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Senate

The music has stopped

Senate cemeteryAbandoned Roman Catholic cemetery

If you stop along Highway 13 in the furthest reaches of southwest Saskatchewan, 20 or so kilometres west of the village of Consul, listen closely because you might miss the music. At first, you might think it's just the howling wind mournfully sweeping over the rolling prairie, echoing the lonely feeling in this hauntingly beautiful but barren land. But then again, you might swear it's either a saxophone or clarinet.

If you see a bluff just above the east side the highway, there is a lonely steel black marker that on first thought has no business being there, mainly because it's a chore to drive off the highway and walk up the short hill to check it out.

But this is where the ghosts of Senate, Saskatchewan play. This is the site where Paul Kalmring practised his sax inside his family corner store and gas station for more than a half century.

"When the store was empty, I would practice - just so I wouldn't chase anybody away," chuckles 87-year-old Kalmring at his nearby farm in 2001. When he wasn't minding the store, he and his four-piece orchestra, including his wife Margaret on the piano, barnstormed across Saskatchewan and Montana.

But for most of the time between 1916 to 1983, Kalmring and his family were fixtures in the tiny community, named after federal senators of the day when the hamlet was created in 1914. Kalmring's family moved to he area when Paul was two, and his father soon purchased a convenience store and gas station. It was a primary meeting place for locals, to share stories and hopes for the future.

Senate's population peaked at 63 in the 1940s and was a stopping point for the Canadian Pacific Railway. For a few years, Senate even had its own train ticket agent.

"The would go to play poker, drink all night and come back home on the train the next day," says Kalmring.