Exploring abandoned places in Alberta
Written by Nicole Risk and Kaytlin Lee
“It has never been didactic or scientific or analytic. It has been a magnificent obsession that I have pursued with reckless abandon.” – Ash Prakash
We are three fifth-year Augustana students and long-time friends who found a common hobby exploring the abandoned structures that are scattered across Alberta.
Our love for abandoned house hunting built gradually. At first, Nicki would follow her compulsion to find the houses. After seeing a few of her favourites, I was hooked. Jason had done the same thing in high school, and once we pulled him into the mix we started exploring together on a regular basis.
Each of us brings something different to the group. Jason is an avid photographer and has a talent for bringing out the beauty we see in these places. I like to voice my concerns for possible dangers, like wildlife or landowners or spooky things like ghosts that may be lingering. Nicki and I both have a knack for finding buildings and a willingness to trudge through any terrain to get to them.
We go all over Alberta to see what we can find hidden in the landscape. We have found farm houses, barns, vehicles, churches, and even schools sitting there, haunting the open prairie.
Most of the time we just find pigeon droppings or vulgar graffiti, but sometimes there are houses with everything still inside: clothing in the closet, jars in the fridge, couches from the 70s, newspapers from the 30s, stoves from the 20s. In a practical sense, it’s something that’s relatively cheap – not including gas money or the massive number of snacks – and it gets us outside, into the beautiful landscape around us.
Our appreciation for this province has surged since we started rooting out the parts of its history lurking outside of museums and textbooks. There lingers a memory of people who once lived, and an intensely personal one at that. There is nothing like flipping freely through a textbook that was probably last touched by someone’s child a century ago.
Finally, it’s about understanding time. There’s a phrase from Susan Sontag that sums it up, “time’s relentless melt.” When you go to an abandoned house, what you’re looking at is time. We don’t truly understand time in our daily lives because we break it up into increments that are smaller than us – look at the minute marks on a clock, they’re tiny. There are hours, but only twelve. Days, but only seven.
But those houses, they’re just standing there in one long moment of disintegration. You go there and you see them sinking, flaking, falling in the slowest of motions – and it’s beautiful. That’s the thing. The truth about time is that everything it ever put together, it is ripping apart – exquisitely.
The more people I talk to about this hobby, the more I realize that this sets something off inside of us. People are always drawn to what’s hidden and unknown. Everyone seems to have an example of something secret that they would explore as a kid because they just couldn’t resist.
After multiple road trips and many impromptu excursions, we ended up accumulating thousands of pictures between us and we wanted a way to share them. So, we started a joint Instagram page. Consequently, we have found other people like us who do the same across Alberta, Canada, and all over the world. We are hoping that in the future we can go to other provinces to see what they have to offer and to continue to grow our page.
So, whenever you’re driving, take a peek out the side windows as well. Often, if you look hard enough, there’s something with big empty windows staring back. Just remember to be respectful of these fragile pieces of our history. As the motto goes: “take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footprints.”