There is a community – more of a ghost town really with a population of 20 – in Saskatchewan called Admiral. I visited Admiral in 2021 because of a tip that there is a very photogenic old Lutheran Church in the community. Admiral is in southern Saskatchewan, in fact it’s south of the popular Ghost Town Trail which is more officially called Highway 13 (also the Red Coat Trail). According to Wikipedia there are 32 ghost towns on this highway and that doesn’t even include Admiral. This community is off the main highway of ghost towns and that means it’s a backroad to a backroad and it doesn’t get any better than that. This is the kind of destination that resonates with me. It has all the ingredients of a successful photography road trip.
How to Speak Saskatchewan
In order to benefit from this blog a person should understand how to speak Saskatchewan. Don’t worry about any heavy duty language training here. This is not the place for grueling exercises in linguistics or semantics; readers just need to understand one single sample of the local vernacular. This is a simple explanation of how people in Saskatchewan derive and communicate their local identity that will prove useful further down in this blog.
It would be beyond pretentious of me, a life long Albertan, to claim to know the intricacies of all things Saskatchewan. You would need a genuine Saskatchewanian for that. However, both of my parents were raised entirely in Saskatchewan and I have learned a thing or two from them. They didn’t speak often of their formative years so gathering this knowledge required some probing on my part but I freely provide it to you, the readers of this blog post.
In rural Saskatchewan people refer to where they live based on the nearest populated area. Basically if an area has a street and a name, it’s a populated area. So for example if a person lived at a farm 25 km from Admiral they would say that they are from Admiral. It wouldn’t matter if they rarely, if ever, visited that community, it still defined where they lived. In Alberta that could happen but it’s more likely that a person would say that they are from a specific county or the nearest identifiable geographic area such as west of Pigeon Lake or north of the badlands. People who speak Saskatchewan refer to the nearest village as if it is their home (unless they live within an hour’s drive of Qu’Appelle Valley but that’s beyond the scope of this blog). That’s it, the language lessons have ended. My English teachers are probably all turning in their graves at the thought that I would have insights to the language that they tried to teach me.
Is there an old church in Admiral?
The fast answer is yes there is an old church in Admiral but nothing is quite that simple. I did find churches in Admiral, lots of them. Was one of them the possibly abandoned and definitely photogenic Lutheran Church in Admiral? The answer to that question took longer to find. Upon entering the village I wasn’t faced with the usual task of driving down the few streets in search of an old church. That doesn’t mean that this was an easy process though. The problem was, well maybe a couple of my photos of this road in Admiral will explain the problem better than mere words. This is what I saw when I turned off the main street in Admiral. The other image is the view from the top of the hill looking back toward town.
I found not one, not two, but three old churches. Only one of them had a sign or any other identification. The only clue available to me was that at least one of the first two churches, situated approximately across the street from one another, appeared to have been converted into a private home. There could be no doubt that at one time each of these three structures was a church. That’s a lot of churches for such as small place. In fact I was later to learn that a short distance from town there are, or were, more churches. Admiral must be a very spiritual ghost town.
I didn’t carefully photograph the first two churches because they don’t have the look that I was seeking. Also I didn’t want to invade somebody’s space if indeed one church was converted to a private home. I certainly wouldn’t want to peek out my own front window and see a stranger standing out there with a camera and peeking back at me!
A couple of Google Street View images, in addition to my own images and one small image from a local history book, helped to identify the first two churches on this Admiral road.
The church with the red or reddish brown roof is called Holy Family Roman Catholic Church. It’s not what I was looking for but I’m glad I’ve identified it. This one had a sign so that was easy to identify. After this each church gets progressively more difficult to attach a name to.
Next is the church across the street from the Catholic Church. I again used Google Street View to get a better angle on the structure.
The small historical black and white image from the local history book bears a striking resemblance to the building shown above from Google Street View. I am fairly certain that this church is now a private residence. In my photo, near the top of this blog, I can see an old holiday trailer parked next to the old church as well as other things that are typically found at a person’s house. There was no sign to indicate that this was previously the old St Andrew’s United Church, however, it certainly resembles the old black and white image. The old photo isn’t very clear but it does look just like the Google street view image of the church. I don’t know when it ceased to be used as a church but below is a brief quote from the local history book providing some of its story.
The present United Church building was built in 1922 and was opened in 1923, served by a Presbyterian minister. In 1925 it became a part of the United Church of Canada, after uniting with the Methodists, Congregationalists and Presbyterians, and holds the official name, St. Andrew’s United Church of Canada.Admiral : prairie to wheatfields, page 404
There was yet another church in Admiral. It was called the Holiness Movement Church. I haven’t heard of that denomination before my research on Admiral for this post. The congregation bought a church from a Mennonite settlement near Swift Current and moved it to Admiral in 1922. That building was used for around 30 years before being sold. They then bought another one. The local history book has a photo of their church but I don’t know if it was their first or second building. I didn’t see any sign of them when I was in Admiral so it looks like they have ceased operating a church but that’s all that I know about it. A reader of this blog said that it was an active church in the early 1980s. The Admiral Holiness Church certainly isn’t the Lutheran Church so it wasn’t the place I was searching for.
Having identified two out of the three Admiral church buildings I thought it would be easy to conclude that the third church is or was Immanuel Lutheran Church. That’s probably true but I had to do more work before I can say for certain and put a name to it. Let me try to explain. The Admiral local history book describes another church, Klara Church as a church that was built in 1932. It was definitely a Lutheran Church of the Augustana Synod branch of Lutherans. The local history book is silent about the location of Klara Church at least in the section dealing specifically with the Admiral area churches. It did say that five acres of land were purchased from a fellow named Paulson with the intent to build a cemetery. It’s possible that the church was built there. Here’s another quote from the local history book.
By 1949 there were 56 members in the congregation. Then due to many reasons by 1957 there were so few members left that they decided to dissolve. The Klara Church Congregation was dissolved June 15th, 1958.Admiral : prairie to wheatfields, page 400
A reasonable person would say that it should be easy to identify the church on the hill, now that the names of the first two churches and one other in the area are known, but that’s still not the case. Here are two images of two churches. They are both from the Admiral local history book, pages 399 and 401. These are not the same churches although the differences are subtle. In fact the only significant difference that I can see is that Klara Church had triangular shaped windows while North Immanuel Lutheran Church had the more traditional gothic style rounded windows. The four turrets or “mini-steeples” that surround the main steeple have slightly different trim as well.
The building on the hill at the highest point in Admiral looks more like North Immanuel Church than Klara Church due to the shape of the windows. The turrets are missing though.
Is the church on the top of the hill Klara Church or North Immanuel Lutheran Church? They sure look similar. This took more research to find an answer. I used keyword searches in the local history book for the names of people who sold or donated land for the churches and/or their cemeteries. This didn’t help much with North Immanuel Lutheran Church but it did give me a location for Klara Church. It was built north of Admiral, in fact it was north of highway 13 and about 19 km from Admiral by road. I was able to confirm this at the Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan website, item R-E2140. Now you should understand why it was necessary to learn a bit about how to speak Saskatchewan as that explains why Klara Church was listed in the local history book under “Admiral’s churches”. To me, a guy from Alberta, Klara Church is not in Admiral because it was in a rural area north of Admiral, but I don’t speak Saskatchewan. Make no mistake I wouldn’t call Admiral an “urban area” but it’s less rural than farmland. That’s all that I needed to know about Klara Church, at least for now, as my focus is on the church at the top of the hill in Admiral.
Identifying the church on top of the hill should be easy now that I’ve identified the Catholic Church, the United Church, and even the Holiness Movement Church in Admiral and discovered that Klara Church was not built in the village of Admiral. The problem is that the local history book provides some information about North Immanuel Lutheran Church, South Immanuel Lutheran Church, as well as often referring to just Immanuel Lutheran Church. So are there one, two or three Lutheran churches left to identify? I seem have a trinity to explain.
By now there were too many Admiral Lutheran Churches to keep track of so I put some basic facts in a table format. This helps me to stay organized and quickly spot what was missing. I included Klara Church in the table because it was Lutheran and looks so much like North Immanuel Lutheran Church.
A Table of Admiral and area Lutheran Churches
Below is a quote from the Admiral local history book. It explains why we have two Immanuel Lutheran Churches.
The Ole Kopperud family came to Cadillac in 1912. They knew Pastor T. L. Rosholt from the States so invited him to come visit them, hold services and see about organizing a congregation.
He came with a single horse and buggy from Opheim, Montana, taking him two days and one night to make the trip. At night he slept in his buggy while coyotes howled and prowled around. After Pastor Rosholt and Mr. Kopperud canvassed the community the first service was held in Wise Creek School, in the fall of 1912. In 1913, Pastor Rosholt returned and organized the congregation. Later on, he organized two congregations – North and South Immanuel.Admiral : prairie to wheatfields, page 401
This Pastor Rosholt must have been a very ambitious man to organize two Lutheran churches at close to the same time. He was ambitious, but not very creative because he gave both churches nearly the same name. The result of such an ambitious undertaking is that the general Admiral area ended up with two Immanuel Lutheran Churches, one right in Admiral and one south of Admiral. They eventually merged to become one church and the name of the merged congregation was truncated to Immanuel Lutheran Church. I believe that North Immanuel Lutheran Church was the building in Admiral that continued as Immanuel Lutheran Church. At this point I really don’t know what happened to the South Immanuel Lutheran Church building after it closed and merged, so that is a question for another time.
Immanuel Lutheran Church in Admiral
In the above photograph I was able to zoom in really close and could see that there is a ladder inside the church. This could mean that the church is either being restored or converted to a house.
Only the two birds sitting on the lower right of the steeple below, are more curious than I was about this church. I was curious about its history and the birds were curious about its future.
Interesting facts about Admiral
It’s no secret that Saskatchewan has some eclectic names for their cities, towns, and other communities. Admiral had already dished out more than its fair share of obfuscation with the church names so why stop there. I read a little about the community’s name and discovered that even the authors of the local history book were befuddled about the origin of the name Admiral. The old townsite plan led them to believe that the town was named after British admirals and their ships. Naming a Saskatchewan town after nautical themes either makes perfect sense or demonstrates the complete lack of sense, depending on your point of view. I actually like the idea. Below is a quote from the local history book discussing this possibility.
In the original townsite plan which was developed in 1913, the street names all honor great British naval figures, most of whom were “Admirals”. Certainly Drake, Hawkins, Frobisher and Nelson Streets. The other two streets commemorate Nelson’s flag ship, “The Victory”, and another famous flag ship, “The Revenge” which was commanded by Hawkins, Drake and Grenville at various times.Admiral : prairie to wheatfields, page 7
That’s a great way to name streets of a small community, especially since it probably began with a number of homesick Englishmen. If the community had grown larger and named a street after Captain Sir John Franklin, there would even be a Canadian connection. Two ships, the HMS Terror and HMS Erebus, left England in 1845 in order to search for the North-West Passage, a vital sea route between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Both were lost until 2014 when at last the Erebus was found. It’s too bad that Admiral didn’t continue on this theme because I think it would be kind of fun for people to have an address on “Terror Street”. Most of Admiral’s streets on a modern map have maritime themed names with the possible exception of Minnesota Street, Jackson Street, Plymouth Street and Plymouth Ave (perhaps there is a maritime history to those names?). Of course there is a Railway Ave but that changes nothing because I think that every town in Saskatchewan has a Railway Ave.
The local history book goes on to cite another source of the town’s name.
In the recently revised and published volume “What’s in A Name”, it states that Admiral was named for James Crichton (1560-1582), commonly called the “Admirable Crichton”, and that Admiral is a corruption of the word “admirable”.Admiral : prairie to wheatfields, page 7
I don’t know if James Crichton was the source of the name Admiral but he did help contribute to the naming of this blog (Admirable Admiral).
It seems that Admiral confounds even the local people who dare to peek into its history. The book arrives at no conclusion as to the reason for the name.
Despite all the confusion caused by the naming of churches and streets in Admiral, it has some nice buildings, well at least two nice buildings. I think that the brick building shown below has been converted into private residence. In a previous life it was the second location of the CIBC. The brick building that still stands in Admiral was built in 1921. This building was sold in 1939 and then used as a post office and residence. It was the local branch of the Shaunavon Credit Union Admiral Branch until that closed. The people of Admiral must have been optimistic about the community’s future before the Dirty Thirties.
More Admiral enigmas
Admiral is situated approximately 15 km east from the place where a phenomenon, that is quite unique to Saskatchewan, can be seen. It is an example of the preponderance of bridges to nowhere. Every province has its share of old bridges that are no longer in use but it’s only in Saskatchewan that I have seen these strong concrete bridges in the middle of farmers’ fields. I wonder if the farmer ever uses them for anything? I’m reasonably certain that the pathway that that runs perpendicular to the bridge was at one time for the railroad tracks. If indeed the bridge was built for the railroad why didn’t the train go over top of the bridge? The bridge can’t be for the train because the tracks appear to go underneath it. I added yellow arrows to the satellite view image. The yellow arrows show the where the train once travelled and the red arrow shows the direction of travel on the bridge. I was standing on highway 13 when I photographed it. Perhaps there was previously an old road there and the bridge was not needed after the highway was straightened out. In the satellite image below you can see a slightly different colour both before and after the bridge so that may indicate where the highway once carried traffic. I’m surprised that crops would still grow in the soil where a road once existed but if it was well reclaimed I suppose it is possible.
Final thoughts on Admiral
I believe I solved the mystery of the three-plus-one Lutheran Churches. I figured out what the nice brick building was used for, but this bridge has me befuddled. Perhaps the next time I’m in the area I will look closer to see if there is room for a train under that bridge. Until then, the community of Admiral remains a ghost town with unknowable secrets.
I hope that my blog does not paint an overly negative picture of Admiral. It, along with many other villages and towns in southwest Saskatchewan, suffered significantly from the loss of its population after the Dirty Thirties. More recently Admiral lost the Shaunavon Credit Union. However people are slowly returning as can be seen by at least one church and also the red brick building being converted to homes. More importantly there is at least one business in Admiral that is prospering and it’s called the Svensen Toboggan Company. They make more than just toboggans but that is where they started (and the toboggans look very strong). Where one business succeeds others are sure to follow. Maybe there will eventually even be a need for a Franklin, Terror and Erebus Streets. Now wouldn’t that be admirable?
- Admiral : prairie to wheatfields, 1978, Admiral History Book Club.
- The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan – Website – https://esask.uregina.ca/entry/admiral.jsp
- Svensen Toboggan Company: http://www.svensentoboggan.com/
If you visit the structures shown in this blog, or any other old 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.