Hello! Hi! I’m going to annoy myself by saying this, by presuming that there is anybody at all out there reading this (Andrew always wants to tell me the numbers but I am not a numbers person and would prefer to think of the Mennotoba audience as being a cozy small self-selected group, okay?) so anyway, to the two or three of you that confront me whenever I am away for a while… I shall explain!
I have a self-imposed deadline. I am on a journey to visit Lost River, Saskatchewan. Andrew and I will actually be going there on Thanksgiving weekend, and, being Canadian, that is very soon.
But I don’t want to just visit Lost River. I want to be there and know what happened there. I want to be in that place and sit with the stories.
Because these are my own family’s stories, and I hadn’t known that.
You see, I grew up as a farm girl. Us Koops were rural farming folk. My dad had woo’d my mom out from her life in the big city of Winnipeg. A city girl, she finally agreed to become a farm wife. And all my cousins on her side were city cousins, as far as I was concerned.
I’ve explored her early days in Mayfeld before.
But there was a whole big larger story about where her parents came from, that I hadn’t really entertained. I think maybe I knew it’d be a bigger project? Not sure. I do tend to avoid the bigger, more overwhelming things, assuming I’ll chase those later on when I retire from my day job or something.
Then suddenly I decided to force myself into this, right now. No more waiting. It’s time to get to know Lost River.
It was only when I randomly chose Nipawin Bible Institute for my sole year of bible school as a way of easing out of the home of my childhood, that I learned of my maternal grandfather’s Saskatchewan roots.
At the time, it was kind of known in the family that grandpa was probably nearing his end. Someone, maybe my mom, remarked to me that grandpa would be pleased to know that I was attending bible school so close to where he grew up. That kind of made me do a double-take. I didn’t think of my family as having anything to do with Saskatchewan. And, in choosing a bible school in Saskatchewan, I’d figured it was a step away from myself, my family, my past — a way forward into the future, finding myself, finding something new (yet safe, bibley and prairie provincey) et cetera. And here I’d apparently accidentally stumbled into the world of my grandfather. When my parents dropped me off, they visited Nipawin frindschoft for pete’s sake.
Lately I’ve been wondering more and more about Lost River, and I’ve been pestering my aunts about it. I’ve obtained a richness of information. I’m processing it. Trying to make sense of it. Trying to place my grandfather into a very different time and place. I can never revisit that time, but I can revisit that place. And know some of what had happened there.
I feel like when he was approaching his last days, grandpa had feverish dreams, he would speak out loud about saving the horses and whatnot. At the time I thought, oh, he must really like horses. And maybe he did. But not in the casual, wealthy, country club kinda way. I was so disconnected from the world of his childhood. Now in reading Search for Yesteryears (the history of the region) I’m realizing they were entirely off-grid and the promised railway never arrived in Lost River… so horses were a literal lifeline.
That’s only a tiny bit of what I’ve been discovering. I’ve also learned that there are at least eight graves that I need to visit in Lost River. Three generations were buried there. Maybe four. My notes are in the other room (and still very scrambled, tbh) and I need to post this now. Just saying, I have given myself a hard deadline for getting to Lost River (otherwise it’s too easy to put off) but I need to know WHY I’m going before I go. I need to do all the reading and sorting of information, as much as possible, so I can sit there in that place with these stories.
How is this connected to the Russlaender 100 train journey that I am absolutely NOT done with telling you about yet?
It’s incredibly connected. The Russlaender 100 journey brought me back to Saskatchewan. It connected me with people knowledgeable and passionate and curious about their family’s pasts. It ignited this desire in my brain and… well, my heart. It lit a fire under my ass.
So while I will not stop telling you about the Russlaender 100 tour for a while yet… it has been a catalyst for my deep dive into Lost River history and my family’s place in it.
P.S. Like the earrings in this pic? They’re from Prairie Desjarlais.