by Dave Yanko
AYLESBURY - Midway between Regina and Saskatoon on Highway 11 lies
a landmark many Saskatchewanians take for granted.
Printed in bold
white letters on the black roof of an old red barn, "Riskan Hope
Farm" shouts out for attention from north-bound motorists headed
house now stands vacant
Few give much notice to the message about farming contained in that
name. Riskan Hope is, for regular travellers, just a familiar
milepost on a familiar route.
So much for the message. But what of the messenger? Who decided
to broadcast to all passers by this simple truism about farm life
in Saskatchewan? And why?
Her name was Myrna Luther. She was a former school teacher who
actually borrowed the Riskan Hope idea from a similarly-named farm
she spotted in the 1930s while teaching in the Avonlea region of
southern Saskatchewan, says her son Cliff.
"Mom liked to stick out a bit if she could,'' Cliff says of his
late mother. "She thought (Riskan Hope) defined farming so well.
And let's face it, it was a perfect location. You gotta see that
when you're driving by.''
and Myrna Luther
Cliff, 44, says the Riskan Hope sign was placed on the barn roof
in the 1940s, after his mother met and married his now-deceased
father, Martin. Curious travellers viewed the bold sign as an invitation
to stop in and chat with the locals. The gregarious Luthers were
delighted to oblige.
By the 1960s, Myrna, Martin, Cliff, and his older brother David,
were operating a small campground in a grove of trees on their prairie
"She charged everybody a dollar for camping,'' says Cliff's wife
Deb, "just to make sure they'd come in and sign the guestbook.''
"It paid for the toilet paper,'' adds Cliff.
Today, that guestbook is a treasure trove of names from around
the world. Cliff says Americans were the most frequent foreign guests
because Highway 11 was part of a popular route to Alaska. Many
who stopped at Riskan Hope were families on their annual
"It was great,'' Cliff said in an interview at the nearby grain
and cattle farm he operates with Deb and their four kids. "We didn't
travel ourselves. So it was a way of having the world stop at our door.''
and Cliff Luther
The Luther property included what today might be called a petting
zoo, where visitors were encouraged to touch, feed or just admire
the animals roaming the yard. Donkey cart and pony rides were available for free, as long as the Luthers weren't too busy.
People who wanted to use the swings or the picnic tables, or to help themselves to some fresh water, were welcome to do so.
As Cliff got older and the campground area became busier,
his role on the farm evolved to include performer. It was a period he relished.
"I had a horse, you know, and I was kind of centre stage. I'd entertain
them - I'd show everybody a good time.''
His father Martin, meanwhile, loved nothing better than to regale
visitors with jokes.
"Oh, he had an act going,'' Cliff says, laughing, "although towards
the end there, he'd pretty much have to pay us to laugh at his jokes.''
All the while the Luthers operated a 960-acre farm as
well as a small trucking business that saw Martin hauling cattle
throughout the district. But Cliff says life on the farm wasn't
so much of a juggling act as it might appear to have been. Visitors generally
arrived well after spring seeding, and most had to be back at work
or school long before harvest.
"And if we didn't have the time, it wasn't a big deal. We weren't
obliged at any point to do things with these people, but it was
a great part of our fun.''
It worked out well for the tourists, too. They were welcome
to drop in for a chat with a Saskatchewan farm family, or to camp overnight or longer,
if they wished. Some came back year after year while others, like
the two school teachers from Ontario, became lifelong friends of
"Mother and father even went on an Alaskan cruise with them.
You get to know people when you've got the time to sit down and
visit, play some cards.''
enjoys riding horses with visitors to Stillwater
Riskan Hope's days as a campground came to a premature end in the
1970s when the provincial government twinned Highway 11. The
new, northbound lanes brought noise and speeding vehicles too close
to the camping area and the house - when the government man glanced
around the Luther property and asked Cliff's father where he'd like
the house moved to, Martin replied "Victoria".
In the end, the Luthers decided the house would remain precisely
where it had always been. Which means that today, the north- and south-bound lanes of the
divided highway are nowhere closer to each other than at Riskan Hope Farm.
The Riskan Hope experience had a profound impact on Cliff, who
says he realized early on he had a special childhood. But
it wasn't until he and Deb had kids of their own that they decided
they'd try to give their youngsters some of the same.
With outbuildings recycled from miles around, and featuring a large
and splendid country home transported 14 miles to its current location,
Cliff and Deb assembled a "new" farm on land situated about
half a mile southeast of the now-vacant Riskan Hope property, which is farmed by brother David. It
has its own campgrounds, a picnic and play area, and a craft shop
featuring the wildlife art Deb creates using a process called "scraperboard".
They named it "Stillwater Farm'' after the Minnesota town Cliff's
mother's family came from. And now, it's the Stillwater guestbook
that's growing with the signatures and comments of people from places
like Illinois, Wisconsin, California, Michigan and Florida. Today,
it's Martin and Myrna's grandchildren who are learning about the
world without having to leave the farm.
A recent visitor from Switzerland camped overnight during his solo
cycling trip from Florida to Alaska. In the morning, Cliff and Deb
invited the muscular young "Eric" to join their family for breakfast.
"He ate six eggs!,'' says Deb, the astonishment still apparent
in her voice. "The kids' eyes were like saucers just watching this
guy,'' adds Cliff.
Farm, the Riskan Hope tradition lives on
The Luthers learned from Eric that all young men in Switzerland are expected to
serve time in the military but not all of them look forward to it. Weeks later, the
family received a letter from Eric, who was still in the United
States trying to find work as a ski instructor.
The Stillwater campground isn't making the Luthers wealthy - Cliff
says he doubts they've paid for the picnic tables. But that wasn't
the goal. Stillwater operates for the same reason a wise mother welcomed the world to
Riskan Hope Farm.
"Money wasn't the main idea at all,'' says Cliff. "It was just
a fun activity. And it made our lives so much richer.''
Keep an eye out for the Stillwater Farm sign if you're travelling
on Highway 11 near Aylesbury. And if you're looking for a friendly spot
to camp or park your RV for a night or two, give Cliff or Deb a
call at (306) 734-2997, or just drop in.
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