Defying Palliser: Stories of Resilience from the Driest Region of the Canadian Prairies
by Jim Warren and Harry Diaz
Published by University of Regina Press
Review by Keith Foster
$34.95 ISBN 978-0-88977-294-6
Everyone knows farming is tough. But how about getting just one truckload of grain out of 5,000 acres? That’s what happened to the Downie Lake Hutterian Brethren Colony in 2001.
Colony member Sam Hofer recalled touring the field that year. He said the weather was so hot and dry that the crop “seemed to turn brown and dry up as we walked by.”
This is just one incident related in Defying Palliser: Stories of Resilience from the Driest Region of the Canadian Prairies. The book could just as well be subtitled stories of resistance, since farmers and ranchers resisted the overwhelming forces of nature in the dry zone known as the Palliser Triangle.
Named for 19th century explorer John Palliser, the triangle roughly comprises the southern part of the three prairie provinces. Palliser deemed the area unsuitable for agriculture because of its unfavourable climate. Indeed, this triangle can be as devastating to farmers and their crops as the Bermuda Triangle is to ships and planes. Farmers nevertheless stubbornly tried to prove Palliser wrong.
Authors Jim Warren and Harry Diaz interviewed more than 40 farmers and ranchers about water management, especially irrigation, and coping with drought. One theme that runs through this book is a strong sense of community networking.
The 367-page book has a bibliography, maps, 53 black and white photos, mainly of the people being interviewed, and a glossary for those who may be unfamiliar with agricultural terms.
This book is a tribute to the farmers whose resilience keeps them farming year after year, in defiance of Palliser’s dire prediction. In essence, Defying Palliser is a story of strife, struggle and, ultimately, at least some measure of success.
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