Sunday, August 16, 2015

A Dose of Riel-ity


Day 9:  Regina, SK, to Saskatoon, SK.  Hoping the heat spell has been broken for the remainder of this trip, we woke to a brisk 48° morning in Regina.  By the time we packed up and enjoyed a long and interesting conversation with Swapra, a restaurant server with a master's degree in social work from her native India, it was 9:00 before we departed Saskatchewan's capital city.  When we mentioned to Swapra that we were headed to Saskatoon, she marveled that we would choose to do so.  We didn't tell her we planned a stop in Moose Jaw on the way.

There goes Rover again.  He was just here yesterday.
Driving across the prairie's vast unbroken spans of level ground on roads with no hills and precious few curves, anything taller than a stalk of wheat is visible for many miles.  It is said that on the Saskatchewan prairie, you can watch your dog run away from home for three days.  Only farm buildings, an occasional planted tree or two, and the odd potash or fertilizer plant stood in the way of our seeing Moose Jaw (pop. 33,274) from Regina.

Moose Jaw's unusual name stems from a big bend in a nearby creek said to resemble a moose's jaw.  During the years when Prohibition ruled in the U.S., Moose Jaw made a name as a haven for American gangsters and their bootlegging allies, earning the town the nickname of "Little Chicago of the Prairies."  Today, Moose Jaw is better known as a tourist and retirement center with an industrial base.  It is the proud home of an acrobatic flying team called the Snowbirds.  Both the flyers and the town's inevitable mascot, Mac the (32-ft) Moose, are honored at the town visitor center.

Mac the Moose Jaw moose
When we stopped at the visitor center to search for a letterbox, the mosquitoes were as pernicious and as populous as they had been in Regina yesterday.  Vicious and blood-thirsty, the devilish whiners dart into your car through the slightest opening.  Departing Moose Jaw, with a dozen of their most persistent skeeters on board, we left TransCanada-1 for a more northerly course on Highway 2.  Twenty miles north, we transferred to Highway 11, the Louis Riel Trail.

Louis Riel
Often called the Father of Manitoba, Louis Riel (Lou-ee Ree-al) is considered the driving force behind the founding of Canada's fifth province in 1870.  Born in 1844 in the Red River Settlement (near present-day Winnipeg), Riel was the son of a Métis (may-tee) leader and a French-Canadian mother.

The Métis people and culture developed out of the North American fur trade.  When Europeans traveled into the Canadian interior to trade for furs, they were forced to rely on indigenous people to help them find food, navigate the area, make clothing, and survive in the unfamiliar environment.  They found assistance from native women, whose lives were made easier by goods, such as metal pots, brought by the traders.  Inevitably, as dependencies grew, couples became closer and married.

Neither European nor Native, their children formed distinct communities with a merging of cultural traits learned from each parent. Their name derived from the Latin word for 'mixed', the Métis people developed their own language, unique culture and traditions.  Their home was the western prairies of Canada, including what is today Manitoba and Saskatchewan.  Louis Riel, who became a leader of the Métis people, fought to preserve their rights and culture after Canada began nationalizing under its dominion status.

Don Wilkins
As we were driving on Louis Riel Trail, we began seeing the work of a Saskatchewan farmer/sculptor/history buff named Don Wilkins.  Hailing from the miniscule village of Girvin (pop. 20), Wilkins actively lobbied the Canadian government to label Highway 11 from Regina to Prince Albert the Louis Riel Trail.  That goal accomplished, Wilkins set out to commemorate the history of the Métis people with folk art sculpture installments, complete with interpretive signage, along the highway.

The first one that caught our attention was in Craik (pop. 453), a former railroad center now completely dependent on agriculture.  Billing itself as the "friendliest town by a dam site," Craik has been trying to reinvent itself with a sustainable living project.  We drove into what passes for town to learn more about the project but found no signs.  Back at Highway 11, the prominently signed Craik Flax House caught our attention.  Upon closer examination, this experiment in creative building materials—flax bales—appeared to be abandoned.  Grass was waist high around it, and the adjacent visitor center showed no signs of recent use.

Red River cart and Métis buffalo hunter by Don Wilkins in Craik
While eating our picnic lunch in the little park with the Wilkins sculpture, we learned about the Red River cart, a Métis innovation pulled by horses or oxen.  Constructed entirely of wood lashed together with leather, Red River carts were initially used to transport meat and other products from buffalo hunts.  Later they proved useful in freighting various types of cargo because they were very stable, could be pulled through mud and marsh, and even floated on the river, all while carrying loads up to 1,000 pounds.  The construction of rail lines in the Red River area marked the end of a century of domination by these carts.  Because they played such a central role in the Métis way of life, sculptor Don Wilkins incorporated a Red River cart in each of his installations.

Don Wilkins' buffalo and Red River cart near Davidson
As we continued north on Highway 11, we stopped faithfully at each of the postage stamp size parks hosting Wilkins' sculptures and at a few other roadside "treasures."  But Mother Nature was putting on the best show.  Small wonder Saskatchewan's license plates brand the province "Land of Living Skies."  Massive puffy cumulus and stratocumulus clouds had hovered overhead most of the day.  The flat land and open, treeless horizon seemed to magnify the sky, and these huge marshmallows filled the expanse, drifting lazily across the azure backdrop.

Late in the afternoon, we arrived in Saskatoon (pop. 260,600), the province's most populous city.  Straddling the South Saskatchewan River, Saskatoon was founded in the 1880s as a temperance colony.  Tomorrow we'll explore the 2015 version.


Daily Stats

Miles driven:  221
Miles walked:  2.5
Weather:  48° to 64°, cloudy
Gas:  $3.729/gallon
Letterboxes found:  1
Swainson's hawks on utility poles:  47
Red River cart sculptures:  9

More Photos from Today

Craik Flax House (on the right)
Roadside Attraction Alert!  Davidson's 24-ft coffee pot
Wilkins sculpture near McCraney features Louis Riel himself.
Roadside Attraction Alert!  Kenaston's 18-ft snowman/hockey team mascot
Wilkins sculpture near Kenaston depicts Cree mother and her Métis son.
"Mount Blackstrap," an artificial elevation built for skiing.  The area excavated to create the hill became a lake.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Saskatchewan's Crown Jewel


Day 8:  Regina, SK.  As we were enjoying the generous breakfast buffet at the Doubletree this morning, electrical power suddenly cut off.  Soon emergency generators restored a few lights (and strangely, the piped-in music), and no one in the room appeared to bat an eye.  We did lose our wifi connection, but elevators were in service and door locks were operational, so all was good.  By the time we left the hotel half an hour later, power was restored completely.

Saskatchewan Legislative Building
Our first stop was the Saskatchewan Legislative and Executive Building, known affectionately in Regina (rhymes with "the china") as "the Leg" (pronounced 'ledge').  Like the Colorado State Capitol when we visited it a few years ago, the dome at the Leg was shrouded in a protective seal to keep out the elements during a major restoration project.  Parking was free and located a few yards from the entrance.

Out of habit, we walked to the side entrance on the ground floor.  In the post-9/11 world of heightened security, most statehouses have closed their main entry in favor of a more controllable single entrance door.  But not in Regina.  A security guard posted just inside the ground floor entrance pointed us to the grand entrance upstairs where, we were told, a tour would begin in 15 minutes.

Grand Staircase from the vestibule
Upon entering upstairs, we found an information desk at the bottom of the grand staircase staffed by a security guard and tour guide.  They invited us to view the exhibits in the vestibule and "walk around" until the tour began.  We soon learned, however, that our perambulations were limited to the immediate area around the desk; we were not permitted to proceed up the stairs unguided—a significant departure from the Manitoba building where we were encouraged to roam at will on our own.  Just before the tour began, a local resident arrived with two relatives visiting from China and joined our group.

The rotunda
Emilie, a rising med student and knowledgeable tour guide, explained that at the time the legislative building was constructed (1908-12), Saskatchewan was a very young province, just recently carved out of the Northwest Territories in 1905, along with Alberta.  Lacking provincial history and symbolism to incorporate into the design, the architect might have turned to Canadian symbols.  But Canada was still a British dominion at the time and also had no symbols of its own.  So all the decorative regalia in the Saskatchewan Legislative Building reflects British royal design, such as initials of the monarch and lions.

Legislative Chamber.  The practice of seating opposing parties on separate sides of the chamber reveals current imbalance.
As with Manitoba, at the time the Saskatchewan building was erected, the population of the province was in a period of robust growth, increasing five-fold to half a million from 1901 to 1911.  Expecting this trend to continue, the provincial government constructed a legislative house that could seat 120 assembly members and provide office space for each.  But immigration into the province peaked in 1910, and the population barely doubled to just over one million over the next 100 years.  Today Saskatchewan has 58 members of the legislative assembly and considerable empty office space in the Leg.

Tyndall limestone
Another feature that Regina's building shares with the one in Winnipeg is its lack of air conditioning—except in the legislature's chamber.  Like the Manitoba statehouse, this one is built with Tyndall limestone, which helps keep it cooler naturally.  The cream-colored rock is well-known for its pervasive fossils and distinct mottling caused by the burrowing of marine creatures when the limestone was deposited.

A statue of Walter Scott premier at the time of construction, comparing the building plan with its execution
Our tour complete, we were ushered to the exit and invited to visit the exhibits on the ground floor telling the story of the dome's ongoing restoration.  After checking out that and the formal gardens in front of the building, we headed out to search for some letterboxes.

Ignoring the boxes with too many failed attempts by other seekers, we focused on four letterboxes planted by a currently inactive local letterboxer with the handle Inukshuk (Inuit word for a stone cairn in the shape of a human).  All four of the boxes were just where the clues indicated.  With the amusing, yet straightforward, descriptions offered by Inukshuk, we had no difficulty recognizing the landmarks she described—e.g., "a sort of whitish (dirty) metal wavy tube thing" (a guard rail).

O'Hanlon's Irish Pub
Once the last box was found, we enjoyed a late lunch at O'Hanlon's Irish Pub on Scarth Street, picked up a few groceries, and spent the rest of the evening planning our upcoming stops.  Tomorrow we'll head northwest to Saskatchewan's largest city—Saskatoon.


Daily Stats

Miles driven:  24
Miles walked:  1.7
Weather:  65° to 80°, sunny to partly cloudy
Letterboxes found:  4

Saskatchewan Stats

Area:  251,700 square miles (Texas=268,820)
Population:  1,125,410
% of Canadian total population:  3.2%
Regina population:  210,566 (2nd largest city)
Provincial status:  1905
Types of marble in the "Leg":  34

More Photos from Today

Dome interior 
A young Queen Elizabeth II looks over the formal gardens from her favorite horse, bred in Saskatchewan.
Portraits of the provincial premiers
Bas-relief on the pediment over main entrance depicts guardians paying homage to First Nations and pioneers.

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