Miles Meets Ontario (Part Two)

If you read my previous blog, Part One, you know that we parted ways with our friends and headed south after leaving Sault Ste. Marie.  Miles, our mascot, figured we needed to see some beaches!

Driving south from Espanola, we stopped at the little town of Whitefish Falls for a scramble over the rocks to view the falls under the bridge at the Bay of Islands.  We travelled from one little island to another until we reached Manitoulin Island.

Manitoulin Island is the ultimate destination for people living on the north channel of Lake Huron. It is the world’s largest freshwater island and has more than 100 lakes in it. The largest lake, Lake Manitou, is actually the largest lake within a lake…so Manitoulin Island sits in Lake Huron and Lake Manitou sits in Manitoulin Island…hard to wrap your head around at first! We only spent one night on the island but we had two full days of exploring before heading south to the mainland.

Our first stop was Little Current,  a very pretty little town that served us a cold beer and a fresh shrimp appetizer on the patio of a big old hotel with magnificent flowers in front.  As we strolled along the dock we discovered that the town’s sole source of transportation was by ship until the railway was built in 1913.  Eventually, the bridge from the mainland was built and recreation became a major industry on the island.  Boat tours are offered along the North Channel but we didn’t take one.

Kagawong, an Ojibway word meaning “where mists rise from the falling waters”, was our next stop. We ran down 78 steps to the base of Bridal Veil Falls where, if wearing appropriate footwear and clothing, you could hike in behind the falls.  We had neither but many families with young children had stopped for that reason. Logging would have been the main industry in this area years ago but tourism…kayak and canoe rentals…have long since taken over. I can tell you we did not run up the 78 steps when we had finished dipping our feet in the cool water below the falls!

Gore Bay was our next island stop. Situated in the northwest part of the island, it provided a lookout area where we could see the town below and far out into the North Channel of Lake Huron.  We had hoped to visit the museum there, which is housed in the old jail, but got there just at closing time.

We headed instead to the centre of the island and camped at Stanley Park on the shore of Lake Mindemoya.  People in kayaks, canoes, sea-doos and motor boats shared the lake with ducks, geese and other water birds.  Bugs were virtually nonexistent.  Our site was beautiful…we could lie in our bed with the back door of the van open and watch the sun set over the lake!  Life is good!

Our next day took us to the south end of the island through meadows covered with blue, yellow and white flowers.  As Jim would say, “‘Tis the season for construction”.  Most of the roads on the island are under repair and many of them are being upgraded to make cycling on the island safer.  Gravel shoulders, a norm in much of Ontario, are slowly getting paved. The interior of the island is mainly pasture with a few small farms.  The perimeter, however,  is mainly beaches, summer cottages and beautiful beach homes. We arrived at Providence Bay where we walked along the boardwalk beside Lake Huron and then back again through the sandy water of the beach itself.  A picnic lunch and a date with our books made for a wonderful afternoon at the beach!

Then off to South Baymouth where we boarded the Chi-Cheemaun Ferry to south Ontario.  Passing through large farmlands, both cattle and grains, we started to notice that nearly all the homes are built of brick or limestone and they are all massive homes!  Hay was being cut already…it seemed we had stepped into a completely different temperate zone!

We had heard that Owen Sound has free entertainment on Sundays  throughout the summer and that tonight was featuring a blues artist.  With both of us being big fans of the blues, it seemed a fitting end to Father’s Day.  Morgan Davis entertained us for close to an hour on the stage outside the old train station which has been turned into a visitor centre.  We sat in lawn chairs along the railway track with large oaks and maples behind us.

Beyond the trees was the Owen Sound Harbour where a huge freighter, the Algoma Olympic,  was docked.  The port of Owen Sound used to be the eastern terminus for the CPR steamship line.  Thousands of immigrants and millions of bushels of grain would be transported  through this “gateway to the west” until the CPR pulled out.  A night stroll along this pretty harbour would make a perfect  end to a special day.

Having stayed in the Walmart parking lot, we were on the road early and heading south along the west shores of Ontario with Lake Huron almost always in view to our right.  It was  hot with a west wind blowing inland.  We visited three different beaches throughout the day and each was different.

At Sauble Beach, we walked for miles along the sand watching and speaking with windsurfers.  It was a perfect day for their sport and the beach was nearly deserted being a week day in June.

Further south, after travelling through Southampton and Port Elgin with their many wind turbines…we thought we were in Pincher Creek!…we stopped at Kincardine Beach.  A lighthouse stands beside a huge pier and canal which extends out into the lake with waves crashing into a rocky beach on the north side of the pier and waves crashing into a sandy beach on the south side.  The sand and the air were hot, the wind was blowing about 60kph.  We had a picnic lunch,  sat at the beach for a bit and then moved on.

Goderich was our next beach stop, known as “Canada’s prettiest town” and the location of the first lighthouse erected on the Canadian side of Lake Huron in 1847.  It has stately homes and a thriving salt mine industry, established in the 1950’s. We learned from one of the miners there that they drill down 1700 feet through the rock into the salt bed and at this point are mining two to three miles horizontally out under Lake Huron.  He even gave us a sample of a chunk of salt!

The old train terminus sits across from the beach and has been converted to a nice restaurant.  We decided to stop for happy hour and enjoy the beach without the wind!

We were worn out with the wind.  It made driving difficult and being outside difficult.  Our plan had been to camp one more night before moving on to London but we called Jim’s sister, Shirley Ann, to see if she would mind if we arrived early.  Of course she did not!  We ended up visiting late into the evening and spent the next four nights in an air conditioned house instead of our little van.

Shirley Ann and her family treated us to the perfect mix of down time with family and sight-seeing in the area.  We spent an afternoon in Stratford, famous for its quaint beauty and its vibrant theatre scene.  Like most of Canada, the depression of the 30’s hit hard. In 1950, Tom Patterson, a native of the city, had dreams of revitalizing the community after the Second World War with the establishment of a world renowned Shakespearean Festival and by 1953 the dream was realized, opening with a production of Richard III.  Theatre soon became an integral part of the city and famous actors, such as Chritopher Plumber, have played on its stage.

img_1179Beside the theatre, the city has the beautiful Thames River running through it with lovely parkland on each side of it.  We watched as a dragon boat team practised for upcoming competitions and families of swans floated gracefully back and forth.  A visit to the renowned Rheo Thompson Chocolate store finished off our visit!

The next day, Jim had the pleasure of golfing with his nephew Allen at the The Oaks Golf and Country Club, of which Allen is a member.  I toured London with Shirley Ann, visiting Western University, all built of limestone, as well as Brescia College which at one time was for women only.  Big, beautiful homes adorned with ivy and oak forests sharing space with ancient grape vines that likely arrived with Phoenicians from Egypt long ago make London a beautiful city.

Port Stanley, on the south coast was our destination the next day.  This would be our first visit to Lake Erie. A visit to the beach, fish and chips for lunch and a stroll through the little shops with a stop for ice cream.  We came across a very unique house which the owner explained to us started with the main house dating back to the early 1900’s.  He has since added up and out with a little bridge to the forest behind, a sun room facing the lake and an old fisherman’s kiln in its original spot on the front street.  Because cork was hard to come by at the turn of the century, the fishermen dried out cuts of cedar, varnished it over and over and cured it in the kiln to use as floats on their boats. Jim was most impressed with the 1971 Mercedes Benz 550 SEL red convertible sitting in the driveway…Shirley Ann was most impressed with the owner!

On our way back to London we stopped at St. Thomas to see the life size statue of Jumbo, the circus elephant that had escaped from a Barnum and Bailey Circus in 1885 and killed by a Grand Trunk locomotive. It was erected in his honor 100 years after the event and was apparently brought by truck all the way from New Brunswick through the centre of town to its destination at this spot overlooking the highway.

We finished off our day with dinner by the pool at Allen and Karen’s house where we met their kids and 10 month old grandson.  Jim went for a swim, then a visit around the fire and it was time to say goodbye.  We would be leaving in the morning.

Thank you for reading.  Stay tuned for Part Three…destination: the Niagara Escarpment!

Miles Meets Ontario (Part One)

With our trusty mascot, Miles the Moose, leading the way from his perch in the middle of our dash, I was unprepared for the vastness of  Northern Ontario!

Kenora, just barely inside the province from the western border, was our first stop.  So beautiful!  We had arrived late in the day and been given a campsite overlooking the lake in Anicinabe Campground.  It had been a long day of travelling…not so much in terms of distance travelled but because we had made numerous stops to explore and the route we had chosen for most of the day had not been in the best condition.  The last few kilometres, however, had been on the Trans Canada highway and at that point it was merely a slight improvement!  Somehow we had expected better!   Regardless, we were ready to call it a day and looked forward to seeing Kenora in the next day or two.

Caterpillars were undoubtedly causing a huge problem in Kenora. They were crawling all over the campsite and had completely cleared the leaves off the trees by the lake making our view of Lake of the Woods much clearer.  We prepared dinner over our first campfire since leaving home and then settled into our lawn chairs to watch the sunset over the lake. It was a lovely clear evening and we were looking forward to exploring the area the next day.

We woke the next morning to a cold rainy day.  Not at all what we had expected.  So, because we would undoubtedly have to return home through Kenora in September, we decided to move on and make this a stop on the way back.

Leaving Kenora, the landscape started to change.  Red and black rock cliffs, lakes and thick spruce and birch forest provided fabulous vistas around each corner.  Granite quarries in the area of Vermillion Bay are likely operating at top capacity with the resurgence of granite in the housing industry.  Every few kilometres we see hunting and fishing lodges and road signs depicting a moose warning us of the dangers of driving at night in this area. How exciting it would be to see a moose along the shores of one of these lakes but it didn’t happen!

Dryden would be our stop for the night.  We had a minor repair that needed done on the van and Dryden RV offered to help us out first thing next morning.  So we set off to explore the city.  For any hockey fans reading this, Dryden is the home of Chris Pronger of the Anaheim Ducks who played with Team Canada and brought home a gold medal in both the 2002 and 2010 Olympics.  They’re pretty proud of their boy!

Dryden is situated on Wabagoon Lake…love that name….which we walked around until we were stopped by rain.  The railroad came through this area in the 1800’s giving access to the forests and it wasn’t long before the logging industry brought the people in.  Saw mills and pulp mills grew and the town grew.  In recent years, however, the mills have seen a huge decrease in production and a facility that used to employ over 1200 people in the 60’s is now only employing about 200.  Only the pulp portion of the Domtar mill is operating now  and the town’s survival has shifted to tourism in the form of charter fishing and hunting.  We spoke to a retired employee of the mills and he was sad to see the demise of a once vibrant part of the community.

Our van repair was completed early the next day and we were on our way.  The overcast skies and drizzly rain meant less stops today but this highway would be travelled on our return so we weren’t too worried about missing things.  We stopped at a little town called Ignace, named after Ignace Mentour, an Iroquois guide from Montreal who was hired by the Hudson Bay Company as a guide for the company’s governor, George Simpson.  Then the railway came through and a granite quarry was established which of course brought more people to the area.  Granite is still a big industry there.

Heading for Thunder Bay, we stopped for the night just west of the city at Kakabeka Falls.  Magnificent!  It was the original mountain portage linking the waterways of Lake of the Woods with Lake Superior when the canoe was the most efficient form of travel.  It is a must-see for anyone travelling through the area.  There are hiking trails and board walks with amazing views of the falls.  It makes me wonder how the early voyageurs could have loaded their canoes and all the contents and packed them across places like this!  Things that we do today for recreation are things they did for survival!

We arrived in Thunder Bay the next day, a quick visit with friends, and then an afternoon walk at Marina Park with its old 1905 CN Railway Station.  The sun made a brief appearance so we got some beautiful shots of the area.  Again, just passing through for now with plans to stay longer on our return.

By late afternoon we were on the road again.  We could not pass up a stop at the Terry Fox Memorial just east of the city commemorating the courage of the young man that set out to walk across Canada from east to west with a prosthetic leg in an attempt to raise awareness and promote cancer research.  He was forced to end his journey at this point when his cancer recurred.

Off again with Lake Superior to our right, the sun trying to make an appearance off and on.  Over a beautiful bridge at Nipigon, through the pretty little town of Schrieber, past little islands in the lake and a stop to see the Aguasabon Falls and the lighthouse near Terrace Bay and we finally arrived at Neys Provincial Park.  After seeing a black bear on the highway, we realized it was getting late for travelling and stopped for the night.

Neys had a beautiful wild beach, naturally littered with driftwood of all shapes and sizes and fine white sand. The sky was beginning to clear and the sunset was lovely.  The beach was virtually deserted and had an extremely tranquil quality to it.

After a saunter along the beach with our coffee in the morning, we discovered that our friends, Des and Vicki who were also travelling Canada, were in Sault Ste. Marie, a mere 450 km away.  We had originally planned to make one more stop before the Soo but decided to push on all the way to meet up with them for a day or two to compare notes…we were travelling much different routes and this may be the only time our paths would cross.

This part of Ontario is abundant with wildlife.  We had seen cranes, eagles, rabbits, foxes, a bear…but between Obatanga and Wawa we were thrilled to see a wolf crossing the highway.  That was by far the highlight of the drive!

The rocks in Wawa are among the oldest in Canada, dating back to the pre-Cambrian period and therefore making Wawa an area rich in all kinds of minerals, most notably gold and iron ore.  When the Klondike Gold Rush was occurring, minerals were also being discovered and mined in this area.  Wawa saw three gold rushes, each one lasting about ten years.  The most recent one was in the 1980’s.

We arrived in Sault Ste. Marie, which means Rapids of St. Mary, in pouring rain.  This is where Lake Superior and Lake Huron meet.  The four of us went out for dinner together.  By the time dinner was over the rain had ceased and we wandered all around the canal area watching big ships come in from Lake Huron on St. Mary’s River to enter the locks and get transported onto Lake Superior.

The next day was hot, sunny and humid.  The four of us spent the day together, visiting the Bush Plane Museum first. There we watched a 3-D film about fighting monster forest fires in the north as well as a short film about the famous bush plane, the Beaver, which was built in the 1960’s and still operates around the world where bush planes are needed.  In fact, when we were in Sydney, Ausralia a couple of years ago, we rode in one when we went on a harbour tour.

Vicki and I spent the afternoon at the Ematinger Museum and Clergue Blockhouse, brushing up on our history of the area.  Charles Ematinger was an independent trader from Switzerland with the Northwest Company in 1795 and later he became an agent for the HBC until he retired in 1828.  His house remains in the same spot and many artifacts have been recovered by archeologists in the area.  We found it very interesting.

After a full day we were on the road again, heading around the north shore of Lake Huron about 200km through pretty little beach towns to Chutes Provincial Park.

The falls here, or chutes, were at one time a means of transportation for getting logs from the forest to the booms at the bottom where they were sorted according to their markings and delivered to the various logging companies in the area.

Here the four of us would camp for two nights, soak up the sun that had finally emerged and share some meals.  We hiked to the falls, waded in the warm water, read books and chatted around late evening campfires before saying farewell and heading our separate ways, they going east toward Ottawa, us south toward London.

… be continued.

Miles Meets Manitoba 

What did we notice most about Manitoba?  Water…lots of water!  As we entered the province from the west on Highway 16 from Langenburg, we started to notice more and more water in the fields.  In some cases sandbags lined the highways to keep them from flooding.  And wheat and canola fields slowly gave way to cattle ranches and boggy fields full of bulrushes and songbirds.  Geese, cranes  and beaver dams were abundant in the marshes along the roadsides.  The land became rockier and the trees, mostly spruce and birch became thicker.

Our first stop was Riding Mountain National Park… a beautiful wildlife preserve that is home to elk, bear, moose, beaver and bison as well as all kinds of waterfowl and songbirds.  The park is situated on the northeast corner of Clear Lake and the little summer resort there is called Wasagaming which is the Cree word for “clear water”.  It would be the Riding Mountain equivalent of the townsite of Waterton in Waterton National Park in Alberta.  Bikes and canoes and kayaks can be rented,  restaurants are available and shopping can be done.  We were more interested in the hiking trails in the park so we tried to do two different trails but had to turn back half way into each one because of so much water on the trails.  The area has had a huge amount of rain in the past week so that was unfortunate for us.  The weather was stellar while we were there.  Camping was so nice!

We drove north through the park to Dauphin, intently watching for wildlife the whole way but to no avail.  We had planned to stay near Dauphin that night but the wind was howling off the lake and it was cold!  Coming from southern Alberta, we should have been used to wind but we didn’t feel like battling it that day!  So we continued east.   And the wind was relentless…coming from the north and making it hard to handle our tall van on the poor Manitoba secondary highways with their gravel shoulders.

After driving through the scenic Narrows of Lake Manitoba, we arrived in Ashern. This is where my Greek grandparents had raised a whole bunch of kids including my birth mother.  We skipped through town knowing we would be back tomorrow.  The new plan for tonight was Steep Rock, a summer resort north of Ashern on Lake Manitoba.

Steep Rock was amazing, even in the poor weather!  The sides of the lake are steep escarpments of limestone and because the wind was still blowing so hard, the lake, which looked more like an ocean due to its vastness, was crashing against the rocks in giant swells!

We had our supper and looked for a spot to park for the night but after our experience in North Battleford, we felt uncomfortable in such a deserted area.  Besides, the weather was so cool we would have been confined to the van for the whole evening.  We instead headed south again to a provincial campground called Watchorn Park and settled in for a cool rainy night.

After travelling on what Jim calls “fifthendary” roads due to the huge potholes, we were in Ashern first thing the next morning, inquiring about my Safioles family and two other families…Schindles and Porteous…at the municipal office.  The gal at the office was very helpful and then suggested her Grandma might be able to answer some of our questions.  It turns out her Grandma was in the restaurant across the street where we had planned to go for breakfast.  So off we went….”Would any of you ladies know the name Safioles?” asked Jim.  “Well, I have an Aunt Toola who used to be a Safioles” replied one of them.  “No way!  My wife has the same Aunty Toola!”  So that’s how we met Sharon who turns out to be related to me by marriage and is also related to Schindles who I was also inquiring about for a friend!  Sharon was wonderful… She toured us all over town, took us out to the old family farm south of town and to the graveyard where we could pay our respects to my grandparents.  Then she took us to the legion to view the wall of honor where I saw a photo of my Uncle Alex while he was in the forces.  We ended up staying to play cards for the afternoon and meeting other people who had stories to tell about my aunts and uncles in their younger days!

By early evening we were on our way into Winnipeg to catch the last period of the hockey game then off to bed in the Wally World RV Park.  It had been a full day!

We were up early the next morning to meet my cousin, Linda, at the Forks in Winnipeg.  The Forks, at the confluence of the Red River and the Assiniboine River,  has been a meeting place for over 6000 years so it seemed fitting to meet her there.  We hadn’t seen her in about 10 years and have never had a chance to really get to know her so I was looking forward to spending some time with her.  She proved to be an incredible tour guide as she was born and raised in Winnipeg and is somewhat of a history buff.

We started with a short River tour which gave us our bearings and offered some of the historical facts about the area.  Apparently artifacts have been found in the river systems that show travel has been from as far away as the Gulf of Mexico thousands of years ago!  From there, we sauntered around the Forks Market and Shops, went into the very busy train station…designed by the same architect as Grand Central Station in New York…and then headed across the iconic Esplanade Riel Bridge.  In the middle of the bridge, suspended over the water is an excellent restaurant where we stopped for lunch and had a chance to really visit.

After lunch, we continued across the bridge to St. Boniface, the French part of Winning and the resting place of Louis Riel.  The cathedral was built in 1906 but burned in the big fire of 1968…only the facade remained intact.  Built of limestone and Tyndall stone, you can actually see the fossils that make the Tyndall stone so unique.  The new, modern church with amazing leaded windows is built behind the old facade.  The old gravestones around the grounds dated back to the 1600’s.

It was a packed day of walking and talking.  By evening we were “done” so we made plans for the next day with Linda and headed to a campground where we could catch up on laundry and some van housekeeping!

The next day was another packed day.  We decided to park the van at a shopping centre and take the public transit into the city centre since parking is so difficult.  We met Linda at Smoke’s Poutinerie which is famous  for it’s…you guessed it…Poutine!  I can attest that it is indeed yummy!  From there, we had arranged to take a walking tour of the Exchange District.  The tour was titled Death and Debauchery and touched on some of the shadier parts of Winnipeg ‘s history while pointing out the historic buildings in the area, including the first car dealership and an old Vaudeville theatre, The Pantages.

After the tour, we made our way to the Manitoba museum, a fantastic display of dioramas depicting Winnipeg over the ages and notably since the Huson Bay Company set up its trading posts in the area.  A highlight was the replica of the Nonsuch, the famous Hudson Bay fur trading boat.

When we had finished in the museum, we came outside to discover a fine, warm rain was falling.  Winnipeg has created a series of pedways that move people between buildings for many blocks without ever going outside.  This would be especially desirable in the cold winter months but comes in handy in any kind of inclement weather.  We managed to follow these indoor walkways across much of the downtown area with a stop at the original magnificent Bank of Montreal to view the opulence of it before heading to the Legislative Buildings, sitting proudly facing the river with The Golden Boy secured to its domed roof.  We had a quick look around and then had to get to the bus stop for our trip back to the shopping centre.

When we got to the shopping centre we hopped onto the Park and Ride bus to the Bluebombers Football game… a preseason exhibition game against the Allouettes.  It would be the only time you would see Jim cheering for the Bombers who won handily 36-13.   They might be a team the Eskimos may have to reckon with in the upcoming season!

We started the next day with a tour of the Canadian Mint where all the circulation coins for Canada and many other countries in the world are minted.  For those of you who may not know, the Loonie was not the first choice for our one dollar coin.  A depiction of a canoe with an early voyageur was the first choice but the mint was lost in shipping and still to this day has not been found so the second choice, the Loon, went to mint!  Because this year is the 40th anniversary of the Mint in Winnipeg, all circulation coins will be changed in honor of the event.  The public was asked to submit artwork for the new coins and the entries have been chosen.  One of the winners is 11 years old!  Hopefully nothing gets lost in shipment this time!  Another thing we learned…all Canadian coins have a thin layer of copper in them.  Why?  So that vending machines can identify them based on the amount of copper!

Leaving Winnipeg, we headed north west again to visit the limestone quarry in Stonewall.  Unfortunately, a few bus loads of students were there for the day so we weren’t able to tour the quarry but we did see some of the old buildings.

Then on to Lower Fort Garry at Selkirk where costumed interpreters guided us through a day in the life of a Hudson Bay Company settlement in 1850. It was very informative and fun and of course made us ponder the power of the HBC and the control it had over the fur trade in the early days.  It was extremely influential in the opening up of Canada as a whole.  The fort was later used as a training ground for the Northwest Mounted Police in 1870, then an Auto Club in the early days of the automobile before it was deemed a historical site by National Parks Canada.

After nearly three days of intense touring it was time for some down time.  When we were at Ford & Lori’s wedding in Edmonton, a friend had suggested we should go to Grand Beach.  It sounded like the perfect spot to kick back and do nothing.  We were certainly not led astray!  We would never have imagined a beach of this caliber existed in the middle of our country!  Sand dunes eight feet high turned into long stretches of fine white sand beaches along smooth blue water as far as the eye can see.  Add to that a beautiful campground and hot sunny weather and you’ve pretty well found paradise!  How lucky Winnipeg people are to have this just 60 km north of their city on Lake Winnipeg. We stayed two nights and loved it!

Our last day in Manitoba was spent driving past all the little summer villages along the south part of Lake Winnipeg and on through the Boreal Shield of Whiteshell Provincial Park.  The sandy landscape became rocky and small lakes were continuously joined by dams and rivers.  On every lake we could see boaters out for the weekend and every lake looked pristine in the sun with mixed forest lining its banks.  Birch, Aspen and Jack Pine are the resident trees and along with them and the long grass, we found we needed to be aware of ticks.  We stopped for a self guided hike explaining the techniques of reforestation and made sure we removed any of these unwanted visitors before we got into the van again….pesky little things!  They lead to paranoia!!

On that note, we leave beautiful Manitoba behind us and venture on to the huge expanse of Ontario.

Miles Meets Saskatchewan 

Who ever said you could skip right by Saskatchewan when heading east must have had their eyes closed.  Our mascot moose, Miles, led us through this farming province…grains in particular…and the tiny little towns that dot the landscape.   These towns once were bustling communities, each of them self sustaining.  Now many of them cling to life by proudly presenting themselves as the “home of the hogfest”, “home of the original Santa Claus Day”, “home of the world’s largest tomahawk”, etc.  Each town is looking for ways to re-define themselves in order to maintain there identity.

We entered the province through the city of Lloydminster where four large red posts on Main Street mark the border between the two provinces.  Thunderstorms were left behind and blue sky welcomed us.  We drove through lovely hills and valleys, rich farm and ranch lands, and many small lakes as we took the secondary highways through Cut Knife to the Battlefords.

Cut Knife is “home of the world’s largest tomahawk”.  It was originally erected in the 50’s as an innovative way of attracting tourism and reconstructed in the 70’s.  We were not the only ones who stopped!

With the increase in urban populations the little towns, no matter how hard they try to entice newcomers, are slowly dying off.  We saw a couple of places where we could have purchased lots for a mere $10.00!

We arrived in the Battlefords…North Battleford and Battleford are separated by the North Saskatchewan River.  The constant unrest between the Natives and the Europeans in the 1800’s gave reason to build a Northwest Mounted Police outpost to help control friction.  The large Metis population who had made claims to farming plots along the river were largely ignored when the Canadian government was offering parcels of land to immigrants in the late 1800’s, giving rise to the famous Louis Riel Rebellion.

We had a bit of a scare while settled in for the night in a quiet spot behind Peavy Mart.  A car with a very loud muffler went speeding past us two or three times and then came by a couple more times, stopping right beside us each time.  We could hear voices but couldn’t make out what was being said.  We were sure they were trying  to decide if our van was occupied or not. When they drove on and turned to come back again, Jim slipped into the drivers seat and moved us into the bright lights and relative safety of the Wally World RV Park!  Finally we could sleep!  We were told the next day that North Battleford has the highest crime rate in Canada…

After a swim at the Aquatic Centre the next morning we were on the road to  Saskatoon,  again taking secondary highways.  We had a picnic lunch at Olympic Gold Park in Biggar, the birthplace of Olympic Curling Gold Medalist Sandra Schmirler.  This little town is fortunate to have such a beautiful park that offers facilities for all sports enthusiasts.

Arriving in Saskatoon, we were so impressed with the beauty of this small prairie city.  The skyline is unobtrusive, the South Saskatchewan River runs through its centre with seven bridges spanning it at various spots and parks and walking trails run along both sides of the river.

We spent the entire morning wandering along the river and through the University of Saskatchewan. The buildings of the university have obviously been built at different intervals throughout the century but all have incorporated the lovely sandstone in some way, creating a very harmonious and pleasant feeling as you walk among them. As we wandered we watched as graduates of the Law and Business faculties posed for photos in their caps and gowns. It took me back a few years and almost made me feel like going back to school!

The afternoon found us having a cocktail in the hot sun on the patio of the Delta hotel downtown.  While we were there, hotel staff were planting veggies and herbs for use in the kitchen.  What a great idea!  I’ve never heard of any other major hotel doing that!

Saskatoon is also a big sports town.  The famous hockey player Gordie Howe was from the area as well as many other notables.  Our campground was named after him and so was the large park surrounding us.  We spent an evening watching fastball while in the field next to the ball diamonds the Saskatoon Hilltops were practicing football.  Murals around town commemorate top athletes over the years.

The Western Development Museum is a must-see in Saskatoon.  We spent a full four hours wandering through it and learning the history of the province from the early settler days through the good times of the 20’s, the devastation of the drought, dust and depression of the 30’s, the advent of electricity in the 50’s and the advancement in technology in all areas of life up to present.  The museum is uniquely laid out and interactive.  We loved it.

After two days in Saskatoon, we left Circle Drive at highway 5 and headed east through more small towns on very poor roads and a strong south wind that made driving difficult in our tall van. About 300 km east we finally stopped for the night in a little campground in a small Ukranian railroad town.  Take the first two letters of each word in “Canadian Northern Railway” and you have the name of the town…Canora.  Via rail stops here three days a week with passenger service to Regina and Winnipeg.

A very nice couple from Red Deer area, Sherry and Everett, were our next door neighbors with whom we had the pleasure of visiting till after midnight and again for coffee in the morning.

We wished them a pleasant trip before we headed southeast towards Langenburg.  Halfway there, we stopped in Yorkton to go for a walk.  The Nature Preserve at the edge of town should have been so enjoyable but because of a caterpillar infestation, we had to pick and choose our steps carefully to avoid having caterpillars drop on us.  They have stripped the trees bare and are even eating the grass!  Many of the chokecherry trees were also badly affected by black rot so the whole area looked pretty devastated.

Langenburg is the home of an old U of A roommate of mine.  Brenda and her hubby, Cliff, live in the country just a few miles north of town and provided us with hospitality extroidenaire!  It was such fun to catch up after about 20 years!  They washed our van, let us do our laundry, gave us a bed and shower, fed us and gave us a tour of the Lake of the Prairies and the whole Asessippi Valley, including an impressive ski resort in the most unexpected part of the prairies just inside the Manitoba border.

Our Saskatchewan experience has been wonderful.  Now we head for Manitoba, looking  forward to more adventure!  Tune in again next week!