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An amateur tries North Battlefording

First Person Exploits into the Unknown

This is usually a segment where overworked and underpaid News-Optimist staff write about doing something for the first time. For the first time ever, I’ve spent the past month North Battlefording.

If you check the Oxford (Ontario) Dictionary of Half-Baked Canadianisms, the definition, word for word, of North Battlefording is this:

Doing things relevant to North Battleford.

If you check that dictionary, you’ll also find verbs like Edmontoning and Saskatooning. To Edmonton means different things to different people, but my experience has been with college-age kids. You wouldn’t be Edmontoning if you didn’t drink beer in the River Valley. You wouldn’t be Edmontoning if you didn’t, at least once in a while, say how much Edmonton sucks, because, you know, there aren’t enough bike lanes or everybody in the vegan community knows each other. Or if you work in the food service industry, Edmontoning involves talking about how Oilers players passing through where you worked were kind of rude (goodbye Mr. Eberle). Edmontoning places a lot of importance on what is and isn’t socially acceptable, but for some reason it’s still not socially unacceptable to talk about a playoff series that happened 11 years ago.

Before Edmontoning, I Vonda’d for 14 years. Vondaing involves doing things related to Vonda, Saskatchewan, like going to senior hockey games or volunteering for the fire department or hunting gophers. Vonda is a town of 330ish people northeast of Saskatoon.

Moving from Vonda to Edmonton was a shock. The amount of people threw me off. Neighbours weren’t all that neighbourly and few people want to chat on the bus. I didn’t feel looked after in the city and there were so many people whose lives you can’t play a part in at all. Small town perks like knowing the cop giving you a ticket, and having a chance of talking him out of it, were few and far between.

But as time wore on, Edmontoning became second nature. I drank IPAs and became a ruthless driver and avoided West Ed except for the movie theatres. I could wear white sneakers and not get ripped apart like a pig at a pig roast. Before North Battlefording, I Edmontoned for a long time. Gas and parking were expensive, and purchasing power wasn’t great, and there was employment here, so I headed on down.

My experiences North Battlefording for the first time have been pleasant so far.

Looking the place up a month ago, I came across a documentary about crime in the city, so I was kind of apprehensive. A lot of people I’ve talked to aren’t too concerned about the crime. They advise locking your doors and taking it as it comes.

One immediately noticeable difference between North Battlefording and Edmontoning is the amount of historic buildings kicking around here. Edmonton has a habit of tearing them down and regretting it later. But it seems like in North Town, every second or third building is historic. That some people want to tear them down is understandable. There’s the large amounts of money required to maintain them, but not only that, keeping the buildings for the sake of historical preservation ignores the prairie utilitarianism that, at least to some extent, makes North Battlefording what it is.

At different points in history, city planners and residents have done whatever has made the most sense at their respective times, whatever “making sense” means to them. Historical preservation is different now than what it used to be, but when it came time, wood structures that made up forts were razed in favor of brick buildings. Change is necessary to the process of living in a city. Ironically, leave it to the prairie city (especially Edmonton, but also that new art gallery in Saskatoon) to go out of their way to show the opposite attitude to what got them to where they are in the first place. Historical preservation for its own sake, especially when a finite amount of local tax money is involved, is rightfully a hard sell. Also, one of the most uniquely prairie things to do is watch the local grain elevator get demolished, usually after a struggle between people who want to preserve it and people who want it gone. So maybe a community-building event could be leveling some of these old buildings, if enough people were interested in doing so.

On the other hand, the benefits of historical buildings are obvious, not in the least because they show that the city mattered to a time we can only imagine, to people who died 100 years ago, and a great deal of people since (like the Battleford Post Office). It’s never a bad thing to be reminded of one’s own ephemerality. 

I should mention that Edmontoning involves making presumptions based on meager evidence and shooting off your opinions.

On a less controversial note, good old-fashioned North Battlefording involves throwing your GPS out the window because the city is easily navigable. Traffic lights aren’t everywhere to tell you what to do, you actually have to pay attention with other drivers at four-way stops and look them in the face. Then you think to yourself, where have I seen you before? Wal-Mart!

One exciting thing about living here for me is that some people around here recognize my last name and know my relatives. My parents grew up in the Macklin area and this is one of the hubs people from rural areas gravitate toward. A few times now I’ve gotten, “Are you related to the so-and-so’s who live in so-and-so?” Probably. It’s kind of thrilling compared to the anonymity of the city. Wilkie, Kerrobert and Unity aren’t weird, dusty towns my dad said not great things about because he had hockey rivalries with them. They’re real places with real people who I owe money to already.

Probably the most refreshing thing about North Battlefording so far has been that I’m not the only one on the block with a Riders license plate. Take my word for it, Rider fans on enemy soil, when they pass each other on the road, wave to each other like bikers do when they drive by other bikers. It’s not necessarily hard being a Riders fan in Edmonton, it’s more annoying. Bandwagon Eskimos fans jab you, but when the Eskimos start stinking like Icelandic fermented ammonia shark, it’s less accepting responsibility for liking a bad team, and more saying “I never liked them anyway.” Which for a lot of people, is probably true. Maybe the real Eskimo fans are all hanging out where Esmerelda’s used to be, but I haven’t met very many.   

After a month in town, the most satisfying thing about North Battlefording has been that it’s a comfortable middle between a city and a small town, and that it has features of both. Suburbs often brag about their “city life, with a small town feel,” but you can tell the strength of a community by the turn out at local barbeques and breakfasts. Covering barbeques and breakfasts is my job, and so far I can say turn out here has been pretty good.

As far as the whole North Town vs. Battleford thing goes, I’ve yet to see anything escalate to the ridiculous proportions that the made-up Edmonton vs. Calgary thing is. But it doesn’t seem like we’re amalgamating anytime soon.