Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan.
July 17, 2017 was my first time in Fort Qu’Appelle. I had ridden to Fort Qu’Appelle with my cycling buddy, a short 80 km ride from Regina. We had traveled down some quiet roads, enjoying the tranquility of the open skies. It was likely the rough condition of the road that accounted for the lack of traffic.
As I was cycling along I noticed a highway maintenance truck waiting along the side of the road. I stopped to talk with the operator when I noticed he was driving a tarring rig. I asked if the plan was to tar the road today. His response was, “Yes, we got to fix this highway.” I expressed surprise that he called it a highway. If this is considered a highway then we don’t have much hope for what it called the Trans-Canada Trail.
I was assured that the tarring wouldn’t begin till all the cyclist had passed this point They were still waiting for the tar which was scheduled to arrive in about an hour. This being Saskatchewan that would likely mean a three hour wait.
When we arrived in Fort Qu’Appelle, having ridden with a tailwind most of the way, I decided to stop for a blizzard at the local DQ. We rode through the drive-through but got no response. Turns out they were open but busy getting things set up for the day. I warned the staff of two that there were about eighty riders headed into the town. Within the next forty-five minutes the place was overrun by almost half of the cyclist.
After setting up my tent I hiked into town with my riding buddy. Two blocks in we reached Broadway Ave. Judging by the layout this was definitely the main street. With a Bargain Store a half a block from the Dollar Store there were some obvious signs of entrepreneurial competition in town.
After meeting several friendly and welcoming locals in our stroll along Broadway, we encountered a quiet park with a Four Season mural. Some first nations women from Sandy Lake just four miles up the road picked up conversation with us. They liked the idea of posing for a picture. They had found a spot in the shade, probably their regular spot and had almost finished their bottle of rum by noon. I had the clear impression that they spent most of their time in this parkette between two stores. Other than a bench in the shade and a mural there was nothing else there. You could say they had each other.
We passed the local hardware store which seemed well stocked with up to date equipment. Of interest was a fold up 160 watt solar panel and controller for $499. The attendant was explaining how this could be hooked up to 3 or 4 deep cycle batteries and maintain the power needed for an RV.
What caught my interest even more was a pickup and trailer parked on the side street beside the hardware store. The signage on the back of the trailer – Vermin Exterminator – caught my interest. The way the trailer was parked and packed up it looked like to school desk like arrangement one set behind the other. I decided that I would prefer to be the person sitting on the back ‘desk’. I knew I definitely wouldn’t want to be the driver when everything was set up.
As we were looking at the trailer, the owner Ron walked up. Turns out his well known no-name business provides a much desired service – exterminating gophers, beavers, coyotes and skunks. He set up one of his stations with a holder for his gun, and just as important a flag so he can keep an eye on the wind speed and direction. (Assured him that as cyclists we were well aware of the havoc that the wind could cause.) The ‘desks’ as well as the gun stand were on a swivel. Next to the gun is a counter. His record is eliminating 740 gophers in one day.
Being that the trailer is designed as a two person operation, Ron said he is very particular who he takes along as his shooting buddy. He always takes the back seat – smart guy. As the back seat guy he swivels in a 180 degree arc over the back of the trailer. The person in the front seat swivels in a 180 degree arc towards the front of the trailer. If the operator accidentally hits the truck Ron reasons that it can be replaced. It’s a bit harder to replace a fellow operator.
Found a health food store so I could pick up some Nuun, an electrolyte to keep me sustained while riding during the extreme ride days. They also had some iodine for internal use. It was great to see a store carrying quality health vitamins and supplements.
While taking a picture of an original Hudson Bay Company store I was cautioned by Leon a First Nations local. As he drove by me he stopped and said, “Hey man, you got to be careful.” I was crouched beside a flower planter in the middle of Broadway. After he parked his car he was proudly giving me the history of the Hudson Bay Company store. Clearly the store had been repurposed. He was adamant that another stone building just around the corner was even older.
As I was walking away from Leon I mentioned I was looking for a bike shop. He directed me to the pawnshop which he assured me had both tires for sale as well as bikes. I kindly declined as I wasn’t sure how reliable their stock might be. I wasn’t able to find a bike shop in town. I might have to wait till we get to Yorkton.
Walking along we soon found ourselves in front of the Peace Hills Trust building, a Star – Blanket – Cree – Nation building. The signage indicated some helpful services for the indigenous population for the area, the Cree. The sign indicated that the building housed the Treaty Land Entitlement Office. The other offices in the building included Sask First Nations Safety Assoc., Q-Bow Child and Family Services Inc. and the office for Red Dog Holding. The sub-text on the sign was “Advocators of Community & Personal Developments.
I found a Coop at the end of Broadway’s business strip. My only reason for going in was to satisfy my longing for some orange juice. I decided that a 1.75 litre bottle for $2.70 was a better deal than a half litre bottle for $3.25. I would have no problem downing the whole 1.75 litre bottle before the afternoon was done.
In front of the Valley Bake & Coffee Shop, known for it’s Bavarian Pastries we met Eddie. As he approached the bakery door he stopped and waited. He seemed curious about seeing two ‘strangers’ in town. We got to talking. He was retired for 3 year but couldn’t believe he was that old already. He had been farming but now wasn’t able to work. The farm work had taken a toll on his body.
In the 1990’s Eddie and his brother were running a beef farm of 240 head of cattle. A few years ago, due to drought conditions he was forced to sell most of his herd. He had been farming for a couple years with his herd reduced to 40 head. When he couldn’t make ends meet he sold seven quarter sections, the last of his land, for $150,000. A few years earlier he had gotten $75,000 for a section of land. When he moved off the farm he still owed money on a farm.
Eddie wished he still had his herd of cattle because today the price for beef are very good. He’s getting used to living in town and enjoys coming to the Bavarian bakery. He is reluctant to buy goods there because then he needs to work it off.
Fort Qu’Appelle is not much different from many other towns we have cycled through. Particularly the smaller towns. There are many places where the contrast between wealth and poverty can be seen. While there were no indications of it being a thriving town, the realty office showcased properties ranging from half million to a couple million. Obviously they were catering to a very select market.
Later in the day when I biked ten kilometers along Echo Lake I realized why they had a high end selection of houses. That’s where I saw some whimsical stuff like a toilet at the end of a driveway.
The main highway highlighted many of the recognized national franchises. If one is driving through the area the real character of the town remains hidden. The heart of the town could be seen two kilometers off the highway. In the downtown section one can enjoy local baking, cooking and friendly service but best of all was meeting the interesting local folk.
Meanwhile we are set up with tents and campers housing the 90 riders and support staff making the local elementary school look like a refugee camp. The refugee camp appearance hides the reality of who are housed there overnight. The appearance of poverty and transience is only incidental. We have the privilege and luxury to move on as we choose.
We are riding and raising money to help end the cycle of poverty both here in Canada and in other parts of the world. To more fully appreciate the purpose of Sea to Sea it is helpful to meet and speak with people who are dealing with poverty – whether that is poverty of spirit, or economic poverty.
It’s interesting to note that the bison is a mere skeleton, yet against that background someone had the courage to still dream big. To me, the skeleton represents the depletion of personal, family and ancestral resources due to years of mistreatment by European settlers with whom they thought they were sharing the land and its resources.
What will it take to change the story for out first nations people as we recognize Canada as a nation for the past 150 years?