Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Way out west

Another in our sporadic series about Canadian magazines we love. This time, Prairies North.

When a magazine is published so far off the beaten track as is Prairies North, it had better be good. And it is. Norquay, Saskatchewan is a village with one restaurant and one magazine about three good hours drive east of Regina. The magazine is published out of an airy, sunny, renovated house in the town, a world headquarters that the publishers were able to buy on their Visa card and renovate with their own hands.

Originally called Sasakatchewan Naturally, the magazine celebrates the considerable flora, fauna and drop-dead vistas of (particularly) northern Saskatchewan as well as a lifestyle that is not as well known to the rest of Canada as it should be. People from elsewhere tend to think of Saskatchewan as flat flatness, covered in wheaty wheatness, but know nothing about the enormous wetlandsand riverscapes and general stunningness of the Saskatchewan NOT bissected by the TransCanada Highway. For one thing, Saskatchewan is a terminus on a cross-continent migration route for literally millions of birds (something the magazine has made its business to report upon).

Publisher Michelle Hughes and Editor Lionel Hughes (yes, it's a family business; formal name, September House Publishing Inc.) found that the original name, while reflective of the contents (tending to often whimsical writing and lavish photo spreads), tended to make the magazine appear to be published by the government. So, rather than accepting this, they took the bold step of rebranding (and in the process giving themselves the possibility in future of covering more than Saskatchewan but also the whole, sprawling Prairie provinces).

To give you some of the flavour of the magazine, take but one issue, the May "Centennial kickoff" celebrating Saskatchewan's 100th, the magazine contains the following miscellany, much of it compulsively readable: A piece about Carole Stratychuk, the Dandelion lady of Deslisle; a gorgeous mutli-page spread with story and photos by frequent contributor Larry Easton about canoeing the Paull River; an all-season advertorial guide to the Churcill River headwaters (produced by September House); a memoir about the mid-century boom in building grain elevators across Saskatchewan (now being torn down just as fast); a perhaps unintentionally funny story about a man who has created an enormous, portable rig called Merv's Pitchfork Fondue, with the pitchfork used to dunk huge cuts of meat to cook in a vat of boiling grapeseed and canola oil; a first-person celebration of cottaging on Bright Sand Lake in northern Saskatchewan (and with a sidebar investigating the destruction being wrought by declining water levels -- a possible fallout of climate change).


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