esterday I learned my home town was wiped off the Saskatchewan map in 2004, restructured from a vibrant village with its own elected town council to a hamlet under the distant jurisdiction of the rural municipality of Turtle River. Incorporating a village demands a population of at least 300. However, reversing from a village to a hamlet has no population limit.
Annually more prairie villages downsize to hamlets as their populations drop too low to provide the taxes needed to pay insurance for necessary infrastructure. Vawn’s 2006 census counts a mere 44 residents, down from 61 in 2001.
“Erected” in 1912 after four pioneer settlers got together and applied to Regina for permission to incorporate a village, by jostling the first letters of their names they came up with Vawn. My Grandpa Anderson supplied the “A”. A qualified carpenter from Sweden, he filed for a homestead in 1907 after checking out the area while constructing grain elevators from Minnesota to Saskatchewan.
Keen on education, in 1913 Grandpa helped spearhead establishment of a school for the area’s 20 school-age children and 15 pre-schoolers. He also built the bell tower and the flagpole, and served as a trustee.
Ay siblings and I all attended that original school until it was replaced with a two-room school in 1949. Soon after two more rooms were added, and finally a separate high school. Sixty-one students attended Vawn Elementary in 1991.
In 1954 a convent was built beside the Catholic Church that had been moved in from St. Hippolyte. Far flung farm students boarded with the four teaching nuns.
Gradually outlying small schools closed as students bused to Vawn. When students began busing to Edam, Vawn schools were closed and torn down.
Teachers reminiscing in the area’s 1992 history, “Their Hopes, Our Heritage”, tell of industrious, cooperative students earning yearly averages of 97 percent or more. One girl won the Governor General’s medal for high average.
During its 91-year existence, Vawn had three elevators at the same time, a stockyard, a doctor, a blacksmith, a hotel and beer parlour, a lumberyard, two general stores, a garage, two bulk fuel stations, post office, bus stop, large community hall, outdoor hockey rink, competitive hockey team, every standard civic group and recreational sports club.
A CNR station served up to three trains a day (one train was timed to deliver mail from Toronto to Vawn within 28 hours!). The Friday morning train took residents the 30 miles to North Battleford for a day of shopping, doctors’ appointments, or a movie, and had them home by suppertime).
Those were the days when Canadian National Railways lived up to its slogan — North America’s Railroad. Now both the station and the railway tracks are gone, replaced by trucks.
The hamlet still has a post office but the convent has become a hotel/steak house/bar. Due to a shortage of priests, the church opens only for special occasions. And too few kids means no more outdoor rink.
During my teens, hockey was the main winter sport for all ages. Dads spent hours hauling water miles with a team and a wooden tank from a lake to flood the rink. Competition with neighbouring hockey teams was fierce. The station agent’s son, Bob Brownridge, eventually went to New York to play with the Rovers, a New York Rangers farm team.
Bob wasn’t the only notable village graduate. His younger brother, Bill, became a noted Calgary graphic artist and author of children’s books he illustrates himself. Regardless of grads means of adult success, they raised families with a fond connection to the town.