By Vanessa Hozjan
These days, when life and work get too much we search for something to relax us; to make us forget about the chaos waiting for us when we return to work. Some women read, some go to the spa, or unwind with friends or family. I prefer to pack up my 4 pound Chihuahua, Jasper, some snacks and hit the road.
Since leaving Toronto and moving to Alberta in 2015, I have found a profound love for the dirt roads and stillness of the prairies. It gives me space to think and reflect on all aspects of life, or to just enjoy the quiet. These backroads have brought so many new opportunities and friends into my life and I love sharing the treasures I find through my photography.
The prairie backroads are known for their fair share of abandoned homes, and Jasper and I enjoy finding these gems and documenting them before they are destroyed. Alberta and Saskatchewan are my favourite provinces to explore, mainly because the houses are relatively untouched and have been standing vacant for decades.
Newfoundland was also a favourite of mine when I visited in spring of 2018!
After growing up in Toronto, the flat prairie landscape was a little bit of a culture shock the first few trips I made, but it is now something I crave when life gets too much. To be able to turn on a playlist and drive with no clear destination in mind is the absolute best feeling. For many people, being the sole person for miles can be a little daunting, but it is where I truly do my best brainstorming.
The history of these houses is what captivates my imagination. Who lived there? Why did they leave? How long has it been vacant? I often save the location and try to do a little research, but the older the house, the harder it is to come up with answers.
Now if you’re reading this, you may be thinking; isn’t it scary going into abandoned homes? And quite frankly, yes it is! Over the years I have learned many lessons and only proceed if safe to do so. If a house has been empty for 50 years, you can imagine the wildlife that has come to settle in the upstairs rooms or in the basement. I personally do not want to come face to face with ANYTHING, so I have many preventative measures that I use to rid the house of anyone I don’t want to meet upon entry. Once I check the land for covered or uncovered wells or large holes, I make my way to the front or side door where I bang on the side of the house as hard as I can.
I wait for all friends inside to vacate and then try to find a decent sized rock to throw through an open window on the second floor (I do not break windows or doors to gain entry). Once cleared, I step inside and examine the structure, if a floor is soft or open that is unfortunately where my tour ends. When travelling alone, I trust my gut and if it doesn’t feel right, I’m out of there!!
If I’m able to walk around and explore a little bit, I do so safely. There are many interesting things I have found while exploring; in some houses I have visited it’s as if the family just up and left, leaving behind everything. Kitchen cabinets still have canned goods, pianos sit weathered and peeling, and a house in Saskatchewan even had a fridge and stove left, in decent condition.
If I explore the house, I am usually in and out within five minutes. I don’t like to leave Jasper in the car too long and I’m usually too creeped out to make myself at home. I explore, get the shots I want and leave the place as undisturbed as possible. If anyone had ever owned a Chihuahua, you know that they are extremely loyal creatures, and like to stick close to their “person”. Jasper is no exception. He is my co-pilot on all adventures and I wouldn’t have it any other way. He has an elevated car seat so that he can stand on his hind legs and watch the traffic go by as we cruise down the main highway looking for a random road to turn down.
In his short 2 years of life, he has accompanied me to Toronto four times; he has been to Saskatchewan, British Columbia, New York State, and his favourite to date; Niagara falls!
Due to his small stature, he often becomes the center of attention when we go places. People cannot believe how cute he is, and I agree! I may be biased but I have never met a dog with so much sass and personality. We have many more trips planned, and I cannot wait to see where 2019 takes us!
**Disclaimer: Do not trespass on private property, or enter any abandoned structure without permission or without using due care and proper safety precautions.
Photogapher, Photography by Vanessa