When you read the title of this blog post did you picture in your mind’s eye a witch standing next to a cauldron while stirring it? Was she wearing a conical black hat? What other images did your memory conjure? Well I hope I don’t disappoint you too much when I say that this post is not about witches. Let’s send the images of witches flying around on broomsticks back to the broom closet and move on.
This post is about an old farmstead house that has been called “The Witch’s House” for as long as I can remember. However that title is not based on local legend or folklore. It’s not based on some tragic event in the distant past that is now blamed on a witch’s spell. The name was given to the house because of how it looks. Quite simply, if there were to be a witch’s house out on the prairie, this house is how most of us would imagine it to look like. No other house that I have photographed or seen others photograph from the Canadian Prairie matches that mystical image of a witch’s house quite like this one. So let’s dig down into the chronicles of the local area and find out who really lived there.
First I’ll give you the general location. I try to keep the locations out of my blog posts in order to protect the owners of the property. In this case we are talking about a place in the deep southwest of Saskatchewan. It was settled primarily by people from Quebec, France and Belgium.
When I arrived at The Witch’s House I was met with an eerie scene. I can’t say for certain that witches were involved but I have it on good authority that the eeriness of the area was caused by huge quantities of forest fire smoke in the air. This has become an annual event but 2021 was a particular hot and dry year and British Columbia was in flames. In fact so were forests in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and western Ontario, not to mention several American states. I like to see the blue sky in my photographs but that was not to be. During the day the sky appeared a hazy white and in the evening it took on shades of red and yellow as the sun started to set. I arrived just as the golden hour was beginning (generally the hour before sunset) and the appearance of The Which’s House did nothing to dispel that name.
Some Local History
The first account of the house that I read describing the history of the owners was not even published. It’s from the personal memoirs of Therese Lefebvre Prince. She wrote her memoirs in 1989 and called it, “Listen! The Wind is Rising!“. It was my good fortune to be able to read the part of this document that discusses this house. Her account is brief so I’ll write it out in full.
This house was built on T. St. Hilaire’s homestead (legal land description removed). He never lived in it, said Delphis Gregoire. It was sold to Dave Pattyn in 1918. In the mid-1940’s the proprietores became Mr. and Mrs. Robert Desautels.Therese Lefebvre Prince
It’s not uncommon to find that different sources of historical material describe the facts differently although usually these are just the details and not the substance of the history. I have seen this happen many times and that includes my research on the Witch’s House. I used two documents to dig into the past. I stopped in at the museum in the community of Shaunavon, Saskatchewan. It was there that I met Kathleen East, who volunteers at the museum and she was most helpful. At the museum I was also presented with subtle clues that they would like me to buy a copy of the local history book at the discounted price of $25.00. It seems that they ordered many more than they sold so I felt spellbound to make the purchase and I’m now a proud owner of one such book. I was also told by Kathleen East that the owners of The Witch’s House don’t really like to have it referred to by that name. Kathleen didn’t know why they found that name to be unacceptable or offensive and indeed the museum has a photo of this very house which shows the name as The Witch’s House. Perhaps the owners don’t like the possibility that some people might try to create a bit of local folklore and make the name mean more than just how the house looks. Possibly, given that they still own it, they don’t like the fact that The Witch’s House could be interpreted as referring to them. Maybe it’s just that the name invites more photographers than the house otherwise warrants. I didn’t learn the reason.
So getting back to the history of this house, the local history book, called, Quarter Stake Echoes, Area South of Shaunavon, allocated two sentences to the St Hilaires. It says, “Mr and Mrs St Hilaire homesteaded and then sold their homestead to Louis Audette around 1921. They moved closer to Dollard.” So already this account is different than the memoirs of Therese Lefebvre Prince. At least they both agree that St Hilaire either built the house or had it built for them. However the Quarter Stake Echoes book says it was sold to Louis Audette while the Therese Lefebvre Prince says it was sold to Dave Pattyn (and Mr Pattyn’s name is shown as the owner on the homestead map). In another section of the book there is a very thorough description of the Audette family who the book says bought the house from St Hilaire. They bought a farm from St Hilaire but the legal description is different than the house in question. It’s the same range “19” but the township differs by one and the section is completely different. Still, it’s close and the names match up so there is some basis to it. The book’s account of Louis Audette says that he bought the St Hilaire farm in 1920 and sold it in 1935 when the house burned down. That doesn’t sound like the Witch’s House as it is older than 1935 and there is no evidence of it having burned down. Louis Audette then bought the Villenueve farm.
I followed through each of the names mentioned in both of the references, Quarter Stake Echoes, Area South of Shaunavon, and the memoirs of Therese Lefebvre Prince. None of these lead me to anything that would enable me to track the full history of this old house. Perhaps the brief comment in the book, Quarter Stake Echoes, Area South of Shaunavon, sums it up best at the end of the section on Mining Valley which is the school district in which The Witch’s House is situated. It says, “A few Hannaville homesteaders or early settlers that we can find little about: David Pattyn sold to Victor Cumon and moved closer to Dollard, Saskatchewan“. So, even the group that put that local history book together had little information about David (Dave) Pattyn and yet he is the common thread between the two accounts. It looks like the trail has gone as cold as a witch’s smile.
Below is a chart to compare the two accounts
Images of the House
The Source of the House
Many homes on the prairies began as catalogue houses. This allowed landowners to order plans and, depending on the company, receive the wood and fixtures so that all that was needed was to start hammering nails. This method is still available for garden sheds. Roxanne Avery follows my blogs and provided this information after she searched and found the plans that appear to be for this house. It’s called Design No. 105 from the 1910 version of The Radford Ideal Homes catalogue. published by the Radford Architectural Company of Chicago. The blue prints alone cost $5.00. This is probably as close as we can come to seeing what the house originally looked like. This must have been a particularly new plan because it had a bathroom upstairs. Many of the other house plans had no bathroom because of course that sort of thing required an outhouse.
So there you have it. This is just an old farmhouse with a nice turret to distinguish it from the other houses that once stood nearby. It was built close to the one room schoolhouse and the lady of the house even taught in the school. As for witches, I didn’t see any. Of course they probably didn’t want to be seen quite yet. There was no full moon and the weird smoky skies made the sun look so strange that even witches would be a little confused.
- Quarter Stake Echoes, (1981), South Shaunavon History Club
- Listen! The Wind Is Rising! (1989), Therese Lefebvre Prince, Personal Memoir
- Special thanks to the Grand Coteau Heritage & Cultural Centre in Shaunavon which includes the Shaunavon Library. Kathleen East is a volunteer at the Centre who provided the most helpful information. This excellent facility has much to offer. View their website at Grand Coteau Centre | Town of Shaunavon
- Radford Architectural Company. (1910). The Radford ideal homes: 100 house plans 100. 12th ed. Chicago, Ill.: The Radford Architectural Company.
Addendum: Which Witch is Which? Plural vs Possessive?
Typically this house is called “The Witches House” but that implies that there’s more than one witch, which is possible but most unlikely. The phrase is used to describe a house as being owned by a witch (because of how it looks, but we’ve already covered that) so the proper use of the possessive apostrophy is necessary. It is, and should be, called The Witch’s House and if upon further exploration it’s determined that there is indeed more than one witch in residence it will then be called The Witches’ House. Of course if you choose to acquiesce to the owners request that it not be called The Witch’s House you could just call it the old farmstead with the turret, but where’s the fun in that?
No witches were harmed in the photography, research or publication of this blog. The house was left exactly as I found it.
If you visit the structures shown in this blog, or any other old and potentially abandoned structure, please respect the landowners” rights and obtain their permission to access and photograph their structures. Always exercise caution when visiting abandoned buildings as there are potential dangers such as crumbling structures, deep wells hidden by grass, and even spores of mould in the air.
Frank Korvenmaker has a number of copies of the book Legacy of Worship for sale. They retail at $40 (plus tax) in bookstores, if available. He is selling them at $25 (no tax), plus shipping, usually in the $15-$20 range. For any person or group wanting to buy books in bulk, he is selling them for $10 per book on orders of 10 copies or more. Pick-up of bulk orders may be arranged between the the buyer and Frank in Regina for those who may be passing through. Email Frank Korvenmaker at email@example.com for details and to discuss shipping. I receive no commission or other remuneration for assisting Frank to sell this book.