Rock around the Homestead

From our December 2017 issue

Homestead log cabin in northern Saskatchewan.

By Tom Stewart – Ottawa, Ont.

“You’re going where?!” My band mates were dumbfounded when I told them my plan. They couldn’t understand why, on a gruelling tour of western Canada, I would choose to spend one of our few free days driving to “the middle of nowhere”.

To me, however, it was the chance I’d been waiting for years for. I desperately wanted to visit the log cabin in northern Saskatchewan where my maternal grandparents homesteaded. Of course, there were some logistics to work out first.

I contacted an old family friend who still farmed in the area. He gave me directions and said he’d take me to the cabin in his truck. “We’ll have to go in from the north, across the fields,” he said. Apparently it was too wet to take the more direct route I remembered as a child.

And so, on April 25, 1998 at 10:30 a.m. – horrendously early by rock ‘n’ roll standards – I was on the road with a coffee in the cup holder and Steve Earle blasting from the tape deck. The morning clouds disappeared and a huge blue sky stretched from horizon to horizon.

Tin patch memories

My host family welcomed me with open arms. I met their son who is the same age as me and couldn’t help but marvel at the differences in our lives. I don’t think I would have lasted very long growing up in that environment. All three kept one ear on the hockey game flickering from the TV in the corner. What a Canadian scene!

Soon we headed across the fields, through a gate, and there it was. Still in surprisingly good shape, the log cabin stood on an island in a sea of ploughed land.

It’s strange the things you remember as a child. My most vivid recollection of the cabin was a tin patch on the floor. Apparently, it covered a hole created by my grandfather chopping kindling. The tin patch struck my five-year-old middle-class suburban mind as so odd, so alien, I never forgot it.

As I entered the building, the first thing I saw was the piece of tin. I just couldn’t believe that it was still there and that my memories were so accurate. It’s difficult to describe how amazed I was to see the things I remembered from 30 years before; the trapdoor in the floor that I’d been a bit spooked by, the kitchen area, the old sofa.

Dozens of Christmas cards from the late ‘60s were strewn in a corner. We gathered these up for inspection later.

Waded through swampy creek

Although the roof was still intact, the chinking in the walls had disappeared and sunlight entered through cracks as wide as my thumb. The windowpanes were long gone and bird droppings littered the floor. I could easily have spent hours poking around, but it was getting late.

We returned to my host’s farm, I said my goodbyes, and started the return drive – but I suddenly had an irresistible compulsion to go back to the cabin for one last look.

I parked by the side of the road and waded through a swampy creek in what I hoped was the right direction. My pricey Rockport shoes were not happy, but at that point I was obsessed with having a final look.

I made it out to the fields and found my way back to the cabin. In the fading light, I made a final visit to the room where my mother was born.

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