'I just love those old buildings': Photographer creates map of 275 Sask. grain elevators

Chris Attrell created a map that lists Saskatchewan wooden grain elevators because he wants people to explore and see them before they are all torn down and gone.

He used a map from the 1960s that listed many now-gone small towns to find elevators in the middle of nowhere

Photographer Chris Attrell said he keeps driving trying to find new parts of Saskatchewan history because he loves the old buildings. Every back offers something unique, he said. 'It’s got its own town that used to exist, there’s a church on a hill, a grain elevator, an old one-room school. It’s kinda funny how Saskatchewan’s kind of like a living museum.' (Submitted by Chris Attrell)

A Saskatchewan photographer has created a map of around 275 wooden grain elevators for people who want to explore a bit of local farm history. 

The map has elevators from Carievale in the southeast corner of the province to St. Walburg, northwest of North Battleford.

"I just love taking pictures of them," said Chris Attrell, the photographer behind the map. "There's about 275 of them all together that I've taken pictures of. Not all of them exist anymore."

"Over the years I just started collecting where the locations were, among the other stuff I do like churches, schools, neat things. And then I started to notice when I go back some of them are gone," Attrell said. 

"They're tearing them down en masse now, so there's so few of them. Thus, I created a map so I know where they all are and other people can too."

He said in the past, grain elevators showed how important a town was.

"If you had three you were OK, if you had like seven or nine you're like really important," he said. "That's the magnet for the town. That's where the farmers came in, sold their grain. They'd stop into town, shop, do whatever else they had to do, probably go to the bar as well."

"When they started closing them down, towns would disappear," Attrell said. "Towns just gone, it's kind of amazing.

"They're very different looking," he said. "I'm a city kid. I didn't grow up in Saskatchewan, I grew up in Houston, lived in Calgary. So when I see these things they kind of just look odd and strange."

Chris Attrell is a photographer currently based out of Shaunavon, Sask. He said during his first trip to Saskatchewan, he had no idea how big the province was and quickly learned to always have a spare container of gas. (Submitted by Chris Attrell)

Attrell bought his first camera when he was living in Calgary and learned how to photograph while living in Banff, Alta.

"But it's when I came to Saskatchewan, when I started just loving taking pictures. There's so many cool things out here," Attrell said. "I know when you live in Banff, you'd think that Banff would be the cool place, but I would sit there and dream of 'I can't wait to go to Saskatchewan.'"

You never know what you're going to find next.- Chris Attrell

Attrell made his first trip into Saskatchewan in 2003 and kept coming back. He currently lives in Shaunavon and said he used a map he bought at a second-hand store that was from the 1960s to find the grain elevators.

"I just started following where the train tracks used to go," Attrell said. "I was specifically looking for old churches, old schools, grain elevators, anything cool photogenic and it ended up being that half the towns didn't even exist anymore."

He said he found a number of ghost towns while looking for the buildings.
Chris Attrell said his two favourites are in Hepburn and Brooking, Sask. 'It was just the way the clouds were that night, it was like late fall. You can tell in the sky it was nighttime,' he said. 'I’m trying to get there on a clear sky night with the Milky Way behind it.' (Submitted by Chris Attrell)

"Before they started tearing them all down, you'd see the coolest old buildings like stores that haven't been touched in decades, even one still had stock on the shelves, old abandoned churches," Attrell said. "Saskatchewan was just great for this stuff."

Attrell said he posted the map for free to encourage people to go explore.

"Almost every single one of them are on public property so I don't mind sending people off to go visit these places. And it's fun, people get to go out and have a great time," he said.

Attrell said sometimes for a photography trip he'll spend four days driving around back roads.

"Every time you think you'd found them all, like I thought I found all the churches in Saskatchewan now, then just about 45 minutes to an hour north of Regina you find this really cool abandoned church in middle of the forest that nobody will ever find because no one drives out that way," he said.

"You never know what you're going to find next," he said. "Saskatchewan actually isn't that bad, but people in Saskatchewan don't think it's fun until they go out.

"Now there's going to be like hundreds of people driving around Saskatchewan like me doing this." 

With files from CBC Saskatchewan's Morning Edition