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Wolseley--a community in bloom. (Gardening In General).

In 1882 the Canadian Pacific Railroad (CPR) stretched its steel across the Canadian Prairies into Saskatchewan. The homesteaders carried by the railroad not only transported all their worldly goods, they also brought with them hope for a new life on the promise of 160 acres of land. With the influx of settlers, communities sprang up on the rail line like precious beads on a string. All of these railway towns began with dreams of prosperity and growth, but in some places through time, some of these thriving collections of churches, schools, grain elevators and merchants dwindled to abandoned, derelict buildings or the town vanished altogether.

Wolseley, Saskatchewan, is one railway town which has not succumbed to the plight of many prairie communities. This Saskatchewan town was named for a former Commander-in-Chief of the British Army, Baron Viscount Garnet Joseph Wolseley who commanded the Red River Expedition in 1870. Perhaps the name bestowed upon the community by the CPR was a to insure that town's survival.

The CPR bestowed one real benefit on this town with the creation of a manmade lake. On August 10, 1905, Wolseley Town Council passed the motion to pay one thousand dollars towards the construction of a dam traversing Wolf Creek to create a reservoir of water for the many steam engines chugging across Western Canada. This project was co-financed by the town and the CPR and was constructed with help from the local homesteaders. The pioneer farmers contracted to provide the raw material for the dam. They were paid one dollar for each wagonload of rock picked from their fields and they were provided with a free noon meal. Thus they benefited three ways; they earned cash, they rid their fields of troublesome stones, and they were fed. Even though the steam engines no longer travel the rails and stop in Wolseley to take on water, the reservoir of water remains. This man-made lake continues to be a picturesque focal point in the community of 850 residents.

It was here the CPR also maintained one of its garden and tree farms. A variety of shrubs were cultivated for station use up and down the line, as were vegetables and flowers to grace the tables of the CPR dining cars and hotels. South of town one can still see the remains of a grove planting of tamarack, Larix laricina Dee Bois or K. Koch trees that were planted to see if this species could be grown in the prairies as a source of railroad ties. This planting, now overgrown with honeysuckle and caragana is all that is left of the CPR railway station garden and tree program.

Wolseley also boasts many heritage buildings made of brick, which used the yellow-coloured bricks produced in town from local clay. These yellow coloured bricks are still evident throughout the community in churches, public and commercial buildings and private homes. The owner and operator of the brickyard was R.A. Magee who was the first mayor.

Another prominent early citizen was E. A. Banbury, founder of Beaver Lumber. Both of these pioneers left a legacy that still continues.

The Territorial Court House built on a fieldstone foundation with walls of Wolseley brick was built before the rock dam on Wolf Creek. This is the oldest existing Northwest Territorial Court House and has been declared Provincial Heritage Property. The Court House became a young man's detention home and then an extension of the home for the infirm. It awaits restoration to its original glory as a courthouse. The Court House restoration and a replication of the "Swinging Bridge." that once spanned the lake have been identified as the first two projects of a newly formed Wolseley Heritage Foundation.

The restored Town Hall/Opera House is situated one block southwest of the lake. Begun in 1906 it was designed by Winnipeg architect J.H.G. Russell as a multi-purpose municipal facility. It housed the fire hall, town office, council chambers, a jail cell, the Mechanics Institute (library) and auditorium /opera house. This building too was built from Wolseley brick. However, in 1906 a tremendous building boom occurred in the town and the local supplier could not keep up with the demand for brick so other slightly different coloured brick had to be imported to complete the Town Hall/Opera House. Two special architectural features of this building are the towers at the front and back. The bell tower at the front used to ring every noon hour. Now it only rings in the New Year at midnight and at noon on New Year's Day, The second tower at the back was used by the volunteer fire department to dry the hoses after a fire. The e hoses were hoisted by hand to hang vertically in the eighty-foot tower since they would have rotted if stored flat. The Town Hall/Opera House was completely restored in 1993 and is now available to rent for wedding receptions, concerts, dance recitals, dramatic presentations and other community events.

It is directly due to the enchanting lakeside setting of this town around the lake with its many heritage buildings that Wolseley was selected by the April 2000 issue of Harrowsmith magazine as one of Canada's top-ten historic, scenic towns. In the same year Wolseley was named first-place winner in the Saskatchewan Communities in Bloom competition for towns of one to one-thousand population. This year its citizens are gearing up for the National. Communities In Bloom Competition.

Just as the early pioneers joined together in the creation of this community, the present day residents rally together to make their community bloom for another season. After an especially long and hard winter the anticipation of spring was almost palpable as early 2001 dawned. Seed catalogues arrived in the midst of winter, plans were laid for vegetable and flower gardens and while there was still snow the seeds were ordered. Then came impatient waiting for the sun to melt the snow and warm the earth for planting.

The first spring activity before individual gardens are planted in Wolseley is the town cleanup. One Saturday morning !n the year 2000, a group of thirty people gathered at the Town Hall/Opera House. There they were issued garbage bags and assigned areas to clean up around town. For three hours these volunteers busied themselves picking trash, trimming dead branches and tidying public flowerbeds. Several truckloads of trash and debris were hauled to the landfill.

That same day a production crew was in town filming a documentary of a tornado that hit Regina in the early part of the 1900's. The film's property people created an outdoor scene showing the aftermath of the tornado. They then broke for lunch. Upon their return, much to their dismay, they discovered all the debris they had carefully scattered about had been picked up and hauled away by the clean-up people. This fervour for tidiness did pay off. The following Sunday a visitor drove into town remarking, "Did someone vacuum this place? I have never seen the town look so neat and tidy."

The Planning committee for the Wolseley in Bloom competition first planned the continued development for the area around the dam or spillway. The local Lions' Club began this Project in 1997 by planting trees and shrubs. Plans were drawn and a local tree nursery provided Schubert chokecherry, Thunderchild crabapple, mountain ash, green ash, yellow twig dogwood, ninebark, spirea, sandcherry, Amur maple, Colorado spruce and potentilla, Once the trees and shrubs were planted the horticulture society laid out and prepared flower beds. A call was issued for bedding plants and people donated extra plants and shrubs from their own flowerbeds to add colour to the area. Roses, Virginia creeper, and such annuals as petunias and marigolds made up the majority of the flowerbeds. Once the plantings was done "Weedless Wednesdays" were scheduled--a time for volunteers to roto-till, pick weeds and keep the beds looking their very best.

The second major project began in a vacant lot. After cleanup, black dirt was hauled in and the town provided barrels for a variety of annuals. Other features added were a gravel path, railway ties and two large rocks. Because of the indefinite future of the vacant lot no permanent plantings were put in place. Even though the plans for the lot are far from complete, last year's attempts had a dramatic impact on people driving into town from the east entrance. No longer was it a weedy vacant lot, but alive with the colour of petunias and other annuals. These two projects are part of committee's plans for continued development in the coming year.

Another component in improving the look of the community is the involvement of schoolchildren. Last year's a theme was "Blossoms, Birds and Butterflies." Following this theme the grade five students of Dr. Isman Elementary School participated in a project to increase their awareness of birds, their habits and their contribution to our world. The Fifth Graders helped build and paint birdhouses. These houses were displayed downtown and people voted on their favourite choice. When they delivered their birdhouses downtown, there was a walkabout for the students to observe the variety of birds and birdhouses around the neighbourhoods. Art students at the High School designed and painted steel barrels to be used as trash receptacles using pictures of zebras, parrots and other exotic wildlife to decorate their contributions.

The time neared when the Community in Bloom judges would come to evaluate our community. This time, labelled "Judgement Day" by the planning committee was announced in the local paper and by posters placed around town encouraging residents to have their lawns, gardens and flowerbeds in readiness for the judges. The Horticulture group arranged an itinerary for the judges to see public areas as well as individual lawns and gardens. Unfortunately, a sudden afternoon rain shower abruptly changed the scheduled visit, but everyone agreed that the town looked its best. The residents then waited for two months for the announcement that Wolseley had won first place.

This town began on a small creek running through the bare prairie. The early town's people took it upon themselves to plant trees and now after more than a hundred years one can enjoy quiet walks down shaded streets. The present Town Council is keeping the tradition of their forefathers alive and actively involved in Urban Forest Diversification. Last year fifty trees from Tree Canada Foundation were planted. These included Amur maple, black ash, Thunder-child crabapple, Assiniboia poplar, and Discovery elm. For 2001 they ordered double that number of trees for the green areas of town, such as golf course, playgrounds and along the highway. The Department of Highways is currently twinning the Trans-Canada Highway at the Southern edge of the town. As the road crews build the highway, we plan to landscape the town entrances, provide a highway rest stop and create a signage corridor advertising the special features of Wolseley, such as the lake, Court House/Opera House, and the home of Beaver Lumber. The operative word for these plans is "uniqueness." Wolseley wants Trans-Canada travellers to stop, spend time and enjoy this town see that it is a great place to visit and a wonderful place to live.

Dennis Fjestad is Town Councillor with the portfolio of Economic Development and Tourism. He also is the Chairman of the Wolseley In Bloom 2001 Committee.
COPYRIGHT 2002 This material is for informational use. Views are not those of the editorial committee. Reference to commercial products is made with no discrimination intended or endorsement by The Prairie Garden.
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Author:Fjestad, Dennis
Publication:Prairie Garden
Geographic Code:1CSAS
Date:Jan 1, 2002
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