Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Zealandia – A Town in Transition

Flag of Saskatchewan
We stand with one of the librarians in Rosetown, Saskatchewan, a small community 152 kilometres west of Saskatoon on Highway 14, listening to her explain that there are no real communities worth visiting east of here on Highway 7. ‘You’re only an hour from Saskatoon, so why stop at any of the towns?’ she says. We explain that our mission is to visit as many small towns on secondary roads in the prairies as possible, meet the residents and write about them and their community. She has no comment.

Garage of the past
Twenty kilometres east on Highway 7, we pull into the quaint and well-kept town of Zealandia. We park Big White beside a weather beaten boarded up ageing garage. It was established in the early 1900s. A few strides into our hike, we come across a cenotaph for WW1 and WW2 veterans from the local area and a beautiful playground area purchased and constructed by the Elks No. 292.

Frank at Cenotaph
The wide gravelled roads are flanked by trimmed grass, tall trees and a sidewalk. We get the impression that we’re in a well-maintained park. A while later, we meet a young man detailing his truck. His name is Chris. We ask about the availability of water to fill our container and he offers to help in true Saskatchewan hospitable fashion. He explains that most folks living in Zealandia work in Rosetown and have purchased homes here because they are ‘cheap’.

Fun things in a well-tended yard
We continue our walk and admire the new homes and the old. Each structure offers a sense of Zealandia in transition. A coiffured yard with an RV and two upscale cars could tell a tale of the people who occupy the grand house, while the property next to it reveals an empty abode covered with spider webs clinging to its broken windows and four-foot high wild flowers claiming every inch of its yard. Who lived there? What might have been their occupation? When did they move away, and why?

Empty house is hidden behind its yard
The crunch of gravel under my feet puts a smile on my face and slows my pace.

I catch up to Frank who is having a lively conversation with a woman laying on a hammock in her back yard. She is explaining that Zealandia has had two fires in its history. No dates are offered but she is saying that the town’s people rebuilt the community buildings after the first, only to have another devastating fire soon after. From her yard, we can see the bell atop the fire hall.

Fire hall and Town Office
In the early evening, we sip coffee beside our bus and are greeted several times by other locals. We feel welcome and appreciated. No one questions why we are camping in their town. Frank tells me that he could live here in a heartbeat. Location. Location. Location.

Big White in Zealandia, Saskatchewan

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Come in When the Light is On

Village Square, Perdue, SK
Every village in Canada has a unique set of characters living in it and Perdue, Saskatchewan, has a full deck of cards. We met six of them the first day we arrived at this quaint community located sixty-three kilometres west of Saskatoon on Highway 14.

We are greeted at the front door of the New Horizon’s Senior Centre by its President, Jean. She is sporting a dramatic oversized coat of many colours and has a beautiful smile on her face. She shares with us later that she is over ninety years old.

Our host guides us over to the table where there sit three other women. The table is covered with two large plates of homemade and store-bought cookies, a container filled with cream, a bowl of white sugar and a stack of napkins. 

Grain elevator in Perdue, SK
We are invited to sit and Joyce is the first to introduce herself. She presents a big smile and extends her hand to Frank first and then me. She explains that she’s lived in Perdue her whole life and asks if we’ve ever heard of the game of broomball. Before we can answer, she explains that Perdue was the first Canadian city to host the game of broomball back in 1908. She keeps our attention for a while. 

Next, we are introduced to Elsie, who, unfortunately, has forgotten her hearing aids at home and is only able to say her name and smile. We learn the next day, when we meet Elsie again at the centre, that she loves store-bought cookies best because she bakes so many homemade treats for the club.

Cora sits quietly, her body likely racked in discomfort, I imagine because she’s stooped forward and her face is grimaced with pain. 
The others speak to her but she doesn’t often respond.

Later, Gerald and his wife, Esther enter the centre. They sit comfortably around the conversation table and are served coffee and treats by Jean, today’s hostess. They ask us two of the most familiar questions, ‘Where are you from?’ and ‘What brings you to Perdue?’

Big White at the Perdue campsite
We claim Vancouver Island as our starting point and are delighted to share with them that we’ve been on the road living in our RV for nearly three years. We explain our intention to visit as many hamlets, villages and towns as possible on our direct route from one housesit to the next.

Our new friends express their delight in our having chosen their campsite as our layover for a few days. We let them know it’s our pleasure and that they are some of the friendliest folks we’ve met.

“You’re welcome anytime, Susan and Frank. But check the light above the door. When it’s on, someone is here so come on in.”

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Canwood Famous for Bannock

Frank Enjoys Bannock at Canwood Cafe
The Village of Canwood, Saskatchewan, located in the north section of the province, sixty-five kilometres south-east of Big River is famous for its bannock. This luxurious bread has simple ingredients and is produced in a variety of ways, including deep fried. The clever woman who makes it works at the Canwood Café. She and the owner also offer friendly banter. They would love to meet you.

Canwood Commemorative Sign 
The community centennial commemorative iron monument at the highway entrance into the Village displays a fine assortment of characteristics common to the province and this small gentle getaway among your northern Saskatchewan adventures. 

From every street corner, you have a grand view of the working grain elevators that stood beside the long-gone railway tracks. Now, these magnificent sentinels seemingly stand on guard for the towns’ people. On Main Street, Young’s Garage is a display of past prairie architecture. 

Canwood Grain Elevator
Young's Garage
There are a few buildings for sale, some in need of either repair or full demolition. Their history includes the existence of a coin laundry, a billiards game room, a confectionary and snack bar, a Bargain Shoppe and a Pawn Shop. 

The lively elements of the village are attributed to the horticulture volunteers as demonstrated by the manicured park in the centre of town, the Village Administrator and workers who keep the place tidy and prideful with large displays of red and white flowers to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday.  

Susan stands in the village garden
The knowledgeable Municipal District Administrator is proud to show the map of the vast area under their jurisdiction. It’s populous at large are the bright lights of this most worthwhile community. Every person we spoke with had an upbeat, friendly attitude towards their town and one another.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Vilna Under Construction

Vilna's Claim To Fame
The Village of Vilna’s claim to fame is its cluster of three gigantic metallic mushrooms standing in a park one block away from the downtown core. This gentle historic town is located 39 kilometres northeast of Smoky Lake, AB, on Highway 28.

Hope of a Boys and Girls Club
Some of its meaningful businesses under construction or being repaired include the hopeful startup of a boys and girls social club where the youth of this town and the surrounding district can find relief from the technology-driven, anti-social aspect of their lives, according to the woman we met on the street. 

Vilna Seniors' Centre
Across from that large undertaking is the Vilna Seniors’ Centre. The scaffold structure on its front face was a giveaway. The new delightful blue siding gives the building a regal image. We left the area before they had the chance to add an apostrophe for plural possession.

Home is Where Your Heart Is
Some folks have the great idea of developing an at-home business while a clever lady in this town turned a business into her home. As you stroll down the centre street in Vilna, pay special attention to a red door. Home is where you make it. 

Garage of Days Gone By
As you step off onto one of the side roads you’ll be pleasantly surprised that what is old, very old, still stands. A used-to-be vehicle repair building presents itself as a staple of days gone by. Our lady on the street told us that there used to be four garages in Vilna and now there are none.

Greek Orthodox Church in Vilna
One of our biggest surprises was that the Greek Orthodox Church was closed and not under construction and the Anglican Church was for sale. The sands of time and encroaching trees and invasive plants have taken over in some areas, while in others the sounds of simultaneous hammers and saws ring out as hopeful indicators of keeping this small town alive. 

Our last visit was with the Administrator at the Vilna Village Office. She shared the good news that the village is keeping its library and organisers are looking for a librarian.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Fireside at Metis Crossing

Frank with Red River Cart

Bison Sculpture Beside Playground
Initiated by our open-minded guide, Leon, at the Metis Crossing site, located near Smoky Lake, Alberta, we held a lengthy Fireside standing in the parking lot of the historical living museum.

Leon commented on our lifestyle and said that he and his wife would love to travel and meet people and talk openly about the good and positive things going on in the world.

We complimented him on his open heart and sensitivity and asked if he was Baha’i.

“I've heard of the Baha'i Faith. Tell me about it,” he said.

For the next while, he listened patiently to our explanation of the Blessed Bab’s purpose and Baha’u’llah’s Station. Our new friend was very receptive and shared with us his search for a spiritual leader and his openness to exploring various religions to find the right one. 

Currently, he’s reading about Buddha.

After a gentle exchange of ideas and philosophies, Frank presented him with a small booklet titled, “Baha’i Teachings for a New Millennium”. Leon held it steadily in his hand and said we would read it. We believe he will.

We shared our experience with the friends in St. Paul and left a slight suggestion with them to connect with Leon on their next visit to Metis Crossing.

Blessed Is The Spot

Susan peeking into Metis house

Unique Metis barn design

Tuesday, July 4, 2017


Big White at Waskatenau, Alberta
Waskatenau, pronounced /wəˈsɛtnə/ wə-SET-nə by the Cree indigenous peoples, is located 82 kilometres northeast along Highway 28, from our last house sitting gig in Namao, Alberta.

Big White doesn’t mind the stops and starts one bit. She merrily carries Frank and me along with hauling our Ural motorbike stored on a trailer behind her. She’s very capable and in excellent condition.

Pine Creek Campground Sign
We spotted the Pine Creek Campground sign placed along the roadside of the quiet baseball-themed prairie town. Waskatenau has hosted many baseball championships and is considered the Baseball Capital of Alberta. It’s a small village with approximately 260 residents, all of whom seemed to have been indoors the evening we took a walk around town, with the exception of one fellow standing outside the hotel having a cigarette.

The following day, the kind librarian introduced me to the proper pronunciation of the village and the fact that its main Ukranian-based population more or less dictates the activities including the existence of a Catholic school, a large Ukranian church, and the general friendliness of the villagers.

Bird House and Bat House
We explored the back alleys where we tend to find out about the lifestyles of the locals. One dedicated family set up a bird house and a bat house, both used to help control an obnoxious number of mosquitos and flies. They also left a large tree used by Woodpeckers standing in their yard. To my great pleasure, there was a small patch of wild daisies, my mother’s favourite flower.

Cecile's Favourite Flowers

That evening, we set up our outdoor cooking stove and prepared a sumptuous late dinner. We indulged in turkey sausages wrapped in a heated pita bread, corn on the cob, cooked brown beans and a bowl of raw vegetables. The evening concluded with a storm filled with white lightning, gusting winds, huge thunder claps and a downpour of rain. Once again, Big White provided us with a safe and warm place to be.

Frank Ready To Enjoy Dinner

 Next stop, somewhere along Highway 28 going east.


Monday, May 8, 2017

Try Baha'i

Big White's Decal
Big White, our recreational vehicle, is now emblazoned with a decal on her hood that reads Try Baha’i.

Frank and I were inspired to etch the message on our bus after having visited with Mariam of Blairmore, Alberta, an isolated Baha'i. Last year, she relayed a story about her excursion with her husband to the Yukon to share their love of Baha’u’llah. They taped the words Try Baha’i to their van and drove miles and miles along the highway stopping at several towns and cities. They were always questioned about the message. Frank and I are hoping for the same reaction and curiosity.

We chose the paint colours here in Rimbey, Alberta, and Frank prepared the truck to take the letters. We’re happy with the results and hope that our enthusiasm to teach the Cause comes across to the Baha’i friends as a positive display and also hope that human curiosity is ignited.

A few of the pets we're sitting
These days we're homefront pioneers in the Central Alberta cluster and we’re learning about the spirit of the Baha’i friends, the receptivity of the folks in this district and those who are waiting to be touched by the Master’s words. We are all pioneers.