History Slam Episode 157: Crown Ditch and the Prairie Castle

By Sean Graham

An image of a grain elevator from Kyler Zeleny’s Crown Ditch & the Prairie Castle.

Full disclosure: I love the Prairies. I used to live in Regina and always found the Prairies an extremely powerful space. As Saskatchewan license plates say, it is the “Land of the Living Skies” and, for as much as people love the vistas offered by mountains, I’ll take a day on the Prairies watching the sky. The communities that once dotted the landscape, however, are shrinking. Rural depopulation has been a trend across the region as young people increasing head to urban centres. This has been coupled with increases in corporate agriculture reducing the number of family-owned and operated farms, a change that influences not only the Prairie economy, but also local culture, national food chains, and international trade.

The result is that small Prairie communities are facing great uncertainty, which is the focus of Kyler Zeleny‘s new book Crown Ditch and the Prairie Castle: Bedlam in the West. Over the course of four years, Zeleny traveled across the Prairies and documented the region through photography. The images included in the book powerfully represent a region and a population that is out of sight for a majority of Canadians. In a place where the landscape shapes the industry which shapes the people, the book offers a unique look into an understudied region in the midst of significant social, economic, and environmental changes.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Kyler Zeleny about the book. We talk about the changing face of the Prairies, the economic challenges facing small-scale farmers, and the role of agritourism. We also talk about the urban/rural political divide, the majesty of the sky, and Reconciliation in the Prairies.

Sean Graham is a historian at Parks Canada, an Adjunct Professor at Carleton University, and a contributing editor with Activehistory.ca

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