In 1989, as a way of generating extra income for their grain farm near St. Denis, Saskatchewan, Thérse and Arthur Denis decided to open their farmyard as a “Western experience” destination. They built an Old West-style saloon and offered home-cooked meals, entertainment, and horse-drawn sleigh rides for groups, and held day camps for visitors who wanted a taste of the Old West. They called their farm Champtre County. The name Champtre comes from two French words that together literally mean “to be in the country.” Thérse says the word “champtre” is also used in French to express the idea of a potluck meal.
Everything changed on January 3, 1995, when the saloon burned to the ground.
“Then we had to make a decision,” Thérse says. “Would we rebuild and continue with this, or would we return to farming, which was lousy back then? We decided to rebuild and go into the vacation farm business full time.”
The Denises embarked on creating the frontier town of Tumbleweed, “adapting the Old West to fit today,” Thérse says. It is known as Champtre County Wild West Resort.
The visitor’s first impression is of meticulous, well-treed grounds and neat, weathered-board corrals, fences and buildings. Opposite the front gate is the two-storey Howling Coyote Saloon with a balcony on the upper floor that runs the full length of the building. This is the town’s main facility with room for banquets and dancing, and a stage for entertainment.
A wide boardwalk connects the saloon with other buildings: the boarding house, the town hall and the general store, which stocks a supply of tasty confectionery treats and handmade giftware. In the rear of the general store is an old-fashioned portrait studio complete with a wardrobe of antique
costumes. The spacious grounds accommodate a vintage graveyard, horseshoe pits, a playground, ball diamond and the Lost Corral Maze, which Thérse says is very popular with visitors.
“We also have overnight accommodations for a limited number of people, as well as extensive space for trailers and RVs,” she says.
Arthur is the sheriff of Champtre County; Thérse is the mayor. Sometimes, the sheriff, authentically garbed in Western attire, comes on horseback to meet guests at the road and guide them back to the farm.
One must-do activity for visitors back at Tumbleweed is a hayride or horse-drawn wagon ride on a wilderness trail that passes an original homestead. “Arthur is a wonderful legend teller and entertains visitors on the ride,” his wife says.
Other activities include sleigh rides in winter, the calf-roping machine, Western relays (following the sheriff’s rules, of course), night hikes, overnight camping experiences, and much more.
“When you book an event at Champtre, you can choose the entertainment activity you want,” Thérse says. “That could be kangaroo court, square dancing, a casino or entertainment by everything from fiddlers to whip crackers. We can also do fireworks displays or craft events where guests make dream catchers or do jam making.
“In winter, we go snowmobiling and hold winter olympics. Arthur dresses up as a coureur de bois.
“Meals are our specialty,” Thérse says. “We cater as much as possible with homemade food, always serving homemade bread and jellies. Our chef is a local woman.
“We’re best known for our pitchfork steak supper, which is a real showpiece. People are amazed.”
Champtre County Wild West Resort is a year-round operation. It is a popular destination for conventions, meetings, retreats, staff parties, family reunions, weddings and anniversaries.
For more information on Champtre County, visit www.champetrecounty.com or call (306) 258-4635.
The name Champtre comes from two French words that together literally mean “to be in the country”