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  The Scots Are Coming!

by Paul Yanko

It's a cool, late-summer evening as the headlights of my car illuminate the approach to a farm located just north of Dysart, Sask., about 100 km north of Regina.

Dysart, Scotland.
- courtesy Dennis Hardley/
Dysart, Scotland.

My eyes strain to make out the words ''Rolling Acres'' painted in white on a red barn set back about forty yards off the gravel road I'm travelling. Suddenly, a tight squadron of sheep comes flying out in front of me from the ditch. The sheep make a sharp right that would leave a school of tuna envious, and then disappear into the shadows of the yard, a black and white border collie hot on their heels.

It was then I knew I'd found the home of Bob Young and his wife Lesley - sheep and grain farmers, mostly, but now two of Saskatchewan's most ardent ambassadors abroad.

When it comes to selling Saskatchewan, few people are as passionate about this province as the Youngs.

"There's something about this place that just grabs you," says Lesley. "There's a feeling about Saskatchewan I just can't explain - and there's so much sunshine!"

Though Lesley and Bob grew up in Dysart and Markinch, respectively, these are not the Dysart and Markinch found on the map of Saskatchewan. Lesley and Bob's country of origin lies many thousands of kilometres across the Atlantic in Scotland, in the Kingdom of Fife.

"It's totally a coincidence that we ended up here, really," Lesley explains in a lilting Scottish cadence. "My mom and dad think it's hilarious!"

Not that the two Dysarts would ever be confused. The Scottish version is coal-mining village nestled on the shores of the Firth of Forth on the North Sea. Its prairie counterpart is a farming community that's decidedly landlocked.

However, the prairie town is named after its Scottish predecessor, according to Bill Barry, author of People Places - The Dictionary of Saskatchewan Place Names.

Bob sees Saskatchewan as the land of opportunity.
Bob sees Saskatchewan as the land of opportunity.

As is often the case, it takes a fresh set of eyes to point out the many things we native Saskatchewanians (yes, that's what they call us) take for granted.

Alan and Morag Wood, friends of the Youngs visiting from Scotland, were smitten.

"The first thing we noticed about Regina was how clean it was, and the crime rate is much lower here," says Morag. "The people here are so friendly, helpful and interested in where we've come from.

"I think [Saskatchewan people] tend not to realize how lucky they are to live here."

It's an observation that's not lost on the Youngs.

Bob, Lesley, and their children Robert, Nicola and Sharon (and Lassie, the border collie) ended up in Saskatchewan after the lady they rented their land from in Scotland decided she was going to sell the farm. The Youngs were given the option to purchase. But the asking price, a whopping $2.1 million (all values in Cdn dollars) for a mere 420 acres, left them looking elsewhere.

Their attention turned to Canada.

"In May of 1996, we landed in Winnipeg after deciding we'd look for a place in Manitoba first," says Bob. "Lesley took one look at the big, dirty buildings and said, 'if this is Canada, I'm not living here'."

While in Winnipeg, the Youngs accepted a friend's invitation to a medieval feast in Spiritwood, Sask., about 175 km northwest of Saskatoon. Their opinion of Canada changed dramatically.

"We figured we'd drive from Winnipeg to Spiritwood - it looked like a short way on the map," Lesley says laughing. "As soon as we crossed the border into Saskatchewan, the farms seemed tidier, the trees seemed nicer - we just knew this was the place for us."

Bob and his son Robert came back to Saskatchewan for another look in July, 1996. A relative in Southey, about 60 km north of Regina, suggested they check out the farmland in his region of the province. In March 1997 they found their Saskatchewan farm.

Back in Scotland the Youngs ''talked to these people over the phone on Monday and our offer to buy their farm was accepted on Tuesday," says Bob. "On Wednesday, we were airborne on our way back to Saskatchewan!"

But getting here was just the beginning.

Selling Saskatchewan abroad has turned into a side line for Lesley and Bob.
Selling Saskatchewan abroad has turned into a side line for Lesley and Bob.

Not long after their arrival, one of Bob's new neighbours mentioned he was hoping to sell his farm. Bob suggested he might have luck selling it to someone in Scotland, and told him where he should advertise.

The farm sold in three weeks.

Word of the successful sale got around, and then someone else approached the Youngs for help in selling their farm. A small business, selling Saskatchewan farms abroad, was born.

"We're just trying to show people the advantages and opportunities that exist here in Saskatchewan," explains the affable Bob. "We're selling the Land of Living Skies."

It's a sales pitch Bob and Lesley take on the road.

In addition to the ads they regularly place in prominent Scottish agriculture magazines, the Youngs travel to Scotland to host informal question-and-answer meetings for people interested in making the move across the pond.

"Farming is very different (in Saskatchewan)," says Bob. "For one thing, input costs are a third of what they are back home, and land is very affordable.

"We looked at a farm in Manitoba that was selling for $80,000 - the same farm back in Edinburgh would go for $460,000."

Posters the Youngs send to Scotland to promote their meetings claim Saskatchewan is "The Land of Many Opportunities", and they include all the necessary contact information, including the Youngs' e-mail address.

In addition to their trips abroad, hours spent on the phone, and the daily chores associated with running a sheep and grain farm, Bob and Lesley lobby the provincial government to more aggressively promote Saskatchewan abroad.

"Back home, if you mention Canada, the only places anyone knows of are Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver," Bob says, adding he and Lesley are determined to change that.

Bob shows off the squadron commander.
Bob shows off the squadron commander.

The Youngs have no regrets about leaving Scotland for Saskatchewan, and the people here have made them feel more than welcome.

"We were only here a very short while when a neighbour called and asked if he could pay us a visit," recalls Lesley. "About 8 that night, 20 or 30 of them showed up with food and drink - and wheat weaving for good luck.

"We partied until 4 a.m., when they cleaned up the house and took out all the garbage. It was wonderful. Our neighbours couldn't do enough for us. They're just great."

Check out Bob's real estate website here.

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