There’s a lot of talk these days about what it’s going to take to help smaller, rural communities survive and thrive in the face of an ever-changing future.
Actually, if we want to be more honest with the facts, those talks have been ongoing for probably the last 15-20 years, not long after the arrival of the new millennium. Small towns everywhere have been forced to “face the future” for quite some time, staring at a growing and concerning narrative that you either have to think “Big City” or you’ll fall by the wayside and be forgotten like so many other towns and villages.
In some cases, we see communities who prefer to leave the big city thinking to, well, the big cities. The town of Delisle, for instance, doesn’t have a tried-and-true grocery store outside of what you can find at the Co-op gas bar or the Esso station. Depending on who you ask, the answer as to why a town of just over 1000 people doesn’t have a standard-size grocery store location is a rather simple one: “Well, Saskatoon is just 25 minutes or so up the road.”
When we go past Delisle and venture a little further east along Highway 7, we come across the village of Vanscoy. Well, I should clarify that we *used to* come across the community. The new twin highway construction that was finished up in the last couple of years now completely bypasses Vanscoy in favor of non-stop cruising at 110 km/hr that gets you to the big city even quicker. If you’re a business owner in the village, say a bar owner who used to enjoy patronage thanks to a location directly off the highway, then you’d better hope you’ve got the coldest beer anywhere and your food is worth getting off the twin road and going into town.
Such realities in these communities are a mixed bag depending on, once again, who you may ask. Sure, the twin highways are fantastic as far as getting you to Saskatoon sooner, but do business owners in Vanscoy have that same perspective? I’m betting on no. The city may have better grocery options or even the option to buy groceries period, but wouldn’t the thousand or so people who call Delisle home appreciate having a neighborhood store like that in their own backyard? Especially during a pandemic? I would have to think yes, but that’s just my take as a guy who tries to go out of his way to shop local.
When I think about the future as it relates to the town of Outlook, I think there’s also some room for improvement. By improvement, I mean there are ways that we can add to our quality of life that would benefit not only local residents, but tourists as well. In addition, if this town is hoping to become a central hub of economic activity when this billion-dollar irrigation project starts making waves in the province, there are amenities and services that are going to be required on top of what’s already offered.
Let’s play a little bit of a game, shall we? Pretend that I have a magic wand capable of producing whatever I may wish. I know money would be better and more reality-based, but just go with me on this. These are also things that are more modest in size and amenities or services that people enjoy and look for, notably during the peak tourism season, so keep that in mind. Yes, obviously we need more housing and infrastructure development, but that’s a larger discussion for another day.
So then, with wand in hand, here are some things I would make happen in Outlook.
Create a mini golf course: People, I’m telling you, these things are an undeniable draw in communities that have them. I’ve had to wait to get in to the one up at Candle Lake, and if you’re saying, “Well that’s a summer hotspot up North, Derek”, then I assure you that the course over in Rosetown – Outlook’s similarly sized neighbour – can be just as busy on a warm summer’s evening. They’re simple, they’re fun, they get people outside, and I have to think there is very minimal upkeep and operation cost outside of the initial construction. They can also be a source of advertising, as seen on the Rosetown course. Imagine a hole sponsored or even inspired by the likes of AG Foods, Richards Home Hardware, or the Reel Theatre.
Drive-in movie theater: These have seemed to become all the rage in the midst of the pandemic, with pop-up screens and outdoor movie nights going over big with families looking for something to do. It’d be cool if the local movie house offered something like this in the summer months, perhaps working in collaboration with a landowner who would allow vehicles to dot his property. Even before this pandemic nonsense, drive-ins have been one of those ‘retro hits’ with people, especially at the Clearwater location I go to a few times each season.
Establish an all-night roadside diner: I’ve always had this image in my head of one of those classic, open-all-night, just-off-the-highway diners making its presence felt in the Outlook area. Set it up somewhere along Highway 15 and be welcoming to all types; late night partiers looking to sober up with coffee and pancakes, the road-weathered truckers who haul the goods we all enjoy, and everyone else in between. It never closes and the food is always good, served by a sassy waitress who always keeps the coffee cup filled.
Fast food drive-thru: Don’t get me wrong, I will always be a proponent of fresh, homestyle food, but I do believe a town like Outlook should at least give people the option to have a quicker, drive-thru alternative. I remember a time when Outlook could’ve had an A&W which would’ve been an extension of the Co-op, but those plans ultimately fell through.
These are but a few ideas that I think would bump Outlook up a notch or two in the eyes of citizens as well as outside visitors. These kinds of amenities draw both attention and dollars, and those are two things Outlook needs going forward.
For this week, that’s been the Ruttle Report.