This was supposed to be a relatively short four or five hour drive into Montana from the depressing town of Medicine Hat, home to big generic strip malls, abandoned brick factories and an aging downtown. Medicine Hat’s two main exports to the United States are natural gas and ice hockey players.

Instead we stopped at several small towns and abandoned farmhouses on our way across the border. We also stopped at the “No. 1 Scoop,” a pink and white ice cream place in Tompkins in southern Saskatchewan, a town of about 200 people. The owner, Rose Hancock, was there in her pink windbreaker mowing the grass.

Rose said she had owned the ice cream place for five years and sold it for $25,000 to a person who ran it badly, with limited hours, angering the customers. “It wasn’t good for the community,” she said. So she bought it back, at a bargain price. She didn’t say exactly how much, but said it was an amount less than the cost of the equipment inside. She’s been running it again for a year now. “It needs repainting,” she said, after handing over a Dutch chocolate cone.

This isn’t the only thing sustaining her and her husband. He works for an oil service company testing pressures on oil field rigs and pipelines.  They also have about two dozen head of cattle. But she said that oil was about all they had around there to keep the economy going.