|Grasslands Nation Park near Val Marie|
I recently did a two-week book tour of South Saskatchewan, visiting schools and libraries and doing book signings from Leader all the way to Saskatoon. How did I do it, you ask? Well the first thing I had to do is finance the darn thing. And the easiest way to do that was to do school visits. And so I did. I sent out a poster to various school boards in Saskatchewan explaining my services, and they in turn sent out my poster to the schools within the district. Libraries, I called separately.
|Poster at Leader Library|
|High school kids in Frontier|
|Intermediate class in Val Marie. Each child had a computer.|
Now libraries in small towns in Saskatchewan have a problem in that there is little government subsidies. As a matter of fact, the government had seriously thought of shutting down libraries all over South Saskatchewan to reduce costs. So I didn't charge them. I told them I'd do it for free if they allowed me to sell books.
|The library in Val Marie.|
And how I sold books - tons of books. I sent an order form ahead of time before arriving at any school. Sometimes I had to come back to that school because they'd forgotten to distribute them with great results. More books sold - heaps!
The next problem, of course, lay in keeping my costs down. So anywhere I could, I'd stay in B&Bs. And where there were no B&Bs, I used my friend Expedia. Now I'll be honest in saying that some of my stays weren't up to standard, but hey, this is small town Saskatchewan, right? It is what it is. Then there was food. I decided I wouldn't eat in any restaurants, you know, expensive meals and tips? And so I ate in food fairs, bought tv dinners or deli food at the grocery store, and carried food around with me all the time in case I ran out of fuel and was stranded somewhere. And speaking of fuel, I didn't bother flying, renting a car, and shipping books because I have a great little car that barely uses up gas - a 2016 Prius V. Besides, Saskatchewan isn't that far away from Vancouver - a day and a half. Why not drive a vehicle I know rather than some clunker/gas guzzler, right?
|Shirley of Shirley's B&B, Leader, Sask.|
And so I drove. And drove. And drove. I'd heard prairie highways could be mighty boring so I stocked up on my favourite CDs. Heck, with no one complaining about my taste in music, I could play the same ones over and over again, singing at the top of my lungs. I wasn't bored at all. How could I be when Saskatchewan is so beautiful! And fascinating! And my favourite music was playing.
When my grandparents first met, the fairly new province of Saskatchewan was busy setting up new towns and handing out homesteads. It was easy to get one. All you had to do was pay your $10, apply, and once you got the land, build a small house and barn on it, cultivate 40 acres, and voila! Problem was, the Dirty Thirties hit and that's what my story, Fields of Gold Beneath Prairie Skies is all about.
|My grandparents' homestead, Val Marie|
|The dam my grandfather built on the farm.|
|My grandfather's old plow|
As I traveled about to the various towns, I was saddened to see so many of these places I'd heard about growing up, reduced to ghost towns or on their way to becoming one. I drove past farm after farm where ruins of once-vibrant houses crumbled to the ground. And I thought, "What family lived there, and what kind of humour flew around?" I saw faces of children in large families, really large families, and imagined what Christmas must have been like - and Easter.
|An abandoned house in South Saskatchewan.|
|St. Elizabeth Church near Gravelbourg - a heritage building.|
|A crumbling house in Masefield.|
|Another crumbling house. Who lived here and when?|
One town I made a point to seek out is called Bracken. This was a rather important town because there used to be a baby clinic there where many an infant who wasn't thriving was saved, including my Aunt Claire. As I drove through, I searched for what could have once been a clinic, but all I was found plenty of ruins amidst newer houses.
Another town that fascinated me was Vanguard. I drove into the town figuring it'd be easy to find the school, and it was...except it was totally abandoned. It was bizarre. I thought, "Did I get the day wrong? Is there a pro-D day today?" I wandered about empty hallways, where echoes of children's laughter filled my imagination, then finally left. When I stopped and asked a woman, she pointed me in the right direction. "The new school's that way."
And what a school! So modern! So vibrant! And such an ethos! As a matter of fact, all the schools I visited in Saskatchewan were modern, vibrant and full of ethos. They had the latest technology, oftentimes were fairly recently built, and the teachers were really with it. I mean, small town doesn't mean small education in this province. I was really impressed!
Then there was Val Marie. They had three classrooms from K - 10. Again, really modern and with it. And then there was a little girl who had no language. She had her own attendant, and her own little computer that helped her communicate. And that really floored me that you can get this calibre of help in a village.
But what amazed me most was the people. Nice people. Small town humour, small town camaraderie - really decent folk! Something you don't find as often in a big city.
|My Aunt Lilian - a nice person from Saskatchewan.|
Anyway, I loved Saskatchewan, but then I've always loved Saskatchewan. There's nothing backward about this place. The only thing missing for me, was a ski hill close by. Snowboarding is my passion. But for anyone who doesn't snowboard or ski, I highly recommend living in Saskatchewan. You can get a really nice place for inexpensive, have modern amenities, and know amazing people.
And if you want to read my novel that takes place in Saskatchewan, here's the book trailer:
And here's my Amazon link: bit.ly/prairiebridebit.ly/prairiebride