Saskatchewan & Alberta, Cypress Hills InterProvincial Park, Medicine Hat, August 24, 2008

15 03 2011

Yes, Virginia, the Earth Really is Round

The Top of Cypress Hills

There’s a giant plateau straddling the border of Saskatchewan and Alberta, Cypress Hills InterProvincial Park, that has sides that are cliffs and if you stand on one you can see the rolling prairies go on forever. It is the highest point of Canada, in between the Rocky Mountains and Labrador. It was a bit of a drive to get there, but the ground got more hilly and instead of wheat fields we started seeing cattle ranches. When we got to the Hills itself, signs warned it was steep and the roads weren’t that wide so maybe you shouldn’t take your Mo-Hoe up there. We figured the Boogie Bus could handle it no problem and it did. The top of the plateau was scorched dry and dusty, flat and covered with straw that was once grass. No one else was around and we stayed for about an hour, marvelling at the vie—we could see the curve of the Earth!

"Wild" Cows of Alberta

Wha....? "Trans-Canada Trail"?

We drove down the other side into Alberta. There are a all kinds of cattle ranchers there, and the cows can wander around the park at will, so we encountered a few “wild” cows. It must be nice to live in that park. It feels kind of Western and once you get off the top of the hills it is forested and there are streams and such. Every now and then you see a house or a dude ranch. The roads are rustic. We broke one of the useless CB antennas—the Boogie Bus was really starting to look like it was getting around.

Magically Delicious!

Medicine Hat, Alberta was the polar opposite of Moose Jaw. It was a place where it looked like people care, and it had art sculptures. We popped by the visitor centre and the person who greeted us was actually allowed to make dining recommendations, a gratifying circumstance that was new to us (although we had never stopped asking). They even had a complimentary RV sanitation station, where we filled up our water tank. But something went wrong and we flooded the van! On the up side, the floor got washed. We were worried because we would pick up Linda that night. Linda is a really clean person and at this point the bus, due to our sleeping in parking lots, not showering, and always being in a hurry, was a stinkin’ mess. We needed to clean it in the next 5 hours. We decided to try the Thai restaurant, and see if there was a laundry-mat nearby we could wash our clothes at the same time.

The laundy-mat was closed but the food at Thai Orchid Room was incredibly delicious.

We booted it to the outskirts of Calgary and got a spot in a weirdly suburban RV park, oddly called Mountain View Camping even though there’s no mountain in sight, where we guessed a lot of the guests were living there and working in nearby industrial projects. They had a petting zoo. And a laundry room (with WiFi, thankfully). We pulled everything out of the van, did the dishes, wiped everything down, and then Step left me in the laundry room with my laptop and a giant stack of loonies, and went to pick up Linda at the airport.

I Can See Your House From Here


Saskatchewan, Highway 13; Red Coat Trail, Dog River (really Rouleau), and Moose Jaw, August 23, 2008

11 03 2011

A Visit to a Fictional Place

"The Wheat Fields Waving"

Even though we hadn’t driven this part of Highway 1 before, we noticed on the map the detour of Highway 13; the Red Coat Trail, was marked as a “scenic route” and since we were here to see Canada, we went that away. Unlike the Yellowhead highway (16), which is full of hills and water features, most of Highway 13 is what you imagine the prairies to look like—absolutely flat and full of golden seas of wheat. (You can watch your dog run away for hours, etc.) That is what makes it scenic. And it just goes on like that, with a little town and a grain silo every now and then, and sometimes those fire chimney things that burn off natural gas. It was beautiful and vast but there’s not much to note about it.

Somewhere, Saskatchewan

At Weyburn we stopped for gas, then veered north back towards Highway 1. We were tooting along when Step noticed a grain silo that said “Dog River” on it. We don’t have cable, but I have watched some Corner Gas on DVD since I know (very slightly) some of the people on that show. Step hadn’t seen it, but it was he that clued into the fact that Dog River was, in fact, a fictional place. So we turned off and found the set to Corner Gas, which was a fun photo-op. There were a surprising amount of people there, doing the same things we were doing. The town is really called Rouleau, by the way. We didn’t go into the town so I don’t know if they have a traffic light or a charming cafe or what.

We were near Moose Jaw and we decided to stop for Dunch—that’s the meal between dinner and lunch. We drove all over the town of Moose Jaw and didn’t see one decent looking dunch spot candidate. There were some really divey looking places and the ubiquitous Chinese-Canadian eateries that are never good. I know I only spent a few hours there, and in fact did not even get out of the van downtown, but Moose Jaw really struck me as a dump of a town (sorry, Moose Jawians). There were a bunch of corporate chains near the highway. I wanted to go to Bonanza but Step prevailed and we went to (a weirdly crowded) Boston Pizza, where I ate a completely disgusting order of Lasagna, that about half way through I started worrying I was eating mad cow disease, so I did not enjoy it at all.

We got to Swift Current and we were too tired to drive on. We kind of looked at a $30 a night RV park, then said “what the heck” and stayed for a second night in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart.

Really Rouleau

Saskatchewan, Blackstrap Mountain and Manitou Beach Resort Town, June 12, 2008

19 07 2008

Robin dips her toe into the healing waters of Manitou Lake

Blackstrap Mountain from afar

Blackstrap Mountain from afar

A little south of Saskatoon is Blackstrap Mountain,a ski hill not made completely out of garbage—it’s made out of dirt. It was built for the 1971 Canada Winter Games. I guess even people in Saskatchewan need a little ski getaway sometimes. Other than the fact that remote pictures of it make the prairies look like it has a pimple, (and, did I mention it’s not made out of garbage?), there was not much going on when we passed through it.

Step at the foot of Blackstrap Mountain

Step at the foot of Blackstrap Mountain

Snacks on Manitou Beach

Snacks on Manitou Beach

I saw a picture of a woman floating in a lake, and the caption said the waters were thought to have healing qualities. It was in Little Manitou Lake, which was not too out of the way from Blackstrap, so we went there. It’s too bad we got there at twilight, for Manitou Beach has a lot offer. As well as aqua magic, there is curious beauty; the dense mineral content of the lake makes a border of fluffy white foam around the lake, and the wind picks up bits and it kind of floats around. Manitou Beach has been a resort town forever, and it hasn’t been invaded by any major developers yet, so it still has old school charm and ‘50’s style hamburger stands. We passed some nice B&Bs and a Drive-In movie theatre. The jewel of Manitou Beach Resort Town, though, has to be DanceLand.

The Legendary Danceland

The Legendary Danceland

When we went in there was a jazzy live dance band and couples doing some sort of ballroom dancing. It was a 5000 square foot dance floor warmly decorated. The guy I asked for road directions from turned out to be Arnie Strueby, the King of Danceland! Arnie Strueby used to live in Chilliwack like I once did, so we felt some sort of misplaced kinship. He told us the dance floor of Danceland (1928) was sprung with horsetails, the same way the famous one at the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver was before they renovated it with rubber (reported to Arnie to be a mistake by current employees of the Commodore who have pilgramaged to Danceland to check out the floor). There were 5 such floors built and Danceland’s was the only one remaining.

Dancers of Danceland

Dancers of Danceland

We had a date with a flight to Vancouver out of Winnepeg in two days, to be at our friend’s memorial, so we didn’t have the luxury of time, which was too bad because I would have really liked to stay in Manitou Beach and explore more the next day. (In fact, I would like to stay there for a week or so before some developer gets to it, which will be not long from now, I am sure). Instead we drove the back way back to the highway, and were glad we had got some deer whistles for the bumper not long before from Canadian Tire, because the road was really dark and the deer plentiful. We drove far and then found a nice campground called Foam Lake on the highway (so far I think Saskatchewan has the best camp sites) where we were the only people there, and we paid by dropping money into the mail slot of a little museum.

Robin with the King of Danceland

Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, June 10-12, 2008

7 07 2008
Delta Bessborough Hotel

Delta Bessborough Hotel

Under University Bridge

Under University Bridge

The next day we made it to Saskatoon during business hours(!). Saskatoon is a Prairie Oasis. The River Valley that runs through the middle is beautiful and overgrown. No one is allowed to build on the banks so there’s wilderness with bike trails and paths on both sides. The East side is the Chi-Chi Side and the West Side is the Wrong Side. Gordon Howe Campsite is on the Wrong Side but it’s a meticulously planned and serviced tight ship kind of place that was densely attended, AND it has WiFi. So does downtown Saskatoon—free WiFi for everybody! You can easily ride your bike anywhere in Saskatoon, because small and mostly flat. (The Chi-Chi side is higher than the wrong side, so there is one big hill either on the bridge or bank)

Oh, the Beautiful Bridges of Saskatoon; so exotic! I didn’t count but there are 7 or 8 of them and they are all different. My favourite was Victoria Bridge, also known as Traffic Bridge, which is an older bridge that has a maximum load of only 5 tonnes and has wooden pedestrian sidewalks. At night the sides of the bridge are lit up with different coloured lights which I was unable to get an adequate picture of due to weather. Although Saskatoon is known as Sunny Saskatoon with the city catch phrase of “Saskatoon Shines” it was cloudy or raining the whole time we were there, which was certainly ironic because the sun had been following us all over Western Canada, but also it was fine because we still really enjoyed our stay there.
Victoria Bridge

Victoria Bridge

There’s not a lot of bad things you could say about this city, except it’s the City of Bad Information. I hadn’t yet given up on enquiring for Hippie restaurants serving brown rice and vegetables, and the woman at the visitor centre directed us to a place which turned out to be vegetarian Chinese and also closed. Furthermore, we got an up-to-date brochure for the very popular Farmer’s Market which claimed the market was open on Wednesdays which turned out to be not true. There were other instances of misinformation I won’t detail here. You would think in a place so small there would be more clarity about what goes on.

Bulk Cheese Warehouse

Bulk Cheese Warehouse

As confused as it is, Saskatoon has much to recommend it; Broadway is the funky area with Local Appeal. This 4 blocks is virtually stuffed with world class food and entertainment. 3 of Saskatoon’s 4 live music venues are here (when we went out to Lydia’s, a music venue, Step enjoyed the local custom of ordering “a bottle of pils” at the bar), as well as a movie theatre which was screening, among other things, The Garbage King. The first time we visited Broadway it was after 9pm and all the restaurants were weirdly closed, which seems freakishly early to me, all but a pizza joint called Nino’s which we went to in desperation and left in wonder and satisfaction. It turned out Nino’s is the love restaurant of the man who founded Boston Pizza and so it has some Kick-Ass pizza.

Chef Daniel Walker of Weczeria

Chef Daniel Walker of Weczeria

Yes, Nino’s was the precursor to 3 days of amazing food. Saskatoon has it going on in the culinary department. Weczeria is a restaurant where everything possible is absolutely local, with beautiful black and white photographs of all the suppliers decorating the walls. I could have eaten 2 or 3 of the Cobb Salad, and the portions are not chintzy. We asked the lady at the Organic Food Co-op (unpasteurised sauerkraut and other esoteric food items are cheap and abundant here) where to get some spicy noodles and she sent us to a Vietnamese diner in Cumberland strip mall called Spicy Garden that was worth flying back to Saskatoon for (travel tip: if you want to find a restaurant serving delicious, healthy meals ask the clerk at the hippie food store). But I think I can safely say our favourite food vendor was Bulk Cheese Warehouse. Bulk Cheese Warehouse not only has an impressive array of cheese for sale in quantities from single portion to whole wheels, it also has a butcher section with caveman size cuts of meat, house smoked sausages, and wild boar bacons. Pestos, olives, and cupcakes—in flavours such as Crème Brule—are also offered, with slices of oversized pies that are ¼ of a pie for $5! We went several times and enjoyed every single item we purchased there, including a Bestever Cheese Ball which Step couldn’t understand why I purchased (cheese balls are always terrible, but this was the Best Ever) and later lamented we hadn’t bought 5 of them.

Bulk Cheese Warehouse

Public Art

Saskatoon likes art, too. Downtown is liberally sprinkled with public art ranging from conservative bronze casts to crazy Modern Art sculptures. The Saskatoon art gallery and plant conservatory, named the Mendel Art Gallery, is free (but you are encouraged to donate) and in the past they’ve had great shows by people like Joni Mitchell, and they have quite a few heavy weights in their permanent collection. When we visited the main gallery was closed for installation, and there was just a “members” show downstairs, which was amateur art by gallery members! I love stuff like that, so it was fine with me. There was the usual range from amazing to awkwardly painted nude women with great attention paid to the breasts and hands that kind of trail off into a blur.

Prairie Socialism

Prairie Socialism

But the best part of the Mendel Art Gallery was the gift shop, especially for it’s unabashed socialist art by D. Geary. This image of the “Red Winged Gopher of Prairie Socialism” appears on their official T-Shirts, none of which fit me or Step, but we bought a pile of the cards of the image to spread the Socialist love to friends. It’s refreshing to be in a society of people who are proud of the idea that we could all work together for better living conditions rather than being embarrassed or enraged by such an idea. (In fact, “Co-op” is pretty big in the prairies and all the Co-op stores are different and kept in proud cleanliness and repair).

One night it rained so hard we decided to stay in camp and BBQ some meat we got at Bulk Cheese Warehouse. Step met a guy named Andy in the laundry room who only had a pup tent and some dehydrated soup for the evening so we invited him over for dinner. Andy was from Red Deer and traveling across Canada with his guitar via bus and hitchhiking. He sang us some of his songs. One was about traveling across Canada! How apropos!

 Yes, Saskatoon, I love you. But why, oh why, are you located about a kazillion miles from anywhere else of culture and interest?

Night at Gordie Howe Campsite

Saskatchewan, The Yellowhead Highway to Saskatoon, June 8-10, 2008

6 07 2008

Road to Somewhere

 We drove down the road and stayed in an Albertan town so sorry I can’t even be bothered to remember or look up the name. There’s a place called Lloydminster that saddles the Albertan/Saskatchewan border, and even though it’s a fairly large town there was no plain organic yoghurt at the Sobey’s! (Much as we were enjoying our Canada trip, aside from Farmers’ Markets—which didn’t have much fresh this time of year—we had not fared well on the food side of things. Living in Vancouver perhaps creates unrealistic expectations of food quality, especially when you shop almost daily at Granville Island Market like I do.)

Prairie Gophers

I’ll come clean right away and say I LOVE SASKATCHEWAN, at least the parts I saw. Having never been before and only going on what people had told me, I guess I expected it to be somewhat boring. Maybe the Trans Canada Highway is, but the Yellowhead was non-stop scenic wonder, and the prairie is beautiful and not at all flat. There were all kinds of rolling hills, boreal forests, and river valleys.


We only made it to Battleford and then got distracted from driving by the long sunset. (Grief always makes Step more tired, too, so we weren’t making a lot of daily progress in terms of driving distance, anyway). We checked out the Municipal campsite but it was sort of scraggly and also it was in the middle of a housing development project that was tar, white pick-up trucks, and rows of all-the-same houses which always messes with my psyche. Instead we drove to North Battleford and found the David Laird campsite. We raced out for the sunset but the campsite is on a big hill and there were all these trees for wind-breaking which blocked the view. David Laird was literally infestated with prairie gophers, which was kind of cute, and it had a beautiful moon.

Not Immune to the Beautiful Moon