The inexorable sands of time, as they do everywhere, continue to erode the landscape of the Canadian Prairies. As prairie landmarks disappear, so do the links that connect us to a rural heritage that is quickly vanishing into the pages of history.
Dion Manastyrski, who was raised on the Prairies, is doing his part to preserve images and the stories from a rural life that is rapidly changing.
Manastyrski has crafted a “Prairie Sunset: A Story of Change,” a photographic narrative, hardcover book about rural prairie history. A resident of Victoria these days, he grew up on a small farm near Rose Valley, Sask. and later lived for six years in Red Deer, Alta. His grandparents were homesteaders who came from eastern Europe.
“Many people in larger prairie cities originate from farm life, and see the value of the family farm,” Manastyrski said by email. “This is a book for and about people of the rural prairies, intended to be a keepsake to be handed down for generations.”
In completing the project, Manastyrski made eight road trips across the three prairie provinces between 2003 and 2014, photographing the fast-disappearing prairie landmarks and gathering anecdotes about the past from prairie residents. The people he interviewed were primarily retired farmers, school teachers and railway workers, among other rural people. These included numerous people in their 90s, with the oldest person a 105-year-old who had taught in a one-room schoolhouse.
Manastyrski’s aim was to to capture the old way of life of the rural prairies in a tribute to the homesteaders who settled there.
The book combines the first-hand experiences and quotations from more than 70 people across the rural prairies, and he took more than 120 photos of old abandoned farm buildings and other artifacts from the past. The book also features 50 photos from government archives.
Manastyrski blends the words and photos to tell a story that begins with the pioneer years and covers many aspects of rural life over the past 150 years. The book is about an important part of Canada’s history, he notes, and his goal was to shine a spotlight on prairie history.
“I want people to know what the early settlers went through, because it is so far removed from today’s life, and I want future generations to understand a bit about it,” says Manastyrski.
“I wanted this book to capture the essence of this way of life, which began with those who settled the land and built the agriculture of the prairies. This part of our history is vanishing quickly, and it’s an important part of Canada’s history.
“Above all, through the words of the people I interviewed, I wanted to show the cultural boom that happened in the rural prairies over the last century, and the enjoyable way of life of the family farm, and the importance of supporting our small towns.”
Manastyrski says he searched for understanding as he explored the homesteads and talked to the people of this vanishing era.
“It’s a book about hope and dreams, hardship and survival, family and community, and most recently, rapid change. It highlights the richness of the way of life on the small family farm. We all need our family farms, and so this is a story we are all connected to.”
The book appears to have resonated with Prairie residents. Interest has spawned three printings of the book since 2015, and it is available in more than 200 stores in about 200 towns and cities across the Prairies.
In Lethbridge, the book is available at Silla Designs, Yellow Door, the Galt Museum and Costco (until Christmas).
For more about the book and the author, visit the website http://prairiesunset.ca/.