Lafleche Centennial, 100 Years of Awesome

June 29, 2013
Lafleche sunset panorama
I’ve been at the Lafleche 100 celebration on Canada Day long weekend. There were few people my age who I knew, and many of the oldest generation who I grew up with has passed away in the past decades. Cliff Day, who I remember from even the 1980s, passed away in May of this year. Homecomings can be like that, reminded of how everything has changed from my perspective. It’s still been worth going, and I’m headed back on Sunday morning.

Lafleche hockey rink centennial panorama

I arrived with Dad, as the 11am parade was winding down. On the side street, where some WWII veterans in golf carts had finished driving through the parade, I heard one exclaim to the other, “We made it.”

Lafleche Centennial

The lady at the registration desk recognized Saskboy when I put it on my name-tag. She didn’t remember what she’d read, but recalled it upset her.

I’m off to bed now, and I’ll pick this blog up tomorrow.

June 30
Got roped into going to church with my parents, before the pancake breakfast. The breakfast was good, it was self-serve, so I got enough to eat. Then I helped a Radio-Canada journalist get some photos and interviews he needed.

Lafleche Centennial

Lafleche Centennial

Lafleche Centennial

Lafleche Loses Another Building: Flying Goose Inn

Another accidental fire in Lafleche last night, this one attributed initially to careless smoking (is there any other kind?). The Flying Goose Inn, the only bar and hotel in town, burned to the ground. Months ago, M.O.M, the bus station, also burned.

Lafleche SK
The hotel, a few weeks ago, in April.

Adding a little heartache to this story, it’s Lafleche’s 100th anniversary as a town, and Canada Day weekend is the celebration. Now there are fewer places for visitors to stay and visit in town, and there’s just another burned out lot.

Lafleche SK
Main St.

Lafleche SK
On January 10, 1984, I was present when the Lafleche Bumper To Bumper caught fire and burned down; The story I recently read in my Grandma’s journal entry for that day.

ADDED photos:
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Deer-Tour Around Saskatchewan

Glentworth, SK

Saturday’s road trip through the mist and fog yielded me the best wildlife photos I’ve ever had the privilege of shooting. Some photos from the earlier part of the trip I posted on Sunday morning.

RM Waverley

Unsafe Water

Glentworth, Saskatchewan

Glentworth, Saskatchewan
-Glentworth, SK

Less than a few kms north of Glentworth, just turning toward the highway headed for Lafleche, we saw two herds on different sides of the road. They waited patiently as the humans in the car took many, many photos.

Glentworth, SK
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Mini Solar Tour in the Fog of Wood Mountain and Glentworth

I went on a road trip Saturday with my friend Adam K., down to my parents’ place, and his grandparents’ farm. On the way around southern Saskatchewan, we saw close to 150 deer and antelope, a snowy owl, a dozen hawks, a handful of Canada Geese, smaller birds, two dead raccoons, and the final resting place of four children who passed away in 1919 (Spanish Flu maybe?).
Ukrainian Catholic Church

To Moose Jaw
The road into Regina was ice, and the road to Moose Jaw was quite a bit better, but still partly covered in a thick layer of ice. There was a semi on the eastbound highway that had done a 180, and blew open its trailer door, strewing boxes across the ditch at Belle Plaine.

We filled up in Moose Jaw, then ate at the Steakhouse in Assiniboia (we had waffles). The GPS kept trying to convince us to turn off the paved road instead of going to Limerick. We went to Limerick, I took a couple photos, and on through flooded Flintof and dry Wood Mountain we continued. Many deer were along the way, and the misting rain continued through the trip after Moose Jaw’s southern hills.
Flintoft turn

Hawk landing
– A hawk about to land

After second lunch we strolled around the various energy and heating systems my parents had installed for their home.
Solar Hot water panel mount

Solar PV

Convincing SaskPower that a generator ring/link was a good idea for a Saskatchewan power meter, took some convincing. Fortunately Dad is persistent.

Wood Mountain elevator

Ukrainian Catholic Church
– 1925 built Ukrainian Catholic near Glentworth, SK

Ukrainian Catholic Church

More photos next time of the animals who made this print:
Deer tracks

More of Lafleche Main St. Destroyed

Lafleche Red & White and Merchandise on Main

The last of the old Lafleche Red & White grocery store, and the former butcher shop that adjoined it to the north, has burned down. Most recently it was M.O.M a coffee shop and store. The main part of the Red & White had been torn down years ago. It was one of the many local grocery stores which my family used during the 80s and early 90s. I remember the three aisle store well, and its toy section at the back corner where I’d ogle the Transformers for sale, but out of my spending power. Instead, I blew my money on candy and 35ยข baseball and hockey cards.

ADDED: Some CTV video.

Lafleche 75

Going home to a town that’s hanging tough
Paul Bilodeau, Toronto Star. Toronto Star 12 July 1988: A14.

LAFLECHE, Sask. – The terrible prairie drought does not jump out at you.

That was my first observation while speeding through the 120 kilometres on Highway 2, heading southwest from Moose Jaw toward my home town’s 75th Jubilee anniversary.

To the untrained eye, the rolling hills are a verdant green patchwork stretching to the western horizon. The sun seems to shine brighter in the clear, clean air and the sky seems higher, like a big blue bowl.

But the wheat is only ankle-high where it is usually knee-deep. Fields of rapeseed have not progressed beyond a yellow smudge.

I roll into Lafleche before noon, trailing a cloud of gravel dust.

“The town looks not too shabby, eh?” My boyhood friend Ralph Kirkpatrick, who still lives in town, grins from under the peak of his baseball cap.

Pleasant surprise

I nod in agreement. I am pleasantly surprised – Lafleche looks much better than I expected, even prosperous. It’s been 22 years since I left town.

Lafleche (pop. 562) more than doubled in size for three days on that sunny Canada Day weekend. Two thousand invitations were sent out and more than 1,100 people turned up.

Whole families returned to their birthplace for three days of baseball tournaments, a parade, barbecue, talent show and beer gardens. (Three of our family of eight turned up, plus two aunts.)

The town elders forgot about the drought and spruced up the place for the Jubilee. They splashed new paint on the storefronts and hung a welcoming banner down by the cenotaph. One disappointment: They had torn down the old pool hall on Main St. a few weeks before. Expatriates would have wanted it preserved as a shrine to our teenage development.

The locals seemed shellshocked as the hordes of friends and relatives descended from as far as Toronto and Tacoma, Wash., Houston, Tex., and Hull, Que. An O’Neill boy even came back from Sydney, Australia, complete with an acquired Aussie accent.

Booze and gossip flowed freely in a southern prairie town that has never known moderation.

But beneath the “remember when” and revelry, I sensed some unease in wheat country, and it wasn’t all due to the weather. Skipping the local talent show, I aimed for a closer examination.

When my family left town in 1966, the population was 749. One quarter of the population has departed since then. Barely three generations old – a brief blip in the march of time – would Lafleche soon be history?

The cards seemed to be stacked against it from the beginning.

Named for a Catholic missionary priest, Lafleche is located near the middle of that great triangle of arid prairie that explorer John Palliser predicted would never grow anything but sage and shortgrass.

But for the past 75 years – minus five to 10 of drought – the town has been in the heart of the richest grain growing lands in the world.

The nomadic Assiniboine Indians had barely vacated when my sodbuster American grandparents, Iowa farmers, responded to posters offering “free fertile land” in the new province.

They arrived to the promised land in 1910 with three young children (my mother was 5 years old) in a covered wagon pulled by horses.

Grandfather built a barn out of sod blocks and a two-room shack, which was home until the huge “bumper” crops of the World War I years made them wealthy enough to build a large house and barn.

A minority of French-speaking settlers were also lured to the district. My Quebec-born father arrived in 1922, and married my American-born mother in 1929. Our family of eight children was not among the largest in town.

In 1916, Saskatchewan’s French-Canadian cultural association had published a glossy brochure, aimed at luring Catholic settlers from Quebec, France and Belgium. The blurb described the Wood River district as “une paroisse d’avenir” (“parish with a future”) where “it freezes harder in January than in the province of Quebec.

“Then the great cold ceases and almost every day in winter, one enjoys pure dry air and radiant sun . . . it rains almost as much as in other places of western and eastern Canada.”

Almost. But for the past five years, rainfall has been 75 per cent of the 30-year annual average of 27.4 centimetres (11 inches).

There hasn’t been much snowfall for three winters now, diminishing groundwater so that the evergreens and caragana shrubs planted as windbreaks 50 years ago are dying. Most dugout farm reservoirs are dry.

Many farmers tested the ground moisture and decided not to sow this year. Although they will still be eligible to collect some stubble insurance, their annual income will be cut in half. Tough for those with big machinery payments.

It takes more land to support a family these days. George Dumelie, 83, told me he raised his family of 12 children on a half section (320 acres) of land. Today a farmer needs at least two sections (1,280 acres) just to break even.

For those who did seed, this June was the hottest on record, reaching as high as 41 degrees Celsius (107 Fahrenheit). Dust storms reminiscent of the Dirty Thirties rolled in from the west. One afternoon it was dark for 20 minutes from wind-driven topsoil.

In this part of the country, weather is always a crucial factor. But there have been crop failures before and the town bounced back.

Cheques from government “stabilization” programs and crop insurance have sheltered farmers from the worst years.

But there are fears worse than drought.

I encountered no one in Lafleche who favors free trade with the United States. That’s no surprise, considering the area has a history of electing Liberals, and a fondness for government subsidies to keep people on the land.

The feds are also in trouble for attempting to “privatize” the local post office (where my father was postmaster for 20 years).

Locals also worry that the CPR line from Souris, Man. to Lethbridge, Alta., built in 1913, could be abandoned, leaving the town without rail service for its grain crops.

Even the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, a farmer-owned co-operative and the largest grain-buyer in Canada, is closing some of its grain points. Only two of Lafleche’s five grain elevators are in use.

A breakdown of Lafleche’s population statistics is telling: there are only half the number of youngsters under 19 as there were in 1971. But the over-65 population has increased.

Self-preservation

“That’s what scares me most ,” says Ed Belcourt, the town’s mayor and pharmacist, who operates a drugstore founded by his grandfather. “Centralization really kills us.”

People are shopping in the city, he says. Where once it was an all-day trip to Moose Jaw on a dirt road, you can now make the drive in just over an hour. There are no farm machinery dealers in Lafleche today; in 1966 there were four.

But there’s a feeling that somehow it will survive while other towns won’t.

Lafleche has a history of self-preserving community projects to get through hard times.

It’s the site of the first rural credit union in western Canada, founded in 1938.

And just a few miles north, the snakey Wood River was dammed in 1957 to create Thomson Lake, the first storage reservoir created under the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Act.

These days, a two-metre (seven foot) ring of yellow algae fuzz surrounds the receding lake. The boat dock stands about three metres (10 feet) above the water. But there’s there’s still enough water to feed the town and maintain one of the finest golf courses on the prairies.

The 75th Jubilee celebration seemd to bring a break in the sizzling weather.

It rained three times in the days I was in town, the heaviest rainfall of the year so far. A downpour on the final night turned the fine rich clay to clinging muck.

As I swore under my breath, grateful locals stood out in the rain, cradling their beer.