Outlook resident and celebrated agrologist Laurie Tollefson has worked for well over 30 years and traveled to dozens of countries in order to promote irrigation in the province of Saskatchewan.
It is perhaps more than fitting that upon Laurie’s recent retirement, this community has honoured him with a very special distinction that will ensure his surname will live on in the annals of Outlook’s rich history.
On Wednesday night, October 28, Laurie, along with his wife Chris and son Eric were guests of Outlook’s town council for a ceremony that saw the road formerly known as Hall Avenue rechristened as ‘Tollefson Drive’. Hall Avenue is the stretch of road that starts just off Highway 15 south of the Esso station and goes east, known locally as the “bus road”.
It also happens to run conveniently just beside the land that houses the impressive Canada-Saskatchewan Irrigation Diversification Centre (CSIDC) that has been Laurie’s place of employment.
Outlook mayor Ross Derdall shared his thoughts on Tollefson’s efforts over the years and commended him on a career of which Laurie should be proud.
“We have heard rumors for quite some time of your retirement, and we’re disappointed but we understood why you’ve reached the stage that you had,” said Ross. “I don’t know if everybody is well aware of the world renown that your name carries because you’ve developed agriculture and irrigation all the way around the world. Council and myself felt that it was only satisfactory, that you deserved it and you had to have some recognition. We hope you’re going to stay in the community and we want you here, and we just wanted to thank you for your major contributions, not only provincially but nationally and internationally. You are extremely well respected, and that applies to each of us in here too.”
Following a photo session with the formal road sign and celebratory cake that he was gifted, Laurie shared a few words and spoke of the “tremendous honour” that the Town had bestowed upon him and the Tollefson family.
“I was always interested in working in water, growing up in Mossbank where it was dry, and it just seemed tremendously interesting to work in irrigation at that time,” said Laurie, touching on his beginnings in Outlook. “I talked my wife into trying it and she said, ‘Let’s try it for six months and see where it goes’. Forty years later, and well, things happened! But it’s interesting, throughout those 40 years, I’ve peddled that Tollefson Drive on my bike, that was my way to bike very regularly. It’s a great meaning for me to have that name, with the school and the farm there; I mean, we did spend 40 years of our life. Without Christine helping me, there was no way we could’ve done this.”
Laurie, who among his many previous roles has served as Science Manager for Agricultural Water Management, certainly has the professional background and experience of someone who knows what they’re talking about when it comes to irrigation, whether it’s at the provincial, national or even international level. In 1991, Tollefson was approached by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) to participate in a project mission to Egypt, and he was seen as an obvious candidate based on his previous achievements in irrigation research. The mission, a project between the governments of Canada and Egypt, was to develop a coordinated national system for sustainable water resource management, with a focus on using water more efficiently and monitoring its quality. If the deserts of Egypt weren’t enough, Laurie also served a three-year term as Vice President of the International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage (ICID), headquartered in New Delhi.
No matter where or when his worldly travels took him, it was the work at CSIDC in Outlook that grounded Laurie. Over the years, he has seen and overseen the Centre’s shift its emphasis towards research in irrigation, and although CSIDC started as a federal operation, today it has evolved into a multi-participant partnership between the federal and provincial governments, as well as the University of Saskatchewan and agricultural producers.
Tollefson says CSIDC perhaps goes unnoticed at times, something which will no doubt change in the future as far as Outlook’s footprint in irrigation is concerned. He credits the community of Outlook for helping shape his family into the people they’ve become, including his other children Sarah, Greg, and Mark.
“You go away and start working and you gain some expertise here, and suddenly what you realize is that the world’s a very small place,” said Laurie. “You think everybody knows more than you do, and maybe they do, but we have a great centre here and I don’t think people realize that or know as much about the stuff that’s there or the great staff. To work away over the years, and I’ve done a fair bit of that, it takes a community that you can trust. We have a great admiration for the people of this town and for the friends we’ve had.”
Tollefson believes Outlook is in a great position for growth and prosperity in the coming years with the right leadership and direction. With no intentions to leave town upon his retirement, Laurie will undoubtedly have a front row seat to witness that hopeful growth in the community.
“That centre is a part of the town and it’s always had a good relationship with the town,” he said. “We’ve had a tremendous relationship the last while with the town when it came to the international conference. I know everyone stood up and said, ‘Let’s support that’. It’s funny how we see many, many acres of irrigation that’s going to be developed, and that was one of the strategies to have some of those things be announced and laid out. If you think Outlook isn’t going to grow in the next ten years, you’re badly mistaken and I think as council, you really need to think about that. Land prices, housing prices and businesses are going to go dramatically upwards. This is a town that should be a city, and I think it will with a bit of vision.”