by Troy Spencer
(Editor's note: Troy offered to write an account of his stay in Saskatchewan
after finding our zine on the Web -- he's another foreign visitor who loves Saskatchewan. It was only after he sent us the story that we discovered a campfire accident caused by a careless Saskatchewan friend here left him blind in one eye.
He didn't bother mentioning the incident because the friend is "a great bloke".)
AVENEL, AUSTRALIA -- As a young fella, I enjoyed a country upbringing in a quiet town
named Avenel, in southern Australia. Avenel is a farming community,
surviving predominantly on fat lambs, wool growing and beef cattle.
I always dreamed that I would travel when I was old enough, and
so when I turned 20, I was on my way to visit the Canadian prairies.
I have been fascinated with broad-acre farming since I was young,
and I could think of no better place than Saskatchewan to learn
the ropes. That was back in 1994.
I landed in Vancouver, and spent a day there before I jumped on
my first Greyhound bus, destination Swift Current. I sat with some
Saskatchewan locals and as we talked, I learned about mule deer,
porcupine and all about the landscape that forms the largest grain
belt in the world.
Once I was in Saskatchewan, I could see the whole horizon in every
direction. I saw men and women on horses, wearing large cowboy hats
and herding Hereford cattle. I was in my element. This was the kind
of lifestyle I wanted to experience. I wanted to get on a horse
and start working as soon as possible, even though I did not know
Western-style horse riding (because of the British influence in
I had arranged with the Caswell family, of Bracken, to take me
on as a farm hand for a few months - I knew Daren Caswell from a
visit he made to Australia. I had obtained a Young Australian Working
Holiday Visa back at home. It allowed me to work full time anywhere
in Canada for 12 months. Because of our association with the Commonwealth,
the two countries encourage people between the ages of 18 and 28
to visit and work with each other.
When the sun came up after my first night on the farm near Bracken,
located in the Val Marie district of southwestern Saskatchewan,
I ventured outside to find a busy family. Each member was doing
his or her own thing, but they were only too willing to let me join
The smell in the air was different from home. I put this down to
the two different extremes that our countries have - the deep frost
that occurs in Saskatchewan compared to the melting heat of home.
Things at home don't last long, especially paint, timber or anything
that burns easily. Everything that I looked at on the Caswell's
farm had been around a long time, including the fences. Around Avenel,
it is not uncommon to see charcoal-black, fire-licked fence posts.
The ground in Avenel has changed over time and our top soil now
is quite shallow. I could smell moist earth in Saskatchewan, which
is something of a rarity at home. I noticed there were no fire prone
trees such as our very common eucalyptus tree. Instead, there were
open fields and planted trees around the houses. Even the rocks
are different. The ones I found on the farm in Saskatchewan were
rounded because of glacial movement many years ago. The rocks in
Avenel are volcanic, and sharp.
It does not snow where I live in Australia, and the summer heat
can reach 45 degrees Celsius. The sun felt much softer on my face
in Saskatchewan, and the birds were singing unfamiliar songs. We
have lots of trees around Avenel and they attract many birds, including
parrots of all colours. I loved listening to the birds around Bracken.
It reminded me that I was far from home and on a real journey.
During my four-month stay at the farm, I helped sow Durham wheat,
canola and alfalfa - the farm was so big. On my days off, I checked
out tipi rings and buffalo jumps left by the First Nations People.
I felt like I was a part of the place. Before long, I was playing
on a local slow pitch team on the occasional weekend. It was much
different than the cricket that I am used to at home.
|- courtesy Shaunavon
|Rodeo is a big event
I visited Shaunavon occasionally and I enjoyed attending rodeos
and rodeo dances. I met some fantastic people there and learned
how to do the 'two-step'. I found many similarities in cultures
(especially where having a few beers was concerned!). Barbecues
in backyards were very popular (just like at home), and I came to
spend a lot of time with a fantastic group of friends who were always
kind enough to invite me to everything that was going on, including
birthday parties, water skiing trips and best of all, a hootenanny
in the hills near Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park.
I cannot explain in words just how much fun I had there. The boys
from Shaunavon packed me up in a Ford F250 with a silver trailer
loaded with food, drink and camping equipment. I experienced country
music face to face, and did quite a bit of dancing. Cypress Hills
Interprovincial Park was fantastic, and amazing. Whatever happened
all those years ago to have left that piece of land untouched, must
have been awesome.
Although I could have stayed in the rural area for my entire stay,
I wanted to check out urban life in Saskatchewan. I moved to Saskatoon
and fell in love with the City of Bridges. I would have to say that
it is a sister city to Melbourne, only smaller in scale. Saskatoon,
like Melbourne, is a very friendly place. Socializing and making
friends on the bus actually happens in both these places. I made
other new friends, straight away, through work and contacts from
I walked the tree-lined streets through autumn, and as the air
got cooler Halloween arrived. We do not celebrate Halloween in Australia,
although, many Canadian soldiers visiting our army and airforce
bases encourage children to bob for apples and to go trick or treating.
Trick or treating was very new to me, and I did not care that I
was too old because I would never have the opportunity again. So
my friends dressed me up and off I went.
People had no idea what I was saying at first, what with the accent
and all. Because I'd been in Canada for quite a while by then, I
didn't notice my own accent until I spoke to my parents. Boy,
did they sound funny to me. I had no idea how we Aussies sound to
everyone else. Canadians have an accent. It is different from that
of the British or the Aussies, and slightly different from the U.S.,
I visited Wanuskewin Heritage Park and tried food cooked by
First Nations People. I visited the Saskatoon Forestry Farm every second Monday and learned
about the indigenous animals. I really loved the wolves and the
coyotes. I also said 'hello' to the little Australian black-tailed
wallaby that lived there. I wondered if he recognized my accent.
I walked to Broadway and drank real coffee - everyone at home drinks
tea or instant coffee. I ate at the old, red, double-decker bus
downtown and went to The 'Pat' Hotel for a beer. What a great city.
I worked at the Saskatoon S.P.C.A. It was nice to have pets around
me, because I missed my own very much. Two beagles and a horse were
very lonely back in Avenel during my stay in Saskatchewan.
I worked as a kennel attendant, and it was here where the staff
thought it was in my best interest to have my first snow bath. I
learned how to make 'snow angels' and forgot to plug in my car's
block heater when I was at work! I could have worked there forever.
Everyone took me in and made me love them all, and I keep in touch
with them when I can. I really miss Saskatchewan.
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