Friday, 8 August 2014

Onto the Prairies

Our  wanderings through the Rocky Mountains finally came to an end when the mountains got smaller and the roads flatter and less windy. Eventually we came to Edmonton, Alberta where we were due to board the Trans Canada train ‘The Canadian’ to travel to Saskatoon in Saskatchewan (lovely sounding names!). By this time I was desperately in need of a haircut and at Spruce Grove a little outside of Edmonton we found a nice salon whose manager agreed to fit me in on the spot. This turned out to be the highlight of the day as from that time onwards, things didn't quite go according to plan.

Being a hot day and with no other attractions to tempt us, we decided to surrender our car to the Hertz people at Edmonton airport, sit in airconditioned comfort and then have an early dinner there before catching a taxi to Edmonton Via Rail station where our train was due to leave at 11.45pm. We thought the hours waiting at the airport were long enough but when we did get to the train station, it was to find that there was quite a delay on the arrival of ‘The Canadian’. This turned out to be a very, very long wait! About 60 would-be passengers spent the night in the waiting room with updates – usually of another hour or two delays – every hour or so. We finally boarded at 5.30 am with the train leaving at 6.00 am. The reason for the delay we were told was that ‘there had been a freight train derailment and everything was a bit of a schemozzle’! We fell into our bunks for a 2 hour sleep before heading into breakfast very bleary eyed, then returning to our beds for another short sleep. Once on board the train, I must say, the service was excellent and all meals provided in the dining car were ‘white linen’ service. The train made up some time and we pulled into Saskatoon around 2 pm then collected another hire car for our few days touring in the prairie state of Saskatchewan. 

We decided to drive down to the state capitol of Regina, and tried the local Hostel International there for our stay. The advantage of staying in this basic accommodation was that we could use the kitchen and prepare our own meals. It had won 'Hostel of the Year' at one stage, but now it sadly needs a bit of work to bring it up to scratch. We had a private room though so it suited us well for a few days. 

The RCMP depot at Regina is where all the ‘Canadian Mounties’ (Police) are trained, and they have a wonderful recently built building tracing the history of the Canadian police from the very early days when it was a more military force until modern times. The use of mounted police was downsized in 1956 and police are now highly trained in modern methods as in most other countries. A contingent of mounted police in their distinctive red serge jackets are still used in ceremonial parades. A guide showed groups of people through the facility and we were there in time to see the impressive Sergeant-Major’s parade at 11.45pm.

Peter with his souvenir Corner Gas numberplate
On another day we packed a picnic lunch and drove out to a small town called Rouleau. There is not a lot to distinguish this town set in the middle of the flat prairie land of rural Saskatchewan, but we knew it was where one of our favourite sit-coms, the witty Canadian ‘Corner Gas’ series was based. A film of the series had only just been filmed a few weeks prior to our visit and we were amused to see the actual Gas Station with police car parked outside and the nearby café ‘The Ruby’.  Some local buildings were still bearing the show’s town name of ‘Dog River’ with the newspaper premises advertising the fictitious newspaper ‘The Dog River Howler’. We were able to identify the pub and the police station and a house which featured in the sit-com. All good fun and we half expected to see the characters too, but sadly no.

We later visited the wonderfully named Moose Jaw which has a fantastic museum on the history of transportation. It is a huge building with very early models of cars, trucks, snow vehicles, planes, trains and motor bikes. They even had a small steam loco operating outside for rides. We gave our spare ticket to a nearby family, then chatted to the grandmother for a while. It is so interesting to talk to the people on our travels and they always are interesting to hear a little about Australia. Moose Jaw is famous – or perhaps, infamous – with its tunnels being used  by bootleggers - including Al Capone - during prohibition in the 1920s (it is conveniently close to the American border).

Back in Regina, we walked the beautiful big Wascana Park which is nearby to the hostel. It is well laid out with walking/jogging/bicycling track around the lake which fronts the impressive capitol building. We appreciated the cool shady trees and flower beds on a hot and sticky summer day and it seems most other people did too. With such a short summer period, everyone here seems to make the most of the warm weather, however we find the high humidity a bit draining for us.

The Observation Car at the very end of the train
Driving the three hours back to Saskatoon to again catch the train, we drove through acres and acres of very flat agricultural land – the major crops being canola and flax, and the bright yellow fields contrasted with the blue/grey of the flax groups. We surrendered the hire car at Saskatoon Airport and enjoyed a lovely B&B overnight before leaving for a scheduled train departure at 8.30 am next morning. Canada’s Via Rail is improving! We only had a delay of 4 hours this time! (However, it was 5 hours late arriving in Winnipeg!). 

No comments:

Post a Comment