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CANADA’S FORGOTTEN PEOPLE – ARE YOU ONE?

Revenue Canada told Esther she had to update her identity for income tax purposes. Why I don’t  know, did they think it may have shrunk? To do this she had to fill out a form on the internet with a number of questions. One was to tell where her father was born. Rokeby, Saskatchewan, she replied. They wouldn’t accept that. I told my frustrated wife to ask them where they would like him to have been born, write that in and get on with the form. (She ignored my advice.)

I’m assuming the reluctance of Revenue Canada was due, if not plain ignorance, to the fact that Rokeby is a very small town they couldn’t find on a map and they doubted its existence.

A few years ago I wrote about Esther trying to get the Hudson Bay Company to send her the purchase she had ordered to come by mail. Now in those cases rural people normally put down as their address their post office box number. Not good enough for HBC. They wanted our street name--which Esther gave them, and our house number--which Smeaton, like many small towns, did not have then (got them since). Still not acceptable.  We had to make up a non-existent  address to get it.

If you watch national or international TV you get the impression the big networks have assumed that farm homes, hamlets and small villages no longer exist. The reason is, of course, that most Canadians now live in cities. Esther and I travelled the prairie provinces for a few years to many dozens of communities doing presentations and readings from our books. I would ask the people in our audiences to raise their hands if their parents or grandparents had ever lived on farms. Most raised their hands, even when we were in large towns or cities.

And it’s true: We are, almost all of us, descendents of stubble jumpers, plough boys, sodbusters, pig sloppers and cowpunchers.  In 1901 about 60% of Canadians were rural dwellers. And you can be sure the area that is now Saskatchewan would have had an even higher percentage than that.                                                                                                                             

By 1920 they still made up more than half the country’s population. As I was growing up in the 1940s, every one of my friends, neighbours and relatives lived on farms. And everyone else I knew lived in a small village.

By 1971 the rural population had shrunk to 19%. And the politicians, media and much of the business world has, as a result, forgotten us.

On a personal note: Esther and I were raised on farms and spent most of our adult years living in rural areas. The very fine people who bought our acreage at Smeaton love the place. They like to send us photos of the changes they are making and we’re very glad our old home has a good home. But Esther has a rotating screen saver featuring our photos, among others, of our years there. We look at our flower gardens, vegetable gardens, creek bed, groves of a variety of trees, our camper, our snowmobile, our small grandchildren enjoying the place. And we miss it. But we’ve learned to enjoy our life in the city, the tremendous variety of attractions and endless miles of walking paths, forest trails, wilderness trails (yes, in the city), and cross-country  ski trails. And  getting services nearby or within a 10 or 20-minute drive rather than the thousands of miles annually we used to make to reach those services is a big plus.

But despite their small numbers rural people are still vital to Canada. What would we be if not for the farms, ranches, mines, forest industries, fisheries, the parks, lakes and other tourist attractions? There are 269,000 jobs on farms. But the agricultural industry in  processing, selling and transporting farm products, and supplying farms with machinery, and other equipment and services, employs 2.3 million Canadians. And they add 112 billion dollars to the country’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product.)

Not a bad contribution for a forgotten people.

Esther and I stopped briefly at Rokeby in 2019. It is a very small place now. But you can be sure there are and were thousands of people who spent much or all of their years there, and who were in may ways shaped by it.


To comment on columns contact Esther or me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 306 384 8675 or 110 - 201 Cree Place Saskatoon,  S7K 7Z3

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Wednesday August 4, 2021