Saskatchewan

Everett Baker. Joe Murray Family, 10 July 1954. Shaunavon, Saskatchewan

The Saskatchewan Communications Network (SCN) has been axed by the Saskatchewan's Wall government, saving $5 million a year.  SCN is one of a little clutch of provincial arts networks that comes with the basic package on Canadian satellite tv services: Knowledge Network in BC, TVOntario in Ontario and SCN.  Once there was Access in Alberta, radio and tv, but the Klein government divested themselves of cultural programming in the 1990s.  Access TV now is just a feeder for a lot of American programming via Global.  CKUA the radio part when independent, and survives still as an alternative music station. 

It seems today that with Saskatchewan entering a new era of huge prosperity through its oil revenues that $5 million a year is a very small sum to support such a good station.  I don't live in Saskatchewan, but I watch SCN a lot.  It has the kind of programming one used to hear about in the Netherlands, where little one-minute to five-minute gaps between programs are filled with shorts about poetry, about craft, about native grannies telling stories, about wind blowing across wheat fields. 

One of the first things I saw on it, years ago, was the photographs of Everett Baker, who, in his job with Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, travelled all over the province and took thousands of Kodachrome slides of all the people he came across between 1937 and the 1970s.  They are presented without voice-over, just as the images with music and run once or twice a week, always different, always fresh.  It is the Saskatchewan we knew about where all the older men looked like Tommy Douglas and mothers wore odd glasses.  Today it is all terribly poignant, given the changes Saskatchewan has seen over the last thirty years.  The grain elevators are gone, most of the towns, farms have been consolidated and they have a hard-line government in the Klein/Harper mode. 

SCN isn't all nostalgia and harvest suppers.  It also runs Rabbit Falls, a powerful drama series about contemporary reserve life, quite a bit on the RCMP and how they train, and a lot about Saskatchewan's contribution to Canada's military.  Oh, and it also showcased, for many years, Landscape as Muse, about the relationship between Canadian artists and Canadian land.  This is now running on Knowledge. 

If a subsidised communications network does not exist to show such material, where will it be shown?  Look at the once-vital Access Network in Alberta.  You can watch any amount of American garbage on it, but nothing about the history of Alberta, or cultural producers in Alberta or First Nations life.  Subsidy vs market is an old and tired argument, not worth revisiting one would think.  But it is an argument still current in provincial legislatures where they can give culture the chop with no warning, no foresight and no regret.  

Everett Baker. Gillie Thorarinson's Homes, 7 September 1950. Climax, Saskatchewan,