A squirrel scampers across Main Street and stops in front of the five storey brick edifice that used to be the Grant Hall Hotel. He sees an opening, scampers up the step, but this is not what he is looking for. He reappears, runs a little way toward us and disappears into the next opening. Chris stops, touches my arm and I stop, too. The second opening is only another closed doorway and the squirrel appears again on the sidewalk. He comes toward us, sees what he has been looking for and runs through the space between two buildings toward Langdon Crescent and Crescent Park. When we reach the street corner we see a display of teddy bears inside a window of the hotel and a sign saying “Please bear with us as we renovate.”
We are in Moose Jaw on the second day of summer, taking a walk down Main Street before the city wakes up. The big old buildings we see are mute evidence that one hundred years ago Moose Jaw was Saskatchewan’s largest city, a result of the boom that came with the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway and the influx of settlers during the pioneer years. Long years of stagnation followed, ensuring that these old buildings were not torn down and replaced with more modern structures.
We turn and walk west along River Street. This was once the most disreputable part of town, lined with hotels offering cheap rooms, loud bars and more illicit forms of entertainment. Only the Winston Hotel still stands. Across First Avenue looms the framework of the new Multiplex, a multipurpose sport facility being built to replace the Civic Centre on the north end of Main Street. I vividly recall the controversy and the fund-raising involved in the building of the “Crushed Can,” as the Civic Centre is known, and consider it a new building. But it is fifty years old and apparently no longer meets the needs of the populace. The building’s nickname comes from its shape — high walls at the north and south ends with a hammock-style roof line between.
I stop at Folk’s Barber Shop for a haircut and the price is two dollars less than I would pay in Saskatoon. The barber tells me the Winston is soon coming down to make way for a fifty million dollar hotel that will be linked to the Multiplex by a sky walk.
Now the stores are opening and I stop at Gemmell’s Shoes to buy new walking shoes. The shoe buying experience is itself a step back in time. The clerk has me sit, measures the length and width of my feet and brings me a pair of shoes that fit comfortably without pinching anywhere. I buy them and wear them with no discomfort for the rest of our stay in Moose Jaw.
We are staying at the Travelodge, probably one of the smallest of this chain. It is close to downtown, reasonably priced, and a continental breakfast is included. Our room is clean, well furnished and contains a fridge, microwave, coffee maker and hair dryer. Inside our door is a sign, no doubt necessary to comply with the requirements of some benevolent government bureaucracy: “FIRE EMERGENCY INSTRUCTIONS: EXIT ROOM TO PARKING LOT.”
(Written in 2010)