A blue piano in Riverhurst

Blue Piano, Riverhurst, Saskatchewan

More Canada Day musings.

After the Elbow parade, after Gallery 148, after the best milkshake in the world, we found ourselves in Riverhurst.

By the time we got there, the village’s Canada Day festivities had drawn to a close. But the sun was still up, so we decided to take a walk downtown. It’s sort of a personal goal to see every “Railway and Main” in Saskatchewan.

Riverhurst, Saskatchewan (Darrell Noakes)

Railway and Main, Riverhurst, Saskatchewan (Darrell Noakes)

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Best milkshake in the world

Central Butte, Saskatchewan, Canada Day evening. Debby-Lee's Diner in the Central Butte Hotel.When I was growing up, the best milkshakes in the world were at the Dairy Bar. Of course, when you’re a kid, everything in the world is new and every experience is the best.

The Dairy Bar was special. It was in the middle of nowhere, about as far as you’d want to ride a bike on a hot summer day. You had to ride to the end of our subdivision, across the CPR tracks, then up a long, steep hill. You’d have to travel a bit on the highway to cross over a deep ravine. Lastly, you’d have to traverse a wide, gravel-strewn field to reach the Dairy Bar, perched atop a cliff overlooking the ravine and the railway tracks and the river valley and, way off in the distance, the subdivision that we left behind.

But the milkshakes were worth the effort. There were only three flavours — vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. They were the best milkshakes in the world.

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Canada Day at Gallery 148

Gallery 148, Elbow, Saskatchewan.

I don’t know where people get the idea that art galleries are stuffy places to be avoided. Maybe they were taken to fine art galleries on elementary school field trips, where they were admonished to keep their distance from the art. Maybe they’re reminded of movies where someone scratches their nose at an art auction and accidentally finds themselves on the hook for an expensive Picasso. Maybe they’re put off by incomprehensible artists’ statements.

Art galleries, especially the ones in Saskatchewan’s small towns, are great places to get to know a community. You find some amazing art and even more amazing people at these galleries. There’s nothing stuffy about them.

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A very prairie parade

Canada Day Parade, Elbow, SK

We popped down to Elbow for Canada Day. It’s a fun little community. Things are pretty quiet until school gets out. But once the kids are on summer vacation and parents are free to take the family travelling, the town really comes alive. Once the doors open for the season, no one sleeps until after Labour Day, and many won’t rest until after Thanksgiving. Canada Day, July 1, is the day it all begins.

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The friendly people you meet at Hank’s Tavern

Hank's Tavern, Bradwell Hotel

I wonder how often people take the turnoff to Bradwell, I mean, besides the people who live in the little town. Depending on which way you’re speeding down the Yellowhead Highway, Saskatoon is barely 15 minutes behind you or ahead of you. If you’re in a hurry, as most people seem to be these days, you’ll just blow by the Bradwell access sign like it’s not even there.

I like taking the turnoff. As soon as you leave Highway 16, you feel the pace of life change. The road to Bradwell is a narrow ribbon of pavement winding a quiet 6 km into town. If you’re on that stretch of road just as the last drops of a late-day summer thunderstorm sizzle on the pavement and the sun lights your way with a pristine brightness and clarity that you only find after a prairie rain, you can’t help but think to yourself,  Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.

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A sunny morning in Manitou Beach

Sculpture Garden at Little Manitou Art Gallery

“Why does it always rain when we go to Manitou Beach?” Sandra asks. It doesn’t always, but when you wake up on a Saturday morning and it feels like nighttime because the skies are overcast and the rain is drizzling like a Vancouver winter, it seems like a good day for a soak in a hot mineral spa. Manitou Beach is only an hour and 20 minutes away. It’s not that it rains when we go to Manitou Beach. It’s that we go to Manitou Beach when it rains.

Last Saturday, the cat woke us up at the first light of dawn. Robins were singing outside the window and the smaller birds were making a racket in the trees and bushes around the yard. The cat was excited: time to get up, guys!

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Where the wind blows this summer

Windscape Kite Festival, Swift Current

I can’t believe it’s already six years since I visited Windscape Kite Festival in Swift Current. I was thinking about that earlier today, because the festival takes place on a weekend as close as possible to the longest day of the year, part of the Long Day’s Night Music Festival. This year, Windscape is June 24 and 25. Long Day’s Night is June 22 to 25.

I’d like to go back, but it won’t be this year, I’m afraid. Next weekend is already spoken for.

Windscape had been running annually for six years when I was there in 2011, but its roots go back to 1998, when the Art Gallery of Swift Current curated an exhibition of art by Canadian kite builders.

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Bunking with History: The Magazine School

To describe the midsummer day as sweltering would be an understatement. The thermometer had soared past 35° C shortly after noon. At 5:30 p.m. I’m slouched in one of two big wicker chairs on the porch of a 100-year-old log cabin. The porch, covered by a broad tin roof, faces away from the afternoon sun, and a southwest breeze gently curling around the cabin fans away the day’s heat while I take sips from a tall, dewy glass of water.

The crickets love the heat. They’re chirping frantically, all around. I waggle my wrist and the ice in my drink tinkles against the side of the glass. A few crickets nearby go silent, but only to take a deep breath it seems, because they quickly resume their chorus with renewed ferocity. With a slight chuckle, I lean back in the chair to listen to nature.

There are a few things I’ve always loved about Saskatchewan: the bright, wide open skies; the friendly, welcoming hospitality of the cities, towns and out-of-the way places; and the fiercely inventive spirit of the people. When you combine all those attributes, you get some marvelously creative and energetic activity.

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Winner: Gold Saskatchewan Article

It’s too bad we couldn’t be at the Western Magazine Awards gala in Vancouver this evening. I had been to two awards banquets previously. Each was a marvellous affair, an opportunity to socialize with some of Western Canada’s excellent and dedicated writers, photographers, editors, art directors and others who contribute to the success of publishing.

But, we couldn’t get away. So, instead, we were following along on the WMA’s Twitter feed, when this appeared:

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Water under the bridge

Cottonwood Falls Park. (Darrell Noakes)

Cottonwood Falls Park, Nelson, BC. (Darrell Noakes)

Deep in the recesses of my mind is a distant memory of a place my parents took me to once. It was a beautiful place, a canyon with groomed pathways, a lush garden, and a long waterfall that saturated the air with a cool mist. The water seemed to flow out of the sky. It splashed over rocks into a creek and then ran under a bridge and out into a wide, deep, slow moving river that shimmered with hues of green and blue.

I doubt I could have been more than two or three years old at the time, and we spent barely an afternoon there on a hot summer day, and we never went back. The memory of that place has persisted all my life. Whenever I think of the home where I grew up, I think of that place. Sometimes it enters my dreams, where I can still see myself running up and down the pathways of the canyon.

Whenever I asked my parents where that place was, they always shrugged. Continue reading

Bike Alley

The Bike Alley is a whimsical exercise in community development from within, says its creator, Dan Haley, owner of Casa di Cioccolato in Trail, BC. The bicycles line the alley behind his chocolate and tea shop at 346 Bay Avenue. (Darrell Noakes)

(Darrell Noakes)

“You should take a walk down there,” says Bruce, pointing to the lane in back of the old Arlington Hotel, a popular watering hole where a group of us had just wrapped up lunch over beer.

“Let’s see how many you find,” he adds as he and his sister, Sandra start across a deserted street.

“We’ll meet you over at the other end in a few minutes. We’re headed for the Artisan store. See you there.”

The Bike Alley. (Darrell Noakes)

The Bike Alley. (Darrell Noakes)

So, while the rest of the group went left, I hung a right and traipsed on down the block.

It’s pretty quiet for a Saturday, especially on a holiday weekend. There’s practically no traffic. Pretty much anyone who stayed in town must be at the Arlington.

As I reach the entrance to the lane, I spy a bike tied along the guy wires of a telephone pole, then a line of bikes overhead, pinned to the building wall. Further down, more bikes. Continue reading

Hemingway’s world

Hemmingway haunt: La Bodeguita Del Medio Empedrado, Havana, Cuba ‎ +53 7 571375 (Darrell Noakes)

Hemingway famously spent a lot of time at La Bodeguita Del Medio Empedrado, a popular restaurant-bar in Havana, Cuba. (Darrell Noakes)

At Saskatoon’s latitude, February 15 is the date when the sun reaches above the horizon high enough to chase away my winter blues. Every year, it’s like someone waves a magic wand over the landscape. That’s the date when you can really feel the warmth of the sun on your face. Before that, from the beginning of November, the sun shines a cold, blue light — bright enough to need sunglasses, to be sure, but lacking in warmth and colour. Each year, I look forward to February 15 the way a kid looks forward to the day after the last day of school.

Winter can be a lovely time of year. I love the way freshly fallen snow sparkles under a full moon. I love the bright, clear night skies with so many brilliant stars. Looking out on a winter landscape is like living in a sentimental Christmas card. But I hate what the darkness of the long night does to me. Continue reading