Going the Speed of Light in Hamiota, Manitoba

Hamiota, Manitoba looks like many other small, southern towns in Canada’s friendliest province. Under an hour’s drive away from Brandon, this seemingly typical prairie town is a bustling, agricultural borough. But there’s a lot more to this thriving farming community.

To truly see the difference of Hamiota requires you to dig a little deeper, as part of this town’s success story is actually buried underground. Underneath the town runs fiber optic cable that’s bringing some of the best internet available in Canada.

An Unlikely Pairing 

In today’s increasingly connected world, fast internet is critical to economic well-being. Having slow or no internet means being left behind and community leaders in Hamiota have no intention of coming up short. So, with the independence typical of prairie people, they figured out a way to bring fast internet to their region on their own.

Wanting better internet for their schools, Park West School Division reached out to the municipalities nearby to work together so that this new internet could be shared with residents. 

To formalize the partnership, a co-operative was created between 3 municipalities and the Park West School District. 

Today, the aptly named Park West Fibre Co-op provides much speedier wireless connections to rural homes and fibre to those in town who have signed up for service. 

The Impact of Internet

Tanner and I met up with Hamiota’s mayor Larry Oakden to talk about the impact faster internet has made. He said, it has allowed the town’s residents to have more stable connections over Skype and other communications tools. Another aspect he mentioned is that he hopes this innovation will help to put Hamiota on the map for more people.

Larry also talked about how everything needs a stable internet connection these days and that this realization drove the acceptance of fibre optic. Any town can recognize a need however, so I got Larry to explain to me what it is about Hamiota that made this come about: 

So, just how good is the internet in Hamiota? Well, with the fibre optic connection residents are capable of achieving 1 gbps (1000 mbps) download speeds. To put that into perspective, the internet I have in Saskatoon is 25 mbps and is the fastest connection I can get on the copper wires in my building. And my internet is not exactly slow — Hamiota’s is just WAY faster. Forty times faster, in fact. Moreover, it’s also 3 times faster than the very fastest fibre internet available in Saskatoon.

And if you compare these speeds to the satellite internet in many rural areas, which are high cost and slow speed, a typical rural home can expect a promise of 5 to 10 mbps from providers, but often a real experience speed of 1 to 2 mbps.

Not only is a connection like this great for personal use but with faster internet speeds it’s also easier to get a stable internet connection to a larger group. Jerry Crampain, a teacher at Hamiota Collegiate, explained. 

Not only do kids in this school district have amazing internet, Jerry also showed us his classroom’s 3D printer and explained how he teaches the students to repair laptops using old ones. 

These older laptops can keep up in the classroom because they use Chromium — an internet-based operating system that doesn’t need as much processing power due to its reliance on the internet. With their access to stable and fast internet, Hamiota Collegiate has no problems using this type of computing.

It’s little things like this that show off the subtle improvements and innovations having a faster connection can bring. For Hamiota it means school kids can be as connected to the world as their urban peers and grandparents have buffer-free Skype conversationswith their families. Like the qualities of Hamiota, faster internet brings successes that add up and make for a greater quality of life. Plus, it positions the community for growth and prosperity into the future, which is no small feat for a small, prairie community these days.

Stopping in at the Station Arts Centre

When people look for ‘culture’ they often look to cities — but one small town in Saskatchewan is challenging that norm. Rosthern, Saskatchewanis a short drive from bothSaskatoon andPrince Albert,but drawspeople inwith its arts scenerather than the other way around. 

TheStation Arts Centre, a beautifully renovated old train station,has become a home for the arts in the heart of the prairies. From sold-out theatre productions toyouth programs, workshops, andlocal artist exhibits, this station is a great stop to get a look at rural Saskatchewan’s artistic side. It’s also (surprise!) a co-operative.

The Station

The centre got its start in the 80’s when a group of artsy locals decided to buy the building from CN Rail and renovate it. They raised funds through memberships, and preserved this historic building to have an ongoing cultural impact on the town. Today it remains a co-op, which allowscommunity members to get involved. 

Off to the side of the SAC is this gorgeously curated garden!

Director of Programming Nicole Thiessen was our guide around the centre.Her love of the arts and the centre itself is a family affair: Nicole’s mother Kathy was a founding member and served as its administrator for 25 years. Because of her dedication to the arts and the co-op it now contains the “Kathy Thiessen Art Gallery”, which brings in rotating exhibits of visual artists from across Saskatchewan.

You can tell Nicole is just as passionate about the arts, and the Station Arts Centre, as her mom. On our tour she gave us all sorts of facts about the building – like that its “mansard” roof is very rare in North America, and the station is one of only two in Saskatchewan.

Nicole showing me the Station Arts Centre’s gift shop, which is stocked full of Saskatchewan-made items!

The Loose Caboose 

Nicole also showed us thecaboose museum. Donated to CN Rail and restored by volunteers, the caboose has served as a dressing room for their theatre productions. Recently it’s become a self-guided museum, and the walls are covered with photos of Rosthern from years past.

The Station’s caboose rests on a short piece of track just off the back platform.

The Station’s Shows

The Station Arts Centre’s theatreis where the action happens.

Here’s Tanner enjoying the Station’s spacious (and comfy!) theatre seating.

This theatre has been home to many plays and concerts over the years. It hosts a yearly Stars for Saskatchewan Concert Series with musical artists from across the country. 

This year’s summer theatre productionBlow Windby Daniel MacDonaldwas playing the week we visited.The play deals with a family coming to grips with their mother’s dementiaandwas originally performed with music by Saskatoon’s Eileen Laverty.After the play’s sold-out run at theDancing Sky Theatre in Meacham,the Station Arts Centre reached out to bring it to their own theatre. Always keen to put their own spin on things, the Station Arts’ version of the play recast actors that could play their own instruments and addedmore songs, Nicole said.  

It’s not just plays that get improved upon when they come to the Station Arts Centre.The artgallery gives aspiring artists a chance to display their artwork in a busy location. Patrons of the centre’s Tea Room get to dine on delicious soups, salads, and sandwiches next to a rotating gallery of artworks both local and from further away.Nicole tells me they like to change it up.

The Tea Room has been owned and operated by the town’s mayor, Dennis Helmuth, alongside Joan Yoder and Bob Schellenberg for the past 20 years. Dennis is quite fond of the Station Arts Centre as a whole: 

The Station Arts Centre is a gem for the community and anyone who makes the trip toRosthern. Throughout my time there I sensed a care and attention to detail that rounds out an amazing experience.  I recommend it not only as a stop in your travels, but as a destination all its own. 

How the Bridge City Bicycle Co-op gets their community cycling

During our time exploring the co-ops of Saskatoon, Tanner and I visited the Bridge City Bicycle Co-op (BCBC). This co-op shares space with the Core Neighborhood Youth Co-op (CNYC) — another great Saskatoon organization that offers a wide variety of youth programming and education. This partnership began because of the success of CNYC’s original bicycle program, which grew to the point where they needed to bring on the BCBC to manage it.

I wheeled my bike over to BCBC in search of someone who could help me.

This partnership was a turning point for the BCBC, which had been operating as an enthusiasts’ club before becoming the community service co-op they are today. It allowed the members to spread their love of cycling to the wider community.

It was easy to tell how much the BCBC has embraced its role. Each of the volunteer mechanics looked happy to be there, and more than one told me that their favourite part of volunteering was helping kids learn how to maintain and repair their bikes.

It wasn’t just the mechanics who were enthusiastic. When we arrived just before opening, a lineup had already formed at the gate. People who needed new tires and other bike parts got in line alongside children and their parents. It was hard to tell who was the most anxious to get riding.

That was when I got a sense of how vital this co-operative is. Watching children not only receive a bicycle but also learn how to care for it was one of the most wholesome sights I’d ever seen. This feel-good notion only got better when I had the thought that, for many who use the BCBC, their bicycle isn’t just a source of fun but also a necessary means of transportation and ultimately central aspect of life.

We were greeted by the BCBC’s Stan Yu, one of the founding members of the co-op, who showed me around their space. It’s made up of an outdoor working area, a small portion of the indoor shop that also houses CNYC’s woodworking area, and an attic full of bicycles and parts.

Stan and I chat as he shows me the attic of the CNYC building.

As Stan helped me pump up my tires and give the bike a bit of an inspection, we chatted about the BCBC and the work that they do. While I learned how to adjust my brake lines I also began to learn about the amazing work this shop makes possible.

I learned that the children who I watched receive bikes would pay only the membership fee, and that the adults only pay a small charge.

BCBC is able to do this through donations, and a partnership with the City of Saskatoon that allows them to collect and fix up bikes from the landfill. This set up essentially means that, for bikes at least, all roads lead to the BCBC.

BCBC’s sign advertising their rates.

Not only does the BCBC break down financial barriers to cycling, but also social barriers. At all times the shop is a judgement-free place that encourages developing new skills and the shop also offers special Women & Queer Programming, illustrating their dedication to getting everyone they can on a bike.