Photographer captures isolated nooks of Saskatchewan to give a glimpse of history

This image of a house southeast of Blaine Lake appears in Chris Attrell's book Forgotten Saskatchewan. It was shot with a tea light placed in the attic, “creating a hauntingly beautiful ambience,” the book reads. (Photo courtesy of Chris Attrell)

“Given the chance to vacation in Hawaii or cruise Saskatchewan backroads, I would still choose cruising Saskatchewan.”

Chris Attrell has spent the last 16 years exploring and capturing the unrecognized pieces of Saskatchewan beauty.

His collection of photographs of abandoned farmhouses, churches, grain elevators and vehicles come together in his new book called Forgotten Saskatchewan. It was published this past August.

The book is meant to give a glimpse into traditional lifestyles Attrell learned about while exploring the province.

“It’s not just the buildings themselves, they’re interesting enough, but it’s also the story of the people who lived in them before. That’s actually what I find most fascinating, is how they lived without power or plumbing and how they would have to get up in the morning and put fire in their oven to heat up the house,” he said in an interview.

Attrell often heard about the history of these forgotten sites from owners of the properties. He had to contact them for permission to photograph on private land.

Attrell said he came across the sites by driving around on backroads.

“I don’t like just going to a building knowing it exists. Part of the experience is when you find it, there’s a little bit of an excitement when you found a new place that’s really neat,” he said.

“I try to imagine…what it must have been like here in 1951 and trying to project myself back into that era on how it would feel, so most of my experience comes from when I immerse myself into the subject before I shoot it.”

Although Attrell’s been capturing images of abandoned places since 2003, he said he took most of the photos in Forgotten Saskatchewan in the past four of five years.

His love of photography began when he was 10 years old.

“I wasn’t very good, so my parents always had to keep buying me film,” he said.

He bought a digital camera when they came into the market in 2003. At the time, he was living in Alberta, but decided to take a road trip to Saskatchewan to shoot ghost towns and grain elevators.

“It wasn’t until I moved to Saskatchewan in 2006 when I actually took it seriously. I do find it calming, I do find it fun. I just find it very satisfying, so I just got better,” he explained.

Attrell continues to live in Shaunavon with his wife.

He goes into detail of discovering the land of the living skies in the introduction of the book.

“I soon became captivated by the prairie landscape dotted with silenced buildings and lonely farm equipment, and the majesty of a frosty morning or an evening sky,” he wrote.

“Given the chance to vacation in Hawaii or cruise Saskatchewan backroads, I would still choose cruising Saskatchewan.”

Attrell said lighting is the key to taking images that look three-dimensional. He purposely goes cruising at night or in gloomy weather to achieve this, not on a bright, sunny day.

“When you start shooting things in low light, or end of daylight, it just seems to add a lot of value to the image,” he said.

He said he does minimal editing on his photos, including cropping, straightening, sharpening and sometimes filling in shadows.

Attrell plans to work on a 30-minute short film of Forgotten Saskatchewan that he can distribute to libraries, museums and retirement homes.

He said seniors especially seem to love the book.

“Just to see them looking at the book…That makes it all worth it, just by itself,” he said.

Forgotten Saskatchewan is available in book stores across the province and on Amazon for $29.95.