Chris Simpson

Semper letteris mandate

Tompkins: There’s plenty to see, but don’t believe everything the inhabitants tell you

Another in the South West Communities series, this spotlight on Tompkins peeks inside the quirky culture and highlights of the village. Friendly, open and warm, it’s a place to relax and see things you’ll not see anywhere else, but the stories may not always be true.

BY CHRIS SIMPSON

IMG_7600The mounted head on the wall is oddly disturbing. Sporting tusks, a flattened nose and large ears sticking out the side of its head, it gives the impression of a deer that tangled with the back end of a 1959 Cadillac. As I get up to take a photo, Bernie Ford tells me, “That’s a Carcapus.”

“Ah ha,” I say, snapping a photo and waiting for the tall tail I expect will follow.

“Yep. They’re so rare and scarce, and you don’t see them very often. The only time you see them is when there’s two moons in the sky. And they don’t mate very often because there’s never two moons to get them excited.”

Of course.

As it turns out, these Caracapuses are also responsible for one of the major geological features in Tompkins.

“And that’s why there’s so many sand dunes,” Ford continues. “That’s because they’re shorter on two legs and they go round and they kill the vegetation until the sand is blowing.”

“My grandfather called them Sidehill Gougers,” I reply, to the delight of Ford and his two coffee row buddies.

The scene is mid-afternoon in Tompkin’s locally-famous Woody’s Tavern, and as the wrap-up to my impressions of the town itself it’s oddly appropriate: friendly, close-knit and cheerful, but also more than a bit quirky.

While some towns boast of being the home of famous sports figures, Tompkins’ most famous citizen is the late Gus Wickstrom, the Pig Spleen Readin’ Man – a fact proudly proclaimed on the welcoming sign at the town’s entrance.

It was also the Tompkins that provided The Advance with what has to be our most unusual and compelling news story of 2012, when a badger excavated a vast portion of the land next to the Legion Hall in its (successful) endeavour to get at a trapped skunk.

IMG_7603

The original Jackalope?

Moreover, it is Tompkins, or so the coffee-rowers at Woody’s tell me, that is the original home of the Jackalope.

“Billy Curtis did that,” Ford says, referring to the Carcapus that has been hanging in Woody’s for over 40 years. “That was way back when Gus was runnin’ the hotel,” he says. “He also did the Jackalope,” he adds, pointing to another trophy head hanging just around the corner of the beam from the Carcapus. “He made the first ones that were ever made.”

The first?

“Yep. If Billy could have patented them he’d have made the money.”

Land of the Carcapus and home of the first Jackelope. For many towns, that would be enough quirkiness, but Tompkins is made of more enjoyable stuff.

IMG_7591Take the Buffalo Beans Bygones Museum, an outdoor museum of old farm equipment and buildings surrounded by an old fence and open to all at any time of the year.

Or consider the Sod House, built in 1979 by Ernest Wickstrom and Merle Olson as a heritage project for Celebrate Saskatchewan. It is a replica of the kind of houses the first settlers built in a land noticeably lacking in wood.

“One thing about Tompkins,” says another patron of Woody’s, “we stick together.”

Connie Lindsay, a member of the Village Council, agrees. “Tompkins is a very small close-knit community and I always feel that I can count on this community to ‘have my back.’” This is a sentiment echoed by Cindy McGregor, who says, “Tompkins has a great sense of community spirit and the people who live in the town and surrounding area work together to make everyone feel like family.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe truth of this comes out in many ways, one of which is the always-enjoyable seasonal fundraiser to keep the local playground safe and in top shape. This year’s appearance of magician Roger Bouchard was a case in point. Although ostensibly aimed at children, his performance was packed with enough in-jokes and word play that he had both kids and adults in stitches.

But one of the most beautiful examples of this coming-together is the annual Christmas wreath laying ceremony by the Tompkins Cancer Group. It was held on Dec. 9 this past Christmas, and over 100 wreaths were laid in the cemetery.

“Tompkins is a community that has a lot to offer,” says acting mayor Grant Kennedy, “as we have an active council and community members working hard to make Tompkins a better place to live.” Kennedy points to the continuing fundraisers for new playground equipment, the Gun Club’s 25th anniversary show on Jan. 26 and 27 and the Skating and Curling Rink’s annual Steak and Lobster dinner to help keep the rinks in operation.

But right now, here in Woody’s, the attention is on a Bunt cake Patty brings out saying, “Compliments of Kim.”

“It was my birthday yesterday,” says Bernie.

“Really?” I say. “It’s my birthday today.”

I feel like part of the Tompkins family.

Originally published in The Gull Lake Advance, Jan. 22, 2013

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