I am writing this from STC Bus #794, travelling north on highway 6 from Regina to Raymore, a route I have traveled hundreds, if not thousands, of times. The big prairie wraps around the bus and I feel as though I am floating through it, the way one does through clouds on an airplane. My relationship with the prairies, with Saskatchewan, is inseparable from these buses.
I started traveling this route when I was six years old. My best friend lived in Regina, and my parents would leave me in the charge of bus drivers who felt like neighbours. Fields of periwinkle flax, bright yellow canola, golden barley flowed across the big screen TVs that lined the sides of the bus. My heart would leap as we dipped into the Fort Qu’appelle Valley – the beauty of whichever season to behold and the knowledge that I was getting close to my capitol city destination.
When I was 15, my parents held their breath and shed some tears as I moved into Regina on my own. I was playing more music and the “big city” was where I could pursue even more. Our connection didn’t wane, however, thanks to the STC and the weekly commute it made possible. Every Sunday morning, I would walk from the Cathedral area to the old bus station on Hamilton. I would greet whichever bus driver was on that day, all of whom I got to know and who got to know me. I would pay for my bus ticket to Dafoe but would be let off before that, at the turn-off to my parents’ farm, where my Dad would be parked and waiting for me. We would wave to the bus driver with a “see you later!” At the end of my one-day weekly visit, we would drive back out to the end of the gravel road to wait for the tell-tale lights of the bus back to Regina. Often I would have something to give the bus driver — an offering from the garden, a jar of jam, or a piece of pie, depending on the time of year. My dad would wave with both arms as we pulled away. Sometimes, if the bus lingered long enough, he would reach up to my window and draw a heart with his finger. My dad died less than two years ago and these Sunday drives to and from highway 6 are some of my favourite memories of him. I also cannot imagine what would have happened to the closeness of my relationship with my parents had I not been able to have these Sundays with them.
It is now sixteen years since those weekly trips, and in those sixteen years I have ridden STC to La Loche (its most northern destination), between Regina and Saskatoon, west to Alsask, east from Saskatoon to Watson and many times back to my family home, like I am doing today. My mom lives by herself now and I spend as much time as I can with her there. I always feel safe traveling to her on STC – whether I am tired, it’s stormy out or the commuter traffic on the highway is unbearable.
This is my story, but it is only one of many. One of my traveling companions today is about ten years old. I don’t know her story, but I do know that she is in good hands because our driver is the same one who kept an eye on me when I was young, riding this route. The range of reasons for why I, and my fellow travellers, are on the bus is as diverse as we are. From visiting loved ones to traveling to medical appointments to commuting for work and so on. The cargo that the bus carries delivers more that just our luggage – STC works with Canadian Blood Services to get much-needed blood donations to the right people. They transport medical equipment, care packages and other items that are hard to come by in rural Saskatchewan.
Today when I get off the bus, it might be the last time I see this driver. I will hold back tears as I say goodbye and he will smile warmly, as he has always done. I’ve never had the chance to tell him about my Dad, but I think he knows. There has been a conspicuous absence at the bus stop for the last year and a half. The persistence I will need to continue to go home is in fact shaped by the connection that was formed for me by STC as a teenager. I will be ok – I will borrow vehicles and hitchhike to get home. But what becomes of people who are unable to do either of those things? What of the refugees and immigrants who use STC to get to their new Saskatchewan homes? What of the folks on reserve who have had every other resource stripped from them and use the bus to access important services and to hold their family together? What of the elderly who have chosen to stay in the homes they love in rural Saskatchewan who use the bus to visit their ever-dispersing younger generations in the city?
The web of buses that connects our towns and cities is not a luxury. STC buses are the thread that keeps this provincial quilt together.