Brooking

“With the news of the proposed railway line, and the advent of survey crews, land speculators and promoters arrived on the scene, and on good authority, it was learned that the railway line passing through the Buffalo Valley district was a possible location for a divisional point. Settlers arrived overnight and built their homes and businesses…”

“…Within the next year a decision was made to locate the divisional point at the little village of Radville a few miles downstream. Upon receipt of this news, the hopes and dreams of many of the businessmen who had spent their savings to establish themselves received a resounding blow. Growth of the little town halted.”

                                                                              — Radville-Laurier The Yesteryears.*

Brooking is a tucked away place. A scarce five miles or so straight east of my farm, it is in between the Gap and the R.M. of Laurier, though technically it belongs in the latter. The region is a picturesque vale, named Buffalo Valley by the homesteaders, apparently because bison once roamed the area in huge numbers. Brooking, originally called Stowe, was supposed to be a big town. But when the CNR changed its plans, Brooking went bust just as fast as it had boomed. And boom it did. Lumber yards, a hotel, general store, dwelling places – Brooking had all the makings of a proper prairie town. But without the roundhouse, its originally hoped for raison d’être, Brooking petered out.

Boomtown.**
Boomtown.**
Brooking Hotel in 1915***
Brooking Hotel in 1915***

Sometimes I imagine what would have happened if Brooking had become the big town in the region instead of Radville, how it would have changed the landscape. There would have been a highway built to it. Its growth would have encroached upon the hills of the gentle valley. It would have made noise and bustle. It would have disturbed the peace of the gentle, secluded place. Perhaps it was for the best that a town never really got going there.

And yet, much evidence still abounds which reveals the hopes of its settlers a century ago. A couple of houses remain. Buffalo Valley School, originally a mile or so north of the village, was moved there in the ‘60s to serve as a community centre. On low ground, down by the creek, stands a forlorn but proud elevator. On the north side, the faded Wheat Pool insignia. On the west side, a splashy paint job from 15 years ago when a movie crew rolled in. But much of what was Brooking is now a field, the few scattered buildings a symbol of nostalgia on the part of landowners. They could tear them down, if they wanted to.

The irony of "Promise" is not lost on me. Kristin Catherwood. July 10, 2014.
The irony of “Promise” is not lost on me. Kristin Catherwood. July 10, 2014.
Brooking today. Kristin Catherwood. July 10, 2014.
Brooking today. Kristin Catherwood. July 10, 2014.
Brooking from the west. Kristin Catherwood. July 10, 2014.
Brooking from the west. Kristin Catherwood. July 10, 2014.

Perhaps most famous was the Brooking bridge. It was a cement bridge, a modest yet impressive feat of engineering built to span the creek (is it the Long Creek or the Gibson Creek? I’ve never really been sure, but have heard that the two meet at Brooking) in the winter of 1905-1906. It claimed the distinction of being the first cement bridge built in the province of Saskatchewan. Perhaps not the most thrilling “first” around, but as a youngster I was inordinately proud to live so near to such a unique landmark.

It’s gone now, partially washed away in the floods of 2011. The rest was taken out and replaced by giant steel culverts, which are a dime a dozen and nothing to even remark upon, except perhaps to say that it’s a shame to see them in place of the bridge. I never got around to photographing the bridge, taking for granted its continuing existence, so this grainy black and white photo will have to suffice. I always got a bit of thrill driving over that bridge. It was the first of its kind in the province, after all.

Brooking bridge.****
Brooking bridge.****

Like all ghost towns, Brooking was once a place where people lived and loved and were sick and died. It was a place where families were raised, grain was hauled, and businesses were run. People stepped off the train onto the platform at Brooking station, and they drove down into its small valley in anticipation of a dance or a ball game or a visit with loved ones or perhaps to get a few things at the store. People picked up their mail in Brooking, dropped off their cream cans in Brooking, had the times of their lives in Brooking, perhaps fell in love in Brooking. Now, people drive through it to reminisce, or to use its lonely road as a shortcut to somewhere else, or to pass some time on a summer evening. As for ghosts in Brooking, I’ve never heard tell of any, but that’s not to say they aren’t there.

Buffalo Valley. Kristin Catherwood. July 10, 2014.
Buffalo Valley. Kristin Catherwood. July 10, 2014.

*Radville-Laurier: The Yesteryears. Radville, SK: Radville Laurier Historical Society. 1983, 149-150.

** Ibid., 150.

*** Ibid.

****Ibid., 148.

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Bundling

Bundling: Couples cuddling under a robe or blanket while returning home in the cutter on a cold winter’s eve.*

exempli gratia: “The fellow would pick up his gal and go for a spin or to a dance if the distance was not too far. The gal would have to hang on to the fellow to stay on the stone boat, if the horse would run or trot, to make the ride a little rough and wonderful. “Bundling” was very common on one of these vehicles.”**

 

*Happy Valley Happenings. 1983. Big Beaver, SK: Big Beaver Historical Society, 142.

** Ibid., 140.

 

Castle Butte

Located 200 km south of Regina, in one of the driest, most rugged environments in the province, the banks of the Big Muddy Valley are so far apart that its floodplain is 3 km wide in places. Some 60 km in length and up to 160 metres deep, the Big Muddy was part of an ancient glacial melt water channel that carried vast quantities of water southeastward at the end of the last ice age.

– Claude-Jean Harel*

Like so much else in Saskatchewan, Castle Butte changes with the light. I make a point to go at least once a year (though it’s so close to home, I should really go more often), and each trip yields a different experience and a different view of this sandstone monolith. I have heard Castle Butte referred to as the “crown jewel” of the Big Muddy Valley. It’s a stunning landmark, to be sure. And yet the very forces which created it – wind and rain – work ceaselessly to undo their masterpiece. Every year, Castle Butte’s sandstone foundation erodes just a little bit more. Heavy rains are particularly hard on it, and those have not been in short supply the last few years.

Castle Butte is an icon in southern Saskatchewan, but it is certainly not a static one. It changes day by day. It changes its appearance according to light and shadow, and it changes imperceptibly at first, but noticeably over time, as the environment wears it away. In the meantime, it is a “must visit” in Saskatchewan. This last visit, rather than climbing to the top (my boots were not cooperating with the slick mud), I wandered about its perimeter and saw things I’d never noticed before. Sometimes it pays to make poor footwear choices.

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All photos copyright Kristin Catherwood. July 1, 2014.

*http://esask.uregina.ca/entry/big_muddy_valley.html