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. 

Steep Hill Food Co-op: A grocery store that feels like home

In anticipation of the road ahead, we took the short drive from the office to Steep Hill Food Co-op on Broadway Ave. in Saskatoon. There we were greeted by Gerry and her daughter Andrée, two of the full-time employees at the whole food co-op. Gerry helped to open the co-op in 1978.

Gerry and Andée stand behind the counter at Steep Hill Food Co-op.

While Steep Hill may seem like many other stores trying to get their piece of the organic/whole food grocer pie, a lot sets them apart. Carrying your usual array of health and lifestyle foods, Steep Hill also goes out of its way to work with as many local producers as it can.

I began grocery shopping in my mind as Gerry showed me around the shop. When she pointed out their locally produced honey, I added it to my mental grocery list.

Eventually, mental grocery shopping became actual grocery shopping and I found myself – somehow automatically – building a basket of honey, organic mac and cheese that I remembered from my childhood, and some lactose-free alternatives that I hadn’t seen in other stores before.

As I shopped I discovered Steep Hill’s most standout quality — the breadth of the staff’s knowledge. As I placed the honey into my basket I knew that the person who made it been bringing his honey to the co-op since the seventh grade, and as soon as I had mentioned my lactose intolerance Gerry and Andrée were quick to point out the lactose free ice cream, various milk alternatives, and others.

It was this hospitality that really stood out to me. It truly felt as if this power duo wanted me to leave their store with everything I needed. At one point Gerry mentioned that she will let members make special orders of products they don’t normally carry. It was so interesting to be in a grocery store that wants its customers’ involvement and interaction perhaps just slightly more than they want your money.

Steep Hill’s commitment to members is also apparent in the way it prices its goods.  Itoffers three tiers of pricing: non-members pay the price on the shelf plus 25 per cent; non-working members pay shelf price plus 10 per cent. Working members — who volunteer at least two hours a month — pay the shelf price for their products.

Steep Hill isn’t just a great place for shoppers. As my tour reached the back half of the narrow shop, Gerry mentioned their sink and informed me that anyone can come in for a glass of water — a fact I tucked in the back of my mind for those long hot days on Broadway.I will definitely be returning to Steep Hill – in fact I’ve already been back since the first visit to show my mom their array of gluten-free products, and introduce her to the shop that showed me you can in fact have a favourite grocery store.

I explore some of the bulk goods that Steep Hill has to offer.

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.