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Impressionism: Love is not much of a town

But it's an essential place to visit
Impressionism with Rob O'Flanagan

Like my old man used to say, “I was in Love once. It ain’t much of a town.”

This is probably the tenth time I’ve use this saying of my dad’s in a column. If you can’t use and reuse the good sayings, what is the point of good sayings?

My dad, like some of his children after him, was a lamenter. He was a farmer who felt he was destined for better things than working the land at the upper edge of the Canadian prairie. I’m not sure where his heart was at but it wasn’t always in agriculture.

I know he had a lifelong infatuation with Marilyn Monroe, and sometimes mentioned an old flame named Dorothy who seemed to have been The One, and the one that got away.

My dad watched events transpire in a conflicted world and lamented that humanity hadn’t figure out how to live in peace. This weighed on him. As did the unpredictability of being a farmer in Saskatchewan, and the fact that he had “too goddamn many children.”

And he lamented, sometimes in jest, but often with a poignant sense of loss, the absence of a higher love in his life. He was a man who, because of his lamenting, couldn’t always recognize the love that surrounded him. He certainly was loved by his children.

There’s a town not far from where he farmed, not far from where I grew up, called Love. Love, Saskatchewan. There are a number of oddly named towns in that prairie province. Moose Jaw, Smoky Burn, Big Beaver, Climax, Esterhazy. I could go on.  

Up north of the Saskatchewan River you have a sprinkling of one-horse towns. Choiceland, Snowden, Love, and White Fox. Last I checked, Snowden had a population of about 20, although Dave Pagan, who pitched five seasons in the major leagues in the 1970s, came from there. He put Snowden on the map, but no one did the same for Love.

Something in my cellular memory bank seems to recall that those were somehow Depression era towns, places where solitary men and entire families from the parched southern prairie made their way to find work or hack a new life out of the boreal forest.

Those were never the choicest of towns, situated as they were on the sandy boreal soils, remote, colder than a meat locker in the winter, with more moose and elk per square mile than people.

A few years ago, I took a 600 kilometre solo cycling trip through the area of Saskatchewan were I was raised, down the highways I traveled as kid playing baseball, hockey, and basketball. After that journey I drove my stiff body up to Love, just out of curiosity, and perhaps to get a better idea about my late father’s love life.

No, it was not much of a town. There was some kind of wrecking yard at the highway entrance, a faded and chipped sign further up the road. A few scattered houses, each with a kind of sinking-into-the-ground sense about them, and a kind of made-from-materials-readily-at-hand quality. But unlike Snowden, the population of Love threatened to burst the town’s seams. It was 65 at last count.

It is right on the edge of the forest – right there on the fringe of an endless ocean of spruce and birch, an ocean of trees slashed here and there by hard labour and destitution, scorched here and there by wildfire.

My dad’s oft repeated saying took on new and improved meaning after I visited the town of Love. There was something more real and experiential to the saying, as though he had been in love once, and maybe that love grew volatile and destitute. Maybe it went up in smoke.

This thing called love is supposed to be the penultimate attainment of life, the one thing you need to make your life complete and worth the effort. Without is destitution.

Love may not be much of a town. But it certainly is an essential place to visit.     


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