On the long weekend in August several of my family members and I went to Saskatchewan for a family reunion. Our family, on my mother’s side, has been meeting every three years since 1979. These reunions act as markers of a sort. They make us very aware of the passage of time and the cycle of life.
These events have been held across Canada from Ontario to British Columbia. This last reunion was where it all started – in my home town.
The town has lost a lot of its population over the years as younger families moved away to find better opportunities. It now has approximately 750 full time residents instead of the 1250 that lived here when I was young. Of course on that weekend the population was almost doubled thanks to a wedding, our event, and an even bigger reunion than ours all converged on the town at once.
Returning to one’s home town can be somewhat unsettling. It’s a bit like time traveling because the things you saw as a child appear almost frozen in time. The house or houses we lived in are still there, and so is the church that was, and still is, such an important part of the community. I saw the public school, the old high school, and what’s more I got to see the classrooms where I did my grade one and two. My brother and I were taught by nuns in a convent for those grades and as part of the convent’s upcoming centenary celebrations we were given a tour. Lordy – some of the nuns even remembered us!
Next to the convent was the hospital. It has long since closed and now it has a different function. Motel rooms in town get booked quickly (seeing as there is only one motel), so when large events take place, like those on the weekend, the hospital becomes a hotel. At $30 per night it was a steal. But… can you imagine how I felt coming into this place when the last time I was there was to have my tonsils removed?
The rooms looked just like I remembered, only now instead of a hospital bed there was a double bed, an old chair, a desk and a crucifix on the wall. We had a “luxury suite” with a toilet and sink. Others had only a sink or none at all. Did I mention it was $30 per night?
Pets were not allowed but I have to admit we smuggled our dog into the room under blankets. Each time I expected to get busted by one of the nuns who came to check on things every once in a while.
Many of the buildings in town are new but their arrival seems to be at the expense of the ones that still exist.Like most small towns across North America, main streets become ghosts of their former glory. Over the years, attempts to modernize the shops were made, but the “improvements” were always done on the street level only. The weird thing is that the original “boom town” building is still there. You can see the false fronts like you see in old western movies, the old advertisements, and the old signs.
It feels like there is only a thin veil between that very moment and the past. It’s like being able to see both at the same time.
There are many buildings, however, whose architecture was not appreciated by the 14-year-old that once lived there but that were seen with fresh eyes that weekend. I even walked to the old bridge out of town where I used to do a lot of drawing – and it was still there. The peace and quiet was wonderful and it was hard to imagine how life would be living in some place where traffic, ambulance sirens and city noises did not rule your life.
I’m not saying I would trade my city life any time soon but visiting my home town at the age I am now made me realize how really lucky I was to grow up there.