19-Jul-2001 -- When I decided to attend the Centennial Homecoming of the small Manitoba town that was my birthplace, a journey of 1000 kilometers from my current home in Edmonton, Alberta,, I immediately decided to see if the trip could include some confluence visits. Two unvisited confluences in eastern Saskatchewan proved to be near my intended route. The first was 52N 103W, near Hazel Dell.
Map study showed the point was just north of Saskatchewan Highway 49, but rather than follow only the main highways, it seemed to promise more interest to follow secondary roads. Accordingly, I took Highway 5 from Saskatoon. I turned north just before Invermay, and followed gravel back roads past grain and canola fields to Highway 49.
Saskatchewan is one of the few places on the planet where a peaceful place with a functioning economy is actually losing population. The root cause of this loss is the changing economics of farming. Fifty or seventy years ago, a family could make a living from a quarter-section (a square piece of land one-half-mile on each side, 160 acres in area). A grain farmer now needs several sections (square miles) to cover the cost of the tractors, combines, and other equipment needed for modern farming techniques. As a result, the countryside is dotted with abandoned farmhouses. The schools and communities that existed to serve the families those decaying ruins once housed are no longer needed.
I reached Highway 49 and followed my GPS receiver’s guidance to head east. I fully expected that my visit would involve parking on the shoulder, crossing a barbed-wire fence, and walking a few hundred meters into one of the cultivated fields that covered most of the area. Then I noticed that I had gone past the 103rd degree of longitude. Turning around, I found that a driveway into a farmyard was at the indicated spot. Driving in, I first saw a boy on a riding mower cutting the lawn to my left, and then spotted a woman trimming weeds with a gas-powered line cutter to my right. Parking my car on the driveway near the house, I walked back to talk to the woman.
I explained to the woman, whose name is Linda, what I was doing. She understood immediately, and made sure later to get the URL of this web site. Linda offered to accompany me toward the confluence and open the gates. The point seemed to be about 150 meters north of the highway, toward the back of the farmyard. As we approached, passing a chicken coop and a tree house, it became evident that the actual point is in a stand of trees, with a thick ground cover of bushes, stinging nettles, and other growth.
Linda elected to wait outside the treed area while I bushwhacked my way toward the confluence point. The tree cover and thick growth made doing the confluence dance a difficult project, so I settled for a reading off by less that five one-thousands of a minute in either direction, took one picture of the confluence from the middle of the trees, and propped my GPS receiver on a fallen tree trunk to photograph it. Linda was completely out of sight by now, but we could still converse.
Thrashing my way back out, I photographed the tree house, which is within 30 meters of the confluence, and the chicken coop, which is within 45 meters. I thanked Linda. She told me that a week earlier there had been a problem with a cougar in that very yard; nature is still close at hand.
I drove down the road to investigate Hazel Dell. It proved to be a tiny community with most of the essentials for a prairie town: a post office, a general store, a church, a curling rink, and an arena. What were missing were a grain elevator and possibly a school.
Grain elevators, used to store grain and load it into railway grain cars, are iconic representations of prairie farming. In my childhood, a town was judged by the number of elevators it had, and a trip across Saskatchewan was seldom out of sight of a grain elevator. My sisters and I used to amuse ourselves by playing “I saw the elevator first” for hours on long drives. I bought an ice-cream treat (it was 30 degrees Celsius outside) at the general store, which came complete with two old farmers sitting in kitchen chairs and passing the time of day. I then set off to find 52N 102W.