Almost everyone we meet, at home or away, knows someone we know, and it only takes a short conversation to discover the connection. Saskatchewan people have the reputation of being particularly friendly, and I hope that never changes.
I met my hair stylist, and his wife, in 2007, and, by the fall of 2013, I started to write their story. I interviewed Wajid and Maysoon Toma, frequently, over two and a half years, and I released With Love, From Iraq in 2016. While writing the book, I learned about the Saskatoon people who helped them on their journey to becoming Canadian.
Rhonda and Bud Penny were two of these thoughtful Saskatchewanians. Wajid told me they had opened Gallery 423 in Wakaw. So, one sunny Sunday in July of 2018, my husband and I decided to take a little drive to meet them.
Bud is the realtor who helped Wajid when he purchased his hair salon. Bud also took time to explain Canadian business rules like workers’ compensation and employment insurance. Rhonda, who was working at the hair design school that Wajid attended, taught him the English vocabulary he needed in order to communicate well with salon customers, staff, and salespeople. Rhonda and Bud started Gallery 423 in Wakaw, initially intending to offer Saskatchewan artists a place to display and sell their paintings. Bud and Rhonda have always appreciated and collected prairie art. As they made connections with visitors and artisans, their gallery evolved.
Gallery 423 is warm, colourful, and inviting. When Rhonda isn’t busy serving up fragrant, specialty coffees, she is sharing stories about her inventory with her customers. The gift store offers paintings, sculptures, books, crafts, jewellery, pottery, and vintage pieces. Rhonda understands the uniqueness of every item and artist.
Gord was drawn to an area where musical instruments were propped up casually near a working sound system. Bud and Gord relaxed on chairs, near the music display, and began sharing stories. Had it been Saturday, we would have enjoyed the musicians’ jam session, which happens every week. All musicians are welcome. I am sure the stories flow non-stop, just like the coffee. This area of the store is welcoming and cozy; it provides an opportunity for musicians to learn from one another.
While Gord and Bud chatted, I took time to explore a colourful display of one of a kind Sizzle Bags. I examined dozens of styles, but I kept going back to one perky, yellow purse that made me feel happy. I decided to buy the bag and was pleased to find the artisan’s card placed inside one of the colourful pockets. A woman named Trudy Francis created the purse. It seemed to me that she had put a little love into each piece and considered the type of woman who would buy each bag. She is an artisan I would like to meet.
I was so excited about my new bag that I ordered a scoop of tiger’s eye ice cream to celebrate. Rhonda congratulated me on my flavour choice and told me that, statistically, senior men usually pick maple walnut. I giggled when Gord ordered exactly that flavour. It was time for us to head toward the truck, but I wasn’t ready to go home. I tried to think of other things to do in Wakaw. We couldn’t go for lunch, because we were full of ice cream, but I remembered a tourist attraction mentioned at the entry to the town.
Wakaw is home to John Diefenbaker’s first law office. I reminded Gord that the Right Honourable John Diefenbaker had participated in both of our university convocations and was a newsworthy part of our early lives. We drove around town in search of the law office; we almost missed it. The law office is the size of a playhouse, barely big enough for two chairs and a desk, a tiny bookshelf, and a little backspace for privacy. I was delighted to find solid evidence that John Diefenbaker understood, at a young age, the sound business practice of starting small.
As we walked toward the truck, I noticed the Wakaw Heritage Museum. We automatically turned toward the building. Two young girls were working that day and took time to welcome us, even though the burglar alarm was deafening. They promised us that someone was coming to turn off the abrasive sound. Of course, that someone was the father of one of the girls. Volunteerism is alive and well in Wakaw.
Gord had a bit of fun playing in the displays. He pretended to be in trouble in school and later he posed with an old washing machine. I tried my hand at running the general store. This museum houses a miniature town, a history of medical services in Wakaw, a few delightful displays illustrating train travel, as well as in-house displays depicting life in the early 1900s. I was particularly intrigued by the collection of stoves, from early wood burning to modern day electric. I appreciate the hard work that went into the well-presented documentation in this museum.
After our leisurely visit, we walked to the truck, and, this time, I was ready to head home. I had new ideas and topics I wanted to research. I looked forward to comparing notes with my friend Ruth Bitner, past collections curator of Saskatchewan’s Western Development Museums. She has visited every Saskatchewan town, south of the 54thparallel. You can read about her Saskatchewan experiences in Prairies North Magazine. I am sure she will know about the small town treasures of Wakaw.
In Saskatchewan, we are always just a short drive from an inspirational adventure. Every small town has its treasures, but connections with the people are solid gold.
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