Month: December 2015

Saskatchewan stereotypes

I am in a wide open space…. There is a great deal of snow-covered nothing out here. Carl is driving us back, 300km of dead straight roads stretching out ahead of us and not another car in sight. Its almost eery. They even put rumble strips running up to the few junctions to wake you up in case you’re using cruise control and forget to turn!

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There are many jokes and stereotypes about Saskatchewan, most of which I have ignored because they don’t really apply to Regina.
“In Saskatchewan, time stands still” (no daylight saving time)
“In Saskatchewan,  you can see your dog running away for two days”
There’s also plenty of Corner Gas references that I can’t comment on having never seen it, and then there are the less kind comments about marrying your cousin and so on….
In comparison to the UK equivalent, Regina is a small town, barely a blip on the map and certainly not a “city” in the more generally understood sense of the word. To my mind, a place is not a city unless you can walk for more than half an hour without running in to someone you know. After nearly 4 years here, i am pretty much guaranteed to see a familiar face as soon as i leave the house. This is not just because the population is tiny but also because everyone is so friendly. But outside Regina, in rural Saskatchewan the likelihood of running into anyone,  whether you know them or not, is distinctly remote.

The Parents are here for Christmas, and this year we decided to go adventuring and booked a log cabin in the woods near Greenwater Lake, which is about 3 hours north west. It was gorgeous! Much more snow than in Regina, and Proper Trees! I didn’t realise I missed trees, but it was oddly pleasing to wake up surrounded by them again.  We were the only people in the campsite, and got to play around in the snow,  take Miranda toboganning and march across the frozen lake completely undisturbed. No phone signal and no wifi either – actually quite lovely, At night it was pitch black and utterly silent, to the point where Miri woke up st 1am wanting her bedside light on because she was scared of the dark. She’s not used to it!

Of course,  this also meant that there was no food. We’d read online that there was a cafe in the provincial park, and so hadn’t brought much with us. It being Christmas week and the park being empty apart from us, of course the café was closed, and so we had to venture out to “nearby” Porcupine Plain (25km away) as soon as Carl started looking hungrily at the squirrels. There were only two places that did food in Porcupine Plain, and both were just about to close at 8pm when we finally arrived. The first was WEIRD. Funny little cafe with chunky white diner mugs, and a group of old men who just stared at us without saying anything when we went in. There seemed to be no one behind the counter and no one interested in serving us, and also nothing that looked like food, just the diner mugs full of stewed coffee. So we turned around and walked out again, and still the men didn’t say anything.  Next door (literally), was much more friendly, and despite us arriving two minutes before closing time (sorry!) we were soon presented with enormous burgers and small mountains of chips. Yum. As we left, I read the community notice board: a house for sale for $45,000 complete with its own well on site(ie: no running water), a poster for the Christmas Eve service at the church, and an ad for “Firearms training”…

On route, we’d stopped in Wadena, and encountered our first Coffee Row. I’d vaguely heard about this little ritual: small cafes in tiny communities where people gather with their coffees on one long table to chat and discuss the world all day, every day. It may sound simple enough, but it is a very distinct cultural phenomenon in small town Saskatchewan. From what we heard it was mainly about what was on TV last night and the weather, but my parents rather reluctantly got into conversation with the old man next to them, who was not only fiercely proud of being Canadian, but also a devoted Christian. After makinng sure we understood the true meaning of Christmas, he fortunately turned back to his friend before he really noticed he was addressing a bunch of liberal godless cynics!

Those cafe experiences were glimpses of Real Saskatchewan for me: remote but friendly, conservative but well-meaning,  flat and cold, but beautiful and certainly a very very long way removed from the grey, miserable mass of humanity in Britain where we were last Christmas!

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Cloak of Invisibility

It is December, and right up until last week, I was still cycling to the cafe. This is unheard of!
People are betting on the likelihood of a “brown” Christmas, which amuses me greatly since I remember how hard we used to wish each year for a white one in Darlington. The last no-snow Christnas that anyone in Regina can remember was 1998. So odds are we should be good…
The bunnies are all confused though. There are giant Jackrabbits (technically, hares, I think!) that live downtown, and a couple of them have taken up residence in the car park behind the cafe. We named them Wayne and Waynetta Wabbit and I even have a seasonal Christmas coffee on the menu called “confused jackrabbit” in their honour. They are confused because they have gone white already. Each year, they grow their winter coat, changing them from grubby grey-brown bunnies that match the general downtown concrete, into pristine white bunnies camouflaged against the snow. Except this year, they are white already but there is no snow hide in, and they look very, very out of place.

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I want to stick out like a snow bunny.
I mentioned I am still cycling: Theia can now sit up well enough that she can ride in the forward-facing kid seat on the front of the Taga bike, so after another conversion effort (20 seconds to convert it? My arse! More like 20 minutes. With swearing.) – we are happily pedalling about on what has to be one of the most eyecatching vehicles in Regina, avoiding the seasonal idiots who have forgotten how to drive in ice. The advantage of the Taga bike is that I can pretend it’s Mainly Stroller and ride on the sidewalks with it and thus not risk Death by Idiot-in-SUV quite so frequently.  Unfortunately in Regina most sidewalks are in worse condition than the roads, and having 3 wheels means hitting every slope, hole, chip of broken glass, lump or inexplicably unpaved patch City Hall wish to challenge me with. So, sometimes the road is a better option, but there,  I am small, and low and slow and vulnerable, and because I lack a petrol engine, I mysteriously become invisible. This is a car-obsessed land, and unless you have one, you are a nobody, despite freakish hybrid kid-transportation devices.

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I am having similar issues with the cafe. Not that people are running us over, but just that we seem to be equally invisible because no one gets out of their cars. We thought our spot on 11th would be pretty good because there is a lot of passing traffic headed downtown. We have a bright purple 26ft sign over the equally massive window, chalkboard outside and over the summer, even a little patio table out the front. Yet people drive straight past; I’d like to say they are concentrating on the road but often or not, it’s their phones… And then, 8 months after opening, we get the surprised, “oh, are you new?” questions along with “I didn’t know you were here!”. Yes, this is partially our lack of marketing budget, but also because so few traverse downtown on foot or by bike. Peoples! This winter is incredibly mild! Get out of your cars and take advantage of it!