As the editor of a newspaper, I get a lot of press releases.
My mouse was hovering over the “delete” button of one such press release when this sentence caught my eye: “Now, I appreciate that The Sheaf doesn’t deal with frivolities and trivialities, nor does it ordinarily engage in the crass promotion of what is obviously a commercial website, but your readership come from all over Saskatchewan (and from further afield, too, of course), and I bethought myself that perhaps some might find a video of the home town an interesting thing to show their new friends, or just anchor themselves for a minute of two.”
First of all, this is not the usual language of a press release. Secondly, it wasn’t a mass email sent to hundreds of editors at a time. This was one press release I decided to give a chance.
The press release was for a website called “Small Town Saskatchewan.” I clicked on the link provided and found a modest, straight-forward website with thumbnails titled with Saskatchewan towns in alphabetical order. Ignoring those, I searched for the one small town I know well: Foam Lake.
Clicking on the “Foam Lake, Saskatchewan” thumbnail I was redirected to a YouTube video of a shakily held camera, slowly rotating in view, positioned in the middle of Foam Lake’s Main Street. Don Wilson, with his typically Saskatchewan accent, gives tidbits of information: “The railroad came through in 1908, the station is a type 12, the village was incorporated in 1909 and became a town in 1924.”
Despite the low quality, shaky camera and slightly distracting narrative, I was entranced. I haven’t been back to Foam Lake since my grandpa died four years ago. Watching the video, I was surprised to find that I miss it. I immediately recognized Main Street, and felt a sense of comfort at seeing those familiar landmarks.
“There’s the restaurant Aunt Violet worked at for a while,” I thought to myself. “And look! They’ve built a new building where that old one burnt down.”
The next town I searched for was Insinger. Now nothing more than a ghost town, the first generation of my mother’s family to live in Canada lived near Insinger. My great-great-grandparents’ homestead was three and a half miles from the small town. My great-grandparents and my grandparents also farmed in the area up until 1977.
The last town I searched for was Sheho. Farther away from the family farms, Sheho was the second-most important town in my mother’s family’s life. My grandparents are buried there.
Not only are these towns important to my heritage, they also help to define “Saskatchewan” for me. I love the stark landscapes and the old, weathered buildings. I’ve always lived in Saskatoon, so city life is an important part of my identity, but the prairies are known for their rural communities, and sometimes it seems that everyone in Canada knows someone from a small town in Saskatchewan.
There’s something charming in Wilson’s project. It has a family video quality. For example, at the end of the Insinger video, the view abruptly changes and we hear Wilson’s voice cry, “Moose!” The camera is trained on a moose and her calf. The car slows and stops so Wilson can get a better shot.
Yes, Google Maps’ street view is way cooler, but Google maps certainly doesn’t offer the passion and human touch that Don Wilson offers in his videos.