Snapshots of the Rural Past

Facebook groups preserve rural history by photographing abandoned buildings.

Written by Sydney Lockhart

Posted September 17, 2021

An abandoned farmhouse on green grass against a bright blue sky.

When Kristin Watson found an old photo of herself as a child sitting on a tractor with her grandfather, she felt inspired to use photography to help to preserve the rural history of Canada.

She immediately thought of all the abandoned farmhouses, barns, grain elevators, and other buildings in Alberta’s rural areas and decided to photograph as many buildings as she could to preserve their memory for future generations.

A young girl sits on her grandfather's lap riding a tractor.

The forty-three-year-old Fort McMurray, Alberta, resident has since been joined in her quest by her husband, Levi Nealin, who uses a drone to locate abandoned buildings and to photograph them from the air.

Many of the buildings they come across are old churches, schoolhouses, and farm homes. “Why not honour the people that used to live in them?” Watson said.

The Alberta couple are part of a growing number of amateur and professional photographers who are preserving Canada’s rural built heritage one frame at a time. Facebook groups such as Manitoba’s Abandoned History (with 12,000 members) and Alberta’s Abandoned History (with 13,900 members) are growing in popularity as places to post images of abandoned rural buildings.

Jason Sailer of Lethbridge, Alberta, administers Facebook groups devoted to abandoned buildings in Manitoba, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. He said he launched the Facebook groups in 2014 to help out a friend who came up with the original concept. He said most people who post to the groups share a love for the history and heritage of rural Canada.

“It’s just the interest in, and appreciation of, these little historical towns and villages, these little old grain elevators or bank buildings,” Sailer said. “It’s important in some way, shape, or form to preserve these for future generations."

Black and white photo of a house and silo from a distance.

This article originally appeared in the October-November 2021 issue of Canada’s History.

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