Paean to the Prairies

- Jenny Manzer

One of the images in Prairie Sunset: A Story of Change, by Dion Manastyrski. Photo: Dave Bruha of the Consort Enterprise.

Dion Manastyrski (BSc ‘01) grew up in Rose Val­ley, a small town in the grain belt of Saskat­chewan. In 1911, the surrounding municipality of Ponass Lake had a population of 600. By 1941, its numbers had swelled to 3,000. At last count, only 600 souls still call the area home. Seeing this decline, Manastyrski feared the stories of the area’s homesteaders, like his grandparents, might slip away. He set out to capture the stories and images of family farms across Alberta, Saskatche­wan, and Manitoba before the people—and places—disappeared for good.

“By losing the family farm, we’re losing a great deal,” says Manastyrski.

Manastyrski studied biology at UVic, where he honed research skills, and he has years of experi­ence in photography and publishing. He drew on these talents to create Prairie Sunset: A Story of Change, a hefty art book with pages of photos and first-person narratives telling the story of Euro­pean settlement in the area. (The book does not address stories of the area’s First Peoples, which, Manastyrski notes, would require a complete book on its own.)

Wooden house in a prairie field on a windy, clear day
One of the images in Prairie Sunset: A Story of Change, by Dion Manastyrski. Photo: Dave Bruha of the Consort Enterprise.

His grandparents immigrated to the Prairies from Eastern Europe—and he dedicates the book to their memory. He says he wanted the story of the homesteaders to be told in their own voices, so he uses direct quotes: “There are many treas­ures in their words.”

The project spanned 10 years, eight road trips and 70 interviews. The Victoria resident indepen­dently published the 240-page book to ensure it would reach the level of quality in production that he envisioned, and be printed and bound in Canada. The book is visually striking, with thick pages, and full-colour original photos along with archival images and maps. The images are often compelling, yet haunting with sunlit fields con­trasted by decaying, abandoned structures. The process of creating, selling and marketing the book has changed Manastyrski, who says he was once profoundly shy. The book has been featured in dozens of news articles and is in its third printing.

I wanted to make a book that people would hand down for generations.
—Author of Prairie Sunset: A Story of Change, Dion Manastyrski

 Visit the Prairie Sunset website for more information.


In this story

Keywords: alumni, writing

People: Dion Manastyrski

Publication: The Torch

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