TISDALE, Sask. — It’s a safe bet most TV sets in Tisdale will be tuned in to the final episode of Corner Gas Monday night as residents bid farewell to a show they believe took their small Saskatchewan town to the masses.
Brent Butt, the star and creator of what has been described as the most successful Canadian sitcom ever made, was raised in the rural farming community of 3,400, a two-hour drive northeast of Saskatoon.
The Doghide River runs through town, and people there claim its name gave rise to the show’s fictional setting of Dog River.
They also see references to Tisdale in the show’s quirky characters and stories about small-town prairie life.
Butt’s 78-year-old mother, Irene, still lives in Tisdale and sometimes hears herself on Corner Gas. The words she used to scold her young son often pop out of the mouth of Butt’s TV mother, Emma.
“If I’ve got to come upstairs, you’ll wish I hadn’t!” Butt’s real mother recites with a chuckle.
Shortly after the show debuted six years ago, a person walking out of the local Co-op store called her “Mrs. Corner Gas,” she says. The name stuck for quite awhile.
In interviews, Butt has mentioned his mother as an inspiration for his sense of humour. But she believes his funny bone came from his father, Herb, who died in 1982.
Irene Butt says she’s very proud of her son, the youngest of seven children.
And she watches Corner Gas — when she can remember to catch it. She forgot last week because she was tuned into a curling match. She hopes she doesn’t forget the finale Monday.
“I imagine my other kids will call and remind me to watch it.”
Butt, 42, plays gas station proprietor Brent Leroy on the show.
In Tisdale, a teenage Butt often hung out at the Park Service gas station. His friend, Blair Crowley, worked the pumps, while Butt and other pals hung out in the convenience store’s coffee bar.
“He was always fairly funny, dry humour,” says former owner Stan Crowley, who has never missed an episode of “Corner Gas.”
Park Service was demolished 12 years ago and replaced with a shiny 7-Eleven. But across the street, a billboard with a sketch of Butt’s face welcomes people to Tisdale, “the Home of Brent Butt.”
For decades, the only welcome sign proclaimed Tisdale “the Land of Rape and Honey.”
Residents are still quick to explain their primary exports are canola, a derivative of rapeseed, and honey — in addition to humour.
Mayor Roland Zimmer says Butt has put Tisdale on the map and someday the town may honour him with a Butt Boulevard or Butt Crescent.
“We’re very proud of Brent,” says Zimmer, a big fan of the show. “Me and the wife watch it faithfully.”
Zimmer says he can relate to some of the antics on the show, especially those of Dog River’s two police officers. Zimmer is a former RCMP constable and often found himself crouching behind a bush on the highway armed with a radar gun.
On the show, the officers hide behind a lone surveillance bush that’s not very full.
“I’m always a firm believer if you can’t laugh at yourself, you can’t laugh with others,” says Zimmer.
Edna Oleksyn remembers a young Butt hanging out with her son, Colin.
The boys spent countless hours at the Oleksyn home creating their own comic books.
She says Butt was extremely funny and Corner Gas makes her laugh just as much.
“I like the way he gets people into his shows that we all know,” she says. “He puts the names of friends that he had going to school from town into the stories, so everybody gets a real chuckle out of that.”
Oleksyn just hopes viewers don’t think Tisdale is an exact replica of Dog River.
“I’m not sure sometimes if people think that everybody in Tisdale would be as dumb as the people in Corner Gas.”