Timescape: History Plays and Isolation
Sukanen spent all his time and money building a boat to sail home in. 32 This made him
the object of scorn from some neighbours. For six years, Sukanen worked on his ship, at
the expense of his health. In order to get his boat the seventeen miles to the river,
Sukanen tried winching it. He got four miles. He asked a neighbour with a steam engine
to haul it for him. The neighbour refused, denouncing Sukanen’s project as crazy. This
refusal shocked Sukanen. He began to lose hope that his ship would ever reach water.
When vandals began destroying his boat, all fight left him. His neighbours had him
committed to the North Battleford institutional hospital. Sukanen died there on April 23
in 1943 (Ackerman I-5).
Sukanen’s life and death have been the subject of several creative projects,
including two radio plays: The Shipbuilder by Ken Mitchell and Dustship Glory by
Andreas Schroeder. The story itself has strong local, national, and international appeal
on a number of levels. Although Mitchell was born in Moose Jaw and grew up in the
shadow of the boat, the play was produced outside of Saskatchewan and broadcast
internationally. Schroeder, from outside of Saskatchewan, researched here and wrote
from outside of Saskatchewan, but the play was produced and broadcast provincially.
This is a Saskatchewan story that has appealed both provincially and abroad because of
its adaptability to the History model of playwriting. Ken Mitchell is a prolific writer of
fiction and drama.33 Many of his plays have focused on stories and characters from
Saskatchewan history. Two examples are his stage plays Davin the Politician (1978) and
his exploration of Gabriel Dumont, The Plainsman (1985).
32 Together at Last, notes two options for the name of Sukanen’s ship: “At the time of construction, Tom named the ship Sontiainen, a Finnish word meaning Small Dung Bug, Dontianen is a nick-name” (Mullen et. al.).
Mitchell is currently with the University of Regina’s Department of English.