We are unable to land our aircraft in the town of Tisdale, Sask., as a flock of pigeons and crows refuses to budge from the tiny airstrip that they’ve appropriated as their own. Saskatoon bishop Rodney Andrews, a pilot for Air Canada in his former life, turns around to avoid a massacre and to play it safe. After circling the air we try again and this time the birds flew away upon our approach.
The bishop’s Piper Cherokee 180, a single engine plane with a 180 horsepower engine, flies about 210 km/h and has logged about 2,500 hours of flying time.
A cautious pilot (he always goes over a comprehensive checklist before each flight), Bishop Andrews says flying allows him to be alone with his thoughts and alone with God.
Lillian Fleck, an active parishioner of St. John-Hillside in Bjorkdale, Sask., picks us up and en route to visit farmers from Bjorkdale she gives us a quick tour of some areas devastated by the spring floods. (Please see Keeping the faith in ‘next year’s country’ in the October issue of the Journal).
On our way to Porcupine Plain, which took the brunt of the floods (roads and bridges were washed out and some are yet to be repaired), we drop by Tisdale for lunch. Tisdale is the hometown of comedian Brent Butt from the hit TV series Corner Gas. If Porcupine Plain has Quilly Willy as its mascot, then Mr. Butt has emerged as Tisdale’s unofficial symbol. His photos (including one on a billboard) are found in many places, including coffee shops where presumably he got some of the inspiration for the series. A Corner Gas program information sheet has said that Mr. Butt’s “love of small-town life and flair for finding laughs in the mundane” can be traced to “many years spent loitering” in Tisdale’s coffee shops. We went to the town favourite, Double J’s, and true enough, along with local artwork for sale are photos of the famous son gracing the diner/coffee shop.
We are told that a local church once tried to get Mr. Butt for a fundraiser. It didn’t happen, however; he asked for a fee that was beyond the church’s means.
Supper is a barbeque at the home of Bjorkdale Anglicans Niall and Susan Campbell, who operate a sheep and cattle farm. The Campbells, active parishioners at St. John-Hillside, are becoming famous for hosting a draft horse weekend at their farm every June. “People just come, they feed them and they have fun,” said Bishop Andrews, who has participated in one of these weekends, which can involve some good old plowing competitions.
The Campbells have played host to an assortment of folk, including a Japanese exchange student who lived with them for a time, and a CBC reporter who wanted to experience and document a typical day in a farmer’s life.
We’re off to an early start to Kenaston, Sask., where Bishop Andrews is taking me to the certified organic farm of Anglicans Arnold and Sharon Taylor. The Taylor farm is located in Allan Hills, famed for its beautiful landscape dotted by willows, chokecherries and native poplar.
With 3,000 acres, the Taylors have one of the largest organic farms in the province. Arnold takes us aboard his truck for a tour of the farm, where he and his son, Doug, grow a variety of crops – oats, barley, spring wheat, Canadian Prairie Spring, spelt, kamut, rye – and raise a certified organic herd of more than 100 heads of cattle. (Doug and his family are working in Vancouver for the summer but will be back in time for harvest.)
Some land is planted with clover and lentils to enrich the soil (Arnold calls the clover a “magic crop” because it produces nitrogen.).
The Taylors made the switch to organic farming 15 years ago. “To me it’s a more natural way of growing things. Chemicals have an effect on the soil; conventional agriculture is like a treadmill because you’re always working for the chemical company, the machine company, the seed company,” he said.
About seven miles from the Taylor farm is St. Columba Anglican church, which Arnold attended when he was growing up. He recalls that in the ’70s, when it was a big parish within the diocese of Qu’Appelle, “the minister did everything – the Bible readings, the baptisms; nobody would do anything.” Today the church, which is attended regularly by 20 families, is moving more and more towards lay leadership.
On our return trip to Saskatoon we stop at the Prairie Gas Station, which offers a free loaf of bread for a full tank of gas. When I tell the station attendant that I’m headed back to Toronto and would like to buy a loaf of bread to take home, he tells me to just take one, on the house. I’m taken aback by the generosity, but then what did I expect? This was the Prairies, after all.