The Secrets of Saskatchewan
As children, my sister and I used to beg my father to tell us stories about growing up in Saskatchewan on a homestead in the twenties and thirties, a time when life seemed so much simpler, when folks still traveled by horse and buggy, and when evenings were lit up by coal oil lamps, a tiny light in the midst of a vast prairie.
When I was ten, my father took the family on vacation to Saskatchewan where I saw firsthand where his stories had all taken place. We revisited his old haunts including the French village of Val Marie where his family attended mass, the town of Ponteix where his grandfather hosted Christmas every year, and most important of all, the old homestead itself. I can only begin to imagine how my father must have felt when he saw the cabin my grandfather had built reduced to a 12 X 16 unplowed square of land where broken dishes dotted the wild grass that grew within. Did he hide a tear when he discovered the old plow that my grandfather had so stoically used to break new land, now a useless, rusted skeleton abandoned next to the house? Or the dam my grandfather had dug to battle the severe droughts that cursed the land. I don’t know but for me, it was magical, especially when we found a piece of my father’s mechano set in the ruins, quickly pocketed by me, a memento of a days gone by. I played with that piece of metal for days, feeling as though I’d somehow traveled back in time, as though I were actually him.
Later, after my father retired, he wrote his memoires, about how my grandparents had met during WWI in Belgium, and how they’d moved to Saskatchewan to begin a new life and to forget the horrors of war. The story intrigued me and I vowed that one day, I’d rewrite it for him in novel form. When Books We Love announced the Canadian Bride series, releasing a novel for each province, I quickly volunteered Saskatchewan. But what I never imagined was how deeply the story would affect me, how my grandparents’ suffering and sacrifices would become mine, and how I’d intimately come to know people I’d never met.
There’s just something about Saskatchewan and the prairies that is truly unique. Only there can you find skies of billowing clouds that stretch to the horizon, castles in the air, giant figures towering above the earth. Only there can you see never ending fields of golden wheat in summer and fields of white snow that stretch to the horizon in winter. Only there can you find the serenity and peace of a simpler life.
Saskatchewan calls my name. I know I’ll return and I’ll follow the same steps my father did, find the same towns, the farm. But there’s more. I want to find the graves of these people who came to life in my novel: the aunts and uncles, and the tiny babies who died on a cold prairie night. And when I do, I’ll leave a single red rose on their tombstones so passersby will know these lives meant something and that they were not forgotten.