What is going on out there in the middle of the Canadian prairies? It’s summertime, and exploration ferments in the blood. The Spring Valley Guest Ranch in the Saskatchewan Cypress Hills presents an opportunity to scratch that itch.
"I opened the guest ranch in the fall of 1988, and I had my first Rendezvous in the summer of ’89, so it’s been 24 years," Jim Saville told GayCalgary Magazine. He admits that, "I’ve missed a couple, through the years," but given the single-minded determination of the man and the place he has lived, it doesn’t seem worth holding such human frailties against him. "24 years ago, it was a chance for gays and lesbians to get away and for them to feel totally comfortable with their partner, or as a single, to feel totally comfortable in a gay-friendly environment for a weekend. Things have changed so much in the past couple decades as far as socializing in a gay world."
Jim wasn’t always so philosophical.
"I grew up on a big ranch, and when I was out of high school I couldn’t get out of here fast enough, and I was gone for 15 years. And for all the reasons I left, I wanted to be back; with animals, and my family, and the country. And when I moved back I wanted to bring the gay life back with me to some degree, or try to. So my goal was to bring new gay people and gay friends here to the ranch once a year."
Some might ask, as his teenage persona did, why he’d want to go back there. The home page for Eastend, Saskatchewan, which is the town nearest his guest ranch, starts off by saying "Eastend is located in the middle of nowhere." The perfect location to attract paying customers, no?
"I’m just 45 minutes south of Maple Creek, off the Trans-Canada. So I’m in the south-west corner of Saskatchewan in the Cypress Hills."
Anyone interested in the history of the Canadian West, as Jim is, would be ecstatic over the crisscrossing histories of the NWMP, the Assiniboine, Sitting Bull, whisky and fur traders. Eastend was originally an outpost of Fort Walsh, from which the NWMP negotiated with Chief Sitting Bull. He and approximately 5000 Lakoda arrived there after smashing General Custer’s forces at the Battle of Little Big Horn. But as he notes with a laugh, it’s not all just "cowboy and Indian" stuff:
"We have quite a few drawing cards around here now, with the Cypress Hills Vineyard Winery, Fort Walsh, the T. Rex Discovery Centre in Eastend and the Old Man On His Back Nature Preserve, so I’m often sharing that with the guests."
And if you want to collect eggs for him, or watch him milk cows, that can also be arranged.
"I do love people. I missed that last year when I was making cheese full-time (artisan cheeses including feta, havarti, cheddar and lesser-known ones, made from the milk of his rare-breed heritage cattle): I missed my guests, and meeting wonderful people from around the world. I have a map of the world on my verandah with pins where people have come from, and it’s amazing!"
And there are hikes into the coulees and to the eponymous spring, which Jim describes as peaceful and spiritual. This summer’s Rendezvous, however, won’t be quite so peaceful and spiritual, even if one of the highlights a church.
"It’s 70 feet long, seats about 150 people upstairs, and it came with a full basement (when he moved it onto his property) which seats 95, so I do dinner concerts. So this year, I just got in the mail the 54 flags of the Commonwealth. We’ve had drag shows in there, and talent shows, and I’ve invited all of the queens and royalty from across Canada to come and celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee during the Rendezvous. There’s about 30 booked so far." So the Rendezvous could double this year.
"On the website is the whole story of the church move, and it was quite extraordinary, actually. Coming down into my coulee I had to build what I call my church road, a wide, huge road I had to build specially to bring this huge church into my yard. So I have a village here, with the main (1913 Eaton’s) house and the log cabins and the barn and the church. I was going to put a flag up on the steeple like Buckingham Palace, but no-one will go up there. I was going to transform my theatre into a castle."
The B&B sleeps 22, there’s plenty of room for camping, and they’ll be serving you 8 meals during the weekend which starts August 3rd. Jim mentions that people are often reserved and polite when they arrive on Friday, but are usually crying with separation anxiety by Monday when people start leaving. What with the games and the hills and the Queen’s Jubilee and the hot-tubs ("men’s and women’s," he giggles) there will be something, as they say, for everyone.
The Spring Valley Guest Ranch, SK
The 24th Annual Ranch Rendezvous
August 3rd to 6th, 2012