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Flag of Saskatchewan
Enjoying Beautiful Saskatchewan
©2006 Bonnie & Bill Neely
We enteed Saskatchewan from Manitoba along Highway 16 where we enjoyed one of the most scenic drives, with the panorama of rolling grasslands, farms, low mountains on each side of Lake Qu'Appelle in the Qu'Appelle Valley. We wished for several extra days to camp at the two pretty provencial parks, Echo Valley and Katepwa Point. With four beautiful lakes in the area, the valley is a favorite place for fishermen and abounds with water sports and horseback riding opportunities. However, we wanted to be nearer the city, so we selected King's Acres Campground, a perfect RV park, clean and well managed and with free WiFi, just east of the Regina.
Regina, the provencial capital, is known especially for its many wonderful restaurants and for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Academy and Museum. We drove to the west side of Regina to the RCMP in time for the 12:45 P.M. Sargeant Major's Parade. We were so fortunate that it was a Monday, and each week at this time a new graduation class from the Police Academy receives diplomas, so the parade is in full formal dress. The only thing missing, to our great disappointment, were the horses: the mounted police now only use horses for special occasions such as a visiting dignitary. The horses are kept in Ottawa for ceremonies at the national capital. But the parade and band were impressive, and a young man who is enrolled here, explained that the course of study is 24 weeks of tough training physically and mentally, and learning to handle firearms. After much testing, a new class graduates every Monday. Men and women who are to graduate the following week also march in the parade wearing less formal attire, and the RCMP Band perform also. There is one Sunset Retreat Ceremony each week, usually on Tuesdays at 6:45 PM, but occasionally on the week-end. After the parade we spent time in the RCMP Museum, where we learned the fascinating history. The Mounted Police begin in 1873, and their first mission was the long and terrible March West to attempt to bring law and order to the wild frontier, where murders and saloon fights were the norm. Since that pioneer time, the Royal Canadian Mounties in their brilliant red uniforms are known around the world. A new RCMP Heritage Center is to be opened here in May 2007.
Next we drove to the vast and inviting Wascana Park, one of the largest urban parks in North America, three times larger than New York's Central Park. The regal granite Saskatchewan Legislative Building has free tours, and you can even attend legislative sessions. This symmetrical monument ,with a statue of the Queen riding a horse, overlooks the placid Wascana Lake and river, where ducks enjoy the wetlands and people enjoy canoeing, kayaking, and skulling with daily lessons and competitions. We took our skates and enjoyed hours of fun beside the water on the serene paths outlining the lake.
Dining in the park is not to be missed! There are two outstanding restaurants. Willow on Wascana, where you can sit inside or out, overlooking the lake as you enjoy excellent regional cuisine.
Zest, the newest restaurant in the park (306) 522-5250 ), is tucked away in the Saskatchewan Science Centre, hiding the best chef we have found anywhere! Rob Fuller, who received his training in Europe, has settled here after owning another restaurant in downtown Regina. His menus change frequently, specializing in local, in-season fares and wild game. The dessert he calls "sticky pudding" is his Scottish grandmother's family recipe, which she gave him to "make him famous." He has tweaked it a bit to make it his own and even more special and now receives almost more orders for it than he can fill. And it is to die for! (We returned there several times and hope he mail-orders to Texas!) Both restaurants in Wascana Park serve lunch and dinner year-round, and reservations are important.
In the Science Centre within the park you'll find excellent displays and fun interactive learning experiences for yourself and your kids. We also enjoyed the varied exhibits at MacKenzie Art Gallery. We could have spent days at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, undoubtedly the best museum we have ever visited. Although it is set up in a time-line to give a thorough history of Saskatchewan, the facts, by extension, pertain to everyone. The exhibits go from the earth's geological evolution through to present day. We especially enjoyed the colorful lifesize displays depicting the way of life of the Aboriginals (Indians) of Canada, and the moving speech by one of the chiefs which plays as you study the colorful, lifesized diorama. Although the timeline is from the beginning of the geological formation of the earth, we recommend starting your museum tour at the end: the present day exhibit which emphasizes what industrialization has done to devastate the earth, and how we each can have a part in returning the balance of nature which will heal mother earth. The exhibit is very, very impressive, but we wished for several more hours in that exhibit alone.
The nearby Government House is a lovely way to spend an hour, stepping back into the early 1900's when the Queen's Representative to the Provence, the Governor General, lived there. For over a half-century each successive Governor General lived here, and now the elaborate Victorian home is renovated as a museum.
Downtown Regina is centered by the smaller but pretty Victoria Park. Shopping and businesses are around the park, and in the historic railway station is now renovated as the Casino Regina. You can enjoy gaming or simply appreciate the restoration of the early twentieth century building. The casino has done a good job of keeping many of the historic parts of the station and keeping the feeling or a railway station. You can get a wonderful perspective of Regina's various periods by taking the tunnel tour and seeing the old photographs. Notice the bright stain glass mural story windows in the poker room. A nice restaurant is in an original Canadian National Railway dining car.
We simply fell in love with Regina and spent several more days than we had planned there. It is a beautiful and regal city.
Driving North from Regina about an hour on Hwy 11 we exited for the tiny town of Craik where the citizens have created a model Sustainable Living Center, which has become known worldwide. It is really worth the trip! Craik Eco-Centre was built entirely of recycled materials, or those certified as non-impacting on the earth, and was constructed mainly by local volunteers. The restaurant serves three meals daily, prepared fresh from organically grown ingredients, and serves wines and beers from small vineyards and micro-breweries, which change with availability. The totally self-sustaining large building is heated and cooled in unique ways involving solar panels and water from the nearby lake circulated through deep underground pipe systems beneath the building. No fossil fuels are used, and there are plans for windmills to provide electricity in the future. Drinking water, government certified to meet all Canadian standards of pure water, is purified using a system of filters and osmosis and no chlorine. The sewer is a composting system, using redworms and microbes to keep it clean and odor free. This unique Eco Centre incorporates the plans of a long-time dream of Lynn Oliphant, an ecologist/conservationist expert, who was consultant. The lodge is a marvelous example of construction which could be incorporated into homes or public buildings anywhere. People come from all over the world to learn about successful and economic green, earth-saving practices here, and Craik is a teaching center for school children, who will be the future care-takers our planet.
Continuing North on Highway 11 toward Saskatoon, we turned off to visit Batoche National Historic Park, where the Battle of Batoche, led by Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont, was fought in 1885 for the rights of Metis citizens of Canada. Although the battle was lost by the Metis, who are half-French and half-Indian offspring of French settlers, and the leader, Louis Riel was hanged for his participation, Batoche became the defining symbol for full Canadian and human rights, which were eventually granted to people of mixed descent. We were reminded of Martin Luther King in U.S. history. The historic museum and grounds are a beautiful place to visit and learn this important history in human rights.
The director, Mark Calette, is of Metis heritage. By visiting both the RCMP Museum and the Batoche Historic Museum we got a good understanding of the history and impact of pioneers moving west in Canada.
We enjoyed the city of Saskatoon with its beautiful downtown, whose focal point is the Delta Bessborough Hotel, a grand railroad hotel built in the 1930's and recently renovated to its beautiful original style on five acres of gardens along the South Saskatchewn River. Beside this castle the lovely downtown park features fountains and recreational pathways all along the South Saskatchewan River. A Jazz Festival featuring well-known celebrities was underway when we were there. Many festivals and business conventions are in Saskatoon regularly. Visitors enjoy Mendel Art Gallery, the Saskatoon Princess Boat Tours, and a Western Development Museum, which has a 1910 Boomtown street front housed indoors.
We recommend spending a day at Wanuskewin Heritage Park, one of only a few such places in Canada. We enjoyed learning about the Aboriginal way of life in the early days, At this living history museum we took a guided hike to learn how native plants were used and how for over 6,000 years nine tribes of First Nations hunter/gatherers hunted buffalo and found sheltered winter camping here. They not only survived but were comfortable using what nature provided. A buffalo jump, used for by various tribes to kill the buffalo they needed to survive, is here, and there are good explanations of how the tribes did the hunt, killing only the animals they needed. This is a beautiful and peaceful setting and the center for annual PowWows. Groups can arrange to camp in the large tipis here. We ate buffalo burgers and fry bread in the museum restaurant.
In Saskatchewan there are two national parks, 34 provencial parks, 101 regional parks, and over 100,000 lakes! Traveling farther northward on Highway 11, we decided to set our camp experience at Prince Albert National Park, a million acre wilderness reserve with great facilities including hiking and water sports. Many birds and ducks are here except during winter, also large animals. The pretty little historic town of Prince Albert is a few miles south of the National Park, and the small town of Waskesiu is within the park. There we found several lovely campgrounds for tents, large or small RV's and trailers. There is a seventy-five year old immaculate golf course nearby also, but it was too hilly for us flat-landers! The clear blue Waskesiu Lake is the focus of the townsite, where the Visitor Center is located, along with many excellent restaurants, unique shops, and places to stay, from hotel to cabins. We were there for Canada Day, the celebration of Canada's Independence, and there were all-day fun festivities planned in this little community, including early morning pancake breakfast, a parade, sand castle contest, and more. We had lots of fun with other families. There are many interesting hikes in this National Park and lots of water sports, boat rentals, and tours. We were thrilled to see a mother bear and two cubs emerge from the woods and cross the road in front of our car when we were en route to a hiking trail.
Before coming here we had enjoyed the film Grey Owl, about the world's most celebrated naturalist, and learned about the Englishman who lived on the Ajawaan Lake of this region. He was adopted by the Ojibwa tribe and lived as one of them. In the early 20th century, he made speeches in many cities advocating saving the beavers, which were being hunted to extinction. In the local bookstore in Waskesiu is a re-creation of his cabin with the beaver den in its floor. If you are very fit, you can canoe, hike, and portage to the lake north of Waskesiu where his cabin is. We enjoyed the book-signing party for the release of a charming new children's book The Story of Grey Owl by Lori Punshon and Illustrated by Mike Keepness a First nation artist.
Leaving Prince Albert we drove west through yellow prairies and canola fields. Reaching the area of oil fields we were fascinated to see many pump jacks busily sucking oil from the earth, and we also passed a large refinery. We reached Lloydminster, which is partially in Saskatchewan and partially in Alberta. We stopped just before entering the Alberta side to spend several hours at the Barr Colony Heritage Cultural Center, a unique place which encompasses several museums: The Community & Traveling Exhibitions Art Galleries, The Imhoff Art Collection, The Fuchs Wildlife Collection, the OTS Heavy Oil Science Center, and The Richard Larsen Museum with interesting collections of household and farming items from the Barr Colony European immigrants, who settled here responding to an ad for free land, which the Rev. Lloyd placed in a paper in London. The unique natural history museum here displays the collection of an eccentric taxidermist of the early 20th century who had a great sense of humor and sometimes mixed animal parts to create some strange creatures. The BCHCC is worth a stop. We found Saskatchewan to be one of our favorite provinces, and we hope to return.
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