At home on the Prairies

Ahhh Saskatoon – the prairies, big sky country. Four of us city gals headed to Central Canada for a long weekend of country fun at the farm. Around here the wheat and canola fields predominate; it’s easy to tell where the farm houses are because they’re the only places where there are small stands of trees in the vast expanse of waving grains. Around the perimeter of Tracey and Darrin’s farmyard they have mowed in the Taydar Trail, a grassy path encircling the homestead.

The fields here behind the Lumberman’s Curve are canola waiting to be gathered up by combine harvesters.

Along the trail are various bits of used and disused farm equipment, boat trailers, huge metal grain bins (I suggested that they be repurposed into above-ground swimming pools), a gigantic truck trailer, and hidden gopher holes.

The big red barn is over a hundred years old and used to store farm equipment and Darrin’s old 1970s Lincoln Continental, its smooth length a wee bit dusty from hibernation.

Of course, the first thing one thinks of when contemplating prairie life is water-skiing … not. But Tracey and Darrin are lucky enough to live only a few kilometeres away from Blackstrap Lake and the mighty Blackstrap Mountain (a tiny pimple on the landscape that formerly served as a ski hill where Darrin learned to zoom down the slopes as a child, whose facility is unfortunately now shuttered).

Darrin’s friend Phil, who lives at the lake, was kind enough to let us use his boat for the day to try water-skiing, an activity that I had tried precisely once previously in those long-ago days of youth up at Pender Harbour. I proved to be hopeless at it, not even able to get my water skis on. Tracey, on the other hand, was a natural; she gave an excellent display of superpower on the water – we were impressed.

After our collective attempt to walk, or ski, on water, we headed to the beachside concession stand to consume the famed onion rings for which this place is known.

Since we’re all about the outdoor activities here on the prairies, the next item on our weekend agenda was biking the Meewasin Trail along the river that flows through the city.

After having rented our bikes at the Bike Doctor we rolled along Broadway and down to the trail that runs riverside.

One of the must-see trail stops is the University of Saskatchewan Sculpture Park, a collection of peculiar cement and metal creations that called out for climbing and crawling along.

This cement dragon boat proved to be a hit with the gang, as we imagined ourselves running victorious over the finish line.

There are several bridges over the river; we picked the very high railway bridge that required pushing the bikes up and down wooden staircases. Luckily one such staircase provided a trough that ran along its length, allowing us to put the bike wheels in a runner that eased its passage upwards.

A surprising sight for me was the flocks of white pelicans cruised over the water. Right near this weir is the rusted hulk of the Varsity Ski Jump, built in 1931, enjoyed for 43 years and dismantled in 1978. From here people could zoom down the shoot onto the frozen river. A nice stop along the east side of the river trail is the Mendel Art Gallery; too bad it’s going to be relocated to a not particularly nice spot further down the river soon.

Back at the ranch, across the street from the farm are two abandoned houses slowing sinking towards the grass, an odd sight against the horizon.

On the farm, Tracey explained to me, nothing is ever discarded; old houses, equipment, metal parts, and the like are saved, just in case they might prove useful again someday. Some obsolete stuff is repurposed into art objects, as in this example made by Tracey.

We enjoyed a beautiful sunset over the canola fields with a nip of wine and a soupcon of bug spray.

Tracey took us for a spin around the neighbourhood, including a visit to the Mennonite cemetery where some of Darrin’s relatives are resting.

And the Dundurn Community Labyrinth, a surprising find that is now unfortunately somewhat overgrown.

We also paid a visit to the local glass blowing studio, the Hot Shop run by a retired teacher and nurse. Al Hiebert was kind enough to show us around this enormous space where they do cold, warm, and hot glass, and also have space for wood and metal working. I have to confess that I was jealous of the incredible studio.

Interestingly, upstairs we came upon a nice stash of mannequins …

On the farm there was a tree … an apple tree, laden with fruit crying out for picking and eating … we obliged.

The final item on the farm activity agenda was metalwork, welding a metal sculpture for the Tradar Trail from the vast collection of metal bits stacked for reclamation. Darrin was kind enough to show me how to use a metal grinder and acetylene torch; I may look like I know what I’m doing but this would be a false impression …

After piling up the metal that we thought we’d use, the next morning was spent creating Frankie, the elephant-man.

As far as welding goes, Barb was a natural … me, not so much.

The amazingly ever-patient Darrin showed us how to arc weld; we discarded the first base for being too flimsy to hold our emerging metal creation. First the crossed legs, the the pelvis and ribcage …

then the ear-arms

and finally the nose and eyes were crafted. Frankie had emerged from the heap of metal.

Supplied with the final touch, a metal chain, our sculpture was then rolled across the lawn for placement on the trail.

Even Tango approves … a great time had by all.

See more pictures of farm fun here.

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