We often talk about a ‘chapter’ in our lives. Some think that their complete life, from birth to death, defines the ‘book’ of their lives. I recently reached an ending, but it seemed to me more of an ending of a book or story than just the end of a chapter. I guess this means that I consider my life to be of several volumes of books, with chapters interspersed to record specific periods or life events.
This recent book ending is about my connection with Regina and the Qu’Appelle Valley. I was born in Regina and lived the first six years of my life there. My parents were well known in that city during the 40’s. My dad was a respected dentist in Regina. My grandfather, George, was Regina’s city solicitor from 1914 to 1925 and my Uncle Allan was a respected cancer research doctor as well as a close friend of politician, Tommy Douglas. We had a summer cottage at Lake Katepwa in the Qu’Appelle valley as did the other Blairs of Regina.
Uncle Allan’s home in Regina was only a block away from ours. I knew his daughters back then, my cousins Pat and Heather, but they were older than me.
I mention all this so you understand why my feelings of being at home in Regina and in the valley were strong. We moved to Calgary in 1950, but continued visiting Regina and Katepwa for several years. As time moved on the connections to Regina and Katepwa weakened as my parents aged and we became more involved with our life in Calgary.
Mom and Dad had many friends in Regina whose sons and daughters had moved to Calgary. These young people looked upon my folks and our home as a focus for old Regina families or ORFs as we used to call ourselves. I think they helped Mom and Dad feel younger than their years and that was a good thing.
I’ve held Regina and the Qu’Appelle Valley, where Katepwa Lake is, as a deep rooted connection. In more recent years I’ve met others in the valley, first through cousin Pat and then on my own. This helped keep me feeling connected to the place.
In more recent years Pat and I got to know each other better. This was because of my new interest in writing. Pat was a published author and well known in Saskatchewan for her writing. We used to talk on the phone when I was struggling with my stories and essays. She provided not only positive support, but also gave me many conceptual and artistic ideas for how to improve my writing. Because she was such a good writer and had written a lot about the Blair family, especially hers, she had a wealth of family information and history that I would never have discovered without her. I will be forever grateful for that.
Pat died last year. This has put a void into my visits to Regina. Her family sold her Regina home and are selling their cottage at Katepwa that was built by my Uncle Allan. I didn’t realise the impact these changes would have on me.
I had driven to Regina to deliver an old family-owned Henderson painting of the Qu’Appelle Valley to a gallery I had selected. I wanted to sell it through a gallery in Regina, because many people there love the valley and understand the value of a painting by James Henderson. Mom and Dad bought our painting from the artist sometime back in the 1940’s and it has hung on our walls ever since. As wonderful as the painting is, it provides no connection for my boys, who never knew my parents and have had only one visit to Katepwa when they were young. Consequently, there is no family member who is interested in inheriting it. It was a difficult decision to sell the painting and I keep hearing my father’s words, “Jack, this painting is valuable and you should never sell it.” I’m glad he is not here to see what I’m doing. I’m certain he wouldn’t condone or understand my decision. This is something I’ll have to live with, but I prefer my choice rather than have the painting sold off as part of my estate at some under-priced value.
After I delivered the painting to the gallery and had lunch with my cousin Heather, I decided to reminisce a bit. I started by driving past our old house on Robinson Street. It has been significantly renovated, but the original part of the house still looks the same from the outside. I then went for a walk around Wascana Park which surrounds the Provincial Parliament buildings. The paved path around Wascana Lake winds its way through tree lined, grassed and groomed fields interspersed with the occasional flower bed. In front of the Parliament buildings is a massive, colourful flower bed leading up to the entry doors. It is a peaceful place for a walk.
I wasn’t planning on driving out to Katepwa or Fort Qu’Appelle. Many of my acquaintances of the valley in more recent years have succumbed to various afflictions of old age including death, so visiting Fort Qu’Appelle does not have the same connections for me any more. However, after my walk around Wascana Lake I had time on my hands, so I thought I would drive at least to Lumsden, which is just twenty-five minutes north of Regina and in a more westerly part of the Qu’Appelle Valley than Katepwa.
Even on my own I couldn’t help exclaim out loud when I saw the beauty of the valley at Lumsden. It was an emerald green colour and all the side coulees were filled with short trees and bushes of a darker green colour than the prairie grasses of the exposed slopes. I was so taken with this sight that I thought, what the heck, I will drive east, down the valley, to Fort Qu’Appelle and Katepwa.
After supper I headed northeast, along the bottom of the valley, to Craven, then on a gravel road as it swung more eastward along the floor of the valley, guided by the meanderings of the Qu’Appelle River. I continued to be overwhelmed by the beauty of the country. I couldn’t help but notice the number of homes that have been built on the edge of the valley since my last drive down that same gravel road back in 2007. And why not? One can live in this idyllic setting and yet be into Regina in twenty-five minutes for work. Not a bad way to live.
I got into Fort Qu’Appelle just as the sun was setting. Everything was closed and only a handful of people walked the main street. A small prairie town on a weekday evening - quiet and reserved. I made sure that I swung past James Henderson’s old house at the Fort. It still looks the same as when Henderson lived there and his painting studio, a small building in the yard, seemed to be well looked after.
I wanted to see Katepwa and the old Blair family cottages, ours and Uncle Allan’s, before it got dark, so I didn’t linger. By the time I got to Katepwa Beach on what we used to call ‘the point’, the sun was just catching the tops of the valley edges. I got out of the car and strolled along the beach, which had been graded and cleaned in preparation for summer holidayers. I looked along the shoreline through my binoculars and spotted our old cottage not too far from the point. It is one of the few cottages on the lake that is still much as it was back in 1950.
The sky was getting darker and the only light was that reflected, blue afterglow when the sun falls below the horizon. I wanted to have a look at Uncle Allan’s old cottage, soon to be up for sale, so I didn’t stay at the beach for very long. I drove past a few landmarks that I remembered from when our family summered there: The Sunset Store, our cottage, Mr. Gibson’s cottage, the road to the Brett’s cottage, and finally Uncle Allan’s cottage, now known as the Krause cottage as cousin Pat married Frank Krause. I looked at it from a distance. I suppose I want to remember it for the good memories of family times in the past and didn’t want to see any changes or deterioration that would cloud those memories.
I continued on, along the shore road, across the Qu’Appelle River bridge and up the hill on the south side, on my way to Indian Head. I was part way up the hill when it hit me. I felt an ending — a finality — and I immediately understood what it was.
Up to this moment, Katepwa had a Blair connection. There was a Blair history here. At one time three brothers and their families each had a cottage on the lake, then there were two and then there was one, Pat and Heather’s family’s cottage that their parents, my Uncle Allan and Aunt Florence had built back in about 1943. Now, in a short time, that will be gone as well, leaving — nothing. When a family relation owned and used it, I could still think of it as a family connection to the past in the Qu’Appelle valley. The only other thing that could happen to distance me even more is for Uncle Allan’s handiwork to be torn down and replaced by some modern monstrosity that folk call cottages these days. The potential for that happening is great.
Lying in bed at my hotel later that night, I kept thinking about this ending. I drifted off to sleep, but the next day my loss kept cycling through my head. However, I wasn’t feeling sad about it. I just knew I had discovered an ending. My internal voice was working hard to try and settle me down. “It’s gone, Jack. Finished. Your last chapter on the Blairs at Katepwa is finished and it is time to close the book.”