Overlooking Saskatchewan: Minding the Gap

3 July 2015

Overlooking Saskatchewan: Minding the Gap
Edited by Randal Rogers and Christine Ramsay
Published by University of Regina Press
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$39.95 ISBN 9-780889-772922

If you’ve been to London, England, you’ll be familiar with the phrase “Mind the Gap,” a caution to tube-users re: stepping between the train and the platform. Randal Rogers and Christine Ramsay, joint editors of Overlooking Saskatchewan: Minding the Gap – a collection of diverse essays about Saskatchewan as seen through cultural, artistic and historical lenses – suggest their title is derived from the province’s experience of being overlooked: a metaphorical gap “between Calgary and Winnipeg, to be looked down on, literally, as one flies over.”

The editors aspired to collect work that would have broad appeal “as a contribution to knowledge about Saskatchewan culture that builds upon important research,” and address the various “gaps” that have existed – or continue to exist – within the province. I surmise that the editors also wished to address why Saskatchewan should not be overlooked. They aimed to “authentically address what it means to live and belong in this place,” and they pulled in some heavy hitters to make their arguments.

Although the book’s intended for both general readers and scholars, it was definitely the less academic – and relatable – work that stood out for this reader. That said, I would argue that anyone who reads the contributions of these 20 mostly Saskatchewan writers and educators (many from the University of Regina) will be rewarded with fresh insight into how the province was shaped and how colourful its history has been … and education’s never a waste.

The chapters are at times almost celebratory, ie: Charity Marsh’s “In the Middle of Nowhere”: Little Miss Higgins Sings the Blues in Nokomis, Saskatchewan;” Herman Mitchell’s gratitude in “Shaking Rattles in All Directions: Minding and Mending the Gap in Saskatchewan Science Education,” re: the ten years he spent at First Nations University; and Ken Layton-Brown’s conclusion, in “Home Away From Home: The Chinese Community in Early Saskatchewan,” that for the Chinese, “the ‘gap’ …has greatly narrowed if not actually closed.”

Other pieces are more contentious. Ramsay takes on Regina’s “blind boosterism” promoted via the “I Love Regina!” campaign, which she concedes overlooks “truly visionary infrastructure projects”. She points to “the ghetto of North Central Regina” and “east-end box stores” as examples of “social divisions,” and cites the work of artists that address Regina’s darker legacies, including racism. James M. Pitsula explains how the Ku Klux Klan made inroads into 1920s Saskatchewan – when the province was third largest in Canada – and was influential in ousting the Liberals.

A poetic piece by David Garneau (“Roadkill and the Space of the Ditch: An Artist’s Meditation”) was an original highlight, as was how the story of Darrell Night, the Aboriginal Saskatonian whom two police officers dropped outside the city in sub-zero temperatures, was addressed by his aunt, Joy Desjarlais, in her memoir vs. how two CBC journalists recorded the incident in their lauded book.

Saskatchewan’s a lively, accomplished, complex, and still-evolving province; it should not be overlooked. I’m grateful for the learning, and now, I’m downloading some Little Miss Higgins on YouTube.


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