Special Report

DECODING THE UNIVERSE

PAUL WELLS September 8 2008
Special Report

DECODING THE UNIVERSE

PAUL WELLS September 8 2008

BRING THE FAMILY

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Our hottest province hosts North America’s biggest reunion

Who woulda thunk it? The biggest story in Canada is Depression-baby Saskatchewan, leaping onto the world stage, the hottest economy in the country, all those stale jokes about gophers lost amidst the

piles of money rolling in.

Saskabush? The forgotten province in the middle now supplies one-third of the world’s uranium, half of the globe’s potash, and is now Canada’s second-largest oil producer while still growing more than half of all Canadian wheat. Cowabunga!

Since everything is big and overflowing, it comes as no surprise that, because of all the breeding, a bundle of Saskatchewan types are claiming the continent’s largest family reunion (who’s counting?) at their four-day midsummer bash that has swallowed a whole town.

It fits, in an atmosphere called the “new Alberta,” where houses in little Weyburn— centre of Canada’s hottest new petroleum play—were vacant or asking $30,000 two years ago and are now trading for $150,000. Global financier George Soros describes Canada’s economy as a “split personality”—half beleaguered by a sluggish manufacturing sector, and half enjoying the wonders of the worldwide resources boom.

It’s this sort of playground that is perfectly ready for the mobs of relatives (260) who arrived in Watrous, southeast of Saskatoon and north of Regina. Some 12,000 years ago, the glaciers that covered the area finally retreated north and left what is now Canada’s largest indoor mineral spa. The soothing waters are perfect for the celebrations in memory of John and Ethel Clarke, who farmed in Hearne—southwest of Regina—and left enough relatives to cover a whole acre.

There’s a fierce contest of course—speaking of breeding—as to which branch of the Clarkes has mustered the most bodies. Each branch of the family gets an official coloured Clarke Reunion T-shirt and the chocolatebrown tops belonging to the Edna Clarke gang wins the day. Edna was one of the 12 Clarke children and she knew the rules well. One tradition was that the first girl to marry got the Clarke family china. Edna, at only

19, jumped the queue and got hitched, amusing her seven brothers and enraging her older sisters.

Saskatchewan’s luck is due to the growth of the middle class in China and India, which has prompted an explosive demand for potash-based fertilizer, and also led to “crop fever” on the Prairies, with wheat and canola prices tripling since 2006. At the same time, soaring prices for oil, coupled with new

pressures to solve the climate change crisis, have sparked renewed global demand for uranium as a source of fossil-free power.

Edna at 27 was a widow in Hearne with four children. No electricity. No running water. One blacksmith shop. One church.

One country store. Residents: 32. Two grain elevators. She took in washing and gave violin lessons for 50 cents. And finally turned her kitchen into the town post office, for $35 a month from generous Ottawa.

With luck comes political clout. Premier Brad Wall’s Saskatchewan Party obliterated the province’s Liberals and Tories as the free enterprise mood finally put an end to the

heritage of Tommy Douglas, who introduced socialism to an astounded continent. Some of Wall’s advisers now feel he should lift the facade and actually get into bed with Stephen Harper, whose minority government must call an election in 2009. The Regina Leader-Post advises Wall to let Harper stew in his own juices.

Edna remarried at the start of Europe’s 1939-45 war and her husband was shipped overseas by the Canadian Army. She was once again, until he returned, a “widow,” this time with four rambunctious teenagers. Her record: 13 grandchildren, 27 great-grandchildren, (one great-great-grandchild due Oct. 19).

Oldest of the gang? The prize and a goofy hat went to Lloyd Miller, who married one of the Clarke girls and at 92 split the driving with daughter and son-inlaw in their journey from Ottawa. Handsome Dale and wry Jim are the only ones left of the 12, and the food never stopped along with the gossip, the auction of family treasures, the golf tournament and the horseshoe contest. The mob rented nearly all 102 rooms of the Manitou Springs Resort and Mineral Spa and the campgrounds were swamped.

It was the height of the Jazz Age when Danceland was built in 1928 on Manitou Beach, famous for copying, in its 5,000-sq.-ft. maple dance floor, a New York hotel’s invention of a horsehair base—the better to ease your waltz steps. The kids and Lloyd Miller loved the bounce.

A report by the TD Bank Financial Group calls Saskatchewan “Canada’s commodity superstore,” and said if the province was a country it would rank fifth in the world among OECD nations in terms of GDP per capita, trailing only Luxembourg, Norway, the United States and Ireland.

Edna Clarke, who died in 2006 at 97, was my mother. M

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HOME WRECKER ISN’T HANDY WITH MACHINES

Robert Stanley Craft got so mad at his family that he allegedly took a chainsaw to his adult stepson, but he couldn’t get it to start. Then, Salt Lake City police say, he reached for the weed whacker, but he couldn’t get it started either. The stepson fled, and after pummelling the family home with a small wooden statue, Craft fled too, pursued by his wife. Craft decided to run her over. After the second failed attempt he was stopped by police.