Monday, December 1, 2014

"The Last Cowboy," a mini-doc about the PFRA's Jim Commodore of Val Marie

I have written a couple of stories in this space about the cowboys who are the lifeblood of the PFRA community pastures. Men like Mert Taylor and Eric Weisbeck are among the last of the public servants who saddle up a horse to manage Canada's federal grasslands now being transferred back to Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

They are at the tail end of a lineage of PFRA cowboys running back three-quarters of a century. A couple of days ago a friend sent me a link to a new documentary that pays tribute to one cowboy whose life runs almost all the way back to the origins of the PF system.

Jim Commodore was born in 1941 at the Val Marie PFRA pasture, just west and a bit north of Grasslands National Park. The Val Marie pasture is the largest in the system at more than 90,000 acres and it is an ecological and cultural treasure that should remain in the public trust and be granted the kind of protection Canada's rarest landscapes all deserve.

Jim Commodore, retired PFRA cowboy at Val Marie

Megan Lacelle and Kaitlyn Van De Woestyne, two young women studying Journalism at the University of Regina, made the six minute documentary to fulfill a class assignment. They call it "The Last Cowboy" and it is for my dollar the best piece of work showing some of the human costs of abandoning the PFRA system. I hope it is seen far and wide and that its message, told entirely in the humility of an honest cowboy recalling his days on the land, will pluck a few heart strings and remind prairie people why we must retain and honour the legacy of the community pastures system.

Kaitlyn and Megan graciously agreed to allow me to post The Last Cowboy (see below), and sent me some of their reflections on the project. I am including Megan's comments below as an introduction to the film. As fate would have it, Megan and Kaitlyn shot the documentary on Remembrance Day weekend. Here's hoping that the professional media world will welcome the kind of sensitivity and light hand that Megan and Kaitlyn are already applying as students.

"I grew up in Cadillac, Sask. (about 30 minutes north of Val Marie). My mom grew up in Val Marie and my grandparents still ranch there. My mom worked on the PFRA when she was younger (before me) and as I was growing up I heard lots about them from my parents and grandparents. I started working for my dad at his gas station when I was 13 and that's when I started to meet the men and women who worked for the PFRA. Among them was Jim Commodore. I always found him so humble, interesting and well-spoken that I knew when I got into Journalism school that I would love to tell his story. When I heard about the decisions to shut the PFRA's in 2012 I knew I wanted to shine a spotlight on the people and culture surrounding them. This year we were able to do a mini-doc assignment on anything we chose - I asked Kaitlyn about doing it on this and she agreed!
So we phoned Jim up and asked if he'd be okay with it. Jim, always the gentleman, said he would do whatever it took to help us out. So we road tripped down to Val Marie on Remembrance Day weekend this year and we filmed him and our B-roll all in one day.
I love the area, the people and the culture in the southwest rural corner of the province - I got into journalism to shed a spotlight on incredible "everyday" people and this gave us a great opportunity to tell Jim's story as well as tie into a greater story about the loss of the PFRA's and what that means to the area, people and culture.

Oftentimes people get caught up in statistics and big figures and forget to talk to people who know the topic best - I knew Jim would be a great resource and a way to make a historical document. His father worked PF's before him and so he'd always known what they meant to the area. He's an amazing person. He, like my grandparents, I believe are the last of a breed of cowgirls and cowboys who understood the importance of people, community and the environment."

The Last Cowboy from Megan Lacelle on Vimeo.


  1. Excellent post and video!

  2. My Uncle worked for the PFRA many many yrs ago there!! Great story and yes the best resources are the ones that lived it.


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