By Dan Archer
There’s a hamlet on the rise of the Missouri Coteau. An ex-hamlet called Ormiston. In Ormiston, east of Assiniboia and south of Moose Jaw, the grasslands begin rising over ice-shoved hills. Did you know? Saskatchewan has the largest ice-shoved hills in the world.
If you’d like to see a fragment of this ice-shoved range, drive south of Moose Jaw on Highway 36 or north of Willow Bunch. If you travel south of Moose Jaw, a curved road takes you over and above a series of rises approximating foothills before descending into Crane Valley. To find Ormiston, drive east through Crane Valley on another twisting section of asphalt. Don’t take this road in the winter – least, not in a Ford Fusion. But in the summers, you must visit Ormiston by any means possible.
Today, little happens in this hamlet settled by a mixture of British, Eastern European and German pioneers, the majority arriving in 1925. Before the railway, a settlement existed prior to 1911, the year Ormiston established a post office. In the pre-railway era, settlers were making annual treks to Moose Jaw for supplies, meaning ventures over rugged hills, hopefully with ponies, mules or horses. The railway added prominence to Ormiston in the late 1920s, since essentials were easier to obtain from urban centres such as Regina.
Much of Ormiston’s growth spurt came when the railway from Assiniboia to Weyburn joined several communities. Businesses were established in Ormiston. A community hall was built in 1928. Next, a school, a curling rink and various churches were constructed in the prairie settlement dipping into a valley and half-poised poised over a hill. The hamlet’s remote position, the view of the Dirt Hills to the north and the elegant streets and woodlands make Ormiston a noteworthy place to wander through.
In the summers, stroll along Ormiston’s winding lanes of poplars, Manitoba maples and elms. The hamlet’s trees were planted in the 1930s, illustrating the community’s strength in the Depression. These trees are inspiring – a legacy to Ormiston’s survival. In the early thirties, the Depression typified a period of worldwide poverty and drought after the boom decade of the 1920s ended. Southwestern communities like Ormiston were threatened by the hardships of the Depression, but Ormiston’s beautification project, more than 80-years-old, is a remarkable testimony to a hamlet refusing irrelevance. However, after Saskatchewan’s road system modernized in the 1960s, villages and hamlets like Ormiston became doomed in times of affluence.
When you stroll through Ormiston, expect houses of mixed European or modern North American styles spread over boulevards of trees on unused roads travelling up, over and everywhere. You’ll need a four-wheel-drive to move into this stunning ex-hamlet to rebuild a house into a writer’s retreat to finish the half-written novel or play you’ve put off for five years. An artist might reconvert one of these homes into a painting, clay or a photography studio in the attractive community within a relative proximity to Assiniboia or Moose Jaw by vehicle. But after a visit to Ormiston on a late August evening, I’ve acquired a bias.
For those seeking more adventurous walks, Oro Lake Regional Park is 10 kilometres north of Ormiston. Unfortunately, the park is closed after Labour Day until June 01. If you plan to visit Ormiston, don’t forget to pack bug repellent, although September nights are becoming cooler overnight.