In what can only be described as some serious junior high level cyber-bullying, Saskatchewan is being dissed all over the internet as Canada's ugliest province.
To be completely accurate, the euphemism used is "least beautiful." And, the designation refers to this province's scenery, not its people. Small consolation.
To celebrate Canada Day, Abacus Data released a poll, entitled "Provincial Perceptions: The Best and Worst Canadian Provinces." The pollsters invited Canadians to rank the provinces in a number of categories -- taxes, government management, friendliness, scenic beauty, business climate, etc. An informal poll conducted among my immediate family and close friends revealed that 100 per cent of Saskatchewanians had never heard of Abacus Data until we saw that we live in the least attractive of the provinces. And now, thanks to this hitherto unknown company and its cruel poll results, we have to endure being the butt of "your province is so ugly..." jokes. Happy Canada Day, Abacus.
The poll is devastating. Only a single percent  of those polled ranked us as having the "most beautiful scenery." Worse, a whopping 47 per cent found us to be the "least beautiful." Manitoba, at 20 per cent, is a very distant second. No other province hit double digits in the ugly category.
It's not a big surprise. If you ask us what we love about Saskatchewan, we'll say "oh, it's the people" or, "it's a great place to raise a family" or, "there's such a sense of community" or "I got a job and had to move here." In most cases, then, Saskatchewan is charitably described as "the girl with personality," the kind of province for whom friends have trouble finding a blind date. We're the province who took her dad to the prom. At the great trans-Canada sock hop, we're sitting against the gym wall, behind the stacking chairs, certain we'll be rejected by the popular girls.
Our Premier, Brad Wall, came immediately and sarcastically to the defense of his province, saying that the poll should be thrown in one of the the hundreds of scenic Saskatchewan Lakes. Get it? We have lakes. Defensive stubble-jumpers reacted likewise on Internet comment boards, listing all the very beautiful things to be found here. The saddest frequent comment was this: "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." Right. So is ugly. And, in the eyes of most beholders, well ...
Others will point out that most of the respondents in the poll have never actually spent any time in Saskatchewan and therefore haven't experienced the very real beauty to be found here. Sorry, but the poll is broken down into regions as well. You'd expect that the people most likely to have actually been here would be those from "Western Canada." Yes? Well, Western Canadians were more likely than anyone else to rank Saskatchewan as least beautiful. Fifty-five per cent of Westerners felt this way, which would include Saskatchewanians themselves. Really? How can we expect others to love us if we don't love ourselves?
When people think of Saskatchewan, they're not thinking about our lakes and forests, or about Cypress Hills or the Qu'appelle Valley -- undeniably beautiful parts of this province. No, the really distinctive thing about Saskatchewan, what makes this place so different from the rest of "Oh-So-Freakin'-Beautiful Canada", is that Saskatchewan is dominated by the Great Interior Plains. It covers the southern third of the province, where most of us live. If you drive through here on the TransCanada, it's all you see.
For most Canadians, including those of us who live here, Saskatchewan is prairie. Alberta is also mostly covered by the Great Plains, but only 8 per cent of those polled found our neighbour to be less attractive than other provinces. Some may suggest this is because we associate Alberta with Banff and Jasper, but I think it has more to do with money. Wealth is often perceived as beauty. Alberta is the acne-scarred guy in the hot car. So far, Saskatchewan hasn't been rich long enough to benefit from the redemptive power of wealth.
My prairies, then, are not everyone's definition of natural beauty. It's not all rocks and trees and mountains and lakes and rivers. Think British Columbia. Of course people love that stuff. It's like loving chocolate. Prairie beauty is more subtle. Obviously, too subtle.
I love it, of course. But I'm from here. It's home. Maybe I wouldn't describe it as beautiful. It is awe-inspiring. It is often bleak, especially in winter. Hot and windy and dry in summer. Flat and featureless. There is very little steering required as you drive through. There is, in fact, one curve and one hill on the drive across the province. Both are in the same spot. That's right, a curved hill. So, stay awake. People often talk about how big and beautiful the sky is here -- like it's our best feature. Yes, we're at our best when you fix your gaze over our heads.
The Abacus Data poll didn't have much good news for us at all. "Least beautiful" was the only category in which we scored in the top three. Contrary to our sense of ourselves, we scored a miserable 7 per cent -- second last -- in the "friendliest people" category. But, really, how friendly would you be if you knew everybody thought you were ugly?
To add insult to insult, only one per cent said that they planned to visit Saskatchewan on their next vacation. One per cent. The poll surveyed 1,008 randomly-selected Canadian adults so, by my calculation, about ten people said they were coming to visit soon. Please, Abacus, let us know when they're coming and we'll leave the yard light on.
But, really, it doesn't matter that no one wants to come here. The best thing about the prairies, the thing that makes it the most beautiful scenery in the country, is the fact that they're mostly empty. Having a lot of people around would ruin that.
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