In Saskatoon in winter, with the steam trails from the chimneys tracing the night air over the South Saskatchewan, the most pleasant place in town is Firehall No. 3. This is because—its great glass folding doors intact, its sliding pole from the second floor intact—it’s a restaurant, lovingly restored and decorated by its new owners and called, cleverly, Firehall No. 3.
It’s on Broadway. Every town has a Broadway. Even New York, strangely enough, has a Broadway. Saskatoon’s Broadway is where the action is now, as the South Saskatchewan slices south into Alberta and Medicine Hat and the North Saskatchewan meanders up to Alberta and Edmonton and joins the Athabaska on eventual arrival of its water through the Mackenzie into the Arctic Ocean.
A stranger to town, chewing over his pork ribs with pleasant companions and gazing through the vast glass doors, suddenly spies across the road a scene out of a boy’s dreams. A clutch of youths, perhaps eight or 10, ranging from six years to teenage hulks, all in their favorite hockey jerseys, skating in the dark in those never-ending pickup games on a formless little rink, their breath hanging in the air.
To the stranger, it brings it all back. Skate all after school, skate all night. Mothers pleading through the back doors to come in for homework or warmth or fear of frostbite and chilblains, all of the warnings meaning nothing since a future role as left wing of the Toronto Maple Leafs was surely in the future.
It’s how Gordie Howe and Nick Metz and and Bill Barilko and Elmer Lach and Toe Blake learned it, on a frozen pond, not some artificial rink in an arena with a Howie Meeker-trained coach and stage mothers sitting, hunched in the cold, watching their darlings.
The stranger finds it hard explaining all this to his pleasant companions, feeling like a dinosaur from the swamp, attempting to evoke an era when every boy on the Prairies, his Beehive Corn Syrup coupons going in to someplace in Ontario to return a stand-up photo of Bob Davidson—stick flat on ice, no helmet, no visor, hair slicked down like Rudolph Valen-
tino—a guy who probably made up to $6,000 a year for being the checking forward to Apps and Drillon.
One wonders, as the wine flows, whether these tads outside the window dream in their revery of wearing—some day!—the famous sweaters of the Anaheim Flying Ducks? As they fly over the snowbank boards of their imaginary rink, do they lust in their hearts to be in some future heaven wearing the livery of the Tampa Bay Lightning?
Is there a single one of them, as their mothers call one last time from the back stoop, who want in their secret dreams to be a San Jose Shark? One wonders and ponders. The goofy new geniuses of the Canadian Football League have just been proven fools in their assault on Texas—can hockey be far behind? Is there a juvenile left winger in Rouleau who seriously lusts to bodycheck in Florida?
The young proprietor, who has the finely
chiselled features of Montgomery Clift, is justifiably proud of his icon-cum-restaurant. Once the jewel of Saskatoon was the Capital Theatre, one of those wonders of the Thirties that were the centres of culture and decorated in like manner.
The modern age, of course, rendered the property too valuable for such trivial pursuits, an insurance tower yielding much more to those to whom land is everything. As the cold city fathers put the theatre under the wrecker’s ball, the firehall thinker and friends rescued the magnificent chandeliers, the cast-iron lighting mounts, and the fire station looks, well, elegant.
Old joke: two American matrons, in the 1940s, are doing a railway tour of the Great White North. Train stops in unknown station. Matron leans out the window to address a local lout, toothpick in mouth, leaning against the station, and asks him where she is. “Saskatoon, Saskatchewan,” he offers. She turns to her companion: “Isn’t that delightful. They don’t speak English.” Old joke.
The diner recalls a Canadian classic that is all about a hockey sweater. Roch Carrier’s unforgettable story about the Quebec boy who receives in the mail, not the Montreal Canadien jersey his mother ordered, but the alien colors of the Toronto Maple Leafs and, to much derision and contempt, must wear it in the pickup games. There is Canada on ice. He reads the story on the Peter Gzowski show every so often in response to constant requests.
They are having some j g trouble with the wine list, as £ with all new restaurants.
_iS Firehall No. 3 opened on
Nov. 10. They have had to put a protective shield around the fireman’s pole on the second floor since on opening night two ladies—the wine must have been good then—insisted on sliding down it, with not entirely satisfactory results.
This very day, Saskatoon has been the venue for the largest protest rally of farmers ever held in Western Canada. Quiet and orderly, 12,704 farmers gathered to express their bitterness over their economic plight, brought about by an international trade war between heavily subsidized French and American farmers that has driven the price of wheat to Depression-era levels.
The town of Floral, which spawned Gordie Howe, who will be 65 next month, is right outside Saskatoon. It is now 10 p.m. and, the last mother apparently having given up, there are two lone figures still on the rink, one goalie and one shooter, still eking the last fun out of the moon. Saskatchewan will survive.
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