Things were not going as planned. I sat and stared at my computer screen as power mysteriously stopped. Once again, my laptop had shut itself down halfway through a virus scan. This was the seventh time in as many weeks. Throw into that a general shitty week, followed by a weekend of introspection and the general grumbling of how I’m not where I intended to be in my life. I stared at the four bare walls of my apartment. I knew that if I didn’t get out, and soon, I would go mad. In previous years, I would go for a walk around the block or ride my bike aimlessly around town. But now, I have a car. With a full tank of gas. I jumped behind the wheel and set off down the road. I tried to fool myself by telling myself I had no idea where I was going, but I knew.
Ever since it first started gaining media attention, the world’s largest pyrogy in Glendon has drawn me to it. It was one of those crazy things that I had to see for myself, to see if it really did exist. When I first saw footage of it on news – a pyrogy 30 feet tall extending upwards into the prairie sky, intersected by a massive fork – I said to myself, “Someday…I’ve got to see that.” And, as I moved up here to Cold Lake, I drove down the highway and saw a sign: “See the world’s largest pyrogy! 8 km.” To be so close to it at last…I knew a day trip would be in order to see the world’s largest pyrogy.
I drove into Glendon town limits. The first sign I saw: “Pyrogy Park, home of the world’s largest pyrogy, 1 km ahead!” Then, a more humble granite sign, “Welcome to Glendon.” I can see why the town wanted some kind of tourist attraction. Glendon is such an out-of-the-way town, 8 km off the beaten path. Obviously, it was once a grain elevator town. The center of town was sliced by an old rail bed, and there were large vacant spots next to said rail bed where a series of grain elevators must have once stood. The grain elevators went, and then the railway, and the town started dying. It is too common a story on the prairies.
And it is a story that leads to ingenuity. In the early-1990s, when “tourism” was the buzzword, small towns across the province started trying to develop some semblance of a tourism industry. The town of Glendon, which has a large Ukrainian community, decided to build a monument to the Ukrainians. Inspired by the world’s largest pysanka (Ukrainian Easter egg) in Vegerville, the chose a giant pyrogy. It was unveiled on August 29, 1991. The media descended on this little town. There was literal worldwide coverage. And the town started launching onboard. There was the Pyrogy Motel, the Pyrogy Hardware Store, and the Pyrogy General Store. And, in the shadow of the pyrogy, was the Pyrogy Café, which sold nothing but pyrogies. “I was sent out to Glendon to cover the pyrogy when I was just a cub reporter,” my news instructor told me. “When you make it to Glendon, have the blueberry pyrogies at the Pyrogy Café!”
I drove through downtown Glendon on a bitterly cold Sunday morning. In true small town fashion, everything was closed, and the only crowded parking lot was the one at the community church. I slowed down, not wanting to miss the giant pyrogy. And then, on my left, there it was.
I’d always imagined that the pyrogy was on a hilltop. But no. It occupied a small corner of the town’s playground. Well, what remained of the town’s playground. Half of it was paved over to be parking spaces for the giant pyrogy. Not finding the entrance to these parking spots, I parked at the Pyrogy Café. I stepped out of my car and took a look.
Yup. That’s a big pyrogy. The flag of Glendon fluttered in the icy wind. I really wish I had chosen a better day.
I approached the giant pyrogy. A chain-link fence surrounded the base, leaving just a small pathway around the pedestal. There was really no room to stand back and admire it. I walked around the base, looking at the giant, white doughy treat made of fibreglass. A corner of it was chipped away. It was all rather dirty-looking. The pyrogy was in need of a cleaning. I stared up at it, taking a few pictures, and I couldn’t help thinking the same thing. “So that’s it. Huh.” I looked down at the base, and saw something that no one in the media ever picked up on. Entombed in the pyrogy’s pedestal is a time capsule, to be opened on the pyrogy’s 25th anniversary in 2016. I finished walking around the pyrogy and took a step back. So that’s it. Huh.
I’d promised some people a giant pyrogy postcard, so I began roaming up and down Glendon’s main street looking for some place that was open. They way the street was laid out…it were as though it belonged in some historical, open-air museum. Everything was laid out, facing the former home of the railway, a set-up which probably worked 100 years ago and still works today. I just couldn’t believe how rundown everything was. A pharmacy…a general store…a couple restaurants. All closed for Sunday. The only thing that still boasted the pyrogy name was the shutdown and rundown Pyrogy Hardware Store. The video store was boarded up and at least 10 years in disrepair. The only thing open was a convenience store & Laundromat. I was greeted by a dusty old deer head hanging next to the door. I was glared at by the clerk as I browsed, looking for some kind of giant pyrogy memento. But there was nothing. I took one last look down the main street. The pyrogy was not the saviour they’d hoped for. Glendon is still dying.
I looked at my watch. I had done the whole town and it was just coming up on lunchtime. I figured I’d have lunch at the Pyrogy Café, and then head for home. I walked back to the Pyrogy Café to find that it was now…a Chinese restaurant. There would be no blueberry pyrogies for me. The after-church crowd was starting to filter in, so I took a seat and watched the old people catching up on the latest gossip, and the young families rewarding their bored children for behaving themselves during the sermon. For lunch, I had a Glendon burger; a double cheeseburger topped with ham and cheese. What a perfect way to honour the Ukrainian community.
I left town feeling just a little sad. All my life I’d wanted to see that giant pyrogy, only to find that it was now a relic. It was the last desperate attempt of a town to stay alive, but it turned out to be simply a band-aid solution. I was actually feeling worse now than when I’d left home. I still had gas in the tank. And I just felt like driving. I got back on the road and went east. I was going to go to Saskatchewan.