So, I have decided that I like Saskatchewan.
In one respect it didn’t take long. In another, it has taken over 40 years!
As the new managing editor here at the Prince Albert Daily Herald I have now called Prince Albert home for about a week. And I gotta tell ya, I haven’t had a friendlier reception anywhere than I have had here.
So, my instant impression of this Gateway to the North city is very favourable. Having said that now, check with me again mid-January!! But hey, I’m from Winnipeg originally, so I know harsh winters.
Ah, and there’s the rub about taking 40+ years to like Saskatchewan. I’m from the Peg, and I unabashedly still bleed blue and gold, even if I have called Alberta home for the past 15 years. So, as a Bomber fan, it was inbred to have a grudge against Saskatchewan, to associate the colour green with nausea, and to make fun of the stubble jumpers from Saskatchewan at every opportunity.
And, I have done just that. And, that kind of attitude was only exacerbated when in the late ‘90s, as a young reporter I made the trek to Weyburn to cover the Winkler Flyers versus the Weyburn Red Wings in the Anavet Cup, that annual grudge match between Manitoba and Saskatchewan’s top Junior A hockey clubs that only recently has been replaced by a different format.
It didn’t sit well with my Weyburn friends that when I returned to Winkler, the front page of the next week’s paper had a huge picture of about a dozen Weyburn men having to push their Zamboni off the ice when it broke down at centre ice between periods. The Weyburn hoards weren’t too pleased either when the Weyburn radio guys inflamed them with reports of me getting into an altercation with a Red Wing player being ejected from Game 5, which was only slightly true.
So, when we returned for Games 6 and 7 in Weyburn, there were posters on the glass making rude gestures at me, and Weyburn’s tough guys were finding their way up to the press box to invite me to the parking lot after the games.
In the end, Weyburn prevailed in one of the best seven-game series I have ever seen at any level of hockey and I escaped the city uninjured. Ironically, the Weyburn Review newspaper called me a year later to offer me the sports editor job there. I told the publisher Daryl Ward that I had been a pretty controversial figure during my most recent visit, but he said that was part of the appeal. It was an intriguing offer, but I couldn’t live in Saskatchewan! No way.
Even after moving to Alberta in 1999, I continued having fun at Saskatchewan’s expense. Almost exclusively CFL-related. When former Blue Bomber kicker Troy Westwood made his statement before the 2003 West Division semi-final that people from Saskatchewan were all “banjo-pickin’ inbreds,” well, that was gold for me. Of course, any rabid CFL fan would know that since then, the Roughriders have left the Bombers in their dust, including with a painful 2007 Grey Cup win over my Bombers, who are now on a 24-year run since last winning the Grey Cup (HOW do you exist in an eight-team league and not win the championship for 24 years … and counting??) So, due to my football team’s ineptitude, my opportunities to good-naturedly rib my many Rider friends have been very few.
And I was there for the Riders’ biggest catastrophe. And I don’t mean in the building. I was there, on the Riders sideline for the infamous 13th man debacle during the 2009 Grey Cup in Calgary. I was a CFL ballboy working the Riders sideline for the big game, which remains one of the highlights of my life (I’m such a CFL geek).
As a rabid Bomber fan, you’d think I might have taken some perverse pleasure in being right there as the hearts of Rider fans across the country were shattered in the most unbelievable way. I didn’t. I felt sincerely bad for the players in green and their fans. It was surreal as I walked past bawling 300-pound offensive linemen who just a moment earlier had been jumping up and down in triumph. As a sports fan, you don’t wish that kind of loss on anyone -- not even a lifelong rival team.
But, my dislike of Saskatchewan has always been good-natured. I have many friends born and raised in this province. I have family who have called Regina, Moose Jaw and even Weyburn, home for decades. And I’ve known for a long time that people in this province are generally, and genuinely, good people. There is an honesty here, a simplicity that goes a long way. I have a strong impression this is still a place where a handshake deal means as much as, if not more than, any signed contract.
As a newspaper guy, though I appreciate that kind of straightforward honesty. I have always tried to be honest and accurate and fair. At the end of the day if I have accomplished those things then I can sleep soundly. I will expect that same approach from our entire editorial team here at the Herald.
Oh, and for the last 16 years I have also regularly defended Saskatchewan. It was 16 years ago that I went on a guys weekend to a place called Waskesiu Lake. I haven’t been back since, but every time since when I have heard someone yammering on about how flat and boring Saskatchewan is, I’ve told them about Waskesiu, as beautiful a spot as there is in this country. I can’t wait to get back.
So, maybe I’ve been loving Saskatchewan longer than I thought!
A final thought:
I can’t say enough about outgoing managing editor Perry Bergson. He has been absolute gold in helping me get settled into my new role here at the Herald. I know a lot of people in this community hold him in high regard, and rightfully so. Prince Albert is losing a good one, and his help since my arrival has been invaluable.
Happy trails Perry.