Maple Creek. (Visit Cypress Hills)

Gord Turner: Travels with Don to the family homestead

I was asked by my brother Don to accompany him on a nostalgic tour of the town where we grew up.

Awhile ago, I read a book called Travels with Charley by American writer, John Steinbeck.

The book is based on a driving tour of America that Steinbeck took with his dog, Charley. Along the way, he learned a lot about American attitudes in the byways he happened upon.

Recently, I was asked by my brother Don to accompany him on a nostalgic tour of the town where we grew up in Saskatchewan. He wanted me and his other brothers to help him get reacquainted with the town of Maple Creek and the nearby Cypress Hills. His secondary aim was to create among the brothers some bonding he felt had slipped away over the years.

When we finally arrived at what was once our home town, tucked away as it is along a creek running out of the Cypress Hill, we were disappointed. The changes to Maple Creek were immense, and yet the semblance of things as they were still held.

The CPR Park was still there where we played boisterous football during autumn afternoons. But it had been altered — much shorter and the lilac bushes surrounding it were gone. Railway cars were sitting like museum pieces here and there where we used to have our fun.

We drove up and down all the streets in this town of 2,800 people. It had the same population 50 years ago when we were kids. We noted many homes that had not changed, and some that had been razed to the ground and new ones built. We played a game of reminding ourselves who used to live in various houses. We surprised ourselves as we came up with names to accompany many of the homes we passed by.

Don even told me who he worked part-time for, whose grass he cut, and whose gardens he weeded. And I told him about the places where we raided gardens and spied on families with no blinds. We had no trouble finding our own family home because our sister still lives there.

As we drove up and down the streets of our home town, we lamented the change-over to modern-style outlets. Only the huge orange-brick post office and the gigantic orange-brick elementary school built in 1910 looked unchanged. The post office still functions much the same as when we used to pick up Mom’s mail from Box 171.

The elementary school we attended until Grade 8 with its two-storey, 12-room layout now functions as a school museum. Some rooms still preserve the school atmosphere, but other rooms store local antiques, a railway scenario, and an art collection. On our visit to this edifice, we paid our yearly membership dues and traded stories with the new curator.

On the second day of our nostalgic tour, we drove up into the eastern portion of the Cypress Hills along the Bryson Trail, a road our dad helped build in the 1950s. There, we attended the Murraydale Stampede as we did when we were growing up. It’s a backcountry rodeo that has been running continuously since 1909. Local cowboys and cowgirls we knew the family names of put on quite a show — not nearly the standard of a major rodeo, but exciting to be sure because we were right on top of the action.

Leaving the rodeo, we decided to locate the village where our dad got off the train in 1929. Leaving England at age 20, he came as an agricultural worker to the dry prairie bench-land near Vidora, Saskatchewan. It may have been a booming village in his time, but all that remained when we visited was one house along the railway.

Disappointed, we meandered back down to our home town where we had memories of our own to rediscover.