An Introduction Of Sorts by Serena McCarroll
(Originally published in Broken Pencil as part of the magazine's Indie Artist in Residence program.)
Whenever I used to tell people that I co-owned a shop in rural Saskatchewan they would assume that I was from there. I'm not, nor was Tyler. In fact, neither of us knew a goddamn soul in SK when we decided to make it our home.
As I child I had driven through the peculiarly symmetrical province en route from Alberta to Manitoba and vice versa (let's explain this by saying I'm the child of divorce). Tyler, on the other hand, had previously visited Saskatchewan twice: first in 1991 while on tour with the hair-metal cover band Neverland. Years later he made a second trip to attend his cousin's wedding. The latter visit made a significant and lasting impression. So much so that it directly led to us moving there 7 years later.
We had been living in Vancouver, both graduates of the Emily Carr Institute of Art. We survived hand to mouth in a city steadfastly aligning itself with the rich. We were poor. We were resentful. We were tired of spinning our wheels.
In 1999 Tyler's cousin got married in the hamlet of Dana, Saskatchewan. The marriage ceremony took place in a small orthodox Ukrainian church surrounded by picturesque prairie land. More stunning than the scenery was the fact that the couple didn't rent the church they married in, no, they bought it. They purchased it for a mere $1700 - yes, a church plus ten lots of land for less than two grand. Crazy! Even crazier: they bought a small house across the street for roughly a thousand. Tyler was suitably astonished. The amazement never left him.
In 2006 we were at the end of our ropes in Vancouver. I had recently been laid off work. Tyler was employed as a custom framer in an art supply shop and worked out of a basement that we were quite certain was toxic. Times were tough. And when times get tough the tough get... you know. We were done. We had to go.
Tyler's cousin and her husband never moved into their house in Dana, SK. They would visit it from time to time but they made their home in Gibsons, BC. Tyler had an open invitation to stay in the Dana house whenever he wanted. And so, we moved to rural Saskatchewan with an empty house as destination. We had my employment insurance cheques to live on and were sustained by the dream of owning property. Our goal was $10 000 or less. The plan was to take that property and somehow turn it into a livelihood, perhaps an artist's residency? We weren't sure. The building would surely announce it's own destiny and ours along with it, right?
We searched for 4 months. For 4 months we lived in a house with no hot water, no heat (it was summer) and sketchy plumbing. We used a solar shower, hot water bottles and sometimes - deep breath - a giant litter box (well, not so much a box as a bucket). It was adventurous. It was highly experimental.
When summer came to an end, with winter quickly approaching, decisions had to be made. The nearest town to Dana was Bruno. Bruno had two small grocery stores and a pharmacy. We went there often (Dana was too small to have such things). We had noticed a for sale sign in the window of a dilapidated storefront on Main Street but hadn't really thought of calling it. The sign was handwritten, sun-bleached and falling in such a way that the number was difficult to read. The storefront itself looked like it hadn't been functional for years. When we realized our situation was getting desperate, Tyler finally called. He asked the price and I heard him say "$65000?" but then, "ohhh, $6500. Can we look at it?" It was nicer inside than we expected. Behind the store were living quarters. The building was sandwiched between the town's only restaurant and the Senior Citizens Centre. We went to the local credit union and got a mortgage. Through employment insurance I was able to enter into a free self-employment program. What business were we going to open? We went with our instincts, with what we knew and what we cared about. And the name? Well, that part announced itself quite clearly to us.
And that’s how All Citizens came to exist.
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