I gotta be honest. I abhor the term “Midwest”. It seems to have become a blanket term that can be applied to any place between New York and LA. I prefer to refer to the area that I am from as The Plains, The Prairie or even The Heartland. Over the last few days I’ve come to realize that the Heartland’s northern bounds stretch all the way into Saskatchewan.
My Uncle is on his second stint as the pastor of the Evangelical Covenant Church in Norquay, Saskatchewan. He has always said how much he loves the people up here and this weekend I got the chance to experience their Heart firsthand.
Between graduation proceedings on Friday, a reception on Saturday and church on Sunday; I had ample chances to interact with the people here. I’m not sure how many of them asked me about my trip, but I can safely verify that word spreads quickly in a small town. Each person I told my story to listened with their full attention and with a smile on their face.
I also experienced the Heart of my extended family. Every time I have the opportunity to be around them I feel so loved and valued. I thoroughly enjoyed the big moments, like my cousin’s Valedictorian address or my Uncle’s sermon. But I also really value the simple times, such as sitting around a crackling fire talking about good times and bad ideas.
Another fun experience of the weekend was getting out into the countryside with my cousin, John Erik. He has drone that shoots in 4k and took some awesome footage of me riding. I hope to post some of those here once I either figure out how to compress them or have good enough internet to upload them as is. Stay tuned!
We packed up and bid farewell to our gracious (and I must say, photogenic) hosts
This day is also one where I am reminded of the Heart of my Father. He spent his 71st birthday chasing around his wayward son on a motorcycle. He’s battled cancer for 15 years so each birthday is a big celebration. However, he never makes anything about himself and would much rather spend his day assisting someone else. I felt incredibly fortunate to have his assistance as the driver of my support vehicle.
Our first stop was for a standing picnic in Fort Qu’Appelle.
I kept trying to tell this guy about my awesome blog, but he was just looking for some free food. Get a job, you freeloader!
We continued through Regina and Moose Jaw, then got off the beaten path and onto a path that was well beaten.
These well worn roads were the ones that took us down to the second place on my list: Gravelbourg, Saskatchewan. Here I was able to experience the Heart that Gravelbourgians (hey, I tried) have for their town.
Gravelbourg is a neat place. It is a French speaking (Francophone) community and is probably best known for its cathedral: The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption. A catchy name if ever there was one. My Aunt Marcia told us about the cathedral before we left Norquay and it was the first place we stopped.
We wandered around the outside briefly before seeing a number to call for tours on the door. Mom called the Gravelbourg museum and they said they would be there shortly to let us in. While waiting, a man on a bicycle approached us, just to make sure we had gotten in touch with the tour guide. We talked briefly about the cathedral then the topic of my trip came up. He seemed really excited, even proud, to see Gravelbourg listed on the sign on the back of my bike.
Our tour guide arrived shortly, a young lady named Sarah. She has been conducting tours of the cathedral for four years and was both full of enthusiasm and full of knowledge. She apologized in advance in case she accidentally switched to speaking French during the tour.
Upon entering the cathedral, I was awestruck. Just to give a bit of context: I have been to the Vatican, I have been to Westminster Abbey, I have been to the Cologne cathedral. Gravelbourg bills itself as “A Touch of Europe on the Prairies” and the styling of their cathedral definitely feels like it should be one continent to the east.
The entire sanctuary is covered in murals. They were all painted by Charles Maillard, the parish priest, over the course of ten years. We got to see relics, hidden paintings and hear dozens of interesting anecdotes.
Thick stained glass.
Our tour was courteously interrupted by the gentleman on the bicycle we had met earlier. He wanted to ask my permission to have my picture and story put into the Gravelbourg newspaper. Apparently he had already talked to the owner. You know what they say, “Once you make the Gravelbourg Tribune, the New York Times should be just around the corner. ” 🙂 In all seriousness though, I felt honored and flattered at the request.
After the sanctuary, we walked over to the convent. This building was primarily used as a boarding school for French speaking settlers who wanted their children educated in their native language. For the second half of the tour, we were joined by a second guide (Amandine? I hope I’m close) so we felt very well taken care of.
Piano practice rooms:
The convent had more classic paintings and beautiful architecture. Each step of the way I found it hard to believe that all of this was contained in this little town.
Our wonderful guide, Sarah, with Annie:
Each person we met in Gravelbourg exuded a true pride in their town. They each seemed so excited to share and so eager to help. I hope that at some point in my life I am able to make it back here, as there was much I did not have a chance to see. For now, I’m just glad it was one of the six “burgs” mentioned in the song.
We made it to Swift Current, SK and did not get Dad his birthday supper until around 10pm. A full day full of Heart. So congratulations, Saskatchewan. For the Heart you have demonstrated, I now include you in my own personal definition of The Heartland.