Category Archives: Reflections

The Gap No. 39

“The Gap country, as it was called when our first pioneers came, was rolling prairie land covered by native grasses. As the settlers followed the Willow Bunch trail, they entered this area close to where the town of Brooking would be built and as they looked westward they could see this large gap between two ranges of hills, hence the name Gap country.”

– Joyce Catherwood, “History of the Gap,” Builders of a Great Land.*


My great-great grandfather Thomas and his seventeen year old son Sherwood were amongst those first settlers to this part of the country in 1905. The surveyors had not even come through yet. Saskatchewan would not be a province for another two months and was known still as Assiniboia, Northwest Territories. But they were not the first people to set eyes on it. The First Nations doubtless travelled across it countless times, though it appears they did not live in the area for any significant duration. Also, there was the Willow Bunch trail. It connected Winnipeg to Assiniboia and passed through the Willow Bunch region sixty miles to the west, which had been settled by French ranchers in the 1870s. The trail was comprised of giant ruts dug into the virgin prairie by the cumbersome wheels of Red River carts. Apparently the ruts were visible for decades after the Gap country was settled. They’re gone now, perhaps replaced by the Correction Line grid road which forms the northern border of the Gap, just a quarter mile north of my farm.

Perhaps it was one of my grandfathers who suggested the name “the Gap” for the new municipality which was formed in 1911. Maybe  my great grandfather Sherwood, who because of his minority had had to request special permission for the right to file a homestead, said at the inaugural meeting: “let’s name this the Gap country because of that gap in the hills, the one we saw when we first set eyes upon this land that we would break so that we could make ourselves new homes.” He might have done. Or maybe it was one of the other men. Or maybe the whole story of the Gap being named the Gap because of a gap in the modest ridge of the Missouri Coteau is all folklore and there’s little truth to it all. Whatever did happen, or who said what, this place is called The Gap, specifically, the Rural Municipality of the Gap No. 39. R.M. of The Gap for short. 

The municipality, like those all around it, is 324 square miles in size, which can also be measured as nine townships (36 sections in a township; four quarters in a section). The gap in the hills for which it is named comprises only a small part of its overall area. But it is in that part that my family has lived for 109 years. The gap in the Missouri Coteau is not dramatic. No one would drive for miles and miles to see it. But it’s my home and it’s the landscape that shaped me. No matter where I go in the world, all of my experiences are filtered through my perspective as a girl who grew up in the Gap.

There are a lot of different definitions for the word “gap.” No matter which definition you prefer, the etymology of the word remains the same. It’s one of the roughly 20 percent of basic English words that comes from Old Norse. It was exactly the same word in that ancient language, though today it is translated as “chasm.” It’s also related to the Danish gab for open mouth or opening. A chasm is a deep, dark place full of secrets, at least in my personal dictionary. And so I hope this blog will be: a place full of secrets. The secrets of the world we see around us every day, but rarely stop to ponder.

Of all the many definitions of gap, I like the first one best: 1. a break or opening in a wall, fence, etc. Since it’s a dictionary (specifically, there’s no connotation or implication provided, though at first glance it might seem to be a negative one. Who wants a gap in their fence or wall? But one could use a gap to wriggle through into a secret garden, or peer into the dusty gloom of an ancient castle. A gap is really a gateway, an entrance into another place. Folklorists like to use the word liminal a lot. A liminal space is an in-between place, a threshold. It can be literal or symbolic, though folklorists usually use it symbolically. A gap is a liminal space. A place in between.

The second definition is good, too. 2. a break in continuity; an interruption; hiatus. Again, this definition might be perceived negatively at first. But I think breaks in continuity, interruptions and hiatuses can be good things. Necessary things, in fact. I need interruptions to my daily life, to routines and schedules. I may not always want them, but I need them. We all do. This blog, and the adventures I intend to create in order to fuel it, will be a hiatus from the daily grind – a gap in the orderly routine of everyday life.

There are several more definitions, but I’m going to stop at the third one. I like groups of threes; there is a long history of folkloric and mythological significance in the number three. Also, this third definition brings us back to the beginning. 3. a break in a line of hills or mountains affording a route through. The rolling hills of the Missouri Coteau are not overly rugged, and the thought of finding a pass through them seems a bit silly in this age of all terrain vehicles. But in a Red River cart, the flattest route possible would have been vastly preferable to a hilly alternative. And so the Gap was a pass of sorts along the Willow Bunch trail. In “affording a route through” it allowed travellers to make their way more easily from one place to another. Perhaps this blog will allow me to afford a route through the mundane to show that there is another destination: one full of mystery and, dare I say, magic. To find out what I mean, you will simply have to keep returning here to the Gap.

ImageThe Gap. Can you see it?

* Builders of a Great Land: History of The Gap No. 39 Ceylon and Hardy. 1980. Ed. History Committee of R.M. of the Gap No. 39. Altona, MB: D.W. Friesen & Sons Ltd.

Chasing the Light

“Clara sank down on a sheaf of wheat and covered her face with her hands. She did not know what she was going to do– whether she would go or stay. The great, silent country seemed to lay a spell upon her. The ground seemed to hold her as if by roots. Her knees were soft under her. She felt as if she could not bear separation from her old sorrows, from her old discontent. They were dear to her, they had kept her alive, they were a part of her. There would be nothing left of her if she were wrenched away from them. Never could she pass beyond that skyline against which her restlessness had beat so many times. She felt as if her soul had built itself a nest there on that horizon at which she looked every morning and every evening, and it was dear to her, inexpressibly dear.”

From “The Bohemian Girl,” Willa Cather*


The frogs are singing and I am home.

I wrote that late at night, CST, on May 1st. I had just arrived home to my farm after four months away. My head and my heart were still living in Newfoundland Standard Time. My body moved through the familiar space of home with ease, but it seemed unreal to me. I was not happy or sad, I was neither here nor there. It was the strangest feeling, strange enough that I felt compelled to dig through my heaps of luggage to find my laptop, open it up, and write those words. And then I knew it was time to return to this blog.

I wrote the first post, The Great White Winter, of this blog five months ago. It was not planned. I had taken some photos a few days before; one of them struck a chord and on impulse I created this blog, uploaded the photo, and started writing about it. I then put it on the back burner. I did not realise at the time that I was writing the first post on the winter solstice, that in-between day which tips the world forward, so that it begins to chase the light.

I was at an in-between place at the time. It was only a few weeks before I was to leave for Newfoundland. I had spent the fall at home doing research for my thesis. I was settled in, I was comfortable, I was going through a rough patch, though I was only half aware of that at the time. I did not want to go back to Newfoundland at that point. The thought of leaving home, of crossing that great distance in the middle of winter, of being uprooted and transplanted at such an unforgiving time of year, was almost unbearable. But I went. I had things to do in Newfoundland, but I wasn’t happy about it.

The transition is always hard. 2 a.m. arrival, rain melting towers of icy snow on the street, the air full of the sea. My sheets felt damp on my prairie skin. But my roommate, my friend, was there. And the next day more friends. The streets of St. John’s were familiar to me, though it took my flatlander legs a few days to get re-accustomed to their steepness. I was homesick, as always, but I was okay. In fact, I knew very well that I needed to be there, and not just because I had university to attend. I needed a break in my routine, I needed a fresh start in a familiar place. I needed to cross a bridge.

The in-between place. Home, but not settled back into its familiar comforts, its sometimes dangerous comforts. My heart still in Newfoundland, that harsh place that welcomed me with its foggy, rocky arms and taught me so much about who I am. The place that I was always fascinated by, sometimes dismissive of, sometimes ambivalent towards. The place that has now, almost without my noticing, settled itself into my soul so that a part of me will always belong there.

Home is my farm, the place I grew up, the place I love above all other places in the world. I have already written about my deep love for it elsewhere, and I don’t think I can describe it any better than I did there, in the journal Of Land and Living Skies. Page ten.

Ever since I was young, too young to remember how old, I had a deep abiding fear that I would have to leave the farm someday. As I grew older, and read books and learned about the world around me and began to dream of far off places, the fear deepened, for I knew that it was inevitable I would have to leave. Circumstances befell us so that we were transplanted to the city. Not so far geographically, but a galaxy away. Things changed in the city. New friends, new things, new books, new dreams. But the farm, home, always longed for, frequently returned to.

As I grew even older, I knew with certainty that I would have to leave someday, that I would have to go far away. I did not know exactly what it was I would do in this unknowable faraway place, but I knew I would have to go. I travelled, a lot, but always for just days or weeks, and always I was homesick. I didn’t know if I could ever face moving away. I delayed for as long as possible, choosing to study close to home, returning every summer to work in my hometown. But the day came when it was time to go. Acceptance into the Folklore programme at Memorial University of Newfoundland. When I opened the email, I cried. Not tears of joy, but those of sorrow for it meant I had to leave. 

I went, somehow. I’m still not sure how I summoned the willpower to get on that plane and fly away to an unknown place. Something in me knew I had to go. And it was the best thing I ever did. Now, nearly two years later, I am back home and a different  person from who I was before. I love my home just as much as I ever did, perhaps even more. In fact, the leaving and the coming back have made me see it in a whole new way. I am here, for now. It is where I always want to be, but now I know that I can leave and come back, because, as my dad says without fail every time I leave, “the farm will always be here waiting for you.”

So, what is this blog? It is still taking shape in my mind, but it will be about place, specifically, this place in southern Saskatchewan, but also other places as they are seen and experienced by a girl from southern Saskatchewan who went away to Newfoundland to become a folklorist. It will be stories, and legends, and histories, and journeys, and adventures, and misadventures, and musings, and folklore. It will be chasing the light.

ImageChasing the light of the full moon.  May 14, 2014


Willa Cather. 1912. “The Bohemian Girl.” McClure’s Magazine 39: 420-443. Accessible online at the Willa Cather Archive: