Mammy (Alice Russell) 1914 - 1996
Mammy's Place belonged to Alice Russell, affectionately known to her family and friends as "Mammy." She moved to Estuary in 1918, where, with her husband Lawrence, raised their three children. She remained in her beloved little home until her passing in 1996. She was the last living resident of Estuary.
Mammy's Place is now owned by Alice’s grandson, Perry Leach and his wife Sheridale Pearman. Although Mammy has passed on and Estuary as a town is gone, Perry, his wife Sheridale, and their two sons take great pride in preserving Mammy's memories by offering her home as a private guest house.
Mammy 1941 Age 27
Mammy as a young lady, and as a child
Estuary: History of a prairie ghost town
From its very beginning, Estuary was a railway town. Its hope and dreams rested with the railway's bold ambitious plans to expand west, bringing with it the surging tide of pioneers seeking out new lands and lives.
William Wardill, a local author and researcher of the book “Sand Castles” outlined the history of the remarkably short and tragic lifespan of Estuary. According to his research, the first development plan for the townsite was registered on April 19, 1914. The Canadian Pacific Railway was coming through and so were the hungry and hopeful, carting with them dreams of prosperity in this vast new land.
The First World War had started, but for a few short years, it was a time of spectacular growth for Estuary. The town's population swelled to 800.
Although detailed records during the war years are sketchy, Wardill's research shows that Estuary had at least 163 businesses from 1914 to 1954, including a weekly newspaper, six blacksmith shops, 10 livery barns, six rooming houses, six hardware stores, 10 cafes or restaurants, 13 various service stations, 23 grocery stores and one department store. There were of course an assortment of doctors, dentists, schools and churches either in the town or nearby. At its peak, Estuary had seven grain elevators. Most of the businesses were in operation before 1921.
Estuary had an active village council. The most noteworthy and “colourful” member was Oswald Schneider, who owned a livery, feed barn, a rooming house, a power plant and the Sunset Theatre, built in 1917 at a cost of $20,000 and considered the most elegant commercial building in Estuary.
Mr. Schneider had a wife named Mary and nine children. Oswald Schneider was also a transvestite, which he flaunted, especially in his later years in the village.
Wardill's book details Schneider's battles with the community. By the early 1920s, he was booted off village council over the operation of his power plant, and his business empire was by then collapsing. After 1930, his wife and children were gone, replaced by a Mrs. Bailey who moved in with Schneider along with her two children.
In "Sand Castles", Wardill details a story from two residents who lived in the nearby town of Empress and who were frequent visitors to the bizarre household: "The woman remembers that Mrs. Bailey used to call Schneider "Oswood" and that she took great pleasure in helping him transform his masculine appearance. She applied the depilatories to his face, selected outfits from his expensive wardrobe, and was also his photographer. Some of the modeling sessions lasted for hours.”
Schneider left Estuary in 1938. Today, his last home remains, and in 2001, it was bought and renovated by new owners.
Long before Schneider left, ghosts had already moved into Estuary. Several fires, especially devastating ones in 1917 and 1923, crippled the town. The fire of 1917 destroyed 18 properties.
There were also several more blazes, not as destructive, but just as mysterious. In fact, arson has long been suspected. There was one minor arrest for attempted arson, but the cause of the major blazes has never been solved. With Estuary's fortunes in serious decline after the First World War, rumours were rampant that the fires were deliberately set to collect insurance.
Following the war, the town was delivered another disastrous blow. Canadian Pacific Railway decided in 1919 to go ahead with plans to build a branch line from nearby Leader to the new townsite of Burstall. The plan was a disaster for Estuary, as it would mean a reduction in the flow of grain coming into town. Instead, the grain moved to easier delivery points south of Estuary. Citizens felt betrayed by the rail company and began moving out in droves, taking everything with them, including their houses and businesses.
Estuary lost its village status in 1930. Over a few short years, the town became more and more a ghost town. The fuel dealership shut down in 1951. The community store closed in 1966, the railway station hauled away in 1970, and the last three grain elevators dismantled in 1982.
Source: Johnnie Bachusky. GhostTown Stories from the Red Coat Trail.
Top image: art collage by Carolyn Sandstrom