Studies & Facts

Friday, October 3, 2003

Arts Aid Town's Renewal

Part 3: St. Peter's College & Abbey, Muenster; Hilary Clark, Saskatoon

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Part of a Series, for the Saskatchewan Arts Alliance
By Steven Ross Smith


Muenster, located east of Humboldt, is the home of St. Peter’s Abbey and College, and is a quiet breeding ground for artistic activity. For more than twenty years, St. Peter’s Abbey has been the host to Saskatchewan Writers Guild’s summer and winter writing and art retreats, and for six years has been the site of the Sage Hill Writing Experience’s Fall Poetry Colloquium. These retreats have provided a quiet place for writers and artists to get away and focus on their creative work for extended periods of time, in both facilitated and self-directed sessions.

There is no estimate of how many books have evolved toward publication, or paintings toward exhibition, out of these sessions. For books, an estimate of 25 to 50 books would not be an overestimate. And many of these books have advanced the writers’ careers and in some cases have won note-worthy awards. One such writer is Saskatoon poet Hilary Clark, who has taken part in several writing retreats at St. Peter’s. She did substantial work on two books at the Sage Hill / St. Peter’s College Fall Poetry Colloquia in 1994 and 1996, working with nationally recognized poets Tim Lilburn and Don McKay respectively. The two books were published in 1999, and one of them—More Light—won the Lowther Award for Poetry and the Saskatchewan Book Award for Poetry.

In 2000 she worked again with Tim Lilburn to complete a new manuscript called The Dwelling of Weather. Such essential opportunities nurture the writer’s work, but also provide the products for the publishing industry in Saskatchewan and the rest of Canada.

Today our authors are widely published and recognized and have made a substantial contribution to our national literature. The list of successful Saskatchewan writers is long, but includes Guy Vanderhaeghe, Sharon Butala, Ken Mitchell and Anne Szumigalski, and we can lay some claim to Wallace Stegner and W.O. Mitchell. More than 25 years of nurturing right on our own rural and urban soil by the Saskatchewan Arts Board, Saskatchewan Writers Guild, the Guild Colony/Retreat program, the Saskatchewan Playwrights’ Centre, Sage Hill Writing Experience, and the noteworthy publishers Coteau Books and Thistledown Press, are bearing rich intellectual and economic fruit, in a time when Canadian literature is taking to the world stage.

St. Peter’s has quietly contributed by making a place for the nurturing of writing and painting. The effect is the presence of creative vitality and a contribution to an important trend. It is calculated that in Saskatchewan today, there are 78,000 cultural workers, an increase (if keeping pace with national trends) of 23% over ten years, during a time that our population has been decreasing. And all this has occurred over a decade when the government culture budget has been on the decline. Currently arts and culture contribute 2.3% directly to the Saskatchewan Gross Domestic Product.

In an era of diversification, the arts and culture crops of Saskatchewan, as developed and grown in towns like Meacham and Muenster, stand to bring new pride and prosperity to our province.

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Steven Ross Smith is a poet, fiction writer, reviewer living in Saskatoon.

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