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Body breaks but memories shine brightly

Marcel Gauthier, left, Arthur Denis and Keith Gerwing in front of Champetre County Wild West Resort’s saloon.  |  Arthur Denis family photo

A new year had started, and as for all self-employed farm entrepreneurs, the risk of accidents was always lurking around the corner. The reasons for these accidents are numerous and range from fatigue, time constraints and unreliable equipment to working alone.

I have lived on the farm since birth and was placed in a basket in the barn while my parents milked the cows.

In 40 years of active farming, including the operation of the Champetre County Wild West Resort, my family and I have had our share of accidents.

Some of them were serious, but we wiped our brows and carried on. Other accidents were very serious and had long-lasting effects. I have always said that if it had not been for my guardian angel, I might not have been writing this today.

At our agri-tourism enterprise near St. Denis, Sask., I worked with horses and tore down more than 40 hip roof barns and abandoned houses to recycle and reuse the wood. I had my share of close calls.

Without formal instruction on how to complete these tasks, I let common sense be my guide and things would sometimes happen that I did not anticipate.

In July of 2010, a young friend was visiting from Ontario and we were out horseback riding. It had rained 50 millimetres the day before, the ground was soppy wet and slippery. We were well on our way when the young fellow lost control of his horse.

I quickly galloped close to him to grab his horse but just at that moment my foot came off my stirrup. As I was bending to put my foot back into the stirrup, my horse jumped over a small ravine and I heard a distinct crack. I had fractured my pelvis.

I let myself slide off my horse, not knowing the extent of my injury. Lying on the ground, I turned my head to see what had happened to my young friend. His horse had stopped and was looking straight at me.

I yelled to the young chap to jump off the horse as I knew his horse would take off at full gallop to join my horse who was heading back to the barn three kilometres away.

Our families back at the yard would know that something was wrong when our horses came galloping in without their riders. My son-in-law jumped on one of the horses and followed the horses’ tracks back to us.

The young chap’s dad followed with the quad. Once they reached us, we realized that there was no way a vehicle would be able to come out in the field without getting stuck.

I painfully bent myself over the back of the quad and we made our way back to the yard where I was placed on a stretcher and brought to the hospital.

It was a long weekend. My tolerance of pain was high but I had to wait two and a half days before I was operated on.

Amazingly, the day after the operation, I was able to walk as though nothing had happened to me. I was sent home with a warning that my body would let me know when “too much was too much.”

My body warned me alright but it was too late. My pelvis broke for the second time. I could feel two bones rubbing in my pelvic area. Those doctors should have tied me down for at least three months because this cowboy couldn’t stay still.

I did not want to understand that an operation is a fragile thing, certainly a lot more fragile than welding jobs on machinery.

Entrepreneurs can be like alcoholics. After having been operated on a second time, I was to take six weeks off. I managed to be of some help though because everything seemed to be getting better.

Then, walking through a clump of tall grass, I stumbled and broke that darn pelvis again.

There was nothing that could be done, the doctors said. My pelvis had healed enough and as there were too many holes in my bones, an operation wouldn’t help. By then, it was fall and then winter.

I managed to keep my sanity by writing My Memoirs: The Sheriff of Champetre County in French. In July of 2014, a French publishing company published my book.

I passed the cold winter of 2014-15 by translating my book into English and then publishedit myself.

It details the life and trials of this Saskatchewan boy who lived the last days of working with horses when there was no running water or power. I worked alongside my dad and three brothers on a grain farm and became involved locally and provincially.

At age 45, while still farming, I started Champetre County as the sheriff with my wife, Therese, the mayor, and our daughters in 1995. At the time, banks did not believe that private tourist enterprises could survive, especially not in the countryside east of Saskatoon.

Today, it includes a saloon, town hall, sports ground, maze and accommodations and this cowboy-come-sheriff has hosted visitors from around the world.

For more information, visit

Excerpted from My Memoirs: The Sheriff of Champetre County by Arthur Denis

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