Gasoline station at Rugby North Dakota, 6:30 pm July 4th, 75¢ a litre
A couple of days in Dakota

FTLComm - Harvey, ND- Thursday, July 16, 2009

Before I begin today's story I must apologies for many missing days with Ensign. We have been holidaying both in North Dakota and Winnipeg as well as being distracted here in Tisdale. I would like to be able to say this will end but it will not. We are taking it easy and will do so for much of the summer.

On July 4th, "Independence Day" we set off across Saskatchewan and southern Manitoba to Harvey North Dakota. The weather made it an easy trip and gave us an opportunity to notice that in southwestern Manitoba and North Dakota this is an outstanding year for agriculture. Crops are lush and well advanced and it seems that there is just an endless amount of hay. Not only are the North Dakota hay fields just great but the pastures have cheerful cows up to their bellies in rich grasses.

We saw lots of wheat fields, a surprising amount of Canola, a fair amount of soy beans and  significant amounts of corn. The North Dakota farmers are not putting all their bets in one place but diversifying their crop selection. It is important to note that farm sizes in the parts of North Dakota we visited have grown well beyond the big farms in the Tisdale area. This means that most of the countryside is devoid of people and inhabited farm sites. Farm sizes of between twenty and thirty thousand acres are common and land values are unrealistic with even poor land selling for $8,500 an acre. Investment and out of state farmers are pressing in the state buying out retiring farmers and amassing large holdings.


The recession is not a main feature of the North Dakota economy not in the towns and villages and not in the cities. In Grand Forks we only saw a few empty stores and car dealerships. Over all the economy of the state looked prosperous and not unlike what we see here in Saskatchewan. There is a shortage of skilled labour and a demand for unskilled labour with most retail businesses looking for workers.

Its been some years since we spent any time at all south of the border and it is fair to day that we noticed some significant changes. Even a year ago when shopping in Grand Forks we noticed that restaurant food was about the same as it is here in our part of Canada but on this visit we noticed that a meal was less money and in small town country the quality equivalent to what we are used to.

The cost of living is definitely lower in North Dakota with no GST and fuel prices about one quarter less than here in Canada and that is puzzling since 60% of oil consumed in the United States comes from Canada. It is hard to compare a price like that of gasoline because of taxes but they are paying about 75¢ a litre.

In the back of our minds of course is the realisation that our universal health care system really changes the outlook of everything. Though seat belt wearing in North Dakota is mandatory we saw no motorcycle riders wearing helmets. While chatting with a veteran of both Korea and Vietnam he pointed out that because of his military service he enjoyed full medical coverage where as most Americans are living on the edge with whatever coverage they have or do not have..


Sitting with a group of men my age it was clear that the intolerance that was so much a part of political discussion during the Bush era has softened. North Dakota and Minnesota folks are generally Republicans but it was clear from their discussion that they were profoundly influenced about what they thing of the world by the news media they subscribe to. Fox News really colours their view of the universe and remains as anti-free speech and racially confined as would have been noticed five years ago.

However, I discovered that my small "L" liberal views were not that foreign to them and there was a lot of common ground. They like I view the bail out of the banks and car companies with disdain. They are also just as sceptical about the chances of a positive outcome in either Iraq or Afghanistan and are equally critical of the likes of CNN and its goofy fixation with celebrities and sensationalism. In general the folks I talked to were fairly aware of world situations and almost totally uninformed about their neighbours to the north.

Railways still play a very vital role in the transport of commodities in North Dakota and the trains are mostly CP and CN. That was a surprise to me. Endless numbers of "B" train grain tankers streaming up and down their highways is not the same kind of thing we have here in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

We did a little shopping in Grand Forks but spent a lot more time driving around looking at the community. Two things really stand out. Streets, highways, rural roads are all many times better than what is to be found in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. It looks like the people, even though they are sparsely populated are looking after the infrastructure and not letting things get run down as we see in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, towns, cities and rural areas.

The second thing that we noticed was that bilingualism is growing in the retail outlets in North Dakota. In many stores the important things are labelled in English and in Spanish. At the retail level in terms of signage Spanish is more prevalent in the marketplace of United States than is French in officially bilingual Canada.

As for the issues that matter to us as Canadians the border is thicker. For the first time crossing the border with passports in hand and being interviewed about what we were doing in the States we had our luggage searched and compared to other southbound vehicles we saw at the border crossing the quick look through our bags was superficial compared to the thorough going over other cars and vans were getting. Below is the line up to get back into Canada on the Pembina highway directly south of Winnipeg, it took a while.

The other Canadian issue that was clearly visible in North Dakota is the whole matter of "buy American" there is no question restaurants and stores know this is an issue with their customers and advertise accordingly. Even 'Canadian bacon' is made in the USA.

Timothy W. Shire

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