise.
The man was regaling the wonders of his home town, New York City, and all the hustle and bustle America's Big Apple had to offer. Zlatner, then approaching 70-years-old, was a semi-retired farmer from southwestern Saskatchewan, and he had little to offer the man in the way of Broadway show experiences, big crowds and high society living. He could only chuckle when he countered to the American tourist that his home town was less-than-metropolitan.
"We were sitting having lunch and he asked where I came from. I said I was from Fusilier, Saskatchewan. He said, 'Fusilier, Saskatchewan? Where is Fusilier, Saskatchewan?' I said, 'It's not on the map anymore. "But when I was in Hong Kong I looked at one of the maps and Fusilier was still on the map there." Entering the new millennium, Fusilier is only shown on a very few select Canadian maps. But Zlatner, who owns a farm a few kilometres southwest of the townsite, is still holding out hope it will somehow be revived.
Several years ago, he purchased several acres of land in and around the townsite, including the grain elevator and community hall properties. The hall's electricity still works, and Zlatner is always hopeful it will once again come alive to the sounds of laughter and revelry from an old-fashioned western style dance or party.
Zlatner has lived in the Fusilier area all his live. His father Charlie moved to the district in the early 1920s, securing a job at Fusilier's new Sodium Sulphate Plant.
As with most turn-of-the 20th-century pioneer settlements, Fusilier was dependent on the railroad for its existence, and ultimate survival. The rail line reached Fusilier in 1914. The line near the townsite boasted one of the sharpest rail curves in Saskatchewan, and would later be the scene of two train wrecks; the first in 1915 when a fireman was killed and decades later in 1980 when eight loaded grain cars derailed.
When the trains first began to arrive in Fusilier, its primary reason was for grain, and right away in 1914, the Home Grain Co. Ltd. built the town's first grain elevator. Three years later, two more grain elevators were added to the new town's skyline; the second built by the Saskatchewan Elevator Co. and the third constructed by the United Grain Growers. With the new Sodium Sulphate plant was built in the early 1920s, Fusilier has a promising start. The town, which boasted a population in the 1920s of more than 125 residents, would eventually have three stores, a lumberyard, school, church, post office, blacksmith shop, livery, and community hall, which opened in 1921.
"They used to play basketball in there. Everything was done - church services and even funerals," said Zlatner. But the land was dry. The Sodium Sulphate plant changed ownership three times and by 1938, was closed forever. The Depression came hard in the 1930s, and Fusilier, like so many other southwestern Saskatchewan communities, slid into permanent decline. On February 28, 1967, Fusilier's post mistress resigned. The post office closed for the last time, signaling the end of the line for the town. Remaining residents left but nobody came to replace them.