Four Mile Hill

The gravel road going straight south from Meyronne to McCord gradually climbs up over a ridge of hills four miles south of the village. At the summit of these hills, the road curves around the highest peak. We called it Four Mile Hill.

It was no mountain but it was prominent enough to be noticeable. For me, it was a landmark I looked for whenever we (i.e., my family) were returning from a visit to any of the relatives. It was a sign that we were close to home, that the tedium of an eight-hour drive from Meadow Lake or Airdrie would soon be finished; that I would no longer be cooped up with my brother in the back seat of our 1958 Ford car; that soon the two of us would be unpenned and we could run off all our pent-up energy that, for the last hour or so, had been translating into spats and arguments that annoyed our father to point of his threatening us with the back of his hand. Or worse.

In 1965, I left home for university and work. Seventeen years later, I returned to Saskatchewan to work. One of the first things I did was drive to the family farm.

As I neared Meyronne, I started looking for Four Mile Hill. I couldn’t see it. Had I forgotten where to look? What it looked like? Was it smaller than I remembered? I still hadn’t seen it as I drove up the lane to the farm house. Where was Four Mile Hill?

All that’s left of Four Mile Hill

It was all but gone. A mere remnant remained. Several years previously, someone in his wisdom decided that the curve around the hill should be eliminated. Perhaps he deemed it too dangerous. Straightening the curve entailed going straight through Four Mile Hill. It was bulldozed, and all but erased from the landscape.

My reaction was visceral, emotional, intense. I was appalled, angry, hurt. How dare they destroy my landmark, my touchstone, the signal that I was nearing home! Yes, there were highways and road signs to guide me home – as if I needed them! – but somehow I needed Four Mile Hill. It was my North Star, my lighthouse guiding me home. And now it was gone. My home – not the house, not the farm, but my HOME, the landscape I knew as a child – was in some small way gone. Forever.

Cultural landscape theory proposes that the landforms around us are more than mere topography, more than a series of hills and valleys and lakes and streams. We imbue those landforms with meanings, memories and values that transform them from “places” into “spaces” filled with personal, historical and even spiritual significance. These spaces hold memories that trigger a host of other emotions – a sense of home, of self, of security, of one’s place in the world, of belonging. In other words, we humans are not apart from, we are a part of the landscape. We create, and are created by, the spaces around us.

The places I highlighted in my previous five posts of “Saskatchewan is NOT flat!” are those that hold exactly those kinds of memories for me. But not just for me. Everyone who has spent time there – who has climbed to the top of St. Victor petroglyphs, or learned to swim at Camp Woodboia, or gazed in awe at the gazillions of stars strewn across the night sky at Grasslands National Park, or seen the world laid out below them from one of Cypress Hills’ peaks – they have their own memories of those places, their own sense of attachment to them. All those stories are layered on top of all the other stories – many, alas, now forgotten – of all the people who preceded us.

The next time you drive across “boring,” “flat” Saskatchewan (or anywhere, for that matter), take a good look at the landforms around you. Imagine what stories they might tell, or significance they once held. If only we had the ears to hear, or the eyes to see . . .

#FourMileHill #MeyronneMemories #SaskatchewanNotFlat #ChildhoodMemories #CulturalLandscapeTheory #HannaHistory #MargaretGHanna