Kandahar, Saskatchewan

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.

19 Comments

  1. I started an email and then pushed the wrong button when about half way through the message, so if you got half a message that is why. If Sam would have been there it would have been an excelent steak. I ate there several times, back in the fifties. He was probably long gone by the time you ate there. Actually his son Tong ran the place for a while and then moved to a small town called LeRoy.

  2. Excellent post. I drove by the town on the way to Yorkton to play a gig at the casino. I am only 19 but a band mate mentioned the steak place which he used to stop at when he went to visit his parents in Manitoba. Only building I could spot from the road was the big rectangular building that must have been a school at some time.

    What year did you stop for a steak? 1980s?

  3. That’s a great recollection/story. I also remember the days you describe. CKOS, Linus, Roger etc. The place was definately famous around those parts. I heard it went downhill after Sam died. Everytime I pass the town I think of it. One day some enterprising family will resurrect the old. Those were the good old days.

  4. My husband and I stopped at the Kandahar Steak House in the fall of 1971 because like you we had heard so much about it on CKOS. The night we arrived there we were also the only ones in the restaurant, however our steak was the best we have ever had. We were actually just telling friends about it a couple of weeks ago. Wish I had the recipe for what he used on the steaks. They were very delicious.

  5. I drove by there on my way back from Saskatoon just before New Years and was thinking about the Steak House. I thought the place was still open in the 90s. I never went there but I talked about it on the drive between Russell and Saskatoon.

  6. Lived in Kandahar from 1965 to 1974. Dad ran the post office.Used to swim in quill lake have to rinse off the salt. Would like to hear from others that lived there

  7. Kelly Jordan – I remember you Your Dad used to stop at my house every morning because he drove the bus that took me to school in Kandahar – Bill Kizlyk was one of my teachers back then . and in high school years I would transfer the school bus to a bigger bus which took us to Wynyard

  8. The rectangular building that has been mentioned a couple of times was indeed a school – the “new” school for grades one to eight, built in about 1964, if I remember correctly. I went there. Also went to Sam’s for steaks (well, when I was a little kid, I didn’t have steak, but my parents did) when he had the old café downtown Kandahar, and then when they built the new place (the one people are talking about here) next to the highway. There are about 15 residents of Kandahar still – a far cry from its “heyday” when it had the café, a Co-op store and gas station, bulk oil dealer, elevator agent, blacksmith, and the post office. (And Kelly’s dad and mom not only ran the post office there for quite a while, his dad also drove the bus I took to school for years!)

  9. thanks for writing about the “steak house” remember hearing the add over and over as a kid, always wondered about the place and how a dorky little place like that could afford the add on TV ,never did stop in usually went some other way to S’toon and back

  10. If I remember correctly what made the steakhouse famous was that John G DIEFENBAKER had many a steak there and thoroughly enjoyed it. There was a letter attesting to that fact on display, Went by there many times from Ituna to Saskatoon or Warman.

  11. Funny how reading these comments bring back old memories. Kandahar came up this morning while I was talking to my son. I had mentioned to him that I had often gone there as a child with my extended family from Watson and Jansen to have steak suppers. That was back when Old Sam was still running the show in the original restaurant and he told my dad his secrets. The meat had to hang for 28 days, you only cook steaks on a very hot grill, and lots of soya sauce (I think he used MSG as well). My favourite memory were the onions sliced paper thin with sugar and vinigar that the lady we called Grandma cut in the back room. That had to be 50 years ago at least though… time flies.

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