Sunday, May 10, 2020

Remembering the Farm - Cavell History

There are hundreds of communities that have disappeared over the past few decades because they no longer served a purpose. Good roads, better vehicles, and larger farms dried up the livelihoods of the small towns. I have, as a highschool friend put it, outlived two towns, now abandoned and pretty much disappeared. One I went to elementary school and the other highschool. This is the story of Cavell, my first and real hometown. The story is abstracted from the Leipzig and District history book published in 1980 for Saskatchewan's 75th anniversary. Unfortunately, I was unable to find any pictures of the town. there are aerial photos from 1946 but I could not access them.

Cavell, (initially Coblenz until 1915) was incorporated as a village in 1908 when the Grand Trunk Pacific (later the Canadian National Railway) completed the rail line from Winnipeg to Edmonton. The railway acquired land for the village and built a station and stockyards. At that time, the village had a general store, restaurant, boarding house, two lumber yards machine agencies, hotel, butcher shop, construction company and an Imperial Oil dealer.

The post office, operating from several locations over the years. Joe Hingston was postmaster from 1918 to 1949. My aunt, Winnie (Hingston) Simpson was postmistress from 1956 to 1970 when it closed.

St Margaret’s Anglican church was built in 1909 in which services were held until 1954 and a Pentecostal church in 1926 of which my Grandfather FW Hingston was pastor, followed by my father. Services were held there until 1987. The history book says there were two wedding in the Anglican church. Actually there were three because I was at one of them, aged five. I asked my folks if 16 was the right age to be married and they didn't think so.

Two elevators were built in about 1909 and eventually were owned by Saskatchewan Wheat Pool. They operated until 1975.

A one-room school was opened in 1911. My father completed his Grade 8 there and I attended to the end of Grade 7 in 1960, when the Wilkie School District closed all remaining one room schools and students were bused to Leipzig or Wilkie.

Cavell was intended to be a divisional point on the Railway, but sufficient water could not be found to supply the steam engines, so Wainwright and Biggar were set as the Divisional points. Such is fate.

The population of Cavell increased rapidly to around 200 by 1913 but then fell away just as rapidly to only 20 to 30 people by 1925 as other towns grew and took business away. Cavell never could find sufficient water and it contributed as much as anything to its demise. By 1943, it lost village status and was merely a hamlet in the RM of Reford #379. There may have been 20 people left when I started school in 1953 and perhaps five when the school closed in 1960.

By 1980, there was only one resident left in Cavell. Today everything is gone except the RM maintenance shop, and my grandfather’s house and the old church which my brother owns.

This 1915 map of Cavell indicates that it once was a thriving little community.

Sketched from memories of 65 years ago.
I could not find an aerial photo, or even a photo of any kind. I found Cavell on the National Air Photo Library but there was no preview of the 1946 photo, so I have no idea if there is even a close up. So, I sketched what I remember from 65 years ago. Not to scale and certainly not accurate as I know some things are missed. The stockyards were still there when I started school but were torn down shortly after. The general store was owned by Jake Kaufman and then Jake thomas before becoming home to a retired farmer. Tom Kilbert was an old bachelor who lived next to my grandparents. When he died, his tin covered shack was moved to our farm and turned into a grain bin. Both the Anglican church and the school were relocated before my time. The school is now a museum in Wilkie.

Google Earth from 2003.
Google Earth shows what was left in 2003 when they last updated the area. The RM shop is the only real structure left, along with the old church and my grandfather’s old house across from it both of which my brother owns. My brother is keeping Cavell on the map because so long as there is one owned lot on which taxes are paid, it it legally a place.


  1. Very interesting! So many small prairie towns and villages have disappeared now. My mother grew up on a farm in the Biggar area in the 20s and 30s.

    1. If you can find an old Saskatchewan Wheat Pool calendar map from the 40s it is astounding how many places had elevators. Places that no longer exist.

  2. Yeah, there was an elevator at least every 10 miles, wasn't there? That was about the outside limit for farmers to haul grain.

    1. Every seven miles was the goal related to a team and wagon

  3. we have one..right in the middle of town.

  4. What an odd feeling it must be for your brother to be the guardian of Cavell's existence. So many prairie towns have suffered its fate. As long as the grain elevators remained in operation, the little towns survived; but when the bigger grain depots were built, that was the end. The small town of Culross near our original family farm in Manitoba was an example - I remember a general store and businesses there when I was a child, but it dwindled to only the elevator and one house for the elevator manager's family. I don't know if anything remains today. Such is "progress".

  5. Jackiesue, I can imagine. What a terrible day that had to have been. And Texas still has done nothing to make plants like that safer

  6. Diane, they don't come much odder than my brother. He glories in "saving" the town's name. Yes, progress, in the name of all weather roads and all weather vehicles. Our family used to go to Saskatoon once every two years. It was an all day trip from early morning to late at night when we returned home. The last three decades of their lives, they could have gone into Saskatoon for coffee and been home before midnight.
    They say communities are disappearing but in reality they are simply getting so big it is impossible to know everyone. If you draw a circle with the distance one could travel in an hour and call it a community, in my grandfather's time it was 7 miles. Today ir is 70 miles. Think of the numbers of people within those two circles.

  7. TBF - You're right; I never thought of it that way. Even going to Winnipeg used to be a big deal when I was a kid, especially in winter. We'd all wrap up in blankets and get into our '53 Chevy with the almost-defunct heater, and we always breathed a sigh of relief when we got home... or at least as far as the big snowbank that usually blocked the road in winter. We used to leave a toboggan out there so we could drag our groceries back to the house with relative ease. I gained a permanent appreciation for efficient car heaters, four-wheel-drive vehicles, and snowplows!


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