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Report 1739: Six Weeks in Saskatchewan, Alberta and BC where English Tourists Donít Get to....

By Eleanor from England, Summer 2009

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Page 3 of 9: Saskatchewan Prairies to Grasslands National Park

photo by Eleanor

Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel

Saskatchewan folk are very proud of their history and heritage and nearly every settlement has a a small museum or collection of buildings. We visited museums in Luseland and Unity. The pride of the locals was very obvious.

Luseland Museum had an amazing collection of belongings given by locals, including a snow bird. The museum wasnít officially open but was specially opened for us by a charming and knowledgeable lady who was delighted someone was interested.

Unity Museum has a collection of heritage buildings. We were shown round by the curator. It was well past closing time before we finished. We expressed concern about the time but were assured it was all right and we really must see...

We loved the Prairies, and they werenít as flat as we expected, having grown up on the typical textbook pictures of huge flat fields for as far as the eye could see. We were surprised by the gentle rolling hills with woods and lakes scattered around them. We soon learned to recognise the old homestead settlements by the collection of trees planted round them. We loved the iconic grain elevator buildings, which stood up as sentinels above the landscape, the railway lines and huge freight trains with their strident horns and the straight roads stretching for miles over the horizon.

One of the highlights of the visit was a two night stay at Wasmuth Homestead, south of Battleford and a few miles away from where my mother grew up. The land had been in the family for 100 years. Just down the road was the old school, which had closed 40 years ago. We were given the key and told we could go and have a look. It was late in the evening and definitely spooky. The kids desks - assorted sizes and shapes - were lined up in the school room facing the teacherís desk (with strap still in the drawer) and blackboard. All the cupboards were around the edges of the room. Down in the basement was the cast iron stove with coal in the coal hole and all the broken desks. Toilets were still there. The girls had flush toilets but the boys were a hole in the floor of the basement. Outside there was the remains of the baseball pitch.

Next morning we were taken for a ride in a beautifully restored 1931 Dodge. We were taken to see the original homestead with restored 1908 house and blacksmithís shop. We were shown one of the original 1906 iron survey pegs still in place, the ruts from a pre-survey wagon trail and a huge pile of stones, which was cleared from the land by First Nations or labourers were paid by the Ďcordí of stones (pile of stones one yard square).

We didnít do the tunnels in Moose Jaw. As soon as people knew we were stopping in Moose Jaw we are always asked if we were doing the tunnels. However none of them had visited themselves. The tunnels are obviously very well marketed. We did however enjoy the Burrowing Owl Centre in Moose Jaw.

From Moose Jaw we had a long day out round the badlands, visiting Wood Mountain Historic Park (not much left there but like all Parks Canada sites, beautifully kept with informative staff) and St. Victor Petrographs. It takes a while for you to get your eye in and the pick out the carvings, as they arenít very clear. The site was worth visiting just for the view.

From Moose Jaw we headed to Grasslands National Park calling in at Gravelbourg on the way to have a look at the cathedral. We had a night booked at the Crossing Resort near Val Marie. We went into the information centre to pick up maps and ask for information about the ecodrive and to check on conditions of the road. I had read so much about the dreaded gumbo and didnít want to risk getting stuck if it started to rain.

From here we intended to drive through Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park to Medicine Hat. We woke to steady rain, which soon turned to snow (1st June - a week earlier in Saskatoon temperatures had been in the 80s.) This wasnít a good idea so it was a straight drive to Maple Creek. Even so it was a long, lonely drive although car tracks in the snow proved we werenít the only people in the world. I understand the scenery is supposed to be good but visibility was down to 20 yards. We were very thankful to be off the gravel road.

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