Rarely a month goes by without Esther and I making three or four trips from our Smeaton home to Prince Albert. It takes 45-50 minutes each way. But let me tell you of a time it took two long, gruelling days to make that journey.
In October 1929 Harold and Jack Johnson, English immigrants, left the city in an old Ford truck, bound for their homesteads south of present-day Snowden (five miles west of Smeaton). They hadn’t gone far when they were told it was a near-impossible journey, likely only one other motor vehicle had done it.
On the morning of the third day the brothers reached their homestead, and it had been a terrible journey. It began on a graded road but soon became a bush trail. They got stuck in swampy ground several times. Which meant, each time, unloading the truck, moving the cargo ahead, freeing the truck and reloading it. They had to saw down stumps which the truck couldn’t clear. They had to make a minor repair on the vehicle. They almost lost the trail in the dark. And they had to take shelter in two other settlers’ homes along the trail over night. But they met no other travelers the whole way. (Now the busy #55 highway.)
Jack described the journey in Snowden Looking Back, the community’s history book, and in My God What a Life, a book he wrote decades later describing his homestead experiences. It was published in England, to where he had returned.
Esther and I were both raised on farms near Snowden. (We never knew each other then, but that’s another story).When I was a child trips to P.A. were very few and far between. I was six before our family went there the first time and I gawked like the rural rube I was at the size of the town and the busy, noisy downtown streets.
In those years businesses in Snowden, which never had more than about 100 residents, supplied practically all our needs: groceries, clothing, hardware, dry goods, gasoline, motor vehicles, farm equipment, schools, churches, bowling, movies and more. Anything else we got by mail order on the train from Eaton’s or Simpson’s. Only dental, medical and other professional services had to be secured elsewhere, and people accessed those very sparingly.
In the 1940s and early ‘50s our family made it to P.A. perhaps once every two years or so. By then a gravel highway provided access. But our motor vehicles, like many others in our community, were often old and of doubtful dependability, so we usually went to the city by rail.
Well, rural decline was well on its way by the late 1950s as farms grew larger and people moved away. By the 1970s most of the businesses in Snowden, as in other small communities, saw their customer base shrink until they were forced to close. They could no longer supply most of the residents’ needs. At the same time the use of more and better vehicles came to rural areas, as did better roads. As a result residents began travelling to larger centres---P.A., Nipawin, Melfort, eventually even Saskatoon--for essential goods and services no longer available close to home. And also for entertainment: sporting events, concerts, movies, theatre and more.
Esther for a time actually drove daily from our farm near Snowden to her job in P.A.
If shopping is the main purpose I let Esther go to Prince Albert by herself. I hate shopping with a passion. She doesn’t. When I go it’s often for book promotions, entertainment events, medical or dental services. In the latter case I gratefully let Esther do the shopping while I get out of it, enjoying my comfortable stay in the dentist’s chair.