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Category Archives: Andrew’s 2011 Adventure
After 12,706 kilometres, 19 videos, hundreds of photos, and 3 and a half months, it’s time for me to hang up my wandering hat. I’ve had an unforgettable summer with you all, and I hope that I’ve inspired you to take a second look at what Saskatchewan is really like. It doesn’t matter if you live here or elsewhere; it doesn’t matter if you’ve visited once, never, or if you’ve made Saskatchewan your home.
The places I’ve been are calling for you. Go zipline! Go wakeboarding! Get out there, and find some fun. Saskatchewan is all about discovery – so go and find all the things that I didn’t do, and share them in the comments, on my Facebook page, or on Twitter.
I think I’ve made some great friends this summer, so thank you so much for following along and helping make this the best summer job ever.
After looking back through my adventures, I’ve found a few myths I think I busted about Saskatchewan this summer.
1. That only Saskatchewan people enjoy Saskatchewan.
Saskatchewan skeptics are out there, let me tell you – but there’s a healthy chunk of the world that views the Sask as a place more exotic than Timbuktu. That’s a fascination stoked by more than just small town events – just check out Robert Reid’s top 10 in Regina. As a Lonely Planet travel guide editor, he’s been across the world, but the mix of history, sports, and the RCMP depot kept him engaged and wanting more. Oh, and he visited the Regina Liver Lovers Luncheon Club – that’s something I didn’t even know happened, and I’ve lived my whole life five blocks from it.
2. That Saskatchewan is flat, empty prairie (or: that you can see your dog running for days).
It’s an oft-repeated fact that the trees in Regina weren’t there when it was first settled – but the trees in Saskatchewan’s north most definitely were. Most of our lakes and forest appear north of Prince Albert, and the landscape gets more unbelievable the further north you get. I can tell you with certainty that there are places in Saskatchewan where not a single sheaf of wheat can be seen for miles. The thing is: Saskatchewan rewards the adventurous. You won’t be disappointed when you get off the beaten track – so get off the #1 highway! Seriously, did you know that Cypress Hills is twenty minutes from the Trans-Canada? It’s a forest oasis in a field of wheat, and that’s what you’ll find everywhere if you take a risk and really treat Saskatchewan as a destination in itself.
3. That there’s barely anything happening in Saskatchewan (or: that all we have is Rider games).
Saskatchewan seems synonymous, for lots of Canadians, with green and white – but I like to think that I showed what else is happening in our fair province. From the rocky terrain of Uranium City, to our countless music festivals (including the Saskatchewan Jazz Fest), to the oft-unheard history of the province’s south, Saskatchewan’s true nature is just now being uncovered.
4. That Saskatchewan is dry, arid, otherwise waterless.
I saw no shortage of sand dunes this summer – but there was no shortage of lakes either. I wakeboarded and wakesurfed at Blackstrap Provincial Park, and there’s kiteboarding and paddleboarding going on at Emma Lake. The one thing I didn’t get to do was fish – but I’m betting the fish are happy about that one.
5. That no one would ever read a blog about SK.
I saw some pretty incredible things this summer as your Saskatchewanderer. Now, I’m taking a moment to reflect, and share with you some of the highlights. Check out these – my top 5 unexpected moments from the past few months.
Wildlife encounters. From bears in Meadow Lake Provincial Park, to the sole stag running across the Grasslands, to the most adorable animal pal I’ve ever had, Saskatchewan is teeming with hairy, four-legged life. Don’t go sneaking up on them, though – always be noisy when hiking to avoid unwanted surprises.
Wakeboarding and wakesurfing. Two fun facts here: 1) Saskatchewan is home to several world-class pros, and two huge wakeboarding events: Wakeride in Saskatoon, and the Sasktel Summer Invasion in Regina. 2) If you’re discouraged by your lack of wakeboarding success, you can choose – like I did – to do wakesurfing instead. You let go of the rope and follow the wave behind the boat. No one tells you that you can surf in Saskatchewan, do they?
Ziplining. Ever wanted to go flying through a forest canopy at high speeds over 40 feet from the ground? Ever wanted to do it in Saskatchewan? Not only are there trees tall enough to do it, but the Cypress Hills Eco-Adventures zipline tours will show you a great view of one of the province’s most beautiful ecosystems. This isn’t quite like bird-watching, though – the longest zipline there is over 600 feet long.
Flying. North of Saskatoon, things start to spread out a lot. The extensive boreal forest means roads are few, drives are long, and gas bills are large. To get up to the Athabasca Sand Dunes, I had to hitch a ride with some of the pilots of the Century Flight Club – and one of them was awesome enough to let me try my hand at flying! I wonder what’ll happen if I put a propellor and wings on my Ford Escape…
The Sheepdogs. Back on Canada Day, I interviewed Saskatoon-based rockers The Sheepdogs. That was the day that the contest to get on the cover of the Rolling Stone was ending – and it would be a month before the public would find out if the hometown heroes had bested a Californian pop singer. On August 1st, it was official: The Sheepdogs had won, and you can see them on this month’s cover of the Rolling Stone. Better yet, I can now happily welcome them to the Club of Saskatchewanian Social Media Contest Winners – that’s right. I’m in a club with The Sheepdogs.
I saw some pretty incredible things this summer as your Saskatchewanderer. Now, I’m taking a moment to reflect, and share with you some of the highlights. First, my Top 5 Scenic Moments!
Uranium City. Not many people have heard about what things are like north of the 59th parallel, but I’m here to tell you that it is an awfully beautiful place. Without a guide, a plane, and a lot of patience, though, it can be hard to explore the area – fortunately, I had all of those things when I ventured through in July. Since the whole place is part of the Canadian shield, the rocky terrain looks more like the west coast of British Columbia than somewhere in Saskatchewan. Take the old road to the Box Mine and you’ll see how incredible this place really is.
Athabasca Sand Dunes: Before I even got the job as the Saskatchewanderer, I knew that I had to get to the sand dunes. They’re the most northernly dunes in the entire world, and they’re the tallest ones in North America (which I was very keen on pointing out in my final competition video). Though my original intent was to go sandboarding down them, I changed my plans once I learned of the unique and delicate ecosystem unique to the Dunes, and I ended up flying harmlessly over them. Not that I’m going to rule out a canoe expedition up there in the future – but for now, I’m pretty happy with what I got to see (and capture on video!).
Grasslands National Park: I’d been to the west block of the Grasslands National Park back when I worked with Sask Environment, but this time I was at the east block, and wow! It was different. Compared to the wide open plains and valleys of the west, you can’t walk anywhere here without a butte (or a cactus!) getting in the way. Keep going down the road and you’ll find a visitor centre and a brand new campsite. Sit back, watch the stars come out (the park is a designated dark-sky preserve), and listen for the noisy coyotes.
Lebret: If you’re recently returned from Europe and are suffering from cathedral withdrawal, you would do well to visit Lebret. After checking out the lakeside cathedral, walk up the hill and tell me that you haven’t seen a sufficient number of steeples for the day.
Windscape Kite Fest: Saskatchewan’s skies are famous enough to mention on licence plates, but a lot of people take the “living skies” part to be metaphorical. Not so much at the Kite Fest: here, countless kiters from across the world join up to take advantage of the wind and the sky – and it’s good to know that two of our most bountiful resources can be used so beautifully.
To get some sweet ziplining experience, head to the EcoAdventures site!
You might find yourself driving down the #1 Highway around Swift Current, musing about the hills and the sky and the possibility of another Tim Horton’s stop, and you might ask yourself: “I wonder what there is to do around here?”
Step 1: Stop at Maple Creek
It’s five seconds south of the Trans-Canada. If you look that way, you can pretty well see it – actually, you’ll probably see the sign for Cypress Hills Provincial Park, which is the same turnoff.
Step 2: Check in
I stayed at the Ghostown Blues B&B, and the English language doesn’t currently have words for what they’re doing so very, very well there. Being the Saskatchewanderer and all, I thought I’d make some up: Cowboy chic. Western boutique. Pioneerily awesome. These come close to capturing what it’s like to stay in a sheepwagon from the 1890s (a sheepwagon!), but they fall short of explaining the man behind this wild wild bed and breakfast: Greg Hisey. A former pro bullrider, he’s been doing his thing from Texas to northern SK, and now he’s setting his creative energies loose on Ghostown Blues. Everything on site (including the music hall, where some of Canada’s country and blues greats will stop and gig at) has been restored from existing heritage buildings, with the addition of modern facilities and the nicest bathrooms you’re likely to run into in the wild west.
Greg runs an amazing operation – and if you give him an ear, you’re bound to hear all his best cowboy stories. Give Molly the border collie a scratch, and ask about the time he was John Voight’s body double in a Hollywood movie.
Step 3: Wine and dine
Just southwest of Ghost Town Blues is the Cypress Hills Winery. They operate out of a beautiful valley and turn out a half dozen wines annually – most of them being made from Saskatchewan fruit. My old pal, the carmine cherry, had a whole wine to itself. Personally, my favourites were the saskatoon berry wine – it had an unbelievably complex, smokey flavour – and the black currant and honey wine, which I intend to pair with dessert.
In town, there are tons of dining options. The Star Café and Redmond House are the local fine dining options – and the Star has the best selection of Paddock Wood beers I’ve seen anywhere. There’s also the Rockin’ Horse Cookhouse, which sports delicious made-from-scratch BBQ.
Step 4: Adventure time
Just check my video of the area to see some of the more extreme options – then avail yourself of this list:
• Fort Walsh: this national historic site is tucked away in Cypress Hills’ West Block, and it’s truly an immersive experience: some folks I met at the Cypress Hills campground told me their kids got to dress up in North West Mounted Police outfits, which, it turns out, meant they could arrest their parents. The drive there is also pretty impressive – “I had no idea there were switchback roads in Saskatchewan,” said one visitor.
• Dark-Sky campground and observatory: formerly the largest dark sky preserve in the world, the Cypress Hills are a huge destination for stargazers of all stripes. This August 25th, they’ll be launching the new observatory and yurt classroom, which is near the central block’s main park campground.
• Oldtimer’s Museum: Here’s a great place to learn the history of the area if you want to get acquainted before Fort Walsh. There are also some incredible moustaches on display. $5 for adults, on Jasper St. in Maple Creek.
• T-Rex Discovery Centre: Near Eastend, the T-Rex Discovery Centre is where Scotty the T-Rex was discovered. Saskatchewan’s wealth of fossil history is on display here, and it’ll be an informative trip back to the cretaceous period. Fun fact: Scotty turns 65,000,020 years old this August 13th (celebrations and cake start at 11AM), which makes him 64,999,999 years older than me.
Today, I offer you a take on Regina – my lifelong home, and the capital of Saskatchewan. Recently, a Lonely Planet editor made a trip to Regina and put together a great blog about all the remarkable things to see and do here. I think he might’ve missed a couple things, so here’s my list of must-sees in the capital:
Wascana Centre: whether you’re going to walk, run, longboard, kayak, canoe, paddleboard, cartwheel, or otherwise navigate the nine square kilometres of park around Wascana Lake, you have got to make it down there. Some people I met on my kayak tour ($10 for an hour, book a boat at the marina southwest of the Broad St. bridge) had commandeered a giant inflatable island and were just hanging out – which sounds like a pretty good way to spend a hot summer’s day.
Italian Star Deli: No guide to Regina is complete without a mention of the delicious, delicious panini from this local institution. Head to the deli counter for mild, medium or spicy sandwiches (around $6 each) with a bonus stick of pepperoni – and be sure to stick around for a chat with Carlo, the immensely good-humoured proprietor, or for a sighting of Regina’s mayor (and former boxer!) Pat Fiacco. Located at 1611 Victoria Ave.
Beer, beer, beer: Regina has had a long history of brewing, but in the last couple years, things have really taken off for craft beer. Start at Bushwakker’s on Dewdney – I’d describe them as an English-style brewpub, and that means lots of well-rounded beers without too much crazy hop bitterness going on. They’re a perennial favourite, and are probably best known for their blackberry mead: on the mid-December release day, there’s a line around the block, and they sell out of 4,000 bottles in a matter of hours. After that, take in Brewster’s. They’ve got some great summer beers on offer right now that would make their south-end patio awfully tempting. And if you’re after the best selection I’ve seen anywhere in the prairies, stop in at Beer Bros. Their location on the Scarth St. Mall offers great local fare, too.
Scarth St. Mall: The Globe theatre. The Plains Museum. The aforementioned Beer Bros. The Neutral Ground gallery and the Deli Llama café. And it’s all on the edge of a nearly-completed pedestrian square just north of Victoria Park, so things are about to get that much more exciting. If you want to find a good way to spend a lunch or an evening, a minute or an afternoon, then you could do worse than to kick it off here.
The Saskatchewan Science Centre: I know, you’ve heard of science centres. You’ve probably been to a couple. But have you taken a trip up to the top of an inland terminal? Have you seen the circle of life in progress as it decomposes a prairie dog? Have you climbed a rock wall? For science with a refreshingly Saskatchewanian twist, make a stop here – it’s in the Wascana Centre, so you might just come across it on your travels.
Sports: Are weekly Rider games not satisfying your craving for sports? There are tons of local amateur and professional competitions going on around town this summer and beyond. Right before I wrote this blog, the sepak takraw Canadian championships were finishing up in front of the Royal Saskatchewan Museum. There was also a Regina Red Sox game happening today, and in the winter you can always swing down to the Brandt Centre for a Regina Pats game.
Music: Bands from near and far are likely to congregate at the Exchange – a block north of the Dewdney club strip – or at the recently-opened Creative City Centre. Coming up this August 5th to 7th is the Regina Folk Festival, where some huge names will be hunkering down for a weekend of rousing musical prowess. Seriously though: k.d. lang is coming to town, and so is Fred Penner!