Whenever anyone finds out that I grew up in Saskatchewan, they inevitably ask if I lived on a farm. They imagine that I drove a combine in overalls with a wheat straw dangling from my lips. That, or if I know their cousin/uncle/friend, so-and-so because Saskatchewan is a tiny, small, flat place where everyone knows everyone.
Truth be told, I had a pretty idyllic upbringing. I grew up in an area where many people didn’t lock their doors during the day. I rode my bike everywhere, including downtown and to the river. I took the bus or walked to school from the age of 9. During the hot, sweltering summers, my parents didn’t even look for me until sometime around dinner, and without mountains, the sun seemed to take forever to set. Then, there were the winters. The bright morning sun belied how bitterly cold it was outside. It didn’t matter how many sweaters or thermal underwear you had on, the cold bore its way through all of those layers to remind you how tough those Saskatchewan winters truly were.
Living in Saskatchewan was a right of passage. The spikes in the weather alone were enough to challenge the hardiest souls and still are. We didn’t have the tropical or Chinook winds to warm us. We didn’t have the bounty of the ocean or border large US cities or have mega malls to spend our money.
What we do have is the most loyal, butt-kickingest and craziest fans you will ever meet. And the rowdiest in Canada (ranked by MSN Sports). Fans wear watermelons. On. Their. Heads.
Even though the Roughriders play in the smallest market in the CFL and are the second smallest major league in North America, they have led in away games attendance every year in the last 10 years. During away games in Alberta, Rider Nation makes up about ½ of the fans in attendance. Because it doesn’t matter where you live – once you have rider pride, it is for life.
Roughrider merchandise sales rank third in Canada for all major league sports, which includes hockey. What makes this more surprising is that the team has only won 3 Grey Cups in the last 100 years. Belonging to Rider Nation isn’t just about winning. Rider pride is about being tough, giving it your all and supporting your team through the good and the bad. Whether we win or lose, or move to another city, once a Rider fan, always a Rider fan.
You’ll never be able to fully understand what surviving a Saskatchewan summer or winter is like unless you experience it. This is an unspoken bond that unites us. Like many who left in search of greener pastures during an economic downturn, I no longer live in Saskatchewan. However, when I do meet someone from Saskatchewan, there is an immediate ease between us – a mutual understanding and downright respect, because it is earned. That is Rider pride and that is the heart of Rider nation.
June De La Paz is a freelance Marketer, specializing in the technology sector with the breadth of her experience in start-ups. She is currently working on launching her own line of natural skin care products for kids and adults. She grew up in Saskatchewan where her parents still reside. She currently lives with her husband (who grew up in SK too), three extraordinary daughters in beautiful BC, and they all stay at Sandmans whenever they travel around Canada. They all belong to Rider Nation and have Rider Pride.