Sunday, July 24, 2011

Prairie Town

Saskatchewan # 5

I have read before we came to visit on the Prairies, of the decline of the small towns as farming changed from family toward mega-farms, transportation routes improved for road vehicles and declined for trains and the traditional grain elevators became redundant. In the little town of Dundurn, Saskatchewan we were to see the effects in action and to glimpse the complexity that lay behind the reports.

Certainly the main-street business buildings had seen better days; cracked sidewalks, peeling paint, closed storefronts. Just down the street though, there was a splendid white church and beyond it an elementary school. Streets of occupied houses, hardly anything for sale. Droves of people turning out for a children`s soccer training session. If we walked around the edges of town, by the railway tracks we could find some rough patches but so we could in any Canadian small town where people worked in trucking and agricultural businesses and gentrification had not waved its magic wand.

The railway tracks looked used even though the nearby highway carried a steady traffic of transport trucks.

That highway was the key to Dundurn`s state of health. Just forty minutes from the city of Saskatoon, it meant that grocery, hardware and the like could not compete with the big box stores not so very distant in highway miles, but it also made this a bedroom community for those interested in cheaper housing at the expense of longer commutes. The nearby military base provided more residents and no doubt there were some retired farmers who had sold out to those neighbours following the trend toward bigger farms. As for that, it is possible now to live a neighbourly life in a small town and drive out to work one`s farm during the growing season.

That disappearing rural life on the prairies we read about ( and in the rest of Canada as well), is not so clear-cut on the ground. People adapt and adjust as do their towns and reports of their demise is premature.

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