MESKANAW, Sask. — The steel tracks are gone now but the wooden railway trestle bridge remains along with the memories of a thriving community at Meskanaw, Sask.
The last train crossed the bridge in 1979, and the trestle alongside Highway 41 has stood unused ever since.
Constructed in 1929 to get the Canadian National Railway into the region, it is the province’s longest trestle bridge.
Settlers came to the Meskanaw area in the late 1890s, starting with its first resident, W. E. Traill.
When the community applied to get a post office in 1904, his daughter, Mary, suggested that the small community be called Traill after her father.
There was already a community in British Columbia with the name Trail so they went with the Cree word Maskunow, meaning a trail.
When Ottawa officially sanctioned the new post office, the name was entered as Meskanaw.
Until train service arrived, farmers were isolated from trade and services, with the closest village and grain elevator 26 kilometres away.
In the spring of 1929, construction workers built the large east and west embankments using horse-drawn dump wagons, slips and fresno scrapers.
They had to span the McCloy creek and had great difficulty pounding pilings into a solid base with the steam powered pile drivers. Some piles are believed to go down more than 25 metres.
By fall of that year, the bridge was 432 metres long and 15 metres high and ready for train traffic.
There were two freight and two passenger trains each day at the Meskanaw train station, which opened in 1935.
The train shipped grain, household and farm goods and people were able to do day trips to Saskatoon. It changed the lives of local farm families.
In later years, the roads became suitable for winter travel so trains were used less frequently. Grain trains no longer came to the area, elevators closed and the last passenger train was a silver single car dayliner.