At Home Where You’ve Never Been Before

by Laureen on May 29, 2013


Centre Street after rain

It’s an afternoon in late spring, here in Val Marie, in a year when winter was slow to let go. A heavy thundershower just passed, and rough old Centre Street is puddled and shining. Except for the occasional truck, the village is still. The air is full of birdsong – yellow birds, striped birds, birds with masks and birds with bibs, birds with red splashes and shadows and caps. Summer is waiting just off-stage to make its first appearance. When you arrive here, along with the summer, you might discover that Val Marie and the hills, valleys and buttes of the Grasslands are some of the best places you’ve ever been. You’ll feel at home. This is what you’ll find.

Places to be: Grasslands National Park – the long hills roll in all four directions. These hills hold and provide for bison, prairie dogs, black-footed ferrets, mule and white-tailed deer, pronghorn, coyotes, some snakes including rattlers, the rare Mormon metalmark butterfly and short-horned lizard, an amazing number of hawks and owls and other birds both ordinary and uncommon, and an awful lot of cows. Look at the space, the green in spring, the gold in fall. Look at the sky, so wide it has no ending. At night,  that sky is alive with stars. Val Marie itself – one wide main street and a few that branch off it. About 100 people live here. One night I walked home in the dark from a friend’s house, down a side street with no lights, past the hotel where Wings Night meant a party. I didn’t put on my brave shoulders and determined walk; I didn’t wonder if I was going to be sorry I’d stepped out the door, the way I might have in the city where I used to live. It’s safe here. I smiled at the way all that fear is a part of my past. The Frenchman River Valley – walks, silence, sky.

Places to shop: Grasslands Gallery, my pride and joy. Almost 30 artists, some of Saskatchewan’s best, show and sell their work here. You’ll find painters, photographers, fabric artists, jewellers and decorative arts, in every medium  from watercolour to oil paints to paperworks to polymer clay to stained glass to semi-precious gems to silk and more. Many of the items are exclusive to Grasslands Gallery and all are made in Saskatchewan and inspired by the Grasslands experience. The gallery is open six days a week in summer, and you’ll always be welcome. Prairie Wind & Silver Sage – also dear to my heart, since I’m on the board of directors. A Saskatchewan pilot project eco-museum focusing on the natural and cultural history of the region, art exhibitions, gift shop and book store, and a wonderful little espresso bar. Whitemud Grocery. A community-owned success story, the store provides good food and fresh produce at competitive prices, along with wine, beer and spirits, and surprising little gifts.

Places to stay. The Crossing Resort and Campground, tiny perfect self-catering guest suites or campsites on 30 hectares of pristine prairie on the edge of Grasslands National Park. The Convent Country Inn, bed and breakfast in a beautifully restored building. Don’s Place, fully furnished self contained suites, 1 km north of Val Marie. The Rosefield Church Guesthouse, bed and breakfast in remote tranquility. Sky Story Bed & Breakfast, environmentally friendly accommodation in a peaceful setting. Frenchman Valley Campground, beautiful in the heart of the park. The Village of Val Marie Campground, well-maintained and fully serviced, with shade.

Places to eat: Val Marie Hotel. Great food from breakfast to supper, and the best French fries in southern Saskatchewan. The Harvest Moon Cafe, delicious, house-made, fresh things to eat. You might be surprised at this little bit of city in the small town. Both restaurants are licensed.

Things to do: On June 20, Prairie Wind & Silver Sage hosts its annual art exhibition opening reception for artists Gerri Ann Siwek and Robert Postma, and on June 26, a informal reception to meet Margaret Atwood and Graeme Gibson as they tour the Grasslands in support of conservation programming and bird habitat at risk on federal community pastures now being transferred to governance by the province. In July, PWSS launches its new ecomuseum exhibition. In July and August also there are three Prairie Wind Presentations, public talks by naturalists about the species native to the region of Grasslands National Park. On August 3, there’s a dinner and silent auction with donations from across the Southwest in support of the Val Marie Heritage Elevator. On August 10, a concert by the Banff Wardens as they tour this part of Saskatchewan. The weekend of September 20, it’s the Annual Bob Larson Indoor Rodeo – the real western thing!

And always, the park, the hills, the river, the silence, the sky, the safety, that feeling of belonging somewhere you’ve maybe never been before. Let me know when you’re arriving. I look forward to greeting you.

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The blog is a series of posts from one artist/art gallery owner’s life in her community in one of Canada’s most beautiful and remote wilderness regions. I hope you will find yourself and your spirit reflected in it.




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