For those who are driven to explore for prairie history there are few things as satisfying as the discovery of an old stone house, especially one that has rarely if ever been photographed. It was just such a place that I discovered in July 2022 and am pleased to show you today. The location is among trees, behind other structures and away from the main roads, and this has concealed it to both the modern age and the digital lens. To be clear, I’m not likely the first person to have photographed this Saskatchewan stone house. However I’ve consulted with the the people who I consider to be the most knowledgeable about Saskatchewan’s stone buildings. These people were unaware of this particular house. I checked respected publications for identification and other information about this location but those publications were as silent as the stones of this house.
One such publication is quite well known among those who love stone buildings. It’s a book called Legacy of Stone – Saskatchewan’s Stone Buildings. This is the book that lists some of the most iconic of Saskatchewan’s stone buildings, be they homes, churches, schools or other structures. It’s not meant to be a listing of all such structures but this book provides examples of the types of buildings to be found including a substantial background as to why they were built and who built them. Sadly this book is no longer in print. It’s my understanding that the publisher ran into financial problems. Frank Korvemaker, the respected Saskatchewan historian and co-author, was compelled to sell the publisher’s remaining stock himself and they are now all gone. If you see this book in a book store and you find stone structures as fascinating as I do, I would suggest that you grab it before it’s too late.
Another fine listing of Saskatchewan’s stone structures is unpublished. It’s a collection by Cecil and Susan Hayward. Cecil’s work is actually referred to in the forward to Legacy of Stone. You can read there to learn about Cecil and Susan Hayward and their passion for finding and documenting these stone monuments. Since the Hayward book was not published it is difficult to obtain a copy. I’ve only seen it once but I hope I will be able to obtain a copy some day. It’s my understanding that the subject of today’s blog may be one of the very few Saskatchewan stone houses that Cecil Hayward did not photograph. For this reason I have decided to call this blog post “The Mystery House”. This house was not only hard to find, but I haven’t been able to learn anything about its history. This house really is a mystery. There are two prominent stone houses, about 1 km away, in opposite directions and that makes it seem even more unlikely that this particular house is not better known. I should add that while the house is in rough shape, that is because of the deteriorating wood roof and floor; the stonework has no cracks that I noticed. Clearly this house was built by an expert stonemason. I wonder who he was?
Photographers guard their locations like magicians guard the secrets to their tricks. However in order to give this post some context I’ll provide rough idea as to where the house is located. On the map below you can see that the Mystery House is northeast of Regina.
The Discovery of the Mystery House
The above restored stone house is certainly not the Mystery House. It belongs to a fellow named Jim (I didn’t ask for his last name and he didn’t offer it). It’s a beautiful house and somewhat larger than most of the early century stone houses in Saskatchewan.
My typical day, when on a Saskatchewan road trip, is partially preplanned, the result of a winter spent in my den with my computer. My wife and I set out with some printouts of maps and other information as well as a GPS full of locations obtained from various sources. On July 6, 2022, we were looking for this Mystery House but we were having no success after driving up and down the dusty rural roads where I believed it was located. Finally, out of frustration, I pulled into the driveway of a nearby home, which itself was a fine looking restored stone house. My wife has dubbed this place the “Veranda House” due to the huge and inviting veranda that surrounds it. I asked the owner if he could help me find the abandoned stone house that should be located nearby. He invited me to come with him to the side yard of his house where I could see the “Mystery House”. Even in his yard and with him pointing where to look it took me a moment to spot the old house because it was still concealed by numerous trees. Yes, there are trees in Saskatchewan.
I asked Jim if he knew who owned the house as I wanted to ask for permission to photograph it. Jim was the right person to talk to because he phoned the owner, whose name is Chris, and handed the phone to my wife who made the request. Jim also gave me permission to photograph his own beautiful home, which is why I have some images that are shown above in this post. I was ready to go and seek out this hidden jewel of fieldstone but my wife was still admiring the veranda on Jim’s stone house and didn’t really want to leave. We eventually left and followed the directions to drive past Chris’s house, and then past Chris’s sister’s house until we spotted a road that was probably as old as the house we were seeking. The “road” was very overgrown with grasses and shrubs and it looked like we were possibly only the second vehicle to pass this way since the last winter’s snow melted. That road brought us reasonably close to the mystery house. Close enough to just stop the SUV and walk the rest of the way. I didn’t need to park or pull over because there was no room and there was little chance that anyone else was coming this way. We selected an indirect route to minimize the need to walk on the crops even though Chris seemed unconcerned. I later told Chris that we tried our best not to step on any crops and he shrugged it off as not a problem. Always show respect for the owner and their property.
Suddenly there it was, the Mystery House and an old windmill. They were hidden on an island of trees and also blocked from view by the regular road and by Chris’s house, barns and still more trees.
The Mystery House
The images that follow were all taken by me on this visit in July 2022. I don’t have any history to share about it because I’ve found no information, so far, about this house. All that I can tell you is that it’s in a part of Saskatchewan that is full of rocks and therefore full of stone houses.
Where you see a group of images with the comment to “Click to enlarge images and read captions”, you can do so for a much better view and easily return to the normal view by clicking the X on the image. If the caption doesn’t say to “click on the image”, it’s because you can’t enlarge it. This is just the way the website is designed. The first four images are set up so you can click on them to get a better view.
Great photographs of the front of the house were nearly impossible. First there was the intense summer sun just off to my left that interfered with colour and exposure, and then there were the trees that grew fairly close to the house. They prevented me from backing up to get a proper framing of the house. For photographers who might wonder, I used a 16mm lens to be able to capture the full house while standing this close. A front porch or veranda had once graced the front entryway but now it’s just a tangle of wood that also gets in the way of a nice front view.
This might be a good time to mention the ticks. I’ve heard about ticks for a long as I can remember. However I’ve never actually seen a tick until this year, 2022. Apparently in southern Saskatchewan if there is just the right mix of rain and heat the ticks come out in full force and 2022 was such a year. When I previously visited this area in 2021 there was not a tick to be seen anywhere. That left me deplorably unprepared for what was to come. Once I figured out that these blood thirsty creatures were just waiting for fresh photographers to wander by, I was a little on edge. I’m used to grizzly bears, black bears and even mountain lions but ticks are a new adversary that got the best of me. I was not about to lie down in the tall grasses to obtain a clever photograph. Self preservation trumps photographic creativity.
Now lets step inside for a few views of the house.
The wonderful thing about a house, any house but especially a stone house, that is not well known or frequently visited, is that it often looks like the owners just left it. This was not the best example of a house in the original condition but you can at least see some furniture that is original to the house. It can give you a feel for what it was like here 50 years or more ago.
If you look closely at the above image you can see the floor has buckled, especially by the door. Some rooms were much worse. This house had a full basement so a weak floor could result in a bad fall if I stepped on the the wrong spot. We walked slowly and tested each step before proceeding. I noticed this chair right away. Often an old house will still have the owner’s favourite chair. Somebody sat here after a long day’s work in the fields and found a moment to relax.
Look at the above image with the shelves. Next to it are the stairs that descend into the basement. The steps didn’t look very safe so I didn’t go down there. At first I thought there was a water cistern at the base of the steps. However once my eyes adjusted to the dim light I was pretty sure that the round “thing” was just a truck tire. That’s too bad because cisterns were not uncommon in these old prairie homes. I would have enjoyed photographing a cistern in order to show it here.
Doors in old houses have so much character. They are as wrinkled as their owners probably were from the years of working on the fields in the bright sun.
This house had a surprisingly large front room. The living or formal room in rural houses was something that was rarely used and therefore only found in larger homes. Children were in the basement, upstairs or outside. The lady of the house was in the kitchen and the man of the house was in the field or the barn. Nobody entered the front room unless there were guests to entertain. However I think that the front room of this house was well used. It felt like a happy place. Memories don’t disappear when the people leave. Sometimes they linger, good or bad, to provide hints of what was but is no more.
The walls of stone houses could be up to 2 ft or the better part of a meter thick. You can see that when you look at the windows and doors. The children of the house likely sat on the window frames and warmed their backs on the sun light beaming through.
This wall shows the textures of an old house. Plaster and the lath behind it is visible. I don’t know what that hook and the two metal brackets were for. If there was a window here they would look like they were meant to hold up a curtain rod. But there is no window. Maybe a gun or an axe was kept here? If you think you know what these brackets were for please comment below.
That was the end of the exploration of the mystery house. Once we returned to the vehicle we decided to drive over to the house of the owner, Chris, to thank him in person and ask if he knew much about the builder. Chris had only owned this land for about ten years so he had little information about the provenance of this house. He did say, however, that there was another interesting house just down the road. We said “thank you” and went off on our way to check out the other house.
We nearly missed that other house because unless you know that it’s there, and unless you look down the long well treed driveway at just the right moment, you won’t see it. We stopped on the side of the the road by the driveway while we conspicuously discussed if we should approach yet another landowner. While weighing our options the owner came out and saw us parked there. That settled it, we drove in and asked her if we could photograph the outside of her house. She agreed and then proceeded to move her children’s toys out of the way (I didn’t ask her to do that). I’m not showing that house because this blog post is long enough and because the owner was concerned about her privacy. So, out of respect for her privacy, I’ll keep those photos just for my private collection. Actually I wouldn’t show those photos even if she didn’t mind me sharing them. That’s because the bright sun was right behind the house so I didn’t even get very nice photos. We had a nice visit with her while she filled us in on some of the history of her beautiful house. It’s a heritage home that is featured in the book Legacy of Stone. With that we said our goodbyes and headed back to our trailer for a relaxing evening. The next day would bring us new discoveries that will be featured in a future blog posts.
I often receive new information after I publish a blog and this post is no exception. It was my good fortune to receive a photograph of the “Mystery House” from the photographer of Legacy of Stone, Larry Easton. He has given me permission to show his image here. Larry’s photo shows how house looked on December 26, 2005. Here you can see how there was once an extension to the roof over the front doorway. This is most likely the source of the broken wood that is now on the ground in front of the house.
I’ve also received some information from Margaret Hryniuk, who is a co-author of Legacy of Stone among many other books. I found this information on a website about Margaret Hryniuk.
Margaret Hryniuk has been writing about heritage buildings since she won a 1978 Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild award for her article on the 1896 brick-and-fieldstone Hudson Bay store at Fort Qu’Appelle. Her work has been regularly featured in the Regina Leader-Post and irregularly in national magazines. She is the co-author of “A Tower of Attraction”: An Illustrated History of Government House, Regina, Saskatchewan and Regina: A City of Beautiful Houses and Legacy of Stone: Saskatchewan’s Stone Buildings.49th Shelf – https://49thshelf.com/Contributors/H/Hryniuk-Margaret
According to Margaret Hryniuk, the Mystery House was originally owned by a family with the last name of “Wolfe”. This confirms a comment by the current owner, Chris who previously told me that he bought the land from an individual named Wolfe, but Chris didn’t know how long that person had owned the land before he sold it. The Mystery House is becoming less of a mystery.
- Margaret Hryniuk and Frank Korvenmaker, 2008, Legacy of Stone, Saskatchewan’s Stone Buildings, Coteau Books, Regina Saskatchewan. Printed Copy.
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.
Stone houses are windows to Saskatchewan’s history.
19 thoughts on “The Mystery House”
I love everything about the house and its mystery!! Any chance that the builder of the other two houses built this one? It has a definite flair to it, like I have seen this builder’s work before, but can’t place it. And, the doors have the perfect crackling. To imagine these houses being taken for granted, and left to waste – so sad!
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Thank you Rebecca. I too wondered if they were built by the same builder but to the best of my knowledge even the two other houses had different stonemasons; one German and one Scottish. Who would have thought that there could be two or maybe even three stonemasons working so close together. Walking distance really.
It is rather amazing how talented and resourceful these settlers were! Patience we don’t tend to see anymore.
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I really need to catch up on some of your blogs I’ve missed.
Chris and I were just talking the other day how incredible it is that you have the patience to do this meticulous planning and research.
Your blogs are always so interesting.
And your photography just gets better and better.
Accountant, and Historian!
Too bad the historian gig doesn’t pay better. 😂
Seriously though, I appreciate all the work you do on these. 🙏🏽
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Well Susan I appreciate the generous comments that I receive from you and others. Thank you very much. 🙂
Another fine blog post as usual…
Hey I started doing a bit of research on that first book you’d mentioned. Apparently every used book seller in the world is connected as I found multiple listings from $30 to around $100 depending upon how much you want to spend. I found a copy for $33 including shipping so I’m anxiously awaiting it’s arrival…
I also found a link to a PDF that apparently is a “continuation” of the information found in the book, post 2005; http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/archives/korvemaker/Saskatchewan%20Stonemasons%20-%2018%20-%204%20Feb.%202020.pdf
Love what they’ve done with the interior decor 🙂
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I probably should have mentioned that there were two versions of the book. One, the first version, was hardcover but black and white. The next version was in full colour but came in a soft but durable cover. Booth have lots of photos and information. You might be interested to know that a lot of Americans came to Canada to homestead. They came for different reasons. Some found North Dakota too hot. Others from Minnesota found that their homestead lumber land was too small to sustain them. Those from Minnesota were all or nearly all originally from the Scandinavian countries. It’s good to hear from you Huge. Stay cool down there.
Well I’ll just have to wait and see what version I receive, should be here “no later than the 16th” per the email I received. I did check the ISBN numbers which according to Amazon the copy I purchased should be “A spectacular coffee-table book… In words and stunning colour pictures…”
But if it turns out to be the B&W version I’ll just use my imagination 🙂
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Either way it’s an excellent book. The b & W version is bound nicer with a real hardcopy but the colour version is more enjoyable to look at.
Hello again Glen,
I received my copy of “Legacy of Stone” in todays mail. I must have gotten the best of both versions you’d mentioned as mine is both hardbound and full color, so I’m very happy with my $33 purchase…
Here in Las Cruces a good proportion of the homes are surrounded by stone walls apparently constructed of native rock as it is plentiful and longer lasting than what some call a “stockade” fence which is simply a six foot tall cheaply built wooden fence. They were very common in Denver when I lived there, although they didn’t take to the intense sunlight very well, fading quickly to a parched silvery grey color…
Now I have some reading to do 🙂
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That’s an excellent price for a superb book Hugh. I’ve seen a number of the stone buildings in the book and consider it to be the best reference on the subject of stone buildings in Saskatchewan. I even have a slight connection to them because my father’s family grew up in a stone house in that province.
If you don’t enjoy it I’ll buy it off of you (suitably discounted for being used of course 🙄🙂)
Jim’s house restoration is beautiful. Definitely worth it with a well built stone house. The mystery house has so much character with the alligatoring paint. That shot of the side door and windmill is fantastic. Great work on this mystery Glen. Allan
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Thank you Allan. I haven’t given up on discovering the provenance of this old house.
Another great blog, Glen. Your research into your various discoveries is amazing.
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Thank you Stan. Someday I will discover the provenance of this old house and then update the blog post.
This is your finest blog that I can think of. I really enjoyed every word of it and now my mind is in full explore mode from it.
Great job with the images as well. The interior shot with the windmill framed is brilliant. I’m sure I will be revisiting this post a few times.
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Thank you Chris for your generous comment. . 🙂