Sunday, August 23, 2009
The Strasbourg grain elevator, a classic of disappearing Prairie architecture
Before leaving Strasbourg, France, I had told all of my friends there that I was going to pass through Strasbourg, Saskatchewan. The Canadian Strasbourg is a Prairie farming town founded a mere 102 years ago. They were Germans, who founded their community when its namesake was in German hands, and so called it Strassbourg. In the intervening years the settlement discreetly lost that Germanic third “s.” Since then it has grown to be home to nearly 800 people.
Saskatchewan was the only Canadian province I’d never visited. The village seemed worth the detour on our way to Edmonton, if only for the novelty value of sending postcards from Strasbourg to Strasbourg.
Dad and I pulled into town in the late morning, stopping to snap a photo of the town sign and the grain elevator by the railway. Then we parked on Mountain Street (the main drag) to hit the post office. I handed over a stack of postcards I’d written somewhere between Cobalt and Longlac earlier in my journey, and asked if they had any cards for the Town of Strasbourg.
“No, but I think the drugstore next door might have some,” said the postal lady, as she rooted behind her counter for some stamps for France.
We then went next door, asking the girl stacking the shelves with deodorant if they carried Strasbourg postcards.
“No,” she trilled in her melodious Saskatchewan accent, “But you can try the Every Little Thing across the street, they might have something.”
Dad and I thanked her, and crossed the road to the craft store. We’d have no luck here, said the proprietor, “But you can try the municipal office on the corner.”
Losing heart, Dad and I entered the Town of Strasbourg Municipal Office (and Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment). The woman behind the counter there was on the phone, but put her caller on hold when she saw us.
I explained that I was looking for postcards of the town, in order to send them to Strasbourg France, where I’d lived before. She thought that was absolutely delightful.
“Just a second! I know we used to have some back here,” she said with alacrity.
After a few minutes of rummaging around failed to turn up any postcards she went back to her phone: “I’ll have to call you back,” she said to the person on the other end.
“I’m just going to call the mayor,” she said to us.
“Uh… ok,” I said, a little startled.
Notables from Strasbourg's history, on the Centennial mural
After a brief conversation with Her Honour, the municipal authority directed us to the Cornwell Centre (a sort of Jack-of-all-trades store that sold hardware, clothing, computer supplies, and served as the editorial headquarters of the local paper) a few buildings up the street. We were to ask for Lance, to whom the Mayor was going to speak on our behalf. Lance, in turn, would print us out some postcards of an aerial view of Strasbourg.
This was far beyond the call of duty, we felt, but we were hardly going to say no. We ambled up to the Cornwell Centre where we met Lance. He wasn’t able to print out any photos for us, but he did present me with a selection of photos of the town, which he emailed to me on the spot.
Dad and I were feeling hungry at this point, and after checking to make sure the museum would be open after lunch, we headed to the Royal Hotel, which boasts a small restaurant and pub.
The Strasbourg Museum, in the former rail station
We ordered roast beef sandwiches and coffees, fairly pleased with how the visit had gone so far. As we were finishing up, two women walked into the restaurant. One of them stopped at our table.
“Are you the guy from Strasbourg? I’m the mayor.”
Her Honour – Carol, to her friends – and I chatted for a bit. I told her we were on the way to visiting the town museum, and she insisted that I stop by her office afterwards to talk some more.
Better yet, as we walked up to the counter, Carol waved the waitress away: “Just put it on my bill – it’s on me.”
Note: it took three years before I earned a free meal from La Mairie in my previous Strasbourg. It took thirty minutes here.
Incidentally, when I popped by her office afterward visiting the museum, Her Honour also asked me to write something for the local paper. I'm happy to do it, but it goes to show there really is no such thing as a free lunch.