Thursday, December 15, 2011

Photo Essay: Hafford, Saskatchewan

Text and images © Robert Barry Francos, 2011
Images can be enlarged by clicking  on them

The last weekend of November, 2011, a friend asked if I wanted to join him for a drive to Hafford, Saskatchewan to visit some of his old work-mates who now live in that area. Sure, why not?

Hafford is northwest of Saskatoon, just about 100 kilometers/62 miles away, taking about an hour and a half driving during this time of year, especially as nearly a third of the way is by a rural road.

I’m a big fan of visiting small towns, and Hafford is just the kind I like. Established nearly 100 years ago, the downtown (Main Street) is wide, and just three blocks long, with no building on the strip higher than two stories, the largest being the hotel at the far (south) end of the street.

But I’m jumping ahead. Here is a representation of the visit.

As one approaches the upward climb towards Main Street, approaching from the north, one of the first things they may notice is that all the street signs in the town are both in English and…French? Nope, it’s Ukrainian, representing the large population that settled the town at the turn of the last century.

Starting from the far southern end of town is the hotel and bar (the K-Bar Inn, est. 1914), which is the tallest building in the business district, as stated above. We entered the premises at some point, and the inside is pretty nice, with a huge pool table and (muted, thankfully) sports on the tele. While my pal was asking a question of the very friendly barkeep, I sauntered over to the jukebox and noticed there was a free play on it. Checking the list, I noticed it had “I Wanna Be Sedated” under the Ramones (only selection of theirs), so I played that. That brought a smile, to have a bit of New York playing in rural Saskatchewan. I gave a small salute to the bros in their memory.

Across the street are these two buildings. The one on the right is the town’s grocer, though one would not know from looking at the front. It’s the only store of its type I’ve seen where there are no adverts plastered on it telling of food sales. Perhaps there’s no need when you’re the only game in town.

We arrived in town right then to try and find someone, so we took a chance and went into the Seven Star Restaurant (the faded sign says “Chinese and Western Food.” I’m guessing that because of the high Ukrainian population, rather than there being a typical Chinese Buffet, instead there is a “Sunday Smorg”; a true blending of cultures), next door to a store that looked to be empty. As we entered the restaurant, there were about a dozen townies there, all sitting facing the same direction (towards us). We asked if the person we were seeking was there, and we received multiple dazed head-shakings. I looked up behind my friend, and saw an electronic Keno betting board on the wall. Ah, I thought, that’s what’s going on: legal gambling. The sign outside did clearly say it was a Lotto center. Uh, I mean “centre.”

So, we decided to go to eat, but not there. Directly across the street is the Silver Sword and Chalice Steak House and Knights Inn. It’s a long name, but it is also suiting (pun intended) because it is the home of big food. People literally travel from afar to come to this unassuming and clutter-filled diner for their portions. The various styles of hamburgers on the menu, for example, are all half-pound, but the prices are exceptionally reasonable. I had the chicken parma sangwich (that’s Staten Island-talk for sandwich), and it was quite yummy. When we entered, the place was full of hunters (obvious from their bright orange clothes) just finishing up. As we ate, looking around, there was plenty to see, from various types of swords on the wall, framed pictures of castles made from jigsaw puzzles, goblets lined up along the counters, used comic books and LPs in a corner (I could have happily spent the whole morning going through them, alone) and a photo of one of their infamous larger burgers that are made to order (10lb, 20lb, or even upwards).

A plot called the Hafford Millennium Park, which is bookended by two buildings with murals, one on the Innovation Credit Union is calming, the other on the Redberry Pharmacy with what may be called a time-binding (in General Semantic-speak) testament to a 2000 town logo contest. The park has a small beacon to represent the Conservation Core of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

Across the street is an even smaller area which contains a war memorial and the town bulletin board. On the south side is a non-descript wood building that may be empty, and on the north, the brick town library. In front of the hall were two kids playing on the front steps. Sweet childhood memories are made of these.

Further along the street is Happy Ron’s Cozy Corner Café, where one can hear live music; it also doubles as the bus station. The length of the side of the building is a long mural of music, and along the tops on both the side and front are messages written in white. The one on the front is the infamous introduction to The Twilight Zone. I wonder if that refers to the music they present, or the wait time for the bus?

Across from that are a few buildings, including the Senior Citizen’s Center, established in 1973 (interesting that they use the American spelling), the Hafford Administrative Building (aka City Hall), and what was once obviously a garage.

Towards the edge of the downtown is this house that is a bit worse for the wear, with boards holding up the awning that supports the balcony. In the upper window (bedroom? attic? bedroom attic?) is what looks like a stained glass window, though I thought perhaps it’s a shower curtain, with no actual glass in the frame. In this condition, I wonder if anyone actually lives there.

Jumping back across the street to the west side, is J&P Agencies, which handles insurance, mortgages and drivers’ licenses with the Saskatchewan Governmental Insurance (SGI), liquor licenses (though other than the bar in the hotel and the Silver Sword and Chalice Steak House, I’m not certain to whom else it applies), Saskatchewan Mutual Insurance (SMI), etc. Next door is Hafford Plumbing and Heating. Theirs is not the only sign that needs repainting, as can be seen throughout the town.

This house on the east side seems almost anachronistic with its Bob Marley and Judah Lion flag hanging in the window. Perhaps it’s my own big city bias, and this is more the norm than I think? Either way, I and I thought it was cool, mon.

Zigzagging a bit, continuing on the east side is an old wooden hardware store with the solid Ukrainian name of Rybryna, across from the west side’s more modern looking and sprawling Kuzyk & Son’s Lumber Yard. While the building is solid, the rusted sign on the second half tells of its age. On the far end of town, across from the lumber yard, is the boxy and unadorned Hafford Gospel Fellowship church, which looks like it was crafted from a trailer (not meant as disrespectful, it just does).

Just as you’re leaving town was this brilliant contraption in someone’s front yard. Rather than stringing a cord for the car’s block heater across the sidewalk from the house to a tree to the ground, this sculpture keeps the cord high, protected, and dry. Oh, and for those that don’t know, a block heater is something put in the car motor that you plug in so your engine stays warm enough to start when it’s -40C/F.

Turning the corner and going down an avenue block you reach one of the two Orthodox cathedrals, the Holy Ghost Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church. It is a beautiful building and the later-day light was just stunning.

We continued our walk around the town, going up and down streets. One thing I found peculiar is that there are a number of houses with no front steps. While they obviously must go around the back or sides to get in (or perhaps from the garage), having the hanging door seems odd, especially since there seems to be at least one per block. In the one I use for the example below, there was also a curious lamp in the window.

Up another street we saw this pensive looking dog that watched us but did not move off the stoop, even though was unchained. Perhaps it was the sign on the lawn directly across the street that kept him still?

We finally came across the second big church, the Holy Eucharist Ukrainian Greek Catholic Parish. A sign clearly states 1917-1980, though perhaps that is the time in which it was built. Unfortunately, this is also when my camera’s battery decided to give up the ghost, as it were, so these photos were the requiem.

The Hafford area is also known for its twisted trees, but we didn’t have the time to check them out. Hopefully, I’ll get to go back and see for myself at some point.

1 comment:

  1. Nicely captures some of the quirks and character of the Saskatchewan small town. I'm going there tomorrow (to speak at the trailer church :) and will look with different eyes! Thanks for the fine picture and write-up.