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welcome to montmartre

The centuries-old Paris-of-the-Prairies debate officially ended at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday.

That was when the Village of Montmartre, population 500, opened its very own replica of France's most recognizable landmark, solidifying the farming community's claim to a moniker that has been exploited by the likes of Winnipeg, Calgary, Saskatoon, Chicago and others over the past 100 years. It all unfolded to the tune of an accordion and the crack of champagne bottle on steel.

"We have the name, we have the tower," proclaimed village Councillor Patsy Fisher.

"We are the Paris of the Prairies."

The centrepiece of the Saskatchewan town's claim is an exact, 1/38-scale model of the Eiffel Tower.

Situated in the centre of the village, the 8.5-metre structure represents the town's new marketing push, but also the gumption of its residents.

"This went from a dream to a reality in under 2 1/2 months," Ms. Fisher said.

"It really says something about the people who live here."

The dream actually stretches back a little further. Four years ago, villagers were facing an identity crisis. Despite a town name that elicits the romance of Paris, Montmartre lacked a certain character.

They debated a number of options at council meetings - including one suggestion to proclaim it "Perogytown," France not being the only country with a claim on local heritage - when a dairy farmer named Lloyd Fink stepped forward with an intriguing proposition. He explained how his farm bordered Montmartre's original townsite, where in 1893 three Parisian families dug pit houses, bedded down for the winter and later named the settlement Montmartre, after the hilltop district in Paris.

With such a pedigree, Mr. Fink said, why not lay claim to "Paris of the Prairies"?

"I just kind of threw it out there and it seemed to get people talking," he said.

It wasn't until this spring that talk turned to action. The town ordered licence-plate covers and pins bearing the slogan, and redesigned its logo so that the 'A' in Montmartre looks like the Eiffel Tower.

When Mallory Englot, a former resident and co-owner of a Regina fabrication company called Hi-Tec Profiles, heard about the campaign, he decided to put some steel to its claims.

"I just thought building a tower would be good challenge, so we started drawing it up based on some photos we took off the Internet," he said. "Being a symmetrical tower, we only had to draw one side, but it was still quite complicated to do."

At first, he didn't want to tell anyone in Montmartre, just in case his design didn't work out. But after three weeks of modelling, he finally put the idea to Ms. Fisher.

"She got pretty excited," Mr. Englot said. "Within half a day I was getting calls from every last person in town."

By the time Mr. Englot and his crew completed all 32 pieces of the tower, they'd used over $8,500 and 1,000 kilograms of steel.

But the job still wasn't done. Once the rough structure was trucked to Montmartre, an army of local tradesmen volunteered to weld, sandblast, paint, light and erect the monument to the town's rediscovered French identity.

Along with the local Catholic Church, the tower is the only architectural nod to the town's French heritage. But that soon may change. Claude Fournier, a former resident now living in Toronto, is proposing to build a three-storey, French-themed complex called the Chateau Montmartre, which would hold condos and businesses.

"Every small town needs some sort of icon to be remembered by," Mr. Englot said. "I think we finally have ours."