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From rectory to art house

The name ‘Forget’ caught the attention of Don and Shannon Shakotko several years ago. Searching for a reason to stay in Saskatchewan after falling in love with the community of Maryfield where Don was principal of the school, the couple saw a photo of a Catholic rectory on the front page of a local newspaper.

“We thought, ‘That sounds interesting — forget rectory. How cool is that to have a name like forget?’” said Shannon, giggling about a time when they thought the French-named community (pronounced ‘For-jhay’) was actually called ‘for-get.’

“That Sunday we jumped in the car and went for a drive and sure enough, there was the town and the rectory. And lo and behold, there was this homemade ‘for sale’ sign on the rectory.”

With the plaster falling from its walls and the support beams threatening to give up, the Shakotkos saw a massive work project. Despite the challenges, something in their hearts told them to buy the rectory and turn it into a place where faith, art and leadership would be encouraged.

The scholarly couple, Shannon with two master’s degrees and Don with a doctorate in education, bought the Forget rectory and decided to turn it into an art house (Ananda Arthouse) where musicians and artists could come to feed their creativity.

“As we were renovating the rectory and knocking out walls, I remember taping out a stage and thinking, ‘OK, how many people could we fit in this space?’” said Don.

The number was about 50 and after packing the rectory living room for year upon year with musicians from across Canada and the U.S., it was time to expand. With the Forget community hall going up for tender in 2008, the Shakotkos’ prayers were answered. They would buy the hall, turn it into a restaurant and provide a stage for all future concerts. The 100th Forget concert was hosted in the new Happy Nun Café, rather than in their living room as they had done since 2000.

The rectory remains the Shakotko home and the Ananda Arthouse, a sanctuary for artists. It has also been transformed into an inn — Inn of the Seven Sisters — which features historic rooms adorned with quilts, art and inspirational quotes.

“The Inn of the Seven Sisters came out of our need to nurture artists and pilgrims passing through our village. We offer three beautifully appointed rooms, an excellent home-cooked breakfast and access to one of the finest private libraries in the province,” reads information from the inn brochure.

The performance stage has moved to the Forget hall where the thriving Happy Nun Café and music venue hosts performers several times each month. Gourmet meals are served at the Happy Nun Café every weekend, featuring honey from the Shakotkos own bees, vegetables and herbs from their garden and recipes that come from a commitment to serve fresh and inspired meals.

Gyda and Hank Nickel, Shannon’s parents, have also moved to Forget along with 20 or so family and friends, following in the wake of the dream created by two self-described spiritual, music-loving dreamers.

One musician, Juno award-winning roots performer Ken Hamm, made his way from the West Coast for a concert in Forget in 2005. Hamm and his wife were so enamoured with the peaceful Prairie setting that they bought a home for $8,000, set up a music shop and Forget is now the launch pad from which the couple leaves to perform throughout the world.

“This place has shaped us,” said Shannon. “We have shaped it by rejuvenating it and breathing life into it again, but it has done the same for us.”

For more information on the Ananda Arthouse, visit www.ananda-arthouse.org. For upcoming concerts and dinner reservations, visit the Happy Nun Café & Music website at www.happynuncafe.ca. †

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Christalee Froese writes from Montmartre, Sask.

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