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Building a better birdhouse

by Dave Yanko

In the seminal 1964 Beatles’ movie A Hard Day’s Night there’s a running gag about Paul’s grandfather being a clean old man. There was little more to be said about the quiet gentleman so cleanliness was just going to have to do. It was funny.

However, when I say the south-west Saskatchewan town of Central Butte is one of the cleanest communities I’ve encountered over years of traipsing about this old trapezoid we call Saskatchewan (credit: C.F.), it’s no slight. Town workers in this community of 500 were diligently repainting corner curbs yellow and mowing grass in ditches during our recent visit. Main Street seems clean and newly painted as well, even if it doesn’t feature some of the more modern looking shops and offices you’ll see in larger towns. No doubt some of this polish was in preparation for Central Butte’s centennial anniversary that was coming up. Still, there is more to be said about Central Butte than Paul had to say about his grandfather. For one, Central Butte has April’s Diner. It’s a perfect destination when the rain starts shrinking the walls of your tent or camper at Lake Diefenbaker.

April's Diner
April's is good food and nice surroundings (full disclosure: zippo).

April and her partner Pierre put a lot of thought and resources into this eatery. Inside, the large-tile floors support spanking new equipment housing the buffet and salad bar, as well as an assortment of seating arrangements that includes plush lounge chairs, presumably for use by those who simply want to drop by for a chat over a cocktail. Or a beer. April’s minimalist décor and folk art appointments can play up or down. There’s an outdoor café section that I’m sure would appeal to young families looking for burgers and fries or ice cream cones when the weather's cooperating. The indoor seating ranges from tall chairs at the counter/bar – there’s a small booze selection featured on the wall in front of it – to quality tables and chairs appropriate for folks who travel to April’s for a special night out. And they do.

Co-owner April Schneider tells me some of her regulars drive for up to an hour to come here for a date night or special celebration – the fare is upper-end-diner-cum restaurant featuring local produce when possible and nice little touches like in-house ground coffee beans. The daily luncheon buffet during our visit featured homemade pizza, a spaghetti casserole and fried chicken, and I noticed several bean salads in the salad bar. We opted for menu fare and the fish and chips and grilled cheese did not disappoint.

April and Pierre spent a lot of time in the Eastern Townships of Quebec before Pierre’s career in operations management took them to Edmonton and then Swift Current before they struck out on new endeavours. Their diner reflects their broad experience and is a very cool addition to Saskatchewan’s growing list of impressive rural eateries.

And there’s other neat stuff to see and do on your way back home to your campground at Danielson or Douglas. Backtracking a bit, we set off from Douglas headed south on Highway 19 to Highway 42 – Central Butte is five minutes west of the junction. After our mid-afternoon lunch at April’s we proceeded west 28 km to the Riverhurst Ferry, which scooted us across a narrow section of Lake Diefenbaker allowing us to proceed north toward Gardiner Dam and saving hours of driving time.

riverhurst ferry
Nearing the finish line on the Riverhurst Ferry.

If you’ve never been on the Riverhurst Ferry, it’s pretty cool. I expect kids will like it lot. Before we reached the big dam we took a short jaunt east off the highway to Coteau Beach, a place I’d noticed on the map but had never seen. I'm always looking for another great Saskatchewan beach. The horrible, flood-damaged highway makes for an interesting 15-minute drive to Coteau. But this resort village is definitely worth a look, and maybe even a swim in the small bay where the wind doesn’t blow so strongly. Water was high on Diefenbaker and Coteau’s main, long beach was flooded, but the little bay and kids' beach was a hub of parent-supervised activity.

This little but fast-growing community features some beautiful new cottages with exceptional views of Lake Diefenbaker – some appear to be year ‘round living quarters. Surely the road can’t be any worse in winter, so long as the plows are working. In any event, it’s a beautiful spot and simply not what you expect to see after travelling along that crappy access highway.

At Gardiner Dam you can visit the comfy interpretive centre and learn about the flora and fauna of the area and the magnitude of the achievement in constructing one of the largest embankment dams in the world. The adjacent Coteau Creek Hydroelectric Station features three turbine generating units capable of producing 5 per cent of Saskatchewan’s power needs annually. If the spillway is in use, find a safe place to park and get a close-up feel for the power of rushing water and sheer size of this huge piece of infrastructure. It’s worth it. Then you can skedaddle back to your campsite in a much better frame of mind. And with any luck, the breeze will have blown those rainclouds away.

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