Saturday, 11 February 2012

Small town school pride

By Tiffany Cassidy


Jacob Geis (left) and Carter Howe (right) think equations equal awesome. Oct. 17, 2011 Photo by Tiffany Cassidy

Jacob Geis is a small town guy.  He had no reservations about talking to me, a complete stranger. He sat down casually beside me on Mossbank School’s bench and talked me through the day he showed up at school to discover his Math A30 grades were higher than most high school students dream.

“I got to school and someone was saying that I actually did ace the departmental completely and I was like ‘cool, that should be pretty easy to get into any university I want with it,’” said Geis.

He and Carter Howe “aced” the departmental by getting either 98 or 99 per cent on his departmental – the exact score isn’t made public, they just figured it out through deductive math. Howe, the other class “brain,” said the grades weren’t a huge surprise.

“It comes naturally, mostly,” he said.

The two boys eat, breath, and nerd out together. They sit beside each other in math class and work on homework in their shared hotel room while away on volleyball tournaments. The friends help each other along, checking answers, pointing out something the other may have missed.

“Jacob and I, we’re kinda alike and we’re kinda a lot different,” said Howe. 

Jacob’s mother, Jackie Geis said her son has always been into math. She said he’s not the kind of guy mothers worry about. 

“He is kind of a quiet kid, but he knows what he wants,” she said. “He basically has his whole life’s agenda planned.”

Making Mossbank School

The friends do their learning within the walls of Mossbank School.  It’s a small school with a history. In June 1914 the town petitioned for the organization of a school district. For a while they had an old school barn, until 1961 when the town proposed a new school building project.

Students at the school have been working in their cozy class sizes ever since. In January 2006 lines were Saskatchewan education lines were redrawn and Mossbank joined the Prairie South School Division. This gave them access to resources and furthered the communication between surrounding schools all the way up to Moose Jaw.

School of small numbers: a think tank for students

The man you could call the potter (teacher) behind the clay (successful math students) is Dale Lawrence. He managed Geis and Howe’s A30 math while it was a split class with a Math C30 at the same time.  I asked him for his secret.

“I’ve been around for a long time, so, experience. And you have to be organized, especially with two grades in the same classroom so that you’re never wasting time. ’Cause these kids write departmentals so you have to be ready for that. You can’t just waste time because you’re not going to cover the whole curriculum,” said Lawrence.

It turns out many students in his class are performing at levels that would be considered exceptional, but of course he had special praise for Howe and Geis.

“They’re strong students. They can help each other. And with double grades it gets them to be a little more independent with their work. When I’m with the other grade, and they have their assignment, well, I’m not there to help them, so they have to sort of buckle down and do it on their own.”

But others won’t let him get away with modesty.

“He’s patient,” explained Howe. “If you need help you can stay in after school or at noon hours.”

Likewise, Geis finds his method of teaching very easy to follow.

The school principle, Leanne Rutko, said Lawrence brings the math down to a level everyone can understand.
“There’s an art and a science to teaching. So the science is whatever you learn, whatever you are teaching, whatever the content is. Really, anyone can learn that,” she said.

“The other part of it is the art of teaching. How you interact with kids, how you deal with people, how you encourage them, how you inspire them, how you get the information to their level.” Rutko said that when you combine the two “you get teachers who are exemplary teachers.”

But the staff and students feel they have another thing going for them at Mossbank. The school currently only holds 109 students. Jacob and Carter’s class only had nine students, alongside the 6 students taking Match C30 in the same room. These are classmates that have grown up together. The students and their principle agree that in the case of learning, less can be more.

“Almost everyone in math class moved here at a young age and we’ve kind of just been working together all the time,” said Howe.

Howe and Geis will turn to each other during class to check answers, but also other people around them. They also take advantage of the intimate class setting to turn to their help their classmates who may be taking a little longer to grasp a concept.

“In small schools you maybe don’t fall through the cracks as easily,” explained Rutko. “Because we know the kids we don’t have to look through the cume file to see how strong of a math student the kid is. You kind of know. The kids coming into your class, you’ve either had them in your class somewhere along the line, or you’ve had an older sibling… A lot of the issues are addressed before the kid enters the classroom.”

Keeping up in the great education race

Lawrence feels that he is preparing his students for anything. He imagines them going to university and following their dreams. These dreams are becoming increasingly competitive to reach in a more national, even globalized market.

“A lot of times the numbers from one province to another are often compared… So they kind of have to figure out what’s going to make us competitive in a world market or international stage,” explained Rutko.
This is also a time of change for math all across Canada.

Sitting in the principal’s office, Ms. Rutko hands me a piece of paper and asks me to do long addition. Journalism school hasn’t done much to keep me fresh on my math skills, but I recall the strategies I was taught in elementary school and show her how I would go about solving the problem.

Rutko took back my paper. “Why didn’t you do it this way,” she said and went into a new method of addition I had never learned. She said it’s all about offering students multiple ways and strategies to use. Her staff is on board with these new methods.

Rutko also tries to offer as many subjects as possible, but this is difficult in a small school.

Rutko said the school population is still over 100 kids, which is a kind of magic number in the school division. It means they can still offer more in terms of staffing and elective subjects.

Their staff is also made up of mostly women and Rutko feels offering programs like Shop would be asking teachers to leave their comfort zones. The superintendents are working to find ways to offer more classes, such as partnerships with South East Regional College or the John Deer.

When the future is away from Mossbank

Teachers sang the praises of Howe and Jacob my whole time at the Mossbank school. They really were being prepared for bright futures and their grades were clearly good enough to get into university. The question that was always lingering in the back of my mind was whether these “bright futures” included Mossbank. 

“It’d be pretty tough to get an engineering job out here for what I’m interested in,” admitted Howe.
There are only 10 people living in Mossbank with a university degree according to Stats Canada. The same census shows there are 10 Mossbank citizens in the education field. 

As more young people are becoming educated, the future of all small towns is put into question. But Rutko feels there’s hope in the university field of agriculture, Mossbank’s main industry. 

“Farming in itself is becoming such a technical thing,” she said. “What we see is a lot of our students go into agricultural… So if they do come back their skills are going to enhance what they’re doing on the farms.”
Yet there doesn’t seem to be a current demand for engineers with degrees from the University of Regina, which both Howe and Geis hope to become.

“Like, I grew up on the farm, I like farming, kinda, but… if I took engineering it wouldn’t really apply to what’s going on around here. There’s not much for jobs. Mossbank’s probably not going to get a whole lot bigger in the future. It’s probably just going to kinda dwindle off,” said Howe.

Though Howe and Geis weren’t thrilled about the idea of moving to the big cities.

“I like the small towns a lot better than the big cities,” mused Geis. “It’s a lot easier. You don’t have to worry just walking around.”

Howe seemed to be planning a future in which he could have it all. “I don’t want to live in the city but I want to be like close to it so maybe just a small town outside of the city like fifteen/twenty minutes, or maybe like an acreage or something so my kids can still be kinda close to the school,” he said.

I asked Lawrence whether his star pupils would be leaving town for good.

“In a way you hope. Because there’s so much more out there. You know this is a great town but for them to come back, unless they’re going to come farm, which I doubt it, you know there’s nothing here for them. With their interests… yeah.”

Geis’s mother reiterated the sentiment: “I think once he gets out in his field, yeah, he’ll be… he’ll be gone.”


Jackie Geis’s feelings of letting her son go were mixed with the pride she felt for him. She said she knew he would excel in whatever he does. 

Likewise, Rutko mused about the open future of her students:

“Carter and Jacob will both be awesome university students… The world is at their feet right now because they are so good at what they do, they are very focused, and they have awesome work habits, and they’re serious about learning. They’ll do very well.”

Monday, 28 November 2011

Home is where the church is

By Tiffany Cassidy


Edna Stark gets all the benefits of small town life in Mossbank, Sask. After more than 55 years in the community, she knows the people. When she leaves her blue-sided house, she passes the other homes on her street, each with its own character – a trait lost in new city developments.  She can have her needs met at the local grocery stores and library. 

For Stark, her community needs to offer everything “right to the last detail.” For a devout Lutheran, this includes the town’s Trinity Lutheran Church. “It is important to me – my family background from years ago was always Lutheran,” she says. 

Trinity Lutheran Church in Mossbank, Sask. Photo by Tiffany Cassidy

The town of just under 500 people is home to four churches: St. Louis Roman Catholic Church, Mossbank United Church, Trinity Lutheran Church, and Cornerstone Gospel Church. But the churches’ futures are cause for discussion.

The congregations of all four of the churches are decreasing in number by varying amounts. Stark estimates that her church sees an average of 18 members on a Sunday – a large drop from the 50 to 60 bodies Stark remembers from when she first started attending in the 1950s. 

Mossbank church-goers consider several factors to be the cause, such as young people moving away to university. But an idea echoed by members of the different churches is that religion is no longer a priority for many. “It isn’t the thing anymore, religion, is it?” Stark muses. 

If one of these churches were to close, what would it mean for the townspeople?

Holly Hutchinson doesn’t feel that being able to live in Mossbank is dependent on her church. “It doesn’t have to be an Associated Gospel church, it could be any church,” she said.

Yet both Stark and Elaine Yaganiski, a member of Mossbank’s Catholic Church, feel they would need a church within a close distance to their community where they could attend. They desire not only a place to go on Sundays, but the community a church provides throughout the week. A church is a place “to support one another,” Hutchinson said.

There isn’t much hope of other religions moving in, either. Wendy Gibson, the minister of Mossbank’s United Church, said people like to be with others of similar beliefs. Muslims tend to congregate with Muslims, and there isn’t a diverse enough community for many people to find others who share their beliefs in a small town.
“That’s one of the drawbacks in being in a small community,” Gibson said. “There isn’t a lot of diversity with religion or otherwise.” 

Wendy Gibson stands at the pulpit of Mossbank's United Church. Photo by Tiffany Cassidy

Gibson helped start a Women of Faith group, made up of members of Mossbank’s four churches. When they were first creating it, Gibson argued that the word “Christian” shouldn’t be used in the name of the group, but that the group should be open to women of any faith.

While Gibson thinks it would be beneficial for the town to grow in religious diversity, she’s not sure how that would happen. “There is a reluctance of some people in small towns to accept people of other faiths,” she said. 

Depending on the future of the four churches, the town’s diversity could continue to decrease. Decreasing congregations means decreasing finances. Gibson has been the only resident minister for the past seven years. Other churches share their leaders with other towns, or have them commute from out of town. 

For people like Stark, the ability to express religion is a staple for a community in which she chooses to live. She hopes dwindling numbers won’t mean they have to close her church. 

“We are concerned,” she said. “But with a few prayers we’re going to try and carry on as best we can.”


St. Louis Roman Catholic Church in Mossbank, Sask. Photo by Tiffany Cassidy

Associated Gospel Church in Mossbank, Sask. Photo by Tiffany Cassidy

United Church in Mossbank, Sask. Photo by Tiffany Cassidy

Lost Rails

By Vanda Schmockel ________________________________________________________________________________________

Don Smith runs his finger lightly along a railway map, tracing the line that used to run to his hometown of Mossbank. He says that it was a Canadian Northern rail line before it became Canadian National. Now, it’s not there at all.

“Our line came through Galilee, over here to Avonlea. And then went up to Moose Jaw.” His finger moves back and forth along the phantom line. “That’s all been taken out,” he said.

Smith, now in his 70s, fondly remembers a culture of rail travel in Canada. His father was the station agent for Mossbank, but also worked at other stations around Saskatchewan before his retirement in 1958. Smith still has the old wristwatch given to his father for his retirement, etched with a train engine on the back.

“My dad, he’d get a pass, and we’d travel for nothing,” he said. “We’d go to Chicago, Los Angeles, and B.C. And they had beautiful dining cars and everything. Silverware! Man, oh man. They used to have Trans-Canada service from eastern Canada to BC. They don’t have that anymore. It’s stupid. You go to Europe and they have train service everywhere – and fast. But we discontinued all that stuff.”

There’s no question that railway service in Saskatchewan is a husk of what it used to be. To compare a railway map from 1945 to a contemporary one is to watch a disappearing act, like looking at a ghost map written with invisible ink.   

George Wooldridge is a member of Transport Action Canada, an advocacy group that champions rail use across the country, and he shares Smith’s frustration.

“There was an incredibly extensive passenger train network from about the turn of the century to the late 1960s,” he said. “After that, it started getting cut back in fairly rapid progression, and it culminated, I would say, in about 1990 when Brian Mulroney decided that Regina, Moose Jaw, Swift Current, Calgary and a host of other cities across the CPR main line didn’t even deserve a passenger train. And he cut that link off.”

There was a time when it seemed as though every little hamlet in Saskatchewan had a train station. At one time, Mossbank had two railway stations - one to handle passengers and the other to handle freight. Now it has none. Its last railway station was demolished in 1977. Today, only a lone grain elevator belonging to RW Organic sits by the remaining CP railway line.

And now, yet another branch of track in Mossbank is to be abandoned. Canadian Pacific Rail says that a branch of the line that juts off roughly three kilometers south of the low, rolling landscape around Mossbank is no longer profitable and they want it off their hands.

Ron Wells is the CEO of RW Organic. If he and a group of other grain handlers and farmers have their way, that very stretch of track that runs north-west to Hodgeville, will soon be theirs; a short line railroad with a new lease on life and a new name to match: The Gravelbourg Hodgeville Rail (GHR).

The history of short rails in Saskatchewan isn’t a particularly long one. In the late ‘80s, the Government of Saskatchewan passed the Saskatchewan Railway Act, which created the climate for short rails in the province – an initiative to allow small groups to purchase abandoned branch lines from Canadian Pacific and Canadian National railways, primarily for the purpose of transporting grain. The first short line to run in Saskatchewan wasn’t too far from Mossbank. The Southern Rails Cooperative was launched in 1989 and continues to service farmers and grain handlers in nearby Avonlea and Briercrest.

At the moment, negotiations for the sale of the CP line to the GHR is under the advisement of the Canadian Transportation Agency, which is looking at setting a price for the track.

Price aside, another considerable concern for the future of the GHR is the potential dismantling of the Canadian Wheat Board. The CWB has a significant impact on the health of short line railways because it has the authority to allocate cars along the lines. Some, such as GHR chair Louis Stringer, are concerned that a lack of regulation will spell trouble for the GHR and other short lines.

“It’s nice to make pious statements that they’re going to preserve the producer cars, but how?” he asked. “Obviously, now the big companies are going to have that much more influence on how the cars are allocated. It used to be that the CWB would do a balancing act between the producer cars and the commercial cars. So now that’s going to be gone, what’s going to replace it?”

Wooldridge agrees, but is more optimistic about the future of short lines. He points to the Last Mountain Railway, a short line that runs between Regina and Davidson. Wooldridge wrote the feasibility study for the line, and largely credits local interest from smaller communities for its success.

“It was a pretty desperate situation at the time,” he said. “Again, it was strange how people reacted to trying to save what was, and is, basically the main railway between Regina and Saskatoon. We had allies in places we didn’t expect them to be.”

While the short lines are primarily meant to transport grain, Wooldridge can see a time when they might, at least partially, be turned over for some light passenger rail again – a use for the short lines that isn’t being exploited at the moment. He says that such use could be realized on the Last Mountain Railway, which meets up with the CN line running south from Saskatoon.

“I think it’s an almost ideal corridor for a higher speed train,” he said. “I think you could start by incrementally upgrading the existing track. (It) was used by passenger trains in the past, and it’s in fairly decent condition. You could basically run regional trains along it. You’d probably have to do some upgrades, but the cost of upgrading that track would be still far cheaper than, say, resurfacing a highway.”

Back in his living room, Don Smith is clicking through Google Earth to get an aerial view of this region that was once so well serviced by rail.

“We used to have two rail services to Moose Jaw – the CN and CP. You’d get on a day coach and you’d go to Moose Jaw and come back again.”

He continues to click away at his PC’s keyboard, seemingly a man from another time, rooted in the past. But his lament for the lost railways has never seemed more contemporary, a turn-of-the-last-century innovation, that’s long overdue for a revival.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

The determination that grew in Mossbank

By Madeline Kotzer

Phyllis Ray Zado, 68, paints a picture of a serene and special place with her winding words, as she recalls herself as an 11-year-old walking through the Mossbank graveyard with her mother. As they passed through the sprawling prairie grassland, pierced by aging head stones, Zado remembers the point in her life that sparked her interest in the intricacies of history.

“We came to one lady’s grave and my mother said, this lady was both my great-great-grandmother and your Dad’s great-great-grandmother… You can imagine how intrigued a young girl would be about this. I said to myself I don’t quite understand this but one day I am going to figure that out.”

The woman was Faith Anderson, a renegade in her day who had been married three times, mothered 18 children and lived to be 98 years old.  The mystery of Faith Anderson’s life would both be the inspiration for Zado’s first book Furrows and Faith and at the heart of her determination to uncover the truth about the past.

Capturing the morning sunrise in Mossbank on October 12th.


The past of Mossbank is one filled with peaks and valleys. During the beginning of the 20th century, Saskatchewan and subsequently Mossbank reached an extraordinarily high increase in population. In 1906 there were 257,763 people living in the province according to the Saskatchewan census and by 1916 the population rose by 250 per cent to 647,835.

The population surged thanks to increased immigration and favourable farming markets. As more families moved to the province the need for more schools and an expanded education curriculum grew. In 1906, 873 schools existed in Saskatchewan and ten years later in 1916, 3,608 were in operation. Mossbank fell into the Lake Johnston-Sutton area, which in that time had established 30 of the 38 school districts that would compose the area. The village of Mossbank is located in the Raecraft district and although it was not the center of this district, on June 14, 1915, the Department of Education granted that Raecraft school district be instated in Mossbank; (later renamed Mossbank school district on March 1, 1917). The Raecraft school was the first of three to be built in the village and was composed of two rooms, one on top of the other.

Raecraft School – “The Big School” - 1938


Zado was six years old in the fall of 1949 and attended the Raecraft school, fondly remembered by those who live in Mossbank as ‘the big school.'

“In order to get to it from where I lived in Raecraft I had to cross the railway tracks, which was kind of scary,” Zado remembers of the strenuous journey to school each day. Zado’s connection with education in Mossbank spans all three schools and several decades. She attended classes as a Grade 6 student in the newly-built school of 1953 – often referred to as ‘the longest school in Mossbank’ thanks to the series of portable classrooms it was made of. Upon returning in 2008 to help her aging mother, Zado substitute taught in Mossbank’s current kindergarten-Grade 12 school.

The increased importance of education in Saskatchewan marked a time of new opportunity for women as well. Zado’s love for learning was inspired by her own mother, who never had the opportunity to finish school.

“My mom was always helping me study, at the old coal stove, we would sit there with our tea and she would ask me questions to make sure I was prepared for my exams. She told me how much she liked learning, how much she wished she had finished high school.”

Mossbank School 1933


The opportunity to finish high school and the encouragement to pursue post-secondary education are factors for which Zado enthusiastically acknowledges gratefulness. “I am glad I was born into the generation I was!”

Zado’s determination has been the guiding force throughout her life and career. Born in 1943, the eldest of six children in a farming family, Zado came into the world during a period of change that was especially important for women. Zado was afforded opportunities and rights that her own mother’s generation was not. Women’s right to suffrage in Canada was passed in 1919 and in 1961 when Zado graduated from highschool. She, along with the majority of women who graduated that year in Mossbank, went on to attain post-secondary education.

“I think because of the type of personality I was there was no way I was stopping at Grade 12… I had always been a leader, it was just in me. The leader in my groups, always sang solos. So when I got to Grade 12 my marks were good enough to get me into Teachers College. In fact my poor family, my mom worked out in homes around the town so she would be able to give me $20 cash to come into Teacher’s College in Regina.”

The pursuit of Faith Anderson’s mysterious life resurfaced in Zado’s life while she took a break from her teaching career to raise her two sons.

“I didn’t get around to solving the issue of my grandmother until both my sons were born. I knew because I had been a teacher that in order to keep myself sane while doing diapers and keeping a house and doing all of those sorts of things I had to keep my head busy.”

Mossbank School Grade 9/10 Social Studies Students, taken October 12th.


Since the days when Zado attended school in Mossbank, much has changed.  Grades 5 to12 social studies teacher Arnelda Lawrence has taught in Mossbank for 22 years and notes the shift in her students' attitude and approach to education.

“I think the kids are not as worldly as they used to be. Their attitude is totally different. They are very 'all about me' and every generation is getting worse. It is all about me, all about what you can do for me, not what I can do for you. That scares me a little bit.”

Mossbank Museum’s secretary and organizer extraordinaire Audrey Tate flips through Furrows and Faith adoringly, pointing out people she has known, now captured in the stillness of glossy black and white photographs. Tate notes the difference in the education system as she tours through the reconstructed, one-room school house at the museum – holding out a thick, long piece of black leather – she explains the ease at which her and her sisters received ‘the strap’ on the palms of their hands as discipline in school.

Audrey Tate demonstrates ‘the strap’.

Tate speaks about the historical changes Mossbank has experienced, concluding that Zado’s work as an author has encapsulated a growth spurt felt not only in Mossbank but also in Saskatchewan.

Zado laughs when I ask her what the future holds for her as an author.

“Do you know something, I have never ever thought of myself as an author. You are the second person who has said it. I am an author, yeah, I am. I am an author.”

The time in which Zado lived in Mossbank, Sask. was one of change and hope for the future for both women and the quality of education in Saskatchewan.

“I am glad I was born at the right time because I would have been a very, very unhappy woman if I would have had nothing to think about but diapers and making bread. It would have been very depressing.”

Old singer sewing machine on display at Mossbank Museum.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Mossbank's health and wellness is full of surprises

By Tim Jones
On Monday, Oct. 17, I and 25 other journalism students made our way to the sleepy little town of Mossbank Sask. Mossbank is located about 40 minutes south of Moose Jaw, just off Highway 2. 

The town has clearly seen better days. Main Street is full of empty store fronts and the buildings are almost all in need of a good coat of paint.
But looks can be misleading. One might expect the town residents to be sleepy or jaded but this couldn’t be further from the case. At the rink I was introduced to Donald Smith, our host, and he was as bright, chipper and friendly as anyone you’d meet. I would come to find these to be common traits of the people of Mossbank.
After getting a brief orientation to the town I decided to get down to the business of finding out about health and wellness in Mossbank. I knew in advance that Mossbank doesn’t have a hospital and the nearest hospitals were in Assiniboia and Gravelbourg. I ventured forth to see how long a trip it was to both towns.
I made my way south along Highway 2. Highway 2 gently wends south through wheat country. The highway is in top condition which will be important in an emergency. The trip to Assiniboia took me about 25 minutes.
Gravelbourg lies to the south west of Mossbank. To get there you must leave Highway 2 and jump on to Highway 43. The junction lies about 10 minutes south of Mossbank. Highway 43 is a single-lane highway that at times is in rough condition. The highway curves like a snake as it strikes west from Highway 2. The trip took about 30 minutes.
Clearly having to drive 25 to 30 minutes or more to get to a hospital is not an ideal situation. However Mossbank provides a partial solution, with the town’s health and wellness centre. The wellness centre sees to the majority of the town’s health needs. There is a nurse practitioner who comes to town on Mondays and Wednesdays. The nurse is capable of providing many of the basic services that a doctor can.  

The health centre also has rotating lab services once a week. This means that the people of Mossbank are able to get lab work done without leaving the area.
But without a full-time doctor in town, the people of Mossbank often have to travel to Moose Jaw, Assiniboia, or Gravelbourg to see a doctor. To make matters worse, the town doesn’t have a drug store. Getting medicine requires a call to the drug stores in either Gravelbourg or Assiniboia. However both stores will mail out prescriptions, so the inconvenience of traveling is lessened.  

The situation isn’t ideal but the people of Mossbank have a realistic view of things. “We’re used to what we have and very grateful for what we have. People that have freshly moved to Mossbank will say that (the health centre) is one of the reasons they moved here. We’re just a small little town so we don’t expect to have full services,” said Sharon Brunt, the health centre’s administrator. 
Health care is only one side of the health and wellness story there is also the town’s recreation activities, from Zumba -a new-aged Latin aerobics routine- to hockey, and curling. 

Curling is one of the most popular activities, with a league of eight to nine teams. At four people per team that’s a whopping 36 people. For a town that has only 498 people, that’s almost 10 per cent of the population. The curling club meets twice a week from November to March. 

“I think there are lots of opportunities (to do sports) for most people. You can usually find something that interests you… I have two young kids as well and I feel there is lots of opportunities for them as well,” said Chris Farris, secretary of the curling club.

This optimism is a defining characteristic of Mossbank. Despite the town’s past struggles and uncertain future, Mossbank manages to be a happy and healthy town.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Mossbank baby boom

By Brigid McNutt 

Walking into Mossbank’s Prairie Heritage Restaurant, I was invited to join a table of six women for their morning coffee. "Put a toonie in the basket, then pour your own cup," I was told. "You’re in a small town now—just help yourself." 

Taking a seat, I was warmly welcomed into the chitchat. The women shared stories of earlier times when there was still a hospital in Mossbank. Some of them gave birth to their children there before its closure in 1969. The end of the hospital is just one example among many failed ventures in the community. A once-vibrant town, Mossbank has experienced population decline and business and service closures for the past 50 years.

But, as our conversation moved to present day, Irene Stark’s face lit up. She had some good news to share—there are currently 15 three-year-olds in Mossbank. 

"Usually there’s five or six. Fifteen is a big number. There’s a large group of us with young kids," said Sarah Jolly, a parent and teacher at the pre-school in Mossbank’s school.

Speaking to town mayor Carl Weiss in the town office, he said the community can relax knowing that this growing number of children means they no longer need to worry about the viability of Mossbank School. 

"We’ve got now well over 100 students at the school. If we hadn’t gotten that number over 100, we would have probably ended up losing that school. We’re really fortunate that we’ve got the young families here and staying and their kids going to school," he said.

Weiss has noticed an attitude change since he moved back to Mossbank 20 years ago. Mossbank "was stagnant, it sat here. People were not excited about moving ahead," he remembered. 

Cherilyn Jolly-Nagel, a parent and former economic development officer, agreed things have changed.

"Over the last several years there’s been kind of an active groundswell to really get some new things going in Mossbank," she said. "The business climate is great. We’ve got everything we need, and sometimes more, just right here." 

Mossbank has a pool, a playground, two ball diamonds, volleyball courts, a hockey rink, and an active library—all of which have been credited with attracting Mossbank’s youth. 

Jolly-Nagel believes she gets the best of both worlds by living in Mossbank.

"I feel great raising my kids in this community. It’s safe; it has a lot to offer. It’s not a culture shock for me to go to the city. And yet, I have access to the farm and the community and the small town with which to raise my kids." 

There has been a change in the agricultural business in the past 15 years, as the younger generations have started to take over the farming—another factor in the comparatively high number of young families in Mossbank. 

Jolly-Nagel believes that when agriculture is doing well and the commodity prices are higher, Mossbank will also do well. The farmers spend their money in the community and put their children in the school. 

"This area in particular did really well the past couple years. We got through the flood. We fared well in general terms, and I think Mossbank will do well because of that," she said.

This rings true throughout rural Saskatchewan—when agriculture prospers, small towns like Mossbank can grow. 

"The young generational boom that we have happening is kind of a down payment on where the community can go in the future. We’ve got new kids here, that’s a good sign," said Jolly-Nagel. 

Mossbank’s high number of young children mirrors Saskatchewan’s population growth as a whole. According to Statistics Canada, last year Saskatchewan had the fastest population growth rate of all the provinces. Since 2007, the population has grown by over 50, 000, bringing Saskatchewan’s current population to 1,057,884.

Dawn Archer runs a daycare out of her home in Mossbank. She said this year has been extremely busy, and she believes this trend is only going to continue.

"I know lots of moms are going to be having babies. There are so many families with kids coming in," Archer told me over the shrieks of children leaving for the day. 

It was evident by the sheer number of toys in the backyard that her daycare is full. After a hectic day, a sandbox littered with toy trucks, a tiny trampoline, and bright plastic slides have been abandoned for the night. Archer is enthusiastic and ready for another busy day. 

"It keeps our school going," she said. "It’s just fabulous.

The sandbox is full at Dawn Archer's daycare.