Crossing into the province of Saskatchewan from North Dakota was an uncomplicated event. We arrived about ten minutes before the border at Oungre opened for business at 9:00am. At the appointed hour, the iron gates swung open and we pulled into the building where two Canadian agents spent about 25 minutes looking carefully through the truck and the Airstream. The sun was trying to break through the heavy cloud cover and when it did, it illuminated the expanse of wheat fields – some still green, some golden, some reddish in hue – which spread like a ground cloth at a picnic.
Our destination this first night was a robust 375 miles away, setting a new record for us. We wanted to stay two nights in one of the province’s provincial parks and weekends are as full here as they are in the U.S. The only place we could find that would fit our criteria was called Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park. It sits on a reservoir created by the South Saskatchewan River. Inspite of the length of the trip, it was a remarkably easy ride because we left early in the morning, the highways were in great shape, relatively flat, and just about empty, particularly of trucks. Peter could make better time driving here than on the hugely stressful interstates.
We stopped at about 200 miles at a town called Moose Jaw, just west of Regina. Here we enjoyed the purchasing power of a strong U.S. dollar and re-stocked the food pantry. We had lunch and Peter’s nap before proceeding directly west to Swift Current before turning north to the campground. It was interesting to find ourselves camped among hundreds of trailers virtually all with Saskatchewan plates (Alberta was a very distant second) and it was pretty clear right off we were in a new environment. First, quiet hours in Saskatchewan Provincial Parks are 24 HOURS A DAY which has a tempering influence on noise levels. Yes, there were still children laughing and playing and ringing the bells on their bicycles but the consciousness about noise was noticeably different. No music blasting from campsites and even large family gatherings where moderated, very different from many of the states-side campgrounds we have experienced.
The second item of difference was the real estate development in the provincial park. It appears that in addition to the campground, there are resort “cottages” that are privately owned along the reservoir. There is a golf course, which costs $35 for 18 holes, but on Mondays, you could play $2 per hole. Unique.
We spent our second day here puttering around after our bike ride. Peter worked to clean the impressive collection of bugs off the truck grill and the stainless guards of T2. We washed the trailer windows and gutters, Peter adjusted the hitch, cleaned the bikes and did some light maintenance work on tires and chains. It was a really great and restful day.
Our next provincial park was The Battlefords about 150 miles straight north and along the reservoir created by the North Saskatchewan River. We elected to stay here another two nights to tour around and learn some of the history of the area. From 1876 to 1883, Battleford was the capital of the Northwest Territories long before the establishment of the current provinces of Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Manitoba in 1905. The idea was to build a Fort here to extend control over sparsely populated western Canada. The plan included building the transcontinental railway to “ensure Canadian sovereignty and grow the economy”. Our tour guide shared some interesting information about this sovereignty concept. The development of the American west was in large part driven by the sense of individualism and Manifest destiny where there was a responsibility to conquer and populate the west. The Canadian idea was to take the “civilized” model of eastern Canada and drop it onto the Northwest Territories molding the untamed territories to fit the eastern model.
Fort Battleford, built in 1885, was the base of the Canadian government’s efforts (under the Northwest Mounted Police) to deal with two challenges to its authority: The First Nations (as they refer to native Americans here in Canada) and the Metis uprising. The conflicts surrounding the First Nations relations were similar to those in the U.S. As the western settlement continued the ancestral hunting grounds of the First Nations diminished. In addition, the advent of the railroad had a chilling effect. The Canadian government, seeing how the twenty years of conflicts in the United States were creating demands on the federal treasury, decided to try enforcing treaties to move the First Nations to reservation lands. The results were equally devastating to the First Nations for whom a forced agrarian lifestyle led to hardship and near starvation. Coupled with uncertainty and fear and misunderstanding, friction developed into battles and deaths on both sides and no winners.
The uprising of the Metis resulted from years of disenfranchisement. The Metis where people of mixed blood – European and First Nation – who had little to say about how the territory was being run. Under a leader named Louis Riel, the Metis began making demands of the Canadian government, claimed a Provisional Government in a nearby town called Batouche. They engaged in a battle with the Mounties and declared victory. A series of bloody battles ensued and the Metis rebellion was effectively ended when its leader, Louis Riel, was hanged.
Now the Fort sits as a reminder of the tensions and conflicts inherent in the nation development that is now Canada. We met some local residents who toured along with us and they added that some of those tensions and conflicts continue to play out in the present time, not unlike what we are seeing in the U.S. today.
From here, we drove along Trans Canada Highway 16 through the town of Lloydminster, half of which sits in the province of Saskatchewan the other sits in Alberta. Peter wondered about the governance structure but it seems they have worked it out because the town looked prosperous – on both sides. The land began to change into what is called “knob and kettle”. This means the land contains many glacial moraines and depression filled with small lakes. Very different from the great plains of Saskatchewan (which looked like plains of North Dakota and Montana). We headed toward Edmonton which sits about half way across Alberta and whose western border is our ultimate destination here, the Canadian Rockies.
We camped for one night at Vermillion Provincial Park in the town of Vermillion where we enjoyed full hook-ups and a fabulous campsite on a lovely hillside. We indulged ourselves that night with hot showers right in T2, which we can do very easily when we have full hook-ups. Sublime.
The next day, we stopped in Edmonton for more supplies for the trailer, including a stop at the local wine store where I found a bottle of Portuguese Vinho Verde for a great price. We then headed over to our second Alberta Provincial Park, Pembina River. Here we were perched on a densely treed campsite on the hills over the swift moving Pembina River, known by the locals for its floating and tubing. The terrain has totally changed as we head into the foothills of the magnificent Canadian Rockies.
Next up, ten days in the national parks of first Jasper and then Banff. We are so excited and invite you to come along.
Peter and Liz continue their travels through Canada, just miles away from their stay in Jasper and Banff, Alberta, in their Airstream.