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.

Greg Hisey, owner and proprietor, Ghostown Blues Bed & Breakfast (Darrell Noakes)

Greg Hisey, owner and proprietor, Ghostown Blues Bed & Breakfast. (Darrell Noakes)

Take Greg Hisey, for example. He describes starting Ghostown Blues Bed and Breakfast a “a backyard party gone wrong. We were having a party in the backyard and someone said, ‘you should open a bed and breakfast.’ Well, I had a really pent-up need to create something.”

The little frontier village that he assembled in his backyard has grown considerably since we stayed in 2012. You can’t suppress creativity.

During our visit, Ghostown Blues featured a couple of cabins, three wagons and a few tent sites clustered around a main lodge that used to be a country church. Since then, Hisey has added a lot more accommodation.

Everything here is from somewhere else, he explains. The buildings sat abandoned, forgotten by all but perhaps one or two oldtimers who knew their significance. Our cowboy host has an uncanny sense for sniffing them out, an eye for seeing their inner beauty, and the energy to transform them into a better-than-new state. No rancher or sheepherder of old could have imagined glowing polished wood and antique-lined interiors stemming from such mundane construction materials. Hisey also has an insatiable need to know everything about these structures’ history.

Belle Plaine in concert at Ghostown Blues Bed & Breakfast, Maple Creek (Darrell Noakes)

Belle Plaine in concert at Ghostown Blues Bed & Breakfast, Maple Creek, Saskatchewan. “Up north, I didn’t have any vices except music,” says Ghostown Blues owner Greg Hisey. “Edmonton and those towns are just ripe with amazing talent. So, CKUA radio out of Alberta was what I listened to 24/7 and they promote Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba artists, up-and-coming brilliant artists, and I started following them and befriending them and, man, I wanted to do that at this place!” (Photograph: Darrell Noakes)

He’s been restoring wagons, pickups and buildings for years – long before the idea for a B&B ever came up. “I’ve always just been motivated. I had known I wanted to share these . . . Like I say, it was a backyard party that just got out of control!”

I really enjoy these kinds of adventures. I love to discover new things on my travels: sitting down in coffee shops and bakeries, poking my head into shops, nosing around in volunteer-run museums.

The Magazine School, established by the Western Magazine Awards Foundation, called me up to talk about what motivates me to tell stories through writing and photography, and how I go about doing that. The online resource includes PowerPoint teaching presentations (also in PDF) for instructors and professors to use in the classroom, copies of the stories to be used for instructional purposes, and interviews with the authors of Western Magazine Awards winners over five years.

Cowboy brunch at the Lodge, Ghostown Blues Bed & Breakfast, Highway 271, 1 km west of Maple Creek, SK. Cowboy brunch is served every Sunday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., during the summer. (Darrell Noakes)

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