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The lights no longer shine

VaultThe community office vault

Most old-timers from Saskatchewan's historic southwest Red Coat Trail district usually agree on one thing - Vidora was the place to be.

"It was the best little town on the whole line," says Bill Behrman, who was born in 1912, 13 kilometres north of the original Vidora townsite. "There were dances every Saturday night, good poker playing and many bootleggers. People mixed a lot better here. Vidora was not as cliquey as the other towns around here."

Behrman, who later retired in Maple Creek, 80 kilometres north of Vidora, is a former town councillor. He fondly remembers the days when Vidora was noted throughout the region for its water, natural - and otherwise. "One time a guy sold me some home brew and it nearly took my head off."

But aside from the free-flowing bootlegger rum, Vidora has special reasons to shine. The town was one of the few settlements in entire southwest Saskatchewan region with its own electrical power.

"You had to shut off the lights by 11 p.m., unless there was a poker game going on," recalls former power plant worker Cliff Brown with a chuckle.

Today there are no lights in Vidora. With the exception of one family living in a home that doubles as the post office, the original townsite is derelict and deserted. The townsite has long been fenced off by a nearby farmer. Inside the barricaded lot, there are a few odd crumbling structures, including the concrete ruins of the rural municipal office - its vault still prominent against the big prairie sky. If visitors look closely, the remnants of the old wooden sidewalk can still be seen on the old Main Street.

"Fires and drought really took its toll here and people just gradually moved out," says Behrman. Vidora, located along the old CPR line between Robsart and Consul, was incorporated as a village in 1917. It was named after two nearby farm girls - Vi and Dora - lived at a farm house which housed CPR engineers and surveyors during construction of the rail line.

Like most towns in the area at the time, Vidora's beginnings were fast and prosperous. By the early 1920s, the town boasted more than 20 businesses, including banks, lumber yards and a hotel. Vidora was also active socially, with church and school programs and annual summer fairs. With a small but thriving population of at least 200, it seemed Vidora's future was indeed bright. But a disastrous fire in 1924 destroyed a good part of the town's business section, including Vidora's first store, post office, cafe, pool hall and main hall. There were subsequent fires in 1926 and 1928, claiming more key businesses. Although Vidora would continue on for several more decades, the promise of prosperity faded, especially during the 1930s as droughts and grasshoppers swept over the land.

In 1936, the CPR station closed and eventually moved to Frontier. The Vidora General Store was carted away to Robsart in 1961. By 1969, the rural municipal office moved to Consul, as did the community hall in 1976, becoming the area's senior citizen's hall. During these latter years, Vidora's five grain elevators were also closed and torn down. One by one, the lights gradually shut off in Vidora - families and old-timers left for larger and more prosperous urban centres, until only one family and the post office remained to mark Vidora. At night, the ghosts have long learned to play in the dark.