I have just woken up in Consul, Saskatchewan and my night was nothing short of interrupted. I wasn’t thinking first when I pitched my tent on the outskirts of town as it was under a flood light from a nearby property leaving this orange haze that left little chance of a dark slumber. Not to mention waking up to a group of drunken teenagers coming from what I can only imagen being a barn party that went late into the night. Ahhh at that age… drunk, stumbling home through fields and hopping barbed-wire fences. Actually I’m a little jealous. When I woke it was around 6am and the light was starting to coat the surrounding fields. I wanted to get a nice early start to the day and I diligently packed my tent in a record three minutes and scarfed down a bowl of Weetabix in two minutes. I Brushed my teeth, splashed my face with some cold water, and I was on the road in less than eight. I headed east and made my way towards the Red Coat Trail (Hwy 13). From there, I stayed on this road for about 5 km before coming to Hwy 18 where the little town of Robsart marked the junction. I decided to take a little look through the town and was amazed at the condition of everything. There were abandoned buildings everywhere and some looked as though you could not quite tell if they were being occupied or not. I noticed a larger house at the end of the main road and saw a woman sipping her morning coffee on the front porch. The sun was already up but the morning dew had not yet disappeared. She was wrapped in a blanket and staring out into the distant prairies. It did cross my mind to stop and ask her about the town and surrounding area, however I decided not to, as she looked as though this was her morning ritual, enjoying her hot morning beverage in the morning light. No distractions and only a blanket.
I made the transition onto Hwy 18 and headed South towards the US border. The road eventually veers East but not after about 26 km of gravel road. This single stretch of road is by far one of my more favourite drives and for one reason. It’s nothing but seclusion as far as the eye can see. As soon as the road starts transitioning East you start getting a real sense of just how big this country Canada really is OR how small we really are. I stopped the vehicle as mother nature was calling and after, I just stood there for 15 minutes taking in the scenery and outside air. No cars, no farm equipment, no cows, barely even a breath of wind. I kept imagining a vehicle breaking down out here in the middle of winter, and if that were to happen, no one is coming to get you within 60-80km radius. There was barely even a bar of cell service. I have never experienced baron landscape like that in my own country until that day and when that happened, I felt very insignificant knowing that this particular environment at certain times of the year would not be forgiving. I kept driving and reached a little bit of civilization making brief stops in the towns of Frontier and the cleverly named town of Climax. Climax had no real affect on me except it boasts a very phallic grain silo with the towns name on it at the end of main street. And a sign that reads “Come again soon” when you leave. Gotta love small town humour and let’s be honest, who’s mind wouldn’t be in the gutter when your going to “Climax”.
I stopped in Bracken and managed to visit the local corner store and had a nice chat with the fellow that worked there. As I kept heading east I came upon the little town of Orkney, Saskatchewan. I pulled into Orkney and at first glance had little hope that I would find anything. I drove through the town, parked my truck and started venturing though some of the abandoned buildings. Satisfied, I got in my truck and as I was about to hit the highway, a tractor came up the main street towards me. I flagged down the man driving and he stopped, got out of his tractor and started walking towards my driver side window. I could not help but notice the size of this mans hands comparing them to a callised catchers mitt and the calm carefree expression. His shirt was untucked showing a bit of his belly, his collar popped, and a truckers cap that I can only assume left the comfort of his own head only when lying down to sleep at night due to his wife making him remove it. I introduced myself, we exchanged names, and I proceeded to ask him about the town. He responded with “I know so much about this town” in a high pitch almost cartoon bugs bunny voice “what do you want to know?”. With that, I had the pleasure of meeting my first subject for the “Back To The Land” project and his name was Arthur James.
Arthur proceeded to tell me about Orkney in the 50’s and the town dances that used to take place every weekend where the surrounding towns came to enjoy the entertainment. He told me about the fall of the railroad which eventually forced Orkney to be nothing more than the remains of what still stands today. Arthur proceeded to point out each abandoned and derelict structure and what once stood 50 years ago: “There is the old liquor store, but was later destroyed by a fire… Over there was the post office, but then was decommissioned once the railway stopped coming through Orkney”. Arthur had such a passion for his little town and it turns out his son including his family are the only people currently living in Orkney. Why was Arthur there on that particular day? Well he was stealing hay from his sons fields to feed his own horses 15 km away.
Arthur still works his own farm to this day, he is 74 years old, and was more then gracious enough to be photographed. To say I was surprised… not really. Small town people have this incredible way of making you feel welcome and always willing to share a story or two. All you have to do is ask.
I hope you enjoyed this post and feel free to comment, share, or even email me if you have any questions. I have also supplied a “Google Maps” View of the barn he was standing in front of just for fun.