Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan prairie view by CC user 1967chevrolet on Flickr

Introduction
Resembling a perfect rectangle on any map of Canada, it’s easy to assume that there isn’t anything of note within the boundaries of Saskatchewan. Being landlocked and devoid of mountains of any significance, you may be tempted to agree with this assertion, but within a short period of time, the wide open horizons of Canada’s breadbasket will have you spellbound.

Leaving the Trans-Canada Highway will help dispel this myth, as the landscape outside some of the flattest earth in the province undulates in a manner that grants it an undertone of simple beauty.

The grasslands of the south, the deep river valleys of the central portions of the province, and the dense forests and seemingly infinite lakes of the north will come alive for the traveler that takes the time to discover it properly, as it will combine with the low horizon line to show you why Saskatchewan is known as The Land Of The Living Skies”.

Tunnels of Moose Jaw by CC user daryl_mitchell on Flickr

What To Do – Culture & History

After observing the pace of rural Saskatchewan life during your first 24 hours inside the province, it’s difficult to imagine anything truly acrimonious or dramatic ever occurring within the borders of this province. Yet during the bone dry era of Prohibition, Al Capone and company were using The Tunnels of Moose Jaw to warehouse hooch, which was then snuck across the border on the local Soo Line railroad to the USA, where alcohol of any kind was still illegal.

For two hours, explore the intricate set of tunnels that were first built to protect Chinese immigrants from paying the head tax (that was set so high that many couldn’t afford it), and then used to hide and supply speakeasies with booze during Prohibition in Canada.

Capone came later, as most parts of Canada scrapped their bans of alcohol before America did, setting up a smuggling operation to supply his clients with the forbidden spirits they so desperately craved. Actors portray characters in a theatre-like production, making this attraction well worth the time you’ll spend here.

One of the biggest attractions in the capital city of Regina is the RCMP Heritage Centre. Being home to the principal training centre for new recruits to Canada’s national police force, a museum dedicated to telling the almost 130 year history on a security apparatus that tamed the west, and has provided safety and security to rural and urban communities alike across one of the vastest country in the world.

View exhibits on its genesis as a force that patrolled on horse mount (hence the name, “mounted” police) in its early days of cracking down on lawlessness in the Northwest Territories (much of which are the Prairie provinces today), its role as an icon of Canadiana around the world, its exploits in not only general policing, but national security crises in the past, and get your CSI on by cracking a murder by following prompts given by the RCMP Forensics team.

Most of Canadian history has been tame compared to the disturbances that have occurred south of the border, but the fledgling nation in the 19th century was barely 15 years old when it faced a rebellion by Metis separatists, led by Louis Riel. In 1869 and 1870, he stirred up unrest in Manitoba, but when he did so again in 1885, the Mounties responded with brutal force, crushing the insurrection in Batoche, Saskatchewan. The Batoche National Historic Site marks the site of this confrontation, which was the decisive tilt in months long conflict. The site mostly details life in the 19th century Metis village, which is fascinating enough on its own merits for those that are not big war buffs.

Saskatchewan Roughrider fan - and his wife by CC user kneoh on Flickr

In the past decade, one of the most popular TV comedies to come out of Canada has been Corner Gas, a show that detailed the light-hearted humour that is a trademark of many that call this province home. The series was set in fictitious “Dog River”, a town whose real world name is Rouleau, which is situated 70 kilometres southwest of Regina. Many of the prop locations used for shooting in the show are located here, and with a museum and souvenir shop set up to honour the now completed TV show, you can relive all your favourite moments and take home a commemorative t-shirt to impress all your in-laws.

While professional sports teams definitely make up part of the fabric of any region that they are located in, we generally leave them out of these guides to focus on truly unique attractions that you might miss otherwise. Compiling a list of cultural attractions for Saskatchewan would not do this corner of Canada justice without mentioning the Saskatchewan Roughriders, whose fan’s devotion borders on obsession. Being the only pro sports team in the province might explain this, but attending a match in Regina will show you that this isn’t merely a game to them, it is a religious experience with solid hits, exhilarating passes, and raucous fans.

Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park by CC user plainsandprairielcc on Flickr

What To Do – Natural Attractions

While Saskatchewan doesn’t have any mountains in the typical sense, it does have undulating terrain in places, with Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park being the best example. Sharing half of its area with Alberta to the west, the Cypress Hills are a tract of land that were spared the erosive influence of multi-kilometre deep glacial ice sheets in the last Ice Age, allowing the elevated terrain to remain while the hills adjoining it got ground down to nothing.

In the present day, it is home to many bluffs, sharp hills that resemble mini mountains, uncharacteristically thick forest that contrasts with the shortgrass prairie a short distance away, and viewpoints that allow you to look out over the flatlands to the east, while seated amidst many fragrant pine trees.

If you want to experience what the Prairies were like before agricultural operations transformed the lion’s share of it into endless wheat fields, then dropping by Grasslands National Park will do the trick. Being home to ancient teepee rings, an increasing number of dinosaur fossil discoveries, threatened species like the black tailed prairie dog, and being part of Canada’s growing number of dark sky preserves, the wild grassy plains will make for a restorative few nights out in one of the rarer wilderness types in Canada.

Lakeshore, Prince Albert National Park by CC user curacumba on Flickr

If you find the lack of trees in much of Saskatchewan disturbing, then a trip north to Prince Albert National Park will remedy your situation in a hurry. Paddlers with adore the wealth of lakes within park limits, and those that enjoy a walk in the woods should show up in September, when the leaves of the deciduous trees come alive in a blaze of bright colours.

If you have the scratch to afford the high cost of getting to the Athabasca Sand Dunes, it will likely prove to be an investment that will pay off for you in spades, as this natural wonder resembles the sands of the Sahara in places. Stretching for over 100 kilometres along the shore of Lake Athabasca in the far north (there are NO roads that go here, floatplanes only), it is the furthest north occurrence of this habitat type in the world. This has beset this place with countless rare species of plants and animals that can only be found here.

Your adventure here will be just that – a journey with plenty of minor hardships, yet at the end of it all, you will be left with a sense of accomplishment at seeing a wonder of the world that almost nobody else has seen.

 

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