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Saskatchewan-based writer Patricia Dawn Robertson.
Saskatchewan-based writer Patricia Dawn Robertson.

Patricia Dawn Robertson

I miss the humble old province Add to ...

When I heard Peter Mansbridge giddily announce on The National that Saskatchewan is experiencing a population boom, I just about fell off my $300 Brick leather sofa.

Saskatchewan last witnessed a crush of newcomers in 1952-53, when they drilled for oil at Climax. It was also a bumper period for crops.

This recent wave of optimistic newcomers has me pining for the good old days of thrift and economic stagnation, those listless autumn evenings squandered monitoring the Prince Albert CTV affiliate for my favourite pre-winter ad.

It was produced by a family clothing retailer desperately trying to drum up regional business: "Now's a good time to put a small deposit down on your children's winter boots," intones the announcer without a hint of irony.

Now that's the humble, layaway-plan kind of Saskatchewan that I've come to love. Now that we're a choice economic destination, I miss the tattered old Saskatchewan. In the past year, we've gained 16,509 new residents.

For grumpy upstarts like me, this is bad news. I prefer a new neighbour to be the kind whose cars break down, who lines up an underpaid job at the local bar or recycling centre then stays on due to inertia, not for economic gain.

I curse Premier Brad Wall and his uppity Saskatchewan Party. I miss our backward socialist NDP premier Lorne Calvert. He knew how to "gate-keep" prosperity and keep us sparsely populated and down-at-the-heel.

If I craved prosperity and overcrowding, I could have stayed in Alberta. If I want to maintain my downward mobility, I may have to relocate back to Calgary. Who knew?

My sodbuster partner Grant and I came here from the oil patch in 2004. He promised me cheap real estate, wide-open spaces, underpaved roads and the occasional shack-wacky farmer who confronted you with a surly thousand-yard stare at the Co-op.

Now with all of the fancy new residents in our midst, I may have to upgrade my wardrobe from my moth-eaten curling sweater and rubber boots. If I don't, I'll face taunts from the young moms at the post office with their Calgary-inspired hairstreaks and shiny new minivans.

I remember fondly when Saskatchewanians used to boast the country's oldest insured vehicles. It's as if Flint, Mich., morphed into Boca Raton, Fla.

Like all decent Prairie people, I hate change and I'm an underachiever. I told a Prairie books editor recently that I was congenitally incapable of making money and he replied: "You're hired."

I also prefer to dwell in the past. When I'm not listening to Neil Young's weepy Prairie Wind CD, I'm busy wrestling my younger brother Tim for our favourite family heirloom: a silver-plated and autographed Saskatchewan Roughriders serving platter, circa 1963. Tim was a 1964 Grey Cup baby, born while my sportswriter father was absent covering the game, so he feels justifiably entitled to this Prairie prize.

While I'm on the topic of football, I also yearn for the good old days when cash-strapped farmers showed their Rider Pride by trading wheat for game tickets. With all of these arrivistes in our midst, how will I know if that man in the pumpkin helmet seated next to me is a bandwagon jumper or a real sodbuster with roots dating back to pre-Riel Rebellion Saskatchewan, like Grant's family?

Pardon me if I sound just like an Antebellum Age Southerner waxing eloquently about how life was grand before the Civil War. I'm just going to have to get used to our new residents, the money in our midst and all of the social pressures that accompany prosperity.

But there's a glimmer of down-market hope on the horizon.

I visited the Interlake region of Manitoba recently and discovered a few untainted outposts where our family could resettle. But I'm not sure how long that social disparity will endure now that NDP premier Gary Doer has been dispatched to Washington.

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