Webb was a typical small town Saskatchewan. It was 4 blocks square – the west side bounded by the highway access road and the southern most street parallel to the CN railroad tracks. To the east and the north were fields of waving wheat, coloured by season. The streets were paved, and shaded by tall poplar and maple trees. Caraganas – some shaped and pruned, others wild and busy – outlined the yards of many houses.
The houses themselves were all old. Some were well-cared for and sported new siding, painted metal-clad front doors and sparkling windows. Other families lacked the necessary money to shower on the house and had to make do with new paint – white is the cheapest – and new mesh in the screen doors. Then there were the few houses that were truly neglected – peeling paint, cracked windows, and screen doors swinging crookedly on rusty hinges.
A couple of the houses were empty – their windows boarded over and their yards overgrown with dandelions, thistles, and crested wheat grass. Other houses were the homes of young families – swing sets, bikes, and shiny wagons decorated the yards. The older folks kept their yards beautiful – lawns cut, flower beds weeded, and gardens neatly rowed and hoed.
Near the middle of town was an old school that was maintained and used as a library, full of donated books and Jigsaw puzzles, and a Seniors Centre with card tables for Canasta and Crib and an old donated snooker table. The playground equipment outside was updated and cared for by the user families. Near the school was the winter social centre – a curling rink that relied on the long, cold Saskatchewan winters to keep the natural ice frozen. Beside the rink was the Community Hall – favoured locale for anniversary dances, family reunions, and funeral luncheons. The nearby ball diamonds were mowed during the summer by the people who used them – the families who went out to play Cat in the evenings, and the mixed slowpitch team and the ladies’ softball team who practised a couple of times before playing in the annual Webb Sports Day. The single church, painted white and surrounded by another caragana hedge, was where community members were baptised, wed, and mourned. Its yard was where the potluck lunches were held after services during the summer.
Small towns Saskatchewan were everywhere at one time. Look under the big blue bowl of prairie sky. Look for the squares of civilisation beside the shining ribbons of railroad tracks. There they were – our roots, our homes, our hearts.
Today, many small towns in Saskatchewan are disappearing. Sure, some people still live there – some for the cheap housing; some because they farm nearby; some because they’re too stubborn to move. But in many, like Webb, there are fewer people, and more unkempt yards and houses. The rusting backstops are the only evidence of once-existing ball diamonds – no one has used or mowed them for years. The curling rink is closed, unused. The library is emptied. The Community Centre is haunted by the echoes of snooker balls clacking together.
Where is small town Saskatchewan today? What has become of it? The simple answer is that it moved. The town was a place, a dot of geography, a construction of wood and cement. But “small town Saskatchewan” is so much more than a mere geophysical presence. It is an attitude that, in the beginning, built a community. It was the motivating force of pioneers who moved to Saskatchewan over 100 years ago; pioneers who built homes and banks, churches and schools; pioneers who shared a vision of what life could be if they all worked together for common goals.
And that is still what “small town Saskatchewan” is – a principle of helping, caring, sharing, and working together. It is a catalyst, driving everyone of like mind to build and work and live for the common good.
“Small town Saskatchewan” spirit is a legacy from our pioneer ancestors. It still exists in small towns around our province – and in large centres – and we’ve exported it around the world. The spirit and energy and principles of small town Saskatchewan are alive in our hearts. We are “small town Saskatchewan”.