‘Everybody looks out for their neighbours’ in Springside

Cleo Ding/LJI Reporter/Canora Courier From left to right, Debbie Banks, the first female mayor in Springside's history, elected in 2020, says she is running again for the fall election. Kathy Novak, Springside's town administrator who worked her way from being a part-time employee at the town office to now a full-time position, says the job has been very good for her since she and her husband sold their business in Yorkton in 2017.

Cleo Ding
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Canora Courier

Kathy Novak and her husband had always wanted to build a new house on a bigger lot with some privacy from the neighbours. 

After some search, they landed their eye on Springside – a quiet town of about 500 people nestled between Highway 47 and Highway 16 – settled in, and started their daily commute to Yorkton for their business. 

The 15-minute drive seems to be a reasonable offer for many families in town. Novak, now the full-time town administrator, said the proximity to Yorkton helps keep the demographic with working families, with a few elderly retired people in town. 

According to the 2021 census, the year-round town population of youngsters below 15 and seniors above 65 years old remain roughly the same, of around 100 people, with a median age of 36.4 years, compared with the province wide median of 38.8.

Over the years, the town welcomed people joining the community all the way from British Columbia in the west to Ontario in the east who want to retire, or raise their children – all attracted by the tranquillity.

All within walkable distance, along Highway 16 lined with a skating rink, a Chinese restaurant, a hotel and a Ukrainian auction house, stretches less than a kilometre along the western edge of the town. The rest of Springside is residential, with the only school located in the heart of the town, serving students from Kindergarten through Grade 8. The roads are well-maintained, most wide and hilly, winding through some woods on which children roam freely.

The town has no grocery store, however, leaving the newcomers living on a tight budget in a lurch, Novak said.

“If you’re a new Canadian, maybe you only have one vehicle. I’m thinking of a family… So if one spouse is going to work with the vehicle, (then) the other spouse can’t buy groceries, can’t travel, can’t do anything – because you’ve only got one vehicle, and that’s hard.”

In a tight-knit community like Springside, neighbours would always grab groceries for those in need, Novak said, but for people who are new to the community, it can be a day-to-day nuisance that eventually sends the commuting families away – This means the local government-funded low-cost housing often sits unfilled.

The previous grocery store disappeared long ago after losing the market with people working and buying in Yorkton, she said. Some travel to Theodore, a neighbouring town about 17 kilometres northwest of Springside, to buy groceries. 

“Speaking for myself personally… We’ll go and try once a week to get something from Theodore, whether it’s a little bit more pricey, or something, but we’ll still go there to support her just because it’s hard when I lose them,” Novak said. “And what happens in Theodore can sometimes be helpful for what happens in Springside.”

Many other residents who grew up in town would call Springside home like Debbie Banks. 

Just as other rural communities surrounded by working farms where people send their children to town for school, Banks lived on a farm nearby before moving to Springside, then she returned to the town after meeting her husband in Saskatoon and having had their first baby – Banks has lived here with her family since 1988.

The 2021 census shows a 4.8 per cent decrease in population growth in the last five years, with some 227 private dwellings – most of which are single-family homes.

“The town hasn’t grown much,” Banks said as she recalls her parents built a house on the far end of town in 1975, single-family homes then started spawning in all other areas in town in the early ’80s, and the town size has been the same.

Banks is the mayor of the town of Springside. Outside of town meetings, she runs a painting studio in Yorkton.

“We get a lot of turnaround from people moving in here with small kids. And then it goes through a rotation of, you know, everybody gets a little older, and then it starts to turn around again,” Banks said. “But when houses go for sale, they don’t stay along.”

As in most rural towns these days, housing inventory is low in Springside. In late May, there are about ten active listings for single-family homes, from an empty lot, listed for $19,000 for people to build on, to a four-bedroom 1,380-square-foot home, listed for $343,000.

As much as the town is separated from the crowds and urban buzz, cloistered in the centre of the two highways, Banks and Novak are worried about town expansion in a long-term perspective.

“The town itself is sort of pie-shaped,” said Novak. “We’d have to build across the highway to try and buy farmland there to try and develop. When you go the other way, we run into a creek, so we’re trapped in how big we can grow.”

But this also created business opportunities for odd property to be slated for demolition and some new builds, she said.

“Some developer came, they wanted to buy land and that highway Springside part… boy, we’d be all about that idea,” Novak jokes. “But you know, like the town itself can’t afford (that).”

“And in order to grow, our water system and our sewer system would have to be bigger. And so the added expense of making that bigger to accommodate, and that is not something that the town can probably look at,” Banks added.

The projects come in sequence, Banks said, which most require long-term work.

In recent years, street maintenance has been one of the priorities for the town, with the limited government fund, however, chip sealing is the only option, Banks said. 

“… but yet our streets are good. They’re in better shape than some of the cities. So we’re pretty proud of that.”

‘People wear many hats here’

Workload can be unpredictable at times in small towns.

“I’ll come in on a Friday afternoon for maybe an hour and she [Novak] will answer the phone at least eight or nine times in an hour. And then the next time we’ll talk for our whole hour or whatever, and no one will call,” Banks said.

Novak said her day can go from touching base with the public work staff before they leave the town, to assisting newcomers who are looking for a building permit, or paying their utility bills.

Over the years, the town council has downsized from six to four councillors, who all have full-time jobs besides being on council just like Banks. Although the next election is approaching quickly in September, Banks has her mind at ease.

“No one has really said yet if they’re running or not. But it’s still early.”

‘Everybody looks out for their neighbours’

Springside is a magical place to spend a warm summer day.

“There’s always people walking. Everybody says hi. Everybody waves,” Banks remembers, knowing everyone in the neighbourhood, she didn’t have to worry about her children’s safety.

“When my girls were small, my oldest one, she took off to the park. We lived on the other end of town. She took off to the park and it was getting dark out, so we kind of wanted to teach her a lesson not to wander when she wasn’t supposed to. But everybody was watching her just so that she got home safe.”

“Everybody tries to help everybody to keep the community clean, and welcoming,” she added. “And because we’re so close to Yorkton, we have to keep our town viable.”

‘It’s just quiet’

Although with the occasional hockey games and community activities making the town vibrant and the population swell, Springside is a fairly quiet place year-round.

“I lived in Saskatoon for a few years. When I moved back here, it was like everything was calm, “Banks said. “This morning, I was up and outside at 4:30. And it’s quiet. You can hear the birds singing.”

“We chose to build our home out here in a small town. There’s nothing better than getting up, you know, early in the morning, enjoying that first cup of coffee on the deck. It’s quiet, there’s no traffic, there’s no noise, there’s no anything. You know, it’s just very peaceful,” Novak said.