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Senate

The music has stopped

Senate cemeteryAbandoned Roman Catholic cemetery

For many of the early years of Senate, it was a land of opportunity. The west had just been opened up to waves of European settlers seeking prosperity, and at first, the future appeared promising for Senate and several others along Highway 13, or what is now know today as the Red Coat Trail.

During Senate's best years, the hamlet boasted two elevators, a five-room hotel and restaurant, blacksmith shop, lumberyard and of course Kalmring's general store and gas station. For leisure, the citizens of Senate also built a tennis court and a baseball diamond across the train tracks.

"This place kind of clings to you," says Kalmring, walking through the tall grass and weeds near the spot where his house used to be at Senate. "There are a lot of nice people around, and if you look north, you can see the Cypress Hills."

But as in most other locales along southwest Saskatchewan, Senate's best days did not last - its fortunes declining after the 1940s. Regional farm consolidation, drought and rural depopulation ended all hope for any lasting life at Senate.

"Some smart guy in Consul put in a beer parlour and the ladies went there with the men to do their shopping," says Kalmring, trying to find a reason for Senate's demise. "But people get old or they just move out. I could see it coming."

By the early 1980s, Kalmring sold his store and moved to his farm, three kilometres north of Senate. And in 1983, the hamlet was empty, home only to prairie ghosts. In 1994, with the railway and elevators also gone, rural municipality officials brought in the bulldozers and levelled Senate's remaining dilapidated buildings and dumped part of the debris into a nearby landfill.

"It died a bad death," laments Kalmring. But every once in a while, Kalmring returns to the bluff beside Highway 13 to reflect on the good times, sometimes on the spot where his store stood. It is usually silent there, except for the passing cars from the highway below, or the wind blowing yet another ghostly song.

In those early days, recalls Kalmring, travelling by train was popular with the bachelors in the area who would take the ride southwest to Govenlock, a popular community to sneak a drink during prohibition.