Back to the Land in Trampling Lake

100 Years, 100 Towns: Celebrating Saskatchewan’s Centennial 1905 – 2005

Wilson, Peter. "Back to the Land in Trampling Lake." StarPhoenix, 16 August 2005, C5.

Trampling Lake – The lone sod shack stands out like a Prairie sentinel, as an echo of the hardship and perseverance of the early pioneers who settled this part of west-central Saskatchewan.

The “soddy” as they were ruefully called by the pioneers who by necessity had to live in them, is Mike Jahner’s personal salute to his grandparents. The local farmer decided to construct the structure on the site where his ancestors, who had originally moved from Russia to North Dakota, put down permanent Prairie roots back in 1905.

Mike Jahner built a sod house as a centennial project on his farmland near Trampling Lake

Building the “soddy” was the way Jahner chose on join in the province’s centennial while celebrating 100 years of his own family’s life in Saskatchewan. Constructing a sod shack similar to what his grandparents lived in for eight years during the 20th century’s infancy was an ambition he’d held for the past few years. Jahner’s farmhouse stands on the homestead his father once operated, and his farm includes the original land for which his grandfather took out homesteading rights back in 1905.

A history lover, Jahner is particularly passionate about local history and his construction project was a way of expressing pride in his ancestry, he says.

“It was quite a dream of mine for quite a while, and the province’s centennial provided me with the right amount of encouragement to get things moving,” he said, peering into the dark interior of the shack and looking over the pioneer furnishings he has on display.

Jahner began his historical construction project on the anniversary date that his grandparents took out the deeds on their homestead – June 8. While the march of time has removed virtually all evidence of the original building, the impressions of the original sod house are still visible as faded outlines near his new shack.

Mike Jahner (right) demonstrates the two-bottom plough he used as a child to his daughter and son-in-law Wendy Jahner and Sean Elliot who were visiting from Kansas City

Cutting the tree branches from a nearby black poplar bluff, which was probably the same copse his granddad used to cut his lumber, Jahner, with the help of a few family members, began the job of making supporting and framing timbers for the sod house. They carved out of the prairie grass with a breaking plough and built windows and a door out of old, savaged farm wood.

Individual sods measured an average of about two feet by one foot with a thickness of about three inches. Each sod weighed in at about 40 kilograms, so Jahner was glad to accept the help of younger arms when it came to installing the roof portion of the home.

With his wife, June, providing a continuing meal service, the small work crew slowly brought this legacy of the past to life. With a weekend family reunion planned for mid-July, construction of the sod house took on some urgency. However, the project was completed in time for the gathering, which brought together more than 180 people, some from as far away as Vancouver, Ontario and the United States.

Like many people living in the province’s farming communities, Jahner is no stranger to serving on the boards, councils and committees that form in the backdrop to the sense of community inherent across rural Saskatchewan. For his contributions over the past 50 years to the town and district, it’s a fitting tribute that the unassuming farmer from Trampling Lake is being given the Saskatchewan Centennial Medal from the province’s lieutenant governor. Jahner will receive the honour at a special ceremony in Saskatoon in September.

“This land means a lot to me and this will probably be my last year farming before I hand the reigns over to the younger folks. I guess the sod project pays tribute our family’s contribution to settling the part of the country,” he says.

The townsite for Trampling Lake was laid out in 1911 and in 1913 the CRP began this portion of the Redford subdivision from the Kerrobert to Brass. The arrival of the rail spurred on the fledging community’s development and all the trappings of a growing town started to appear. A Chinese laundry was established and a hardware store opened its doors. Later, a flurry of elevator construction followed to handle the rapidly expanding agricultural output of the district.

Lumber yards, a local electric plant, several grocery stores, cafes, schools, a hotel and a rush of residential construction became a reflection of a community on the move. Trampling Lake’s population would peak at around 240, and then began a slow decline like so many other rural towns.

Now, with just 67 residents, Trampling Lake has certainly known better days. Its school closed about five years ago and out of the six once proud elevators that stood along the track, only a single one remains.

A post office, Credit Union and a co-operative store are left to serve the people of the town and area. One of the architectural gems still functioning in town is St. Michael’s Catholic Church, an elegant monument to faith that is still very much alive.

Anne Bohn knows all about the part the church has played in the town’s history.

“I was baptized, christened and was married in this church, so it’s played an important role in my life over the years,” says Bohn, as she walks through the ornate interior.

Anne Bohn of Trampling Lake still attends the impressive 83-year-old church of St. Michael’s

Built in 1922, the church is still a vibrant part of the district’s social and religious landscape. While the town no longer has a resident priest, mass is till held every Saturday evening, the priest traveling the 50 or so kilometers from Unity for the service. A large hall in the church basement continues to serve as a gathering spot for social functions, although it no longer brings Hollywood into the lives of the town’s residents.

“Through the `40s and `50s, we had movies shown in here every Sunday night and it was a great social occasion for the entire town and for local farmers,” explains Bohn. “We didn’t have popcorn then, but there was more than enough sunflower seeds flying threw the air when the lights were out,” she laughs.

Along Main Street, Mike Jahner points at the old building that once served as the town’s pool hall. Closed now and in dire need of a few coats of paint, the tired building holds many memories for the soon to be retired farmer.

“I spent a lot of time here, probably more than I should have, but they were good times,” he says. “They’d also run poker games up there and I’d watch my older brother playing,” he says, pointing up to the second storey. “They’d play for money and put down a cloth on the card table to cut out the sound the coins would make. That way visiting strangers wouldn’t know what was going on. They were good times, real good times,” Jahner smiles.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller