In rural Saskatchewan, Canada's Ukrainian farming roots shine
Along the Good Spirit Lake to Canora portion of the Trans Canada Trail in Saskatchewan, there are stretches of natural sand dunes, beautiful beaches, marshland and river valleys, but for the most part, the path winds through farming country.
“You have a chance to witness farm life in Saskatchewan as you’re passing farmyards, livestock in pastures or farmers working in the fields,” says TCT co-ordinator Kristen Gabora, whose 4,000-acre farm in Canora lies about a mile from the Trail.
She jokingly calls the area the “pierogi belt,” since more than 13 per cent of Saskatchewan’s population claims Ukrainian heritage, as do more than one million Canadians. Of Ukrainian descent herself, Ms. Gabora’s family has been in the area for more than a century – her grandmother, who is now 101, was born here – and is well integrated into the tight-knit community of 2,400, where people still look out for one another.
In addition to Ukrainian culture, the region boasts a National Doukhobor Heritage Village in Veregin, as well as settlers with a Scandinavian background – a confluence of traditions that has enriched local communities, says Ms. Gabora, who sees evidence of the region’s history in old schoolyards, cemeteries, farms and the landscape itself.
To her, farmers are the ultimate conservationists. “The land means everything to them. If you asked a farmer, he would say that farming is not a job – it’s a way of life,” she says. That deep connection can sometimes prove a challenge for connecting the Trail. “Farmers can be a bit territorial,” Ms. Gabora explains.
At just 33.8 per cent completed, Saskatchewan has the greatest way to go of any jurisdiction in Canada. But this is changing fast, as local communities gain greater awareness of the TCT project. “The Trail has come through Canora,” she says. “And, once we got it, people realized that it’s not meant to change their way of life – it enhances it.”
Sharing a love of the land and an interest in nature, Ms. Gabora sees the Trail as a way of encouraging visitors to learn more and experience a farming community in a largely untouched setting.
It’s that authenticity that makes this stretch so special, says Ms. Gabora, who adds that it hasn’t even been named yet. “The Trakkers Snow Club and the Town of Canora are the stewards of the Trail, and they believe it’s important to find a name that adequately captures the spirit of the place,” she says.
No matter what name it’s given in different parts of the province, she says, “the Trans Canada Trail is going to be great for the rural municipalities of Saskatchewan.”
Here are just a few special places and ways that the Trail connects with Canada’s history and heritage.