Monthly Archives: July 2011

Wild western Saskatchewan: Maple Creek and more

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.

The vines at Cypress Hills Winery

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.

Marie with one of her babies.

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.

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Beyond the 59th parallel, part II: Uranium City

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Regina from a resident’s eyes

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!

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Beyond the 59th parallel: The Century Flight Club gets me to the Athabasca Sand Dunes

For more info on the Century Flight Club, click here! And if you wanna learn more about the Athabasca Sand Dunes, check this link!

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No wind? No problem.

My Emma Lake adventures went swimmingly anyway! Many thanks to Aaron and Neil from Explore Kiteboarding for bringing me out.

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Catfish Friday: Louisiana Night at Elk Ridge Resort

If there was ever a myth about Saskatchewan worth busting, it’s that it’s flat and boring here. And if there has ever been a place that could bust that myth, it’s Elk Ridge Resort by Waskesiu Lake – go and golf nine holes there, and you’ll see what “elevation” means. You’ll be changing clubs according to inclines, checking to see if there’s a slow group hidden over the next hill or around the next corner, and cursing gravity when your ball decides to go running back down the golf cart path.

It was a special weekend at Elk Ridge, and not just because of the weddings they would be hosting. They ran the first annual Louisiana Night – after a quick 9-hole tournament, the cajun spice would be sizzling along a remarkable buffet by chef Michael Card, and then the dance floor would get going with some southern blues, jazz, and reggae sounds. Personally, I was a little too stuffed to dance – that’s the story I’m sticking to, anyway – but I was happy to shoot some video of the atmosphere.

The tournament goers did get rained on, so I opted to golf the next day instead, and that got me the full tour from Elk Ridge’s real estate guru, Brandon Moore. It had been about five years since I picked up the clubs, and my performance in the first few holes sure showed it. But! I prevailed. Despite using up most of Brandon’s golf balls on errant shots, I made par a couple times, hit in excess of two hundred yards every so often, and had several encounters with wildlife. That last encounter left me kind of sappy – and I’m being literal. My pants are now covered in tree sap, but sometimes, that’s what it takes to make the shot.

My adventures didn’t end at the clubhouse. I went into the townsite of Waskesiu to get lunch. I nearly forgot that the Riders were playing today (shame on me!), but there was a tasty reminder at Angry Taco, where I snagged a “Green” burrito for just $6. I washed that down with a latte from the talented folks at Evergreen Coffee – they free-pour the milk, and the result is pure art. It was delicious, and they’ve got lunch on offer too.

Really, though, you don’t even need to leave Elk Ridge to do everything that you could want. Before heading in for the night, I finished watching the Rider game at Walleye’s Pub at Elk Ridge, and then had some of Chef Michael’s modern Saskatchewan cuisine at the Lodge’s dining room. They really have it all here! The fun keeps going in the winter, too, where you can icefish, dogsled, skate, cross-country ski, curl, snowmobile and more – all at Elk Ridge. It’s a shame that the Saskatchewandering ends before then; either way, I have got to get back here.

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Where does a weary wanderer rest? At Sask’s great B&Bs and hotels.

This week I’m heading up to Elk Ridge Resort in Waskesiu Lake, and then I’m going kiteboarding – but first, I thought I’d do a recap of some of the many awesome places I’ve stayed throughout my travels across the province. If you need any other hotel-finding help, just visit the Tourism Sask website.

Boxton Prairie Experience
Near Grenfell, SK, just off the #1 Highway.

Saskatchewan has long been the home of homesteaders and hard-working pioneers, and this historic building is a testament to just that past. The current owners – Ruth and Lloyd – inherited the house, which was handbuilt by Lloyd’s grandfather. And he didn’t just build it by hand: he hauled each piece of wood from the train station to his plot, then started building it. Impressive. These days, it’s a B&B with five unique and beautifully decorated rooms, each with their own story from the era when you could still order an entire house from the Eaton’s catalogue. The food is incredible, and they serve supper too.

Butler Bed and Breakfast
Outlook

Keith is the gracious host of these lodgings with the best view I’ve seen so far: it sits perched on the edge of the South Saskatchewan River. I mention the view at the beginning of my Outlook video for good reason! Keith is also an incredibly talented cook, and I wish I could start every morning with that breakfast.

Temple Gardens Mineral Spa
Moose Jaw

I got the VIP treatment here! I stayed in a suite – complete with ensuite jacuzzi with complimentary rubber ducky – and got to laze around the mineral pools, which you can see at the beginning of my Gravelbourg vid (insert link to video). Whatever soreness I had from driving evaporated after a few relaxing minutes in those healing waters. I also had supper at the in-hotel restaurant, Harwood’s – try the lobster corn dogs!

Other higlights:

Candle Lake Golf Resort: Though my golfing plans got rained out, I had lots of fun at my cabin thanks to Becky from Tourism Sask. Besides any fun you come up with, hey’ve got a great restaurant on site, great conference facilities, and the most scenic setting I’ve come across yet.

Elk Ridge Resort: I’m headed here this week, so check back to see all the adventures I’ll be having! I imagine it will be quite magnificent; the Waskesiu area is really something else.

Delta Bessborough: It’s where I filmed the whole of my Jazz Fest video, since the Sheepdogs show was just in the backyard! Really, there’s nothing quite like having the action come to you, and the Bess is the centre of Saskatoon’s festival life all summer long.

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Saskatchewan pride and Canada Day in Saskatoon

I’m pretty sure that Saskatoon knows exactly what wows me. Music, food, people – the best of the whole province was on display there this weekend.

I started out my adventures in Saskatoon at the re-opening of Weczeria. Chef Daniel Walker had relocated right onto Broadway Avenue, two doors south of the ever-present Broadway Café, and he brought with him the sort of modern French fare, rustic decor, and commitment to local food that made his place excellent on 10th Street. If the dinner menu’s out of your budget, then come by at lunch to get the experience for $12 to $15 a plate. Since there’s no sign yet, just look for a grey building with neat designs on the windows.

The private room at Weczeria captures their careful mix between serious and playful, whether it be on the plate or in the dining room.

Before I tell you what I did on Canada Day, I have to explain what happened this past Wednesday. I was walking home from work when I saw a guy with a lot of cameras – turns out his name’s Joe, and he’s a professional photographer from Ireland. He had just stepped out from lunch with his pal Steve Maguire, who he knew in Belfast before Steve moved here. Not 5 minutes earlier I had been talking to Steve’s publicist about using a song of his for my videos, and bam! There they all were, sitting around for lunch, and I made sure I would meet them up in Saskatoon, where Stephen Maguire would assemble his band for a heck of a show in Diefenbaker Park.

His latest album is called Irish Soul, and it’s just the sort of stuff I look for when I’m out wandering. Upbeat yet relaxing, with throwbacks to classic rock and pop. He’s an incredibly talented artist, and it’s awesome to know that he has chosen Saskatchewan as the place he wants to live.

Talking to Joe about life as a photographer was great too. He’s shot for more famous people than you could shake a stick at, and even chanced to see a few folks before fame found them, like Lady Gaga. He seemed to like my blog, which was tremendous, and he also didn’t seem to understand the excitement around the Roughriders – actually, he was wearing a soccer jersey when I met him.

That was also the night I saw the Sheepdogs – check out the video below.

The Delta Bessborough in downtown SaskatoonThe next day, I was back to the Delta Bessborough (A.K.A. “The Bess”) to check out two old school hip hop groups that have kept their positive outlook and uplifting lyrics for the whole twenty-plus years they’ve been performing.

First up was De La Soul, and I have to tell you: I idolize these guys. They called for a “D.A.I.S.Y. age” just as gangster rap was building prominence, and constantly called out the crass materialism of hip hop in the mid-90s. They were the real rebels of the genre back then, and I think they still are today – even if they do have a Nike shoe with their faces on it.

Pos from De La Soul at the Jazz Fest's second-last night.

Two-time Grammy winners and Rolling Stone Band of the Year Arrested Development headlined that night, and Speech – the MC, vocalist, and all-around great dude at the heart of the group – nearly broke down and cried at the start of ‘Tennessee.’ His own personal story is as heartfelt and tragic as it ever was, but it’s a motivation to sincere optimism. No one – no one – is as stoked to be on stage as Arrested Development, and you can see it in the way the audience and the group interact.

I hope that, whatever it is that I end up doing with my life, I can have that much fun with it after 20 years of doing the same thing. I hope I can be that happy about what I’m giving to the world. And that’s what this whole weekend has shown me: there’s a lot of people like that in Saskatchewan. Whether it be (and this is definitely not an exhaustive list) the food at Weczeria or Jerry’s, or the music from The Sheepdogs or Stephen Maguire, you don’t have to look far to find pride, inspiration, and success in our province. You just have to get out there, and look for the people working hard at what they love. That, for me, is a great way to spend the Canada Day long weekend.

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Ah, what great guys. Check out their site!

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