Country Strong: 8 Spectacular Shots of the Prairies
Warren Osmond captures the beauty, history and wildlife of his rural surroundings as he travels the back roads in and around his hometown of Medicine Hat, Alta.
The Road Less Travelled
I hadn’t considered making photography a hobby until fairly recently. My job in the oil and gas industry involves travelling to many out-of-the-way places across southeast Alberta and southwest Saskatchewan.
Over the last couple of years, I realized just how many hidden treasures there are that show the history of the region. I thought taking pictures would be a great way of sharing this discovery with others.
So on a whim, I bought a camera, thinking I’d find something worthwhile to photograph once in a while. Now my daily work routine includes bookmarking places into my GPS that I want to photograph, and many weekends are spent returning to those spots with my camera.
Although I’ve lived in Medicine Hat since 1990, I only recently realized how many things there are to discover here – you don’t have too go far to find pieces of history in and around the city. You can take a historical walking tour of the downtown area itself, or just turn off the main road and go exploring on your own.
As soon as the photo bug bit, I found myself spending many weekends in my truck, driving around the area to see what I could find. For every abandoned farmhouse, barn, vehicle or piece of agriculture equipment I come across, I couldn’t help but wonder what the story behind it was; what I was looking at now had at one time been something brand new and significant to its owner.
One of the best experiences I had was visiting the community of Orion, Alta., to photograph the many abandoned buildings there. It’s located southwest of Medicine Hat and is widely considered to be a ghost town. I was surprised to find there are actually a few people still living there, and the owner of the hardware/general story – which has very few items to actually sell – was willing to share his knowledge of the area with visitors.
The southwest corner of Saskatchewan is also chock full of historic areas just made for taking photographs, with old barns and farmhouses dotting the landscape around places such as Richmound, Golden Prairie and Fox Valley.
While southeast Alberta is not typically known for having lots of wildlife, there are actually many interesting animals in the area, especially close to Canadian Forces Base Suffield, which is about a half hour drive west of Medicine Hat.
The base is a massive area of land that plays host to the largest military training area in Canada. It also includes a sizable piece of land known as the Suffield National Wildlife Area (NW), which was established in 2003. The base is home to thousands of elk, which are managed as a provincial resource, and it’s not unusual to see many of the animals off the base and in nearby fields.
Prairie rattlesnakes, which have been highly protected over the last couple of decades, as well as bull snakes, also call the region home and can be found in and around the city and in nearby communities.
While driving through the various rural areas, my favourite subjects to photograph include anything related to the farming industry, as well as the abundant wildlife such as deer, antelope, coyotes, hawks, badgers and, of course, gophers.
There are also several memorials scattered around the countryside, which I suspect are rarely seen. Among these are tributes to the first settlers in the area, as well as gravestones and abandoned graveyards dating back to the late 1880s.
Monuments that can be found in southeast Alberta include one near Medicine Hat commemorating the first discovery of natural gas in the province, along with numerous signs and markers pointing out the location of schools that were closed and torn down decades ago.
One thing I’ve found is that although I’ll head out with a specific subject in mind, I’ll usually come across something else to photograph that is totally unexpected. While I have taken a lot of pictures of vehicles, structures and animals, I have not captured many photos of the people that make the region so great. I’m hoping to change that in the future.
Taking up photography as a hobby has changed the way I look at photos themselves. Previously, when looking at pictures in magazines, I never really had an appreciation for the skill involved in taking an amazing photo, especially when I’m looking at pictures taken before the advent of digital cameras. I now see just how incredible some of those photos are and how skilled the person behind the lens was.
These days, I don’t travel anywhere without my camera – photography has obviously changed how I look at road trips. My number one priority in the past was always getting to where I was going in good time. Now I find myself leaving much earlier than I normally would have, knowing there will likely be a few detours along the way. Exploring and discovering new objects and places to photograph is just too difficult to resist.