Last Friday, my friend Wanda kindly toured me around the grid roads east of Livelong. We were looking for the Speedwell cemetery, along with the site of the Speedwell school.
What the heck is Speedwell, you ask? Well, it was a Mennonite community north of Fairholme, Sask. Author Rudy Wiebe grew up in Speedwell, which I believe sprang up during the Depression.
Speedwell had a short existence. It’s what Wiebe calls a “tombstone community.” Here’s an excerpt from his book River of Stone:
Scattered here and there across Western Canada are communities which stand as tombstones to the “homestead method” of rural settlement. A number of them were established during the depression years of the 1930s when, desperate for an honest livelihood, thousands of impoverished families felt that if only they had land to live on, they could avoid both hunger and the dole. And there lay such an immensity of Canada beyond the strip of southern settlement and below the rock of the Canadian Shield; surely it could be settled in the tried and proven way: 160 acres and five years with minimum improvements and the land was theirs. Get enough famies to settle in one area and presto! – a stable community had begun.
Everyone in Livelong and the surrounding area knows where the tracks were. Some people remember the actual CNR railway tracks, which were ripped out in the early ‘80s. The land is still marked by the tracks – I regularly walk or jog down the old rail bed.
Edna Alford laid down the tracks in her short story “The Lineman,” found in her second short story collection titled The Garden of Eloise Loon:
Now they’re taking up the tracks. All up and down this country–not just mine, not only the Livelong Line. We’re not alone here. Figure they don’t need tracks no more, not ones you can see, at least. So they took them up. Even took down the trestles, took up the ties, everything, if you can believe. For what? Little piles of charred old ties marking mile after mile. It’s a wonder they didn’t send a truck up for the cinders.
On Monday Alexis Kienlen, my friend and colleague, tweeted about Project Bookmark Canada. The people behind this project are placing plaques with excerpts from Canadian literature at the locations described in the work. For example, there is an excerpt from Fugitive Pieces at College and Manning Streets in Toronto.
Alexis is now campaigning to bookmark the Prairies, and from the brief Twitter conversations we’ve had with the Project Bookmark organizers, they seem quite open to this. So if you love your Western Canadian lit, be sure to sign up as a reader so we can get this train moving!