A memorial will be held Saturday at Tugaske, Sask. for Alf Bryan, the contrary southern Saskatchewan farmer who became a mainstay of Grainews’ stable of farming columnists in the 1980s and ’90s.
Bryan, who died Monday at a long-term care facility in Moose Jaw, ran a grain operation at Tugaske with wife Shirley and son Shane. Bryan was also politically active, placing third in the Moose Jaw constituency for Pierre Trudeau’s federal Liberals in 1974.
Bryan went on to become a vocal opponent of the Canadian Wheat Board’s single marketing desk for Prairie wheat and barley, when he was approached to take on the “I may be wrong, but…” column for United Grain Growers’ farm journal Grainews in 1986.
The invitation, Bryan recalled in 2001, came following three hours of conversation during a “six-brandy lunch in Winnipeg” with the journal’s then-editor, John Clark, and Canadian National Railway’s then-director of public relations, Leo Quigley.
Asked by Clark to take on the column, Bryan said he replied, “I can’t write, John,” to which Clark replied, “You sure can talk up a storm. Writing is just talking on paper. So get at it.”
“I hated to disappoint a talented editor who had such touching faith in the ability of an old farmer with little formal education,” Bryan would later recall in Grainews. “When the first column was printed, I was amazed. When the first cheque came in the mail, I was astounded.”
Bryan developed notoriety as a humorist whose topics and targets ranged from personal observations of farming and rural life up to federal politics and policy, most notably on the CWB.
“More than a few don’t agree with what I write, but I have said before and will say again, ‘You’re not supposed to agree with me,’” Bryan wrote.
Bryan’s “I may be wrong, but…” columns in Grainews would later be published in three volumes in 1991, 1994 and 2001. His interests in writing expanded into fiction and he published two novels, Cradle of Vanadis in 1995 and Katherine in 1999.
Bryan, who would attend the Moose Jaw writing festival now dubbed the Saskatchewan Festival of Words, had written Katherine as a send-up of what he viewed as a clique-like tendency in Saskatchewan’s literary community.
Jay Whetter, then editor of Grainews, blogged in April 2008 that Bryan had moved into long-term care at Providence Place in Moose Jaw, after a hospital stay with pneumonia the previous autumn.
“Now that spring work has started, Shirley says Alf talks about seeding and other jobs that need to be done,” Whetter wrote after a call to the Tugaske farm.
A funeral for Bryan is to be held Saturday (Dec. 8) at 2 p.m. at the community hall on Ogema Street in Tugaske, which is at the intersection of Highways 367 and 627, about 85 km northwest of Moose Jaw.
Bryan’s family has asked that in lieu of flowers, donations can be made to a charity of one’s choice.