Monday, April 11, 2011


There were over 138,000 farms in Saskatchewan in 1941, and it's gone downhill from there - there were just over 44,000 farms in 2006. I don't have comparable stats on the population of rural towns, but of course it has largely decreased in lockstep as well. I've observed a lot of fatalism, and some arguments that increasing urbanization is the best route for Saskatchewan, but I have recently gotten to know a small town of about 120 people that's putting up a big struggle to stay viable.

Hazlet has a lot going on. They have a new wind turbine to power their recently renovated rink, an international students program at the high school, an affordable housing initiative to attract residents, and a project underway to bring back the old railway station for a tourism information centre. Their economic development officer (another sign that the town is serious) is a grant-getting machine. And the town thrives on its volunteers.

Now, this is oil and gas country; the revenues from the patch are keeping a lot of farmers on their farms and the local oilfield companies support the town's initiatives through donations in cash and in kind. The financial stability this offers for the time being has definitely contributed to the town's viability.

Still, it's fairly unique to find a can-do attitude in this era of rural depopulation. The school is an example: many rural schools have closed in the past few decades in Saskatchewan, despite heartfelt protests from parents and communities. Hazlet did more than protest; they created the international students program as a way to bring money into the school and keep it viable.

So, my question is - given the optimism and hard work of the community, why, when topics turn to farming, is the fatalism still evident there?


  1. Just left a relatively long comment, then didn't see the captcha so lost it. The summary is...what's the talk on coffee row about this and where do people get their information about the future of agriculture?

  2. Good question. I'd say people get their information from perceived experts and those paying to get it out (and to some extent those overlap) - the Western Producer, the U of S, Ministry of Ag, commodity groups, input companies and salesmen, equipment dealers, talk radio...I guess if the current trends in capitalist globalization are portrayed as natural and inevitable, and farming is tied up with those, it would be some work to find and assimilate a dissenting opinion.

    Can't say regarding coffee row, though: the one I frequent is gender segregated and the women don't talk about farming.

  3. Years ago, I attended an interesting talk by Peter MacKinnon to U of S alumni. He noted that as recently as 25 years ago, the vast majority of young Sask people got their education at the U of S. This in turn meant the doctors, teachers and lawyers in rural Sask were largely U of S grads.

    However, today, this is no longer the case. Many young Sask people go outside the province for their education never to return. Likewise, more often than not the teachers and doctors in rural Sask are not from the province but from elsewhere in Canada and even the world. This is of course fine but it may be likely that these professionals do not have strong ties to the province and maybe only temporarily stopping in rural Sask before moving on to a larger centre outside the province.

    So, I guess kudos to the people of Hazlet for revitalizing their community. I think we sometimes forget how much rural Sask has to offer and we are a little shy to promote. The way of life, sense of community, volunteerism and of course people are second to none. For anyone who has ever lived outside the province, we know this more than anyone and I think it is why many of us often talk about Sask when away and often return.