1. You see towns with names like choiceland, Fertile, Golden Prairie and Goodsoil.
Saskatchewan is a province built on agriculture. When the Canadian government was trying to encourage settlers to come to the western prairies, they promised 160 acres of land for only $10 to anyone who cleared 40 acres and built a house on it within three years. This was a very enticing offer considering that even today the average farm size in Europe is about 40 acres.
The farmers who immigrated to the West had to work hard to clear and break the land. But it was good land, rich and fertile. The wheat crops the farmers were able to grow on it (10% of the world production) gave Saskatchewan the nickname, ‘Bread Basket of Canada.’ Those farmers who persevered were often rewarded with plentiful crops, a good income, and a nice lifestyle. This bounty is reflected in many town names.
2. You have been welcomed to town by a 25-foot tall Ukrainian girl.
Saskatchewan small towns love large roadside attractions. Almost every town has the largest something-or-other. Cutknife has the world’s largest tomahawk. Rocanville claims the world’s largest oil can. At Macklin, site of the World Bunnock Championships, there is the world’s largest bannock or horse’s anklebone. The town of Canora in East Central Saskatchewan was settled by a large number of Ukrainians and so the town erected a 25-foot tall Ukrainian girl wearing attire from the Poltava area of Ukraine — a red tunic, colourful skirt, embroidered blouse and a headdress of flowers and ribbons. She holds out a tray with braided bread (kolach) and salt, symbols of hospitality and friendship.
3. You see people wearing watermelons on their heads.
Saskatchewanians love their football and are fiercely loyal to the provincial CFL team, the Saskatchewan Roughriders. You will see Rider flags flying high everywhere and people sporting green-and-white Rider gear throughout the year. But on game days, especially during the playoffs, Rider fans go all out with face paint and creative costumes. Over the years, helmets made from watermelons have become popular game day attire because the green of the watermelon is the same as Rider green.
4. You get asked by a teenager to “pull some beer from the board store”.
In Saskatchewan, the legal drinking age is 19 but teenagers here, like teenagers across North America, try to get booze to drink at parties on the weekends. In Saskatchewan, for many years, the only stores that could sell liquor were the government-run Liquor Board Stores, also known as the LB or Board Store, though this is starting to change as a few independent liquor stores have recently been allowed to open in Saskatoon and Regina. ‘Pull’ is the local term used by minors when asking an adult to buy them some liquor surreptitiously.
5. You spend Friday night at a bush party, not a nightclub.
Saskatchewan is a rural province. Its largest city, Saskatoon, has an estimated population of just 262,900. Much of the population lives in small towns or on farms where there are no nightclubs or other places for young people to have fun on a Friday or Saturday night. That doesn’t stop people from partying, though. No, Saskatchewanians simply move the party outside into the bush. Every community has its favourite spots. The general darkness allows for all sorts of shenanigans to occur in the cars and bushes around the central campfire. The party switches sites randomly every weekend so that the police (and parents) won’t know where it is (since it is illegal to drink outside of a home or licensed establishment).
6. You pack a swimsuit and a sweater for a camping trip and actually use both.
Saskatchewan is known for its cold winters but its summers are just as hot as its winters are cold. From June through August, people enjoy visiting the many lakes in the province where they swim, canoe, water ski, and fish. When the temperature hits 35° C, who doesn’t want to throw on a swimsuit and jump into the cool, refreshing waters at the beach?
While summer days in Saskatchewan can be quite hot, the nights are generally much cooler, especially in August. The contrast between the high daytime temperatures and more mild nights can leave a person feeling a bit chilly. This is when a sweater or a bunnyhug (the Saskatchewanian version of a hoodie) come in handy.
7. You eat bannock by the campfire while watching the northern lights.
A summer’s evening in Saskatchewan is not complete without a campfire. Everyone here believes they are an expert when it comes to starting a fire and this can lead to some friendly competitions. Once the flames are dancing, it’s time to cook supper. Hamburgers, hot dogs, or grilled fish are popular. Bush pies filled with cherry pie filling or pizza mix is a tasty treat. Marshmallows and s’mores are delicious. And no campfire supper would be complete without bannock, a yummy First Nations flatbread made with flour, baking powder, sugar, lard and milk.
With its rural population and wide open spaces, Saskatchewan is blessed with spectacular skies. As you sit around the campfire, watch as the brilliant blues morph into a pretty collage of pink and orange which fades away into the black of night. Some nights, the queen bee will put on a display, dancing across the sky in her trailing gown of green and white.
8. You use a broom on the ice more than in the kitchen.
People in Saskatchewan love to curl. Every town has a curling rink and a skating rink, and, in the winter, almost everyone in the area can be found in one or the other. Children learn to throw rocks down the ice and sweep the ice with a broom long before they ever learn how to sweep the kitchen floor — and will do many more times over the course of their lives.
Teenagers curl in Phys. Ed. class. Men and women have their regular weekly curling nights. There are bonspiels throughout the season and many teams participate not only in their hometowns but drive to neighbouring communities to play, as well. Nearly every week, four people will get their picture in the local paper proudly holding the trophies they won in that week’s bonspiel. Curling in Saskatchewan is a tradition, a pastime, and a passion.
9. You wear a tuque, a parka, and mukluks in the winter.
In Saskatchewan, offices don’t close and schools don’t shut down just because the temperature has dropped to -40° C. Life goes on much the same as always regardless of the weather. People simply dress sensibly — swimsuits in the summer and parkas in the winter. Saskatchewanians are no crybabies!
To dress for a cold January day in Saskatchewan, you start with a sweater, putting on a warm parka or winter’s coat over top of it. In the past, coats made of fur and leather were the best for keeping warm. Today, parkas are made from special synthetic materials designed to insulate the body against the extreme cold. On your head, you wear a tuque or knitted hat. A scarf and mitts are necessary accessories. A pair of warm winter boots or mukluks completes the ensemble.
10. You feel like you are in an episode of Corner Gas
Comedian Brett Butt of Tisdale created the incredibly popular Canadian television sitcom, Corner Gas. Set in the fictional town of Dog River, Saskatchewan, the show portrays life in a small rural community centring on the local gas station and diner. Though the setting is small town Saskatchewan, people around the world can relate to the characters and the way the residents of Dog River interact with each other. So, in the next small town you drive through, stop by coffee row, chat about the weather and the Riders, and see if you can spot the local versions of Leroy, Lacey, Hank, Wanda, Oscar, Emma, Davis and Karen. I bet it won’t take you long!