“We Still Look Kind Of Classy”

This is a great story from Global Saskatoon on stripping in small town Saskatchewan. Let’s be real – this still is really not “stripping”. There’s no nudity, in the full meaning of the word.

I don’t feel sorry for Kailie. She sounds like she’s smart, and fine with doing what she’s doing (though who knows, we don’t particularly get inside her head). Nick sounds a tad dodgy, in my mind. If I’m reading this right, the girls are only getting paid in tips, and only 60% of what they earn at that? It’s Codette, not Vegas. There were 20 people in the audience.

I also love the assertion that the stripping isn’t doing anything for the Town (village?) of Codette. Duh. Have you been there? It’s a blink and you’ll miss it kind of thing. The stripping is modestly lining Brian Baraniski’s pockets (he’s no money dummy, if I remember correctly).

Picture 354

Like I said, it’s not Vegas.

Bottom line — it’s a backwoods story that once again highlights how far Saskatchewan has to go to catch up with the rest of the Western world. I don’t think these laws are keeping the girls safe, however maybe there’s really not that much to be protected from. For now, anyway.

CODETTE, Sask – Nearly a month since strip tease became legal in Saskatchewan, the profession and form of entertainment remain polarizing issues in our province.

At home on Thursday morning, Kailie Curtis, a first year student at the University of Regina, is working hard to get through the textbook lesson. She’s attempting to maintain an academic average of 75 per cent or higher with a goal of getting her PhD in genetic science. It’s a long and expensive road so Curtis is a student by day and an exotic dancer by night.

“This isn’t going to be my ultimate career obviously in the end,” Curtis said. “Being 21 and living by myself is pretty cool. Most students don’t, they either live with their parents or with room-mates.”

Curtis’ first public performance in this province was in Codette, Sask. On Jan. 1, stripping in licenced public places became legal in the province. Clothes can come off but nipples must remain covered and full frontal nudity is still prohibited.

It’s the perfect balance according to Curtis.

“It’s enough nudity to get people excited but it’s also enough to be covered up to the point where we still look kind of classy,” she explained.

When the provincial government announced sweeping changes to its liquor legislation, including strip clubs, Bryan Baraniski seized the opportunity, purchasing the old hotel and bar in Codette.

“It’s only 5 miles from Nipawin, central between Tisdale and Carrot River” said Baraniski. “The new laws changed and we thought hey, this will work right in to it if we can jump on and maybe be the first ones doing it.”

Venues don’t have to apply to the province to add strip shows to their entertainment offerings, so neither the province nor the hotel and hospitality association know if any others have opened yet, but believe the hotel in Codette is the first and only at this time.

Codette is home to about 200 people. Prince Albert is 150 kilometres to the west and it’s the nearest city to the small village.

In its second week of strip shows, Baraniski says business is good. Vehicles begin pulling in to town around 5 o’clock for the 5:30 p.m. show. The audience of about 20 people is all male aside from one female patron and three female waitresses.

Most drive in on their own, a few come on snowmobiles and a couple catch a taxi cab from Nipawin. According to Baraniski, show days bring in nearly 10 times the amount of profit when compared to a regular day, but community folk see little benefit from the extra traffic. The only other amenity in Codette is Canada Post.

Robert LeBlanc was raised in Codette, moved to Alberta years ago and just recently moved back. His house is just two doors down from the bar. LeBlanc says the vehicles and snow mobiles zipping in and out of town for the shows are a nuisance but it’s more than that.

“Things like people coming out in the street to leave and using the bathroom out front,” he said. “You look out your kitchen window and see that.”

Those concerns are echoed by some neighbours.

“I mean little kids walk by here and they go down there to get on the bus right at the bar,” said one woman disgustedly.

It’s a situation both the City of Saskatoon and the City of Regina are trying desperately to avoid. The province legalized strip-tease, all municipalities can do to control it is alter zoning bylaws.

In Saskatooon, bylaws have been revised, only allowing strip clubs to locate in industrial areas, and they must be at least 160 meters from other establishments, homes, schools, and parks.

Some have argued that banishing the activity to commercial and industrial areas in Saskatoon and Regina is not safe, suggesting the women would be better protected in areas frequented by police officers.

The exotic dancers who perform in Codette are supplied by ReginaStrippers.com – a company that still also offers entertainment for occasions like bachelor parties. Baraniski says he paid ReginaStrippers.com $1,000 to have two women come in and dance on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Nick GK is on the other end of the deal – acting as the agent who arranges the work, takes the payment and transports the women from Regina to Codette.

“It’s a tip based business,” said GK in reference to the payment structure. “That’s where they make their real money.”

Curtis, who also dances in Alberta, says there she has made upwards of $1,200 an evening and she gets a set stage price in that province as well as tips. Meanwhile her deal in Saskatchewan with ReginaStrippers.com recognizes her as a sub-contractor, meaning she’s not covered by the labour standards act. Money made comes from tips only with a 30 per cent tip-out fee.

“Here they want to know every cent you make and they keep track of it,” said Curtis “That brings our money consumption down.”

The provincial Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety in Saskatchewan confirmed there is no set minimum wage for the exotic dancers in our province unless they are employees – similar to other contract/subcontract deals.

The dancer’s make their best money through personal performances in the VIP room – but it’s those closed door encounters that Curtis says give a bad impression unnecessarily. Curtis says it’s a ‘no contact’ policy.

“In the back room you give a five minute lap dance and that’s the end of it. If they want another one you can’t even take the money from them,” she explained. “They have to put it on the table and you take it from the table cause taking it from their hands would be considered contact.”

Exotic dancers want to establish what they call a very clear line between prostitution and stripping. Curtis says she feels a lot of prejudice, specifically in Saskatchewan.

“Every stripper I know so far, they’re all in university or already have degrees,” said Curtis. ”A lot of them are married and have children so I think people shouldn’t presume we live completely different altering lifestyles.”

Those in the industry hope the recently relaxed laws help peel back some of the misconceptions.


Blind Item – Saskatoon Mayoral Race Already Heating Up?

Which long-time civic and provincial politician has decided to throw their hat into Saskatoon’s 2015 Mayoral race? It’s a surprising move, and one that could threaten to divide the right-wing civic vote, opening the door for a strong lefty candidate. Fun!

Money, Bridges & Schools (the Total Package)

I’m three days into 2014, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not an entrepreneur. I don’t think, anyway. It’s either that, or I hire people to do everything I hate – money management, taxes, finances. Ugh.

Star Phoenix reporter Janet French dropped a hint on Twitter today that there’s another bombshell coming for the Ministry of Education tomorrow:

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French has done some stellar work on the education file, including a pretty damning report on the disciplinary action against teachers, or lack thereof, inside the Saskatoon Public School Division. Should be interesting.

Longest. Winter. Ever.

The Saskatoon bridge-ramp story continues to floor me. Now, Saskatoon Mayor Don Atchison is calling for slower speeds on bridges in the winter. Nevermind that Saskatoon Police Service has already made it clear that the driver’s speed wasn’t a factor in her going over the bridge. Atch is also calling for potential slower night speeds. Nevermind that the accident was at 1pm.

I really, really thought that Atch would come out and unequivocally apologize on this one. The fact is City crews created an incredibly unsafe situation, under his watch. Instead, he’s flippant and indirectly blaming the poor girl who escaped with her life under terrifying circumstances. Shame.

And people wonder why I had no problem managing Tom Wolf’s campaign (for cash).

Meanwhile, here’s a brilliant piece on the P3-school funding in Saskatchewan. Happy reading.

Happy New Year Saskatchewan!

Alright, here goes one of the New Year’s Resolutions.

This blog has been around for, what, almost three years now? Long enough that if I committed to it properly, it could be a hell of  a lot more popular than it is today.

So, blogging every day is on the list for 2014. Time is an issue, and I’m a bit wordy, so the challenge will be to keep it tight.

Further, I’m blogging for myself, as an outlet for the opinions, snark and other miscellaneous nonsense I seem to have a never ending supply of.

On the menu today:

Rob Ford is running for re-election as the Mayor of Toronto. The man knows how to work TO media like a boss, I’ll give him that. After the appropriate amount of time passes (to let the mocking and absurdity die down), one anticipates Olivia Chow or Bob Rae (or both?) will throw their hat into the three-ring-circus that will be that campaign.

This story infuriates me. Mismanagement of snow removal on city bridges to the point that someone ramps off the bridge and plunges into the icy river is NOT OKAY. I rarely play ‘what if’, but seriously, what if there had been little kids in that car? Right before the girl went overboard the City had apparently “decided” the North Bridge snow ramps needed to be removed, but not before the potentially deadly mishap. This according to Eric Quail, Saskatoon’s roadways manager and acting director of public works, who described the accident as “unfortunate”, stating that it “shed light” on the problem.

Really?? Someone barely escaping death should not “shed light” on what should be a basic, and safe, City service. Bullshit.

Well, this post has already eaten up too much of my time, so signing off.


The Adventures of Anna-Belle & Subie: Saskatoon Therapy Dogs

It’s lunchtime at Saskatoon’s Calder Centre. The smell of roast beef and vegetables wafts through the residential addictions treatment facility, which sits neat and inconspicuously on the corner of Taylor Street and Arlington Avenue. The hallways are quiet as clients enjoy their meal in the canteen.

Around the corner in the common area, Colleen Dell sits on the arm of a leather sofa, gripping her dog Subie’s leash tight as he pulls, spying a potential target for his wet kisses. Lunch is a little late today, and the brindle boxer, his St John’s Ambulance therapy dog bandana tied smartly around his neck, is eager to start socializing.

Subie, A Boxer & St John's Ambulance Therapy Dog

Subie, A Boxer & St John’s Ambulance Therapy Dog

Minutes later two teenaged boys come around the corner. One has a thick spike through his ear lobe, the other pulls his long hair into a ponytail, carefully avoiding his eyebrow piercings.

“Hi puppy,” says the ponytailed boy as he wraps gangly arms around Subie’s neck, who responds with slurps from his rather lengthy tongue. The other teen proudly launches into a story about his own dogs, who he says were rescued from a puppy-mill by his mom.

Another teenaged boy swaggers up the corridor, swigging a chalk-like substance out of a water bottle. Spying Subie he melts, dropping to his knees to give the dog a good rubdown. “His little tail is just going nuts,” says the boy as he tells the story of his own dogs, to no one in particular – in fact, it’s as if he and Subie are the only two beings in the room. “Oh my gosh this is the awesomest dog ever,” he sighs, dropping his milky water bottle to bury himself completely in Subie’s thick brown neck.

“There was one girl here here for two weeks who couldn’t hear or speak, and her sign language was in Dene,” whispers Dell, a University of Saskatchewan professor who holds a chair in addictions research. “I brought Subie to the Calder Centre as much as possible during her stay. We spent up to two hours a day with her, a non-communicative girl who had been using drugs to kill her feelings. This girl loved Subie so much. The joy – the feeling – this an animal brought her…there was no need for words.”

From the other side of the Calder Centre’s 12-bed youth wing bounces a young blond girl, beautifully styled from top to toe, including impeccable hair and makeup. She taps her long manicured fingers on the tiled floor to get Subie’s attention. “I get to go home today and see my puppy,” she croons, a big grin on her face as the boxer does his slobbery best to remove her makeup. She has completed her 28-day program and is in the midst of packing for home.

Saskatoon resident Colleen Dell has devoted her life to the research and treatment of Saskatchewan residents battling addiction. She spent five years facilitating equine (horse) therapy through the Sturgeon Lake First Nation, and is currently on a one-year sabbatical to study the question of what therapeutic impact domestic animals have on patients.

Colleen Dell, U of S Chair, Addictions Research & Subie

Colleen Dell, U of S Chair, Addictions Research & Subie

In addition to Subie the boxer, Dell has another St John’s certified therapy dog, a female bulldog named Anna-Belle, who spends much of her time visiting the residents at Saskatoon’s Brightwater Senior Living Centre, as well as with patients at other local facilities who are dealing with dementia. Anna-Belle is a bit of a doggie-celebrity, with her talent for riding a skateboard in high demand when she visits.

Anna-Belle the Bulldog Joins A Saskatoon Seniors' Residence In Beach Day Fun

Anna-Belle the Bulldog Joins A Saskatoon Seniors’ Residence In Beach Day Fun

“I’m hearing about the elevated moods of patients after the dogs and I leave, as well as the positive impact our visit has on the morale of healthcare providers,” said Dell, strolling down the hallway of the Calder Centre as Subie tugs her towards another room, where he senses more cuddles. “I’ve even brought the dogs into classes I taught at the U of S – you wouldn’t believe how it changed the energy in the room.”

It’s actually not that hard to believe at all.

Walking into adult-wing of the Calder Centre, the mood is distinctly less raucous than on the youth side. Entering a darkened room, two clients are flopped on separate couches, watching a DVD. Subie’s appearance brings both individuals immediately to life, as they sit up and lean forward for a pet. The middle-aged woman occupying one sofa laughs loudly as Subie showers her with his trademark affection. “Subie, Subie, so handsome,” she says.  The energy in the room has noticeably shifted to something that is much more alive.

Subie Dishes Out the Love At Saskatoon's Calder Centre

Subie Dishes Out the Love At Saskatoon’s Calder Centre

“I’m really interested in that energy,” Dell explained later that afternoon, after Subie’s visit was over. “Where else could you walk into a room and get that kind of instant, positive reaction? If I walked into a room to give a talk to Calder clients, or even brought other treats, you’re not going to get that reaction for me… but bring in the animal and everyone’s up.”

As she observes the interaction and bonding between the Calder Centre clients and Subie, Dell admits that she can only use her extensive background in research and addictions to attempt to interpret what is actually happening between them. “I probably get 5% of what’s actually going on,” she said.

Dell goes on to relate the story of another therapy dog used by the Saskatoon Health Region and a six-year-old girl who had witnessed a lot of violence in the home. No matter how hard the therapist tried, or what strategies or vocational tools she used, the child would not budge. So, one of the Health Region’s therapy dogs was introduced, which generated immediate results. “That little girl told the dog the entire story. She knew what she was supposed to do, and she was finally comfortable enough with the therapy dog to do it.”

Moving into another darkened room at the Calder Centre, another DVD plays on the flat screen television. Blackout blinds filter out the light, and the late-August heat, for the half a dozen clients slouched on the furniture. Once again, as Subie lunges into the the room, it comes to life.

“Subie, you remember me don’t you,” says a young male client. Subie begs to differ, breaking the rules and hopping up onto the sofa to lay on the man’s outstretched form. Again and again Subie repeats his ritual, moving around the room, generous with his attention and ensuring every client receives personal attention.

Subie Breaks the Rules - Stretching Out On A Calder Client's Legs

Subie Breaks the Rules – Stretching Out On A Calder Client’s Legs

“They take away some pain, and distract you from your day, especially if you’re having a bad one,” says a female Calder Centre client who has dropped her knitting to sit down on the floor and embrace Subie.

“They listen, and they don’t judge,” says another.

After his visit with Calder Centre clients is finished, Subie stretches out on the carpet of one of the Centre’s boardrooms, clearly ready for a nap.

“When the dogs get home, they’re exhausted. They give so much, so intuitively.” said Dell. “If you came to my house you’d see a different dog – he’d bowl you over at the door. It’s amazing how quickly he learned. Now, as soon as I put my St John’s shirt on and he hears my lanyard, he immediately switches into therapy dog mode.”

Dell wants people to understand the positive impact therapy dogs can have on people dealing with issues like addiction, but she also wants pet-owners to appreciate how therapeutic having a pet in their life can be, and to pay more attention to those benefits.

“I’ve learned so much from watching how the dogs interact. Often if you’re in a meeting or speaking at a conference the people you’re addressing are just looking around, not even acknowledging the person speaking. Watching Subie – he’s all about aone-on-one presence. Being with the therapy dogs has taught me to be more present, not judgmental. It’s taught me mindfulness. I really see it with Annabelle – she is fascinating. She methodically goes from person to person at the senior’s centre. No one is really calling out her, she just knows.”

Dell’s personal opinion on healing moves beyond vocational therapy. “I think one of the most important ways people heal is from their relationships.” She points out that clients at the Calder Centre are learning from their peers and from their therapists as living beings as much as they may be learning the coping skills. “They’re feeling love, joy, those basic human values. What’s going to heal you? If I’m in pain, it’s not going to be a program, it’s going to be my friends, family and yes, my pets, who are going to support me through that – all the normal stuff.”

Dell circles back to the teenaged boys at the beginning of the visit, telling the stories of their pets at home. “Everyone has a story about their dog. Seeing Subie is a connection, a reminder of who they were before they were in treatment, even before they were addicted. It’s about the normalcy – connecting with the real world again. That’s so important, because when you come in here, you’re sheltered.”

You don’t need to be a therapist to train and own a therapy dog. All the information is available on the St John’s Ambulance website (www.sja.ca). “The certification is free of charge,” explained Dell. “They’ll send you a DVD so you an watch what kind of training you have to do with your dog. If your dog doesn’t pass the first time, you can try again.”

Starting in September, Dell, along with Anna-Belle and Subie will pop up once a week in a different location on the University of Saskatchewan campus to entertain and comfort stressed out students. Dell also plans on continuing her work with the Calder Centre and seniors once she is off sabbatical. Her next challenge is measuring the results.

Meanwhile, you can follow the daily therapy dog adventures of Anna-Belle and Subie on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/AnnaBelleSubiesAdventures), which is managed from the point of view of the two dogs. “I started the Facebook page because everything is community-based research,” explained Dell. “I wanted to raise awareness, and to put ourselves in their shoes, because we are asking them to do these things. That said, I am without a doubt that both dogs love doing this.”

Workshop – The Colours Of Grief, Saskatoon’s Mendel Art Gallery

Dealing with the death of a loved one – virtually all of us have maneuvered through the often extraordinarily painful process at some point in our lives. For children and teens, the flood of emotions can be confusing and overwhelming.

On Saturday July 27, 2013, a workshop at the Mendel Art Gallery will aim to provide support for young people and their families who have recently lost someone close to them, using the creative arts to explore grief, loss, hope and healing. This will be the third annual ‘Colours of Grief & Healing’ workshop held at the Mendel, hosted by the Saskatoon Health Region and St Paul’s Hospital and Foundation’s Palliative Care Services.

Anna Maria Buhr MSW, Social Worker, and Ruth Eliason MTA, Music Therapist, are members of the Palliative Care team at St. Paul’s Hospital and will be facilitating Saturday’s workshop. In addition to Buhr and Eliason, a number of support workers (social work, spiritual care, music therapists, etc) will participate as leaders, while families are encouraged to complete the activities together as a unit.

“The Mendel Art Gallery is the perfect place to create, experience and remember,” said Eliason. “The workshop takes place in a variety of different rooms and areas within the Mendel Art Gallery, ending with a memorial service outdoors.” The Colours of Grief and Healing workshop provides young people with the opportunity to meet others who have also experienced a loss, and to learn about grief, normalizing the experience as much as possible.

“For children who have lost a family member or friend, the expression of these feelings and experiences is a valuable part of grieving and healing,” she continued. “Throughout the day participants have the opportunity to create and express through a variety of modalities: painting, art tissue paper, journaling, creating memory boxes, singing, drumming and songwriting.”

The artists and counselors are oriented in a training session at the Mendel Art Gallery prior to the workshop in order to familiarize themselves with the goals, roles and content of the Colours of Grief & Healing program. On the day of the workshop, participating youth will be welcomed with the opportunity to make beaded bracelets with their names and those of their loved ones.

Eliason reflected on previous workshops as she describes the types healing activities youth can expect to participate in this year.

“We gathered in small groups for conversation and interactive activity on the images and experience of loss,” she explained. “Each participant was given a journal and colored pen with which they could write memories, create art, and reflect on their experience of the day. We invited participants to use the journal to continue to creatively reflect on their experience, not only at the workshop, but in the weeks and months to come, acknowledging that loss and healing is processed at each developmental stage as the child grows within their family.”

As the day unfolds, participants have the choice of a variety of activities centered on themes of loss and healing, including group drumming, singing, tear-drop paper collages, and creating a memory box or a grief garden model with clay and nature objects. In previous years they also had the opportunity to paint mandalas on ceiling tiles which were placed outside the St Paul’s Hospital Palliative Care Unit. Creating word art of inspirational words and names, chalk art messages are also available for grieving youth to channel their emotions. All sessions are guided and facilitated by counselors and artists.

“The day ended with a memorial time held outside, led by Spiritual Care from St. Paul’s Hospital,” said Eliason. “Participants gathered to remember their loved one in a variety of different ways: in song, and written word by sending messages to loved ones on prayer ties that were tied in trees or released in the river.”

As a token of thanks for participation, as well as to encourage creativity, participants were given a small collection of art-making supplies to take home to continue to express their experience through creative means.

“We believe that everyone is creative, and that the creative arts can be instrumental in reflecting our lived experience,” said Eliason. “It is our hope that the participants can continue to use some of these avenues of expression in their lives at home.”

The Colours of Grief & Healing workshop is offered free of charge, hosted at the Mendel Art Gallery and supported by the W. A. Edwards Family Centre.

For more information or to register:

Anna Maria Buhr, MSW, 655-5519

Ruth Eliason, Music Therapist, 655-5526


Probus – A Place For Senior’s To Stay Sharp

After retirement, keeping mentally and physically active is beneficial in so many ways, evidenced both anecdotally and through well-documented research in the medical community.

These benefits and more are on the minds of those Saskatoon retirees who choose to be members of The Probus Club of Saskatoon. The word ‘Probus’ is derived from the “Pro” in Professional and “Bus” in Business.

“When we retire from the workforce we have a certain set of friends, but some of that changes with retirement,” said Saskatoon Probus member Karen Heise, a former VP of Human Resources. “Probus provides people like me who are retired from the workforce with an opportunity to build new friendships and to choose and engage in new activities I enjoy, like a walking club, a movie club and a book club. I have met many new friends who have enhanced and enriched my retirement years. I liked the idea that there were no responsibilities for service work or fundraising, just an opportunity for social gatherings or activities that fitted well into my lifestyle.”

What exactly is a Probus club? According to the organization’s website, its main purpose is “to stimulate thought, interest and participation in activities at a time in life when it is easy to become complacent and self-centred.” In other words, its a place for seniors and retirees who have left behind the hustle and bustle of professional or business-oriented careers to stay focused, social and fulfilled. Formed in the early 1920s in Melville, Saskatchewan, the organization blossomed over the years to have an international presence, with clubs all over North America and beyond. Simply structured with no firm obligations for membership or fundraising, Probus is sponsored by the Rotary Club, providing regular gatherings for to those of both an elevated age and similar level of interests.

Saskatoon’s Mervin McKee is a founding member of The Probus Club of Saskatoon (2008), and is spearheading the formation of a second club to launch in September of this year, dubbed ‘The Probus Club of Saskatoon Bridges’.

“When you retire from a profession, you quickly lose contact with the business community,” said McKee, who retired from the Royal Bank of Canada after 38 years and has an extensive background volunteering with a number of non-profit organizations. “I wanted to share latest news with other retirees…Probus is a club that provides networking without the fundraising and time commitments. We enjoy great socialization, with a wide variety of interesting smaller clubs operating within the main organization. It’s about meeting and getting to know individuals with similar interests.”

Gary Gullickson, a retired university professor, along with his wife Audrey, a retired accountant, were also part of the original crew who formed the first Probus Club in Saskatoon five years ago. They joined to meet new friends and other interesting, like-minded retirees.

“We enjoy our contact with an interesting, eclectic group of people who come from all walks of life and who have experienced rich backgrounds in a variety of business and professional careers,” explained Gary. “Probus provides the opportunity to hear many excellent guest speakers and to join a variety of interest groups, including book clubs, a woodworking club, walking club, gourmet lunch group, theatre group and more.” The Gullicksons, along with their fellow club members, also participate in group tours of city landmarks, civic and university sites, as well as facilities such the College of Veterinarian Medicine, Star Egg, and Cosmopolitan Industries that normally might not be easily accessible to people in retirement.

Starting a Probus club requires the support of a local Rotary Club. McKee was a Rotarian and is grateful to Saskatoon businessman and then Rotary president Bill Edwards who gave the 2008 launch of The Probus Club of Saskatoon his whole-hearted support. Starting with about fifty enthusiastic members, word quickly spread and the membership numbers skyrocketed, continuing to grow today. Hence the need for the second Saskatoon Probus club.

“All retired professional and business-minded individuals are most welcome to join,” said McKee. “The cost is nominal. On the first Wednesday of every month we hold our monthly meeting with coffee and cookies and arrange for a guest speaker on a variety of subjects. We also have many small clubs for activities such as wine tasting, walking, books, bridge and cribbage as well as tours of many businesses in Saskatoon.”

Today, the founding Probus Club of Saskatoon has reached capacity for the time being, and several people have already signed up for the new club. There is room for plenty more. Any interested prospective members can find additional information and contact telephone numbers at www.probusclubofsaskatoon.ca, or by contacting Lynn Gee, Interim President of the new club at lynngee@shaw.ca.

The first meeting of founding members of The Probus Club of Saskatoon Bridges will be held on Wednesday, September 11th at 9:30 AM at the Nutana Legion Hall (3021 Louise St).

Rising From the Ashes: The Return of Saskatoon’s Klass A Auctions

It was a warm July evening in 2012. Klass A Auction manager Tracey Verishine had just returned home after finalizing the setup for the company’s next auction, when the phone rang.

Located just off of 22nd Ave W, the Saskatoon strip mall that housed the auction house was burning, said the voice on the line. It wasn’t until Verishine arrived on the scene that she was able to comprehend the scope of the damage – there would be no going back.

“What hurt me the most was wondering, ‘Where will our people go’?” said Verishine, reflecting on the immediate aftermath of the fire, which resulted in the entire demolition of the building.

Klass A Auction regulars are die-hard. It’s not just a place to snag a bargain, or for dealers to pick up up a coveted antique. Many  of the clients return week after week as much for the fun, the friends and the gossip as for the goods.

A vintage Barbie car sits waiting for a new owner.

A vintage Barbie car sits waiting for a new owner.

Auctioneer Anne Klassen plays a huge role in the atmosphere of the auction as it unfolds. Her sharp-witted, good-natured barbs zing the smiling audience at the same rapid-fire pace at which she rattles off bids. A rare female auctioneer in a very male-dominated industry, her no-nonsense attitude has undoubtedly served her well.

“Anne has been my mentor, she taught me everything I know about this business. She opened Klass A Auctions over a decade ago, after being in the auction business for a very long time,” explained Verishine. “Anne’s ‘old-school auction’, while I’m trying to bring it into the next generation, implementing things like Facebook, Twitter and a stronger online presence.”

Verishine, whose background is recreational therapy in care homes, began working Klass A Auction as a second job five years ago, before buying the company from Klassen earlier this year. She credits her work with long-term care patients and their families for her development of the compassion and social-skills necessary when assisting those going through the household dispersal process.

Klass A owner Tracy Verishine mugs with an item up for bid

Klass A owner Tracy Verishine mugs with an item up for bid

“I saw the trauma families went through when it came time to downsizing their own lives, or the lives or their loved ones,” said Verishine. “I gained an understanding of the psychological process of separating people from their items – it can be difficult, with a lot of tears. In those situations we don’t just play the role of household dispersal specialists – we’re also a psychologist while just being there as friends.”

“But,” she continued, “I’ve also had wonderful experiences of people who have just retired, sold everything and happily moved on to a new chapter of their lives.”

There’s a little bit of everything, and most definitely something for everyone on auction night. Klass A Auctions leads the way in Saskatoon in household disbursements – it’s an eclectic shopping paradise of vintage home decor, toys, collectables and furniture. Throw tools, equipment and even automobiles into the mix, and you’re bound to find something you need.

Auction items are collected on Thursdays and Fridays, carefully documented and photographed over the weekend, and then available for viewing on Tuesday and Wednesday. The fun kicks off Wednesday afternoon, with the household and antique auction opening at 4:30 pm, and the furniture and larger item auction starting at 6:00pm.

On Wednesday morning, as Verishine hustles to get everything in order for the evening’s sale, rows of customers’ place-holders are already lined up on the chairs and benches. Verishine handles the constantly-ringing phone, taking calls from regulars. Some are questioning their items for sale, or things they want to buy, or just letting her know they won’t be there that night.

“For many of our customers the auction is a motivator,” said Verishine. “It’s where they come each week to swap stories and meet up with friends. In a way it’s like a family. One of our regulars recently underwent a double mastectomy as part of her battle against breast cancer. One week after the surgery, she was back at the auction.”

Exactly one year after the fire that devastated Klass A Auctions, on a hot July Wednesday evening, the auction kicks off in their new location on Witney Avenue. The tables and shelves around the auction room are laden with every kind of item imaginable, from the rarest antique to boxes of household sundries. Slowly the items dissipate; everyone in the audience seems to have their own wants and needs. The competition for certain items is fierce, but overall the atmosphere is jovial.

One year later, the new routine and location feels comfortable, looking surprisingly similar to the old location, from the handmade tiered plywood benches lining the back of the room to the smell of hamburgers and french fries wafting from the concession.

“Right after we moved, the first thing people noticed was the walls and ceiling were so dark,” said Verishine, whose fondness for her clients doubles as a strong instinct for customer service and marketing. “We wanted to make the transition as easy as possible for our clients, who were so used to the old place. My goal was to change one thing a week to make it look like the old place, and I think we’ve done well.”

As the auctioneer fires away, Verishine is animated, entertaining the audience with her antics, walking around in a faux fur coat as it’s being auctioned and donning a full-sized gopher costume after it reaches a bid amount on a bet.

There are lots of familiar, pre-fire faces in the audience, and some new. There are collectors and antique dealers, folks in their late 80s and a group of young women eyeing up the fabulous vintage clothing lining the back wall.

19-year-old Hanna, accompanied by two friends, cruises the auction rooms with ease, often stopping to chat with other customers. Clearly one of Klass A’s youngest regular clients, she points to her grandfather – anyone’s grandfather with a warm smile, blue work shirt and suspenders – as the reason she attends the auction.

“I’ve been coming here since I was seventeen,” said Hanna, a 35mm Pentax camera flanking her hip, which she indicates she bought at a recent Klass A Auction. “I love it, not just for the stuff, but for the people.” Having just bid and won a vintage typewriter, Hanna’s friend again bids boldly on a vintage bedroom set, pumping her fist when she wins. Later Hanna, who said she loves the ‘oddities’ often on offer, bids and wins a gorgeous antique chest of drawers, which she gets for a song.

“One morning I got a call from my grandma,” said Hanna. “‘I have something really terrible to tell you,’ she said. I thought someone had died!” Hanna’s grandma was calling to tell her that Klass A Auction had burned to the ground. “I felt relieved, because she freaked me out so badly, but then I felt sick.” Hanna, and her grandfather, were back as soon as Klass A was back on its feet.

“We’re seeing more and more younger people coming to the auction, particularly those interested in vintage items – but vintage is defined differently by different generations,” explained Verishine, pointing at a shelf lined with brightly colored toys. “These Fisher Price toys are really popular right now with 30 – 40 year olds, because it’s about reliving our youth.” Moving over to a ’64 Chrysler Imperial toy model set, Verishine indicates that some might consider it antique, but not the older folks in the crowd, who are there for the late 19th and early 20th century goods.

Verishine said that the 2012 fire was financially devastating, and leaves it at that. However, there was no way she was walking away. “I’m here for the people – the friendship, the camaraderie. I want to retire doing this. This place changes every week. From the people to the items, it never stays the same.”

That night, as the room swelters with humidity and the auction buzzes along, Verishine pauses for a moment. In her hands she holds a charred and blackened bundle. “One year ago we burned,” she says to the audience. “This was my laptop and my day-planner, and I’m just not ready to let it go yet.”

“We’re back now, and it’s because of you,” she continues, her tough exterior melting in the heat, and with her emotions. She chokes back tears. “We fought to come back because of the community, and because of you. Thank you so much for being here.”


Saskatoon’s Baby’s Belly Feeds Kids & Parents Alike

As Jody Swaby works her table full of homemade, organic baby food at the Farmer’s Market, one wouldn’t necessarily know her products are tailored towards kids. Crowds of childless adults swarm her sweet vanilla and chocolate cupcakes while sampling her various brightly colored fruit and veggie purees.

Jody Swaby


“If you told someone you were going to buy baby food for dessert today, would they believe you?” laughs Swaby with the two young women in corporate suits swooning over her sweet potato puree, which tastes gloriously like pumpkin pie.

The 38-year-old single mother of 17-month-old Keenan looks years younger than she is, perhaps due to her extensive background teaching and practicing yoga. She regularly greets her clients with a huge smile and hug, a familiar face in the community thanks to her years teaching yoga to private Saskatoon clients and local, forward-thinking corporations.

“I grew up in Saskatoon; I went to high school and university here,” explained Swaby, who has a double-honors from the University of Saskatchewan in political studies and Spanish, and has lived in Russia, Germany and Taiwain.

In Taiwan, Swaby began teaching belly dancing while learning to practice and teach yoga. Eventually she returned to Saskatoon, working for a literacy organization while moving towards becoming a full-time yoga teacher.

Then Swaby discovered she was pregnant.

“I was working stupid hours right through my pregnancy,” said Swaby “Foolishly, I totally thought I could keep that up after baby was born.”

She was still teaching private corporate yoga classes throughout her pregnancy, returning to public classes by the time Keenan was three months. While Swaby admits there was some flexibility, for example, corporate groups letting her bring baby to classes, she knew something had to give.

“Everything kept becoming more real, and I couldn’t do it to my son,” she said. “Building my yoga practice meant teaching meant mornings, afternoons and nights.”

A friend told Swaby about the Praxis School of Entrepreneurship in the Ideas Inc building, and her instincts kicked in immediately.

“I love cooking, and love feeding my baby,” she explained. “We’ve been experimenting with fresh flavors and textures – things like dill, tumeric, coconut, using fresh herbs and no salt – since he started on solid foods. People started asking me to make food for their babies.”

Swaby said that the inclination to start her own baby food manufacturing company felt so right, that she didn’t even get a case of cold feet, even though it meant scaling back the yoga following she had been working so hard to build.

“It just felt right,” said Swaby. With that, Baby’s Belly Organic Meals & Snacks was formed. Her inaugural debut at the Saskatoon Farmer’s Market was in mid-May of this year. The timing was perfect, as the Farmer’s Market had been looking for kid-friendly food vendors.

Swaby’s offerings, such as vanilla and chocolate cupcakes, lentil crackers, quinoa sliders and purees are grain/gluten-free, nut-free, dairy-free. Allergy-sufferers rejoice! She also cooks without sugar, salt, or preservatives.

Make no mistake, the food on offer at Baby’s Belly is as popular with adults as it is with babies and children.

“People are drawn by the vibrancy of each flavor,” Swaby explained. “I have more adult clients trying and buying food than I do mother’s with babies, typically because they don’t know I’m at the Farmer’s Market yet.”

Swaby’s business is flourishing, and she’s already identified challenges on the horizon, from production to freezer space to marketing. Not to be swayed, she takes them on with confidence. Her goal is mass-production for a mainstream retail environment, without compromising the quality or integrity of the product.

“My main focus is baby food, but I will be branching into making food and healthy snacks for family’s to stock up on immediately after they welcome their newborn,” said Swaby. “I will be focusing on foods that promote breastfeeding and milk production while keeping the new mama healthy.”

She has also started an Indi-Go-Go crowd-funding campaign, offering product packages and food experiences in exchange for cash to fund her future goals.

Meanwhile, this Saskatoon single-mom savors her entrepreneurial success, as well as the journey so far. “Even though I’m now working six days a week, and busier than I’ve ever been, I am still in total control over the choices I make,” said Swaby. “If I need to be or there for my son, or just want to get some time to hang out with him, I can.”

“It’s been hugely empowering.”

Baby’s Belly Organic Meals & Snacks is open and available during Saskatoon Farmer’s Market hours on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. You can also Like Baby’s Belly on Facebook, or find it online at www.babysbelly.ca

The Mosquitos At Waskesiu Were Ridiculous (And Shutting Off Twitter)

It’s becoming an annual occurrence – the column from Waskesiu.

After over thirty years of summering up here, I’ve come to know what to expect from my most favorite place in the world. The weather is unpredictable, the Big Olaf waffle cones  are consistently awesome. The shopping is pricey, but spending at least part of an afternoon perusing the vast array of fab summer styles is an irresistible way to escape either the heat or the rain.

This year, however, has presented something new – mosquitos. No, not the pesky swarms common on the Lobstick golf course or on a forest hike. The mosquitos at Waskesiu this year are (forgive me in advance for this overused cliche) like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Walking down the paved main streets in town, clouds of mosquitos buzz around your entire body. A repellent with 30% Deet (Off brand ‘Deep Woods’ spray contains 25% Deet) provides minimal relief, nevermind the places where bug spray doesn’t reach. In the past few days I have been bitten on my eyelids (resulting in one eye swelling shut for a day, which was not even slightly attractive), inside my nose, between my toes and in other places not fit to mention in this family-friendly column.

Chatting with the locals, the sentiment is unanimous – worst mosquito season ever in Northern Saskatchewan. One business-owner has been up here 40 years and cannot believe the density and ferociousness of the tiny pests. What’s my point? To complain. But to evoke another cliche – it’s not 40 below.

Another first up here, for this writer anyway, has come by way of technology, or lack thereof. For the last few years – at least since I got my mitts on my very first BlackBerry – I have never truly unplugged on vacation. First it was the novelty of access to information and current events anywhere, anytime, even on the beach. Then came demanding clients, paranoia, obsession with TMZ – you name it, I found a reason to stay strapped to my phone.

There was no real resolution to make a change this year; subtle adjustments in life recently simply allowed for the phone to be put away before embarking on the day’s excursion to the beach or marina.

You’ve read all kinds of articles by now about “unplugging”, so I’ll try not to bore you with  too many personal revelations. The first real ‘aha’ moment came when I found out about the death of a prominent Hollywood television star by reading about it in the morning newspaper. It was one whole day after his death, as opposed to seeing it on Twitter the moment he flatlined. Despite the delay, his death was still tragic – in fact, I’d say that the gravity of his death bore a bit more of an impact as I consumed the story for the first time in it’s entirety, as opposed to in 140 characters of truncated snippets of speculation.

The following day’s experiment was a bit different. Cooler weather and a bit of rain dampened lakeside festivities, but we curled up with books (and mosquito coils) and chilled out. Bored, I checked my Twitter feed and good heavens, the entire province was apocalyptic with tornado watches and warnings. It wasn’t Environment Canada causing the widespread social media panic, it was the fact that every single ominous cloud and stray lightning bolt had been photographed, filtered, posted to Instagram and then Tweeted. Well-meaning weather media-heads and otherwise rational citizens were all-caps Tweet-screaming that the RM of Nowhere, pop. 4, must TAKE COVER IMMEDIATELY. Viewing it from a distance, it was ridiculous. Sure enough, as blue skies prevailed in Saskatoon, soon the Twittersphere was poking fun at itself for the non-event. The energy expelled, however, leading up to the non-event, was spell-binding in its intensity. Meanwhile, over a lakeside patio dinner we overheard the next table remark mildly, “There’s a tornado watch for Saskatoon.” “Hmm,” replied one of the diners,” I hope my patio furniture doesn’t blow away.” Was ignorance is bliss? Or was it level-headed perspective?

Back in reality, a full voice-mailbox and hundreds of unopened emails later, has my experiment in reduced-technology-living altered my use of the medium? Probably not. I’ve heard my friends remark many times that they wish they could “go off” Facebook or Twitter, or get rid of their cellphones, but they “can’t”. That “can’t” is loaded with the bizarre but very real expectations and demands that come with the way we live our lives today. If we disappear off the radar folks use to stay connected, will we disappear completely? Do we want to be that person who is the last to know about the death of the Hollywood star, or the tornado that touched down 15 minutes ago in a canola field in the RM of Noggin?

For me, there’s an expectation that comes with my career choices that keep me tied to tech when back in the real world, away from the wilds of Waskesiu. That’s my excuse for now, anyway. I do wish, however, that whoever manages the Northern Saskatchewan summer destination’s Twitter account, had mentioned the mosquitos.