Who are we

We are a family of 3 who took a break from our routine. Usually we live in Scotland but February to the end of July 2011 we were on the road in North America for 6 months. We are Mark (also known as Dad), Rachel (also known as Mum... and a whole bunch of other names... my usual at-home blog is here) and little h (10/11 years of age during the trip).

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Saskatchewan – prairies, mounties and cellars full of booze

RCMP Heritage Centre, Regina

On Wednesday 6th July we left Alberta and entered Saskatchewan. Like much of south-eastern Alberta the scenery around Highway 1 was very rural and fairly flat – ah ha, yes… the Prairies!

Pretty soon we stopped at a little place called Maple Creek for our lunch break. The sun was working hard and it was hot, hot, hot so we chose a cool-looking place and did some more eating and drinking. Then we wandered around a bit looking for shade and also looking at cowboy boots (and all the other cowboy stuff around – this is as much cowboy country as anywhere in Texas).

After that we drove to our stop for the night – Swift Current. We had booked a very cheap and cheerful place but it was so hot that we decided to head for the town’s public outdoor pool to literally chill out a bit first. It was a really good little facility and we spent a very enjoyable couple of hours cooling off with lots of local youths and parents. It was very friendly and a real bargain too. We then made our own dinner in the cheerful lodgings (cooking – how do you do that again?) and then slept (air conditioning turned up full…).

On Thursday 7th July we pointed ourselves in the direction of the province’s capital Regina but first took a lunch break in the place with the excellent name of Moose Jaw. At first sight Moose Jaw looked a bit run-down and grim but once we got out of the car and looked round the downtown area we could see that it was really quite a lovely place. As with Asheville (that we liked so much in North Carolina, USA) Moose Jaw didn’t have the money to pull down all its old buildings when other places were modernising in the 1960s and 70s and so… it’s got lots of beautiful old buildings left in its centre. We had, for example, a coffee in a really gorgeous cavernous place (a café with a fab shop upstairs called, suitably enough, the Wandering Gypsy). There seemed to be a lot going on - music festivals, ‘word festivals’ – all sorts of summer activities and on the local radio on the way in we heard that “Hollywood were in town” filming a serial killer drama (to be called “Rabbit” apparently).

Moose Jaw’s biggest tourist pull is the Al Capone connection (it is believed he lived here when things in the US got too hot for him – plus it was the centre of a lot of bootlegging during US prohibition) and we did go along with this and take the tour of the town’s twisting cellar network (complete with mobsters and speakeasy characters acting us through it). It wasn’t the best tourist activity we’ve encountered in the trip (very rushed dialogue, plus the Capone connection is based on rumours rather than fact) but it was entertaining in its way. There was another tour (more fact-based) about how early Chinese immigrants had to live in the same tunnels to escape persecution but we didn’t take that one - figuring the harsh truths might be too much packed into small underground spaces… especially for the small one. Funny how the murdering mafia can end up being the fun option, isn’t it? Strange world.

We then left Moose Jaw (stopping at the giant moose on the edge of town for a photo opp., obviously) and drove on to Regina to spend the night there. Our photos of Saskatchewan up to Regina are here:

Saskatchewan part 1

We got to Regina quite late in the day on 7th July and headed for the downtown area where we had booked a place to stay. It’s a small city, as capitals go, and we were at the downtown pretty quickly (via lots of streets with very Scottish names… again). We checked in and ended up in a restaurant called “La Casa Latina” run by folk from the Dominican Republic. There we talked to one of the friendliest waiters of the trip (and there have been many). This one was a young man of Chilean extraction and he told us all about Regina’s universities and different communities (many – people from all over the world) and all kinds of other stuff. It was a quiet night – he really may has well have just pulled up a chair and joined us – and h ended up watching TV in the back with kids of another member of staff. For an hour or so, we were quite at home (great food too).

Next day, Friday 8th July, we headed to Regina’s main tourist activity – the Mounties Museum (or Royal Canadian Mounted Police Heritage Centre, to give it its full name). It was pretty quiet there – it hardly felt like summer holidays at all – but then I guess a police museum isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time (indeed I’m not really sure it was ours but we persevered). The museum is next door to the RCMP’s main training facility and part of the day’s attractions is watching the current crop of trainees parade for their Sgt. Major. We trooped along with the rest of the visitors to watch this but there were not nearly enough horses on show (only 2 – and they didn’t move… I know they’re not really mounted police anymore but still… something for the tourists!). Plus the marching was not exactly of the highest calibre either (but then they were trainees and how important is marching really, in the role of the contemporary police officer?).

Back in the museum we watched a, to be honest, fairly cheesy film about the work of modern RCMP officers (part “CSI”, part “24” from what we could see) and looked around at the, much more interesting, historical displays. They were, as you might expect, pretty patriotic (hurray Canadians, boo Americans!) but as we can be neutral in this matter we didn’t mind. More importantly they had no café to speak of in the museum (just a vending machine full of junk…) so we drove back through Regina looking for lunch. Luckily, just as we were leaving we saw a little Italian deli and stopped there to meet another fantastic and friendly Regina character (so Italian, so OTT…) and to purchase, yes, I’m sure, the finest sandwiches in all of Saskatchewan. We ate on the road and headed east again – this time hitting huge rainstorms instead of sunshine.

We stopped for the night in another place with a great name, Moosomin, only to find, when we got there, that it was Rodeo Weekend. Many of the prairie towns and cities have some kind of rodeo in the summer (a bit like Highland Games for the Scots) and they range from the giant Calgary Stampede to little local events like Moosomin’s. The little town was all abuzz with activity and cattle and on the morning of the Saturday we caught the end of the parade (small) and headed down to the Rodeo Ground (at the back of the ice-rink) to see what was happening. Most of the activities were scheduled for later in the evening (and we were due elsewhere) but there were some horses out being exercised and we were promised kids stuff and “stock dogs” pretty soon so we hung about for a bit (in the sun once more). It was all a bit slow to get going but the locals were very friendly and told us all about the events (Rodeo Queen etc. – more about horseskills than swimsuits, I’m glad to report). The kids stuff was bouncy castles, games and a petting zoo and you might be able to guess by now which one of those h went for (“can I hold the rat, please..?” Ugh!). Then we sat and waited for the “stock dogs” (border collies herding cattle) but at this point it all got a bit “Vicar of Dibley” (“I’m sorry, we are still waiting for some more dogs to turn up…”) so we put ourselves back in the car and headed… east again. In a very short time we were out of Saskatchewan and into its neighbour Manitoba. The rest of our Saskatchewan photos are here:

Saskatchewan part 2

We’re deep back into Ontario now and nearly back to our starting point over here. Still Manitoba and our last Ontario post to come… and then home again within two weeks.


hope said...

WHEW! I'm just tired reading all of this...granted, I was a couple of posts behind.

Glad to see the adventure continues. "h"...a rat, really? ;0

Rachel Fox said...

I know... and I forgot to mention we saw a coyote on the highway too!

The Bug said...

Love the mountie fire plug - and H following the recruits was hilarious (reminded me of Arthur - the Dudley Moore version - I think that was the movie where he was mimicking the butler).

But my favorite picture was that big broody sky in the second set of pics - gorgeous!

Rachel Fox said...

Well, the province does sell itself as the 'land of the living skies'. My fave pic in here is the 'ireless motel'. We don't really have motels in the proper sense in the UK (just the chains - Travelodge type things). How I love the motels.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Lovely to hear from you - two weeks and you will be home. What a marvellous experience it has been for your all - especially the girl!
I love Ontario - Canada is my favourite country although US comes a close second as it has such wonderful places. I expect you look forward to coming back home though. Love to all three.

Titus said...

Lovely tour, seems, bizarrely, a 'domestic' kind of place, and almost familiar in places (particularly the wind turbines shot).
Loved the Mountie Moose and Bear, and the marching even looked crap in the still photographs. Ah, why is it important? We marched everyday for ten weeks and some people never ever got it, I can't remember them being any worse police officers.

Stock dogs sounds so much more exciting than Border Collies though.
Only 2 weeks! Can't believe this is coming to an end.

Rachel Fox said...

Just a couple of weeks of family stuff now, Weaver, and then yes, home, home, home.

T - obviously Mark has done some marching too! It's a shame that for this trip he was given just lazy hippies (me) and little fairy girls (h) to work with. He didn't stand a chance.


hope said...

We have coyotes around here big time and they're becoming pests.

Last week hubby heard a weird noise at night: when he went to the front door, a coyote was standing at the bottom of the front steps, looking up! Five minutes earlier I'd been outside with the dog!