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Saskatchewan is a province people drive through on their way from A to B - many probably wishing that the big flat stretch wasn't even on the map. If you have the time, however, it is worth getting off the Trans Canada Highway for a closer look. Although it doesn't have British Columbia's impressive mountains or Ontario's numerous rivers and lakes, it does have its interesting points. Long fields of bright yellow and deep blue stretch away into the distance and the low and long rays of the setting sun produce a light that is a photographer's dream. Without the trees of the east or the mountains of the west the horizon is unobstructed and provides for a very impressive sky. Saskatchewan's license plate motto is the truest of all the provinces: "Land of the Living Skies".
As with Alberta, Saskatchewan would be a part of a loop and done in two sections. The drive would take us through northern Alberta, across Saskatchewan (Part 1) into lower Manitoba, up through Manitoba to the north, and then back down through Saskatchewan (part 2) to the southern bits.
Part 1: July 27 - July 31, 2004
July 27 2004, The Battlefords:
It was cloudy day, a windy day and a long day on the road. Despite this we really enjoyed our stay in the Battlefords at the Eiling Kramer campground. We camped behind the only row of trees we could find and I convinced (or was it forced) Carol to put up the small tent due to the high winds. A park guide later told us this was a excellent move due to the fact we were on one of Saskatchewan's high points (we couldn't tell) and it has a history of "plow" winds capable of knocking over fences! Carol still wasn't satisfied and I had to promise to use the big tent the next night. Anyhow, our little tent overlooked the Saskatchewan River Valley and sat on a soft mat of tall prairie grass which gave off a beautiful smell. Very nice - the Battlefords are quite pretty. We had a quick tour of Fort Battleford - the North West Mounted Police post dating from around 1876 when Saskatchewan was considered the Northwest Territories!
July 28 2004, Gardiner Dam (Danielson Provincial Park):
Carol and I were tired and grumpy but we didn't know why and had no reason to be so... maybe we had been tenting for too long. We took Highway 16 down from Battleford to Saskatoon - Canadian's highest crime rate city. On the way we spent three hours at the Wanuskewin Visitor's Center which is an important archeological site and an excellent interpretive center just northeast of Saskatoon. The area was used by the natives for thousands of years right up until 185 years ago as buffalo hunting grounds (they ran them over cliffs or into pounds) and as a winter camp. It is a beautiful valley carved by the Opimihaw Creek as it trickles its way towards the South Saskatchewan River. The valley's gently sloping sides, trees and sheltered vegetation offer a break from the flat prairie above it. The only poor part of the experience were the interpretive center trails - we couldn't see what we were supposed to be looking at for all the tall prairie grass. We stayed the night at picturesque Danielson Provincial Park on the north end of Diefenbaker Lake which is formed by the Gardiner Dam (to the north) and the Qu'Appelle Dam (to the south).
July 29 2004, Fort Qu'Appelle (Echo Valley Provincial Park):
We had had an overheating 12V fridge connector and a broken rear window since the Yukon. The former finally melted, tripped the breaker and thus motivated me to fix it (it had shorted internally). The rear window was a much larger issue than anticipated. It is a Raider cap but dealers don't stock the glass separately. We passed through Moose Jaw, home of the Raider truck cap factory and they only stock pre-assembled units forcing me to get the local dealer to order the glass with the promise that we would be back in five weeks. In the meantime, Carol's cardboard/plastic/duct tape affair was holding up admirably. We also stopped in Chaplin Lake to see the natural deposits of sodium sulphate but the salt plains in the NWT they didn't compare and failed to impress. The evening saw us at Echo Valley Provincial Park which Carol had visited at 16 years of age for a Girl Guide jamboree. The campground stood at the top of the valley looking over the river below. It was beautiful but Carol's memory failed her and nothing looked familiar in the least.
July 30 2004, Good Spirit Provincial Park:
We had a rather uneventful drive that took us along Highway 10 to Melville and then north along Highway 47 through Springside to Good Spirit. Our only stop was the Motherwell Homestead National Park - the semi-interesting restored farmstead of W.R. Motherwell who came from Ontario for the free land in the late 1800's. He made a go of it, developed the method of dry farming and eventually became very involved (this is a bit of an understatement) in Saskatchewan's agricultural affairs. The Good Spirit Lake Provincial Park is typical of many of Saskatchewan's provincial parks that we have visited to date: fairly domesticated, a funny combination of part park and part town, dirty and not very spectacular. It is the dirty part that always got to me... I would spend a 1/2 hour cleaning up other peoples junk and beer bottle caps. They should have paid me to stay.
At this point in our travels we crossed into southern Manitoba. If you are following chronologically you might wish to link to the Manitoba page.
Part 2: August 15 - August 28, 2004
August 15 2004, Pinehouse:
August 15th took us from Grass River Provincial Park, Manitoba through the rough industrial towns of The Pas and Flin Flon (pulp and mining respectively) to Pinehouse, Saskatchewan. Flin Flon, with all the mine shafts seemingly situated right next to the highway, did have the coolest hoist house I had ever seen. Instead of the usual steel (newer) or wood (older) building, this one was a huge red brick structure. Northern Saskatchewan's major roads are north-south in orientation and as we were going east-west, it meant more secondary roads. Having promised the truck no more gravel, off we went on another 300 km dirt highway (# 165). It had rained which helped with the dust but did make for some soft spots... and of course we had to make a 40 km (one way) detour to Air Ronge for gas. We made it to Pinehouse in time to enjoy some sun, dry out our gear and prepare for the next adventure.
August 16 - August 23 2004, The Churchill River:
Last October when we hooked up with Quesnel's Black Water Paddlers (in British Columbia), we meet John and Dorie Havens. At the time, they were planning a trip on the Churchill and we were very interested in the possibility of joining the group. Organizing and preparing for such a trip is a lot of work and very difficult to do on the road. As such, when John said the trip was a go, we were glad to be able to join in, and happy that the difficult work of organizing food, flights and the like had been done! It proved to be one of the harder canoe trips we had done. It was a great trip but also a cold, wet, windy and challenging one... guaranteed to keep us coming back for more! It sure made us realize how much we miss the Canadian Shield! For details check out the Churchill River link.
August 24 2004, Prince Albert Provincial Park:
We left Missinipie at 4:00 pm (we were enjoying our dry little cabin we had rented too much to leave early) and drove through 40 km of mud to La Ronge. The trailer had 2 inches of mud clinging to the front corners of the box and, as you couldn't get near it without getting dirty, I had to wash the truck, trailer and canoe in La Ronge. Now I was muddy and wet! Never had Carol and I felt so homeless. I think if we had a home, we would have driven day and night to get there and be warm and dry. Never had we felt so little like camping. After 8 days of cold and wet canoe camping, the last thing we wanted to do was set up a tent on yet another wet, damp, piece of ground. Anyhow... that is what we did at Prince Albert. Thankfully, the sun came out for a bit, but not enough to warm anything up.
August 26 2004, Manitou Beach:
Oh, the surprises we found find in southern Saskatchewan! Manitou Beach was once a spiffy resort and mineral spa town back in the 1940s and 1950s. It has since fallen out of favour but someone seems to have forgotten to tell Manitou Beach itself. The same people who came in the 1940s still appear to be coming. The only difference is that they now have white hair and move a bit slower than they used to - much like the town itself. I think we were the only tourists under 65 in the area. The most amazing thing was the dance hall. The door was open so we walked in and an older fellow fixing some lights came over to greet us. He turned out to be the owner. Danceland was built in the 40s and has hosted greats such as Glen Miller. Live CBC broadcasts were also done from the building in its heyday. It still draws white-haired crowds of up to 400 people from as far away as Alberta! The building is beautiful inside and right out of the 40s and 50s - nothing has been changed or modified. And there it sits, right in the middle of Saskatchewan; its past glories still shine under a well-weathered exterior.
August 26 - August 27 2004, Moose Jaw:
We spent one and a half days in Moose Jaw re-grouping. In July I had ordered glass for the truck cap from a Moose Jaw company and as it had arrived, we got it installed. We also got laundry done, groceries re-stocked, hair cut and other similar chores. As a diversion from our labours, we did the Tunnel Tours. Moose Jaw has a number of really beautiful old brick buildings. These were connected by a dark and complicated maze of underground service tunnels which were used for various purposes (from bootlegging during prohibition years to housing Chinese immigrants laundry workers) at various times. The Tunnel Tours pick up on these themes, treating you as a bootlegger in the first tour and as a Chinese immigrant laundry worker in the second. They were very well done though I suspected the second was more factual while the first had a bit more fantasy mixed in (rumour has it Al Capone used the tunnels). It continued to rain on an on-again off-again basis which was hard on our spirits and kept everything wet or at least damp. We were both tired and a bit travel weary at this point.
August 28, Highway 36 (Cactus Hills) and Highway 13:
We decided to head to the extreme south-west corner of the province in hopes of finding new and fascinating lands. The drive south (Hwy #36) through Cactus Hills was pretty interesting but more typical prairie reasserted itself along Highway 13, making for a pretty boring drive. Despite this, I definitely rate Saskatchewan as one of the most photogenic provinces. It might not have mountains, coast line or endless rivers and lakes but it is dynamic in a way other places aren't. Here we saw a way of life changing before our very eyes. Things like old grain elevators, abandoned farmsteads, dying towns and majestic old brick buildings (in the cities) dot the landscape. A timeless and immense sky unobstructed by mountains or trees and field upon field of different coloured grains add to the effect. The best part though was the low, low evening light that illuminates everything.
Despite what you see as you drive along the Trans-Canada, Saskatchewan does have some fairly diverse landforms and things worth seeing. It is definitely worth some of your time. That said, however, we don't want to live there. Great rivers and lakes do abound but they are far, far away in the north country and the lack of hills and other outdoor pursuits would leave us a little bored. Especially the winter... all I can envision is one huge field of snow! But if you have the time get off the Trans-Canada Highway and pay Saskatchewan a visit. There is stuff to see.
We have almost completed our loop of the western provinces, and at this point are crossing into southern Alberta. If you are following chronologically you might wish to link to the second half of the Alberta page.
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