Even driving by at 100 km/hr, you can easily count the slouching clapboard houses of Kandahar. On the east side of the hamlet there is a large boxy building as well, that I believe was once a school. From the highway you can see that all the windows have been broken out, like teeth. And the faded brown siding, having lost all desire, has been sliding off for years.
But Kandahar was once famous for its steakhouse. I remember because The Kandahar Steak House always got mentioned 70 miles east, down the Yellowhead, at Yorkton’s CKOS. At that distance I knew it had to be special. Those were the juicy tender years. An earlier time when I didn’t know businesses had to pay for getting mentioned on the television. I thought that places just had to be good to get advertising.
I remember the Sunday my parents went for a drive with their friends with the express purpose of going to for a steak. They may have gone more than once but I remember that day, because I was instantly envious and vowed that one day I would do the same. And I did…one weekend, some ten years later, while driving back from Saskatoon where I was enrolled in an Agriculture diploma program at the University.
It was early evening when I drove up the gravel drive to the steakhouse. I stepped through a paint blistered door into a red-carpeted room. There was no one else in the restaurant. I found a table and sat down.
A thin, wrinkled, Chinese man came and asked me what I’d like. I asked for a menu and he obliged. Was he annoyed or surprised? My steak was tough, quite tough. A mistake perhaps? Perhaps not. Perhaps they had been tough for some time. I ate in dim silence. Years of anticipation spattered and burned off like bits of marbled fat. It was a gristly, uncomfortable and ultimately lonely meal. In less than a year, after my only visit, the windows would be boarded up and eventually, I suppose, the building pushed in and hauled away. There isn’t a trace of the place today.
Today, even though I suspect that some of its 15 houses are occupied, Kandahar, Saskatchewan couldn’t feel much more desolate or unfortunate. And naturally, one wonders about that name, a name–bestowed upon the settlement by C.P.R. at the turn of the century–meant to honour the British victory in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in the 1880s.
Still, I can hear the engaging voice of Linus Westburg on CKOS, and see the large sign atop the burgundy restaurant at the entrance of town, and then the presentation of red place-mat, silver steak knife, and the black-brown cross-grilled T-bone on a white plate. A meat-eater’s Shangri-la.