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Preserving the past through photos

Retired administrator keeps memories alive

Brian Miller likes old farm sites.

He’s not sure what possessed him to take hundreds of photos of abandoned and derelict farm sites over his 28-year career as a municipal administrator. What he does know for sure is that he’s thankful he has taken photos over the years because many buildings, from two-storey brick houses to L-shaped barns, have disappeared from the modern-day landscape.

“It’s a funny thing to think that our younger generation will not know what has happened here 100 years ago,” said Miller, pointing to the fact that larger farming practices and oil activity have obliterated many former farmyards.

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The 70-year-old retired administrator began taking the photos on a hunch in 1988.

“I would be out driving around the municipality anyway, checking the roads and oil activity, and I thought I should take some photos just in case someone calls the office or writes in wanting to know some history,” said Miller, of the RM of Mount Pleasant located in the Carnduff area of southeast Saskatchewan.

The more photos he took, the more he noticed the landscape in his RM transforming over the years.

“When I compare the photos I’ve taken over the years, you can see the houses and barns gradually deteriorating,” said Miller.

He has posted his vast collection of photos on the Vintage Carnduff website where the public can access them. His photos are all sorted by land location, as Miller never goes anywhere without his municipal map, or his camera.

On this day, he fishes the map out from behind a truck seat and proceeds to sort through several large albums of photos to find the particular yard we have arrived at. The elegant brick house in his original photo, with its banks of windows and bright-red roof, has deteriorated remarkably since the photo was taken in the 1980s. The bricks are now falling down, the exposed wood beneath is rotting, the roof has lost its shingles and the foundation is collapsing. Miller’s photo has frozen the house in time while the elements have ravaged it in real life.

Occasionally a family member will seek out information about a farm site and Miller is able to retrieve one or more photos that show what the site looked like in the last 30 years. He will send pictures by email and will often dig up whatever information he can out of the Carnduff history book as well.

“Last time I had a request it was from someone doing a family tree. Sometimes it’s a distant relative, like maybe an uncle. Typically they’re from out of province.”

One of Miller’s latest posts on the Vintage Carnduff Facebook page features photos of the former home of Pete Carnduff. A comment under the photo says, “I can’t get enough of these pictures! I better take Dad on a road trip.” (Grant Carnduff)

Miller photographs all of the outbuildings in farm sites as well. He has captured many barns and wooden granaries which have since fallen down.

“Lots of sites are totally worked over. You wouldn’t even know anything was ever there. Often it happens when land changes ownership and some people don’t like to see that decay around so they just clean it all up.”

About the author

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Christalee Froese writes from Montmartre, Sask.

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