Like many Meadow Lakers, Big River author Todd Devonshire’s childhood is defined by hockey in small town Saskatchewan.
But there’s one thing that stands out.
The enduring memory of hot burgers in a cold rink is synonymous with Devonshire’s formative years, and also the title of his first book, which he shared at Meadow Lake Library on Jan. 19.
“I think everyone from a small town at one point in their life lived at the arena,” Devonshire said. “So I think that title, ‘Rink Burgers’, it triggers that memory, because everyone used to have a rink burger.”
Devonshire sees the rink burger as a unifying thread in small town Saskatchewan because although not everyone played hockey, most would enjoy a burger at the rink to watch their friends and family.
“Even if you’re from Meadow Lake or North Battleford or Saskatoon, that rink burger was the treat after the game,” he said. “It enhanced the winning and cushioned the loss.”
‘Rink Burgers’, published last year, is a recollection of Devonshire’s youth tapped from pictures, old hockey jerseys, trading cards and Devonshire’s own memory.
He even managed to recall a memory of one of his favourite spots growing up: the Meadow Lake Arena.
“To me, stepping on the Meadow Lake ice was a real neat experience because all the other small towns were basically barns, in the sense that not all of them had (acrylic) glass and seats all the way around, it was just chicken wire,” he said.
“It was like coming to the big leagues,” he added with a chuckle.
Devonshire came up with the idea to write about growing up in Saskatchewan while teaching in Tokyo, of all places.
Devonshire had just told a group of Japanese businessmen that he was hungry enough to eat a horse. Queue him being taken to a restaurant where he was served horse meat, followed by an awkward explanation of English expressions, and him finally saying if he could eat anything at that moment, it would be a rink burger.
“And that’s when it hit me,” Devonshire said.
Devonshire started the book in Japan and continued the process for eight years. That includes 19 rewrites, numerous edits and 23 rejections from publishers.
The Big River author was not totally disheartened; prior to ‘Rink Burgers’, his only publication had been a letter to the editor in ‘The Star-Phoenix’.
“I’m basically a regular Joe, I get that,” Devonshire said. “But I thought I had a story, I thought there was something there.”
At least two writers suggested by the local Writer’s Guild agreed, and Devonshire received a lot of help from them in formulating a final draft.
He ultimately decided to self-publish the book through ‘Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing’, a decision he has come to appreciate. Devonshire sold 1,500 copies in his first two months, an accomplishment he says he never expected.
“Someone thinks you’ve got something to share, and that’s a great feeling,” he said. “ You can’t buy a feeling like that.”
Devonshire experienced another feeling one certainly can’t buy when he received a response from Canadian hockey icon Don Cherry after sending him his book. Although Cherry didn’t agree with a contention by Devonshire regarding a 1979 Stanley Cup game between the Montreal Canadiens and his favourite team, the Boston Bruins, he did congratulate him on the book.
“That’s been one of the neater things that’s happened to me for sure,” Devonshire said.
As for Devonshire’s favourite town for an authentic Saskatchewan rink burger?
He said Big River for purely nostalgic reasons, although Canwood is a close runner-up.
“They’d soak them in this tomato sauce, and there was just something about it,” he said. “That was a great rink burger.”