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‘Prairie Sunset’ photo book preserves history

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Dion Manastyrski spent weeks at a time roaming the prairies from 2003-’14, photographing abandoned houses, barns, one-room schools and even churches.
The Victoria-based photographer interviewed more than 70 people along the way, recording their memories of life on those prairie farms.
“I really wanted to show people why the family farm is so important,” Manastyrski said in an interview. “I wanted to do a book about the past that people would hand down to future generations.”
The result of Manastyrski’s passion is Prairie Sunset: A Story of Change, which contains more than 100 colour photographs and close to 200 quotes from the people he interviewed, including retired farmers, teachers and railway workers.
The topic is near and dear to the heart of Manastyrski, who was raised on a small family farm near Rose Valley, Sask. He has fond memories of a childhood on the farm.
“It’s a book about hope and dreams, hardship and survival, family and community, and most recently, rapid change,” Manastyrski said. “It highlights the richness of lifestyle on the small family farm.”
Starting in 2003, Manastyrski would take two-, three- and four-week trips through the prairie provinces photographing the old, abandoned homesteads. Sometimes he followed tips on likely places, and other times he cruised the rural back roads.
Manastyrski mostly travelled by himself, sleeping in his camper or staying with family along his routes.
Manastyrski sought permission from property owners before going on to the abandoned homesteads, and found people interested in his project and ready to grant access.
“Their history is important to them, and that’s what the driving force is behind the book,” Manastyrski said.
Originally conceived as a book of photographs of abandoned prairie homesteads, the scope of Prairie Sunset altered as Manastyrski worked.
“When I went out and talked to all the people, I was just amazed at what they had to say,” Manastyrski said.
The people he interviewed told stories of hardship and sacrifice, success and failure, and the lives and deaths of loved ones.
“I searched for understanding as I explored the homesteads of a vanishing era, and talked to people of the prairies,” Manastyrski said. “Collectively they have a remarkable story to tell.”
Manastyrski lets people tell the stories in their own words through the published quotes.
He supplemented his own work with historical photos and documents to tell the prairie homestead story, believing the book would matter to people.
“People care about the prairie history.”
Prairie Sunset is available at Village Greenery Flowers and Gifts in Fort Macleod.

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