To see the grandeur of the land, avoid the Trans-Canada!
Our vacation trails offer sublime scenic and historic routes. Several of our writers have rhapsodized about their favourite Saskatchewan vistas.
Newspaper reporter George Ham admired riverside vistas from a steamer chugging north of Saskatoon in 1885: “a winsome scene … a summer dreamland … a scenic poem” like a “well-kept ancestral estate in the Old Country.”
Just east of Fort Pitt village, the view from Frenchman’s Butte is spectacular, especially if you climb to the summit.
Mark Abley wrote of a vista southeast of Lloydminster: “The summer grass, grown tall in the ditches, lunged against the wind like a free animal. … I passed seven bay horses in a field, one of them dipping his head to drink from a rippling slough in the sun. As the land smoothed out, the sky hesitated between rich blue and a richer, menacing blue-black. Near the valley of the North Saskatchewan the rising, fenced wheat made an ocean of prairie waves combed by the air.”
“The drive along the Frenchman River from Eastend to Ravenscrag meanders along the scenic Frenchman River valley: crumbling clay cliffs, circling hawks, eagles, even turkey vultures, and bucolic scenes of grazing cattle, the occasional cowboy on horseback moseying through them,” writes author Sharon Butala. “You find yourself …, gazing around in wonder, your head full of the smell of sage and grasses.”
Candace Savage and her partner drove north from Consul, from where “tawny swells rose up [and] ushered us into a well-watered valley of surpassing beauty.” In the Cypress Hills was “a lookout over a spectacular sunlit valley framed on the far side by a rise of hills scrawled with stands of spruce. In the center [was] Fort Walsh.”
The route north from Wood Mountain to highway 13 and on to Assiniboine is gorgeous, especially in canola blossom season when brilliant yellow fields extend to the horizon.
Slightly reminiscent of Olde England is the drive between Cochin and Turtle Lake north of North Battleford in the parkland region. Clumps of dark bushes cling to the paler green contours of slightly rolling farmland, with its rich fecund soil, in a serene and sublime vista.
Qu’Appelle Valley’s string of lakes and the town of Fort Qu’Appelle offer superb vistas that have attracted would-be dwellers since time immemorial.
A breathtaking vacation trail leads from Whitewood past two provincial parks to Souris River country near the U.S. border. In autumn, the rolling terrain and forest colours are unforgettable.
The drive between Battleford and Saskatoon affords sublime views of the wide Saskatchewan unravelling like a ribbon along the valley.
To Edward McCourt, the drive from Cut Knife Hill to the Battlefords was one of the most impressive in the west. It revealed a vista overlooking the North Saskatchewan and Battle river valleys, with Battleford and North Battleford on the horizon.
The apex of the “St. Victor outcropping” afforded one of McCourt’s favourite vistas: it overlooked steep slopes, expanses of alkali flats, and sweeping croplands that looked to him like “God’s chessboard.”
Saskatchewan’s north is part of the great Pre-Cambrian Shield, and resembles northern Ontario. Take the Hanson Lake Road from Smeaton northeast past stately woods towards Tobin Lake for one of the best views.
To get to the popular resort at Waskesiu, the prettiest route goes past Emma Lake and through the “old park road.”
[Abley, Beyond Forget, 251. Savage, A Geography of Blood, 100, 153. Korpan; Ham quoted in Tolten, Frontier Warships, 16. Butala, email Jan 2019. McCourt, Saskatchewan, 53, 153]
Eye-catching buildings worth a tour
Beauty in the eye of the beholder
Saskatoon’s Bessborough Hotel, one of a chain of CNR hotels across the country, has long been the city’s most iconic structure.
Its CPR counterpart in Regina, the Hotel Saskatchewan, has a historic grandeur missing in modern hotels.
First Nations University in Regina was designed by outstanding Ottawa architect Douglas Cardinal, famous for the graceful curvilinear lines of his architectural creations that blend cultural traditions and European architecture.
Gordon Oakes Red Bear Student Centre on the U of S campus in Saskatoon was also designed by Douglas Cardinal. It features the circular concept beloved by First Nations people. Cardinal also created the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec, and the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC.
Affinity Credit Union administrative centre in Saskatoon, an eye-catching office building on 7th Avenue, is an outstanding example of adaptive re-use. It incorporates parts of the old brick Wilson School into a modern glass-faced building.
Keyhole Castle in Prince Albert, a large Queen Anne Revival style house, was constructed in 1913 by local lumber baron Samuel McLeod, with distinctive turrets and gables.
The new Remai Modern art galley near River Landing in downtown Saskatoon features 130,000 square feet of soaring inner space, vast expanses of glass, and a spectacular view of the river. When it opened in 2017, its works by Picasso attracted the attention of Britain’s The Guardian.
St. Peter’s Abbey in Muenster is graced by European-style interior murals painted by the renowned German painter, Count Berthold von Imhoff.
St. John’s Anglican Cathedral in Saskatoon, built 1912-17, is one of many magnificent cathedrals that have stood the test of time. On the exterior, it is faced with terra cotta and Tyndall stone. Its cinnamon hues are reminiscent of ancient and revered structures in India, making it a striking and iconic presence on the riverbank. In architectural style it is neo-Gothic.
The eye-catching glass planes of the SEDCO Centre make it a photogenic landmark in Innovation Place on the U of S campus in Saskatoon.
Moose Jaw Public Library, a distinctive Italianate-style located Crescent Park, was designed by architects George Reed and Charles McAlpine and constructed 1912-13.
Off the beaten track
Unusual places to stay
Our towns and cities all have hotels and motels, but for history buffs who prefer something a little different, here are some bed & breakfast places, most with private bathrooms.
Bincredible! Converted farm buildings offer unusual digs at Alive Sky Lodge in Rosetown. There’s a luxury suite inside a round metal grain bin and two bunk-houses, plus conventional suites with living room and kitchen inside the lodge.
Near Emma Lake and Christopher Lake, travellers can rent a yurt – each with its own bathroom and kitchenette. Yurts can also be rented near Buffalo Pound Lake, just north of Moose Jaw. Glamping Resorts also offers yurts, along with geodesic domes and safari tents; and and so does Nesslin Lake campground.
Anglin Lake offers fishing in summer, cross-country skiing in winter, with comfortable cabins for rent.
For unusual digs, Beaver Lake Campground in Prince Albert National Park features “oTENTicks”, a blend of A-Frame cabins and prospectors’ tents. They have beds, tables and chairs, propane heaters and barbecue, a dining tent and firepit outside and an electrical outlet.
The historic Bishop’s Residence in Gravelbourg is a big two-and-a-half storey house with a European flavour, filled with light from its large windows, plus a front portico with pillars supporting a porch above, and a roomy verandah on the main floor. One room has two single beds – hard to find in a B&B. Next door is a cathedral.
Burns House B&B near Ogema south of Moose Jaw is a former T. Eaton house, beautifully restored, minimalist in decor, with gleaming white or off-white walls and woodwork, and dark hardwood floors. There’s a two-storey addition on the side with a balcony overlooking it, from which music lovers sometimes enjoy house concerts and other events.
The two-storey, brick-faced Convent Inn at Val Marie is a Roman Catholic convent located in Saskatchewan’s own deep south. The building is brimming with history, and the morning meal is mouth-watering. There’s still a little chapel on the second floor, with a confessional even. Bathrooms are shared, just as the students used to do.
For people who value feng-shui layouts, there’s Dragon’s Nest Bed & Breakfast in Regina. It was built in 1912, with a third floor added in 2016 with outdoor stairs. It’s located in the Cathedral area near downtown.
Grandma Shirley’s Bed & Breakfast, a homey-looking place nestled in the rolling hills around Leader. The rooms are colour-coded – magenta, pink and green.
Guests can go horseback riding at the historic Reesor Ranch, a former cattle ranch. It offers guests their choice of a fine historic home, a bunkhouse, one of three cabins, and a converted log barn for large gatherings. It was built in 1916 for Senator David Reesor and his wife, the sister of one of the Fathers of Confederation.
Spring Valley Guest Ranch in the Cypress Hills is another former Eaton house with Victorian detailing including wainscoting and plate rails. It’s 55 kms. southeast of Maple Creek.
Wakamow Heights, a grand 1905 mansion, sits atop a hill overlooking Moose Jaw. The Victorian-style interior decoration is fanciful and charming, with lace curtains, Oriental carpets, the works. On warm days breakfast is served in the spacious wrap-around verandah. There’s even a four-poster bed, and a honeymoon suite with a heart motif.
Wanuskewin just north of Saskatoon offers a luxury tepee experience, and there’s similar accommodation in the Cypress Hills. You sleep in cots and sleeping bags.
[Bin inns: [email protected]; yurts and domes: tourismsaskatchewan.com/blog/2019/08/16/five unique…; https://www.glamping.ca/]
Popular getaways in Saskatchewan’s northern lakes district
(Based on the number of private cabins, rental units and campsites). Each has distinctive natural/cultural features, resort subdivisions, rental cabins, campgrounds and recreation facilities.
Candle Lake, adjacent to Candle Lake Provincial Park, has clear water and sandy beaches.
Emma Lake is a legendary year-round resort that has housed artists, writers and musicians’ colonies. Its shores are ringed with cottages too. Many a work of art has had its genesis there, not to mention all the friendships forged.
Greenwater Lake, alongside Greenwater Lake Provincial Park, with popular interpretive trails, is a water sport mecca.
Jackfish Lake, bordered by Battlefords Provincial Park, has shallow beaches and year-round residential communities – Cochin, Meota and Metinota.
Lac La Ronge is an outfitting centre with year-round fishing, and secluded cabins on islands hidden along an expansive shoreline. It’s also a thriving community in all seasons.
Meeting Lake, very picturesque, is adjacent to Meeting Lake Regional Park
Ness Creek, like Emma Lake, is a cultural surprise tucked away in the boreal forest up north. The Jack Millikin Centre there is a modern “four-season” art centre. And then there’s the annual Ness Creek bluegrass festival, where you can camp in a clearing in the woods, while music wafts over you.
Redberry Lake, site of the only UNESCO biosphere reserve in Saskatchewan, is a nesting place for pelicans, and popular for sailing too.
Turtle Lake, near St. Walburg, is long, deep and narrow, and supposedly the site of periodic sightings of the legendary Turtle Lake monster. The meandering drive to get there is reminiscent of English countryside in places, and the fishing can be great.
Waskesiu Lake and townsite, in Prince Albert National Park is a tourist mecca, with its extensive interpretive programs of the parkland belt, plus fishing, canoeing and Lobstick golfing. And many a marriage has blossomed from attachments formed there, too.
Food, glorious food!
Intriguing restaurants in smaller centres
Our cities have an embarrassment of riches for dining, so we picked some from roads less travelled. Note that gastronomic tastes vary by gender.
Broderick: Terrace Dining Room steakhouse ten minutes from Outlook “serves up comfort-food classics with a gourmet twist.” With patio and outdoor stage, the view is pure prairie. It’s located in a character building that has been an army barracks, a town hall, a church, a toy factory, and an antique store.
Carlyle: The Office Bar & Grill, a surprisingly posh restaurant downstairs in a former office building, caters to a wide array of tastes, including Chinese and Thai, plus typical Canadian: salads, salmon, steaks, pizza and even gluten-free.
Eastend: Jack’s Café in Eastend, said to be the best in town, says author Candace Savage. Its decor features a wrap-around painted mural depicting the area’s colourful history. Steaks, pizza and pasta on the menu.
Maple Creek: The Star Café occupies “an award-winning, beautifully restored nineteenth-century stone building.” In the heart of cattle country; suitably it offers steaks and prime rib, and homemade desserts.
Ogema: An Italian fellow fell in love with a young Ogema woman and followed her there. Now they are running Solo Italia, making traditional Italian pizza, which they sell all over the province.
Fort Qu’Appelle: Tangerine in the Valley with its light-filled spacious interior, lace curtains and good food appealed to me, but my companion favoured the licensed restaurant and bar next door with its patio and dark colours.
Rosthern: Rosthern Cozy Cottage Bakery on 6th Street also has a dining area with vintage tables and chairs, and Saskatchewan art on the walls. The scrumptious baking is done on-site.
Stenen (near Preeceville): Rawhides Bar & Bistro was converted in 2012 from an old brick-faced hotel into a western-themed restaurant (think steaks and ribs) that attracts up to six hundred customers a day.
Stewart Valley: Rabbit Hill B&B & Teahouse, just north of the Trans-Canada near Lake Diefenbaker, in a big Victoria- style house with verandah and hanging baskets of flowers.
Shaunavon: The Harvest Eatery and Fresh Market offers fresh food in a vintage setting. Brisket, burgers and trout on the menu.
St. Denis: Howling Café, thirty-three minutes east of Saskatoon features homemade meals with local produce and “protein” (code for beef and pork?). It’s part of the rustic looking Champetre County complex, with a campground, horses, the whole western experience.
Vibank: The Grotto Coffee House & Eatery, on Highway 48 southeast of Regina serves authentic Mexican food – pricey, reviews say, and you have to book ahead.
Distinctive natural landforms and other features
You’d never expect to find deserts, soaring cliffs, waterfalls, giant and weird-shaped trees, even a “dead sea” here, but we have them all!
The Athabasca Sand Hills, a wide ribbon of shifting dunes up to thirty metres high, flank the south shore of Lake Athabasca for about a hundred miles in the northwest corner of the province. They were formed about eight thousand years ago. The best way to appreciate them is from a plane.
Deep Bay is a body of water that fills a meteorite crater at the south end of Reindeer Lake in the northeast area of the province.
At Nistowiak Falls, east of Stanley Mission, water from Lac La Ronge plunges over ten metres into the Churchill River system. It is one of the highest and most beautiful waterfalls in Saskatchewan.
The Crooked Trees (or bushes), a weird grove of aspens in the Redberry Lake Biosphere Reserve near Hafford, are one of the “fifty-four wonders of Canada.” Their branches twist surrealistically, like something imagined by Harry Potter. This enigma is thought to be caused by genetic mutation.
An odd-shaped tree in Rosthern is one of many trees in the province that swoop low to the ground, affording excellent tree-climbing possiblities.
The Great Cottonwood, thought to be more than 169 years old, is more than five metres in circumference. The oldest and largest tree in the province, it is near Blaine Lake.
Castle Butte is a sandstone hill more than seventy m. high in the Big Muddy badlands south of Bengough. The badlands alone are worth the drive, especially in autumn.
The Qu’Appelle Valley, meandering from the elbow of the South Saskatchewan River all the way to Manitoba, is our largest “glacial spillway” (coulee).
The Great Sand Hills, an expanse of shifting sand dunes up to twelve m. high near Sceptre in the southwest, are sometimes called “the Sahara of Saskatchewan.” These desert-like dunes cover more than 4,000 square kms (1,900 square miles). With a camel you could imagine you were in Africa.
Cypress Hills—the highest altitude between Labrador and the Rockies -– was the site of a historic massacre in June 1873, when traders and wolf hunters from the U.S. attacked an Assiniboine encampment, killing at least twenty people. A reconstruction of Fort Walsh, a NWMP post, is there now.
Near Eastend (ironically in the southwest) are Chocolate Peak, Jones Peak, and Chimney Coulee, site of HBC trader Isaac Cowie’s post in 1871-2, a Metis settlement in 1873 (theirs were the chimneys, now gone), and a NWMP outpost in 1877.
To Edward McCourt, the drive from Cut Knife Hill to the Battlefords was one of the most impressive in the west. It revealed a vista overlooking the North Saskatchewan and Battle river valleys, with Battleford and North Battleford on the horizon.
McCourt was impressed by the grotesque shapes created by erosion at the St. Victor outcroppings. His literary imagination perceived eerie faces, “hobgoblins” and mushroom shapes. The petroglyphs there may spark greater interest among archaeologists.
Little Manitou Lake is a little like the Dead Sea. Its rich soup of minerals – magnesium, potassium, silica, iron oxide and sulphate – literally holds up swimmers. Believers in its healing waters have flocked there since time immemorial.
Roche Percee is the name of a village, landmark and 1.3-hectare provincial historic park in the Souris River valley near Estevan. Its sandstone outcrop has been sculpted by erosion, and marked by human carvings, now faded and obscured.
Author Edward Mccourt was impressed by the grotesque shapes created by erosion at the St. Victor outcroppings. His literary imagination perceived eerie faces, “hobgoblins” and mushroom shapes. The petroglyphs there may spark greater interest among archaeologists.
[McCourt, Saskatchewan, 53. Savage, A Geography of Blood. General: Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan, Canadian Encyclopedial; internet sources]
Chaplin Lake: where migratory shore birds seasonally frequent the Chaplin Heritage Marsh
Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park: where an ocean of grassland provides refuge for migratory birds.
Douglas Provincial Park draws birds to Diefenbaker Lake and the Qu’Appelle Valley
Eastend where the nearby white mud cliffs attract a distinctive range of birds.
Danielson Provincial Park, a bird and water fowl haven, adjacent to Lake Diefenbaker,
Grasslands National Park – east and west blocks – a refuge for grassland birds where the surrounding area is under cultivation.
Last Mountain Lake Migratory Bird Sanctuary is on the central migratory bird flyway of North America.
Leader, where a distinctive range of birds are attracted to the Great Sand Hills area.
Pelican Lake, designated a “globally important bird area” because of the species it attracts
Quill Lakes International Bird Area, especially the Wadena Wetlands and Foam Lake Heritage Marsh.
Saskatchewan Landing, where many species of birds frequent the river crossing
Shaunavon and Eastend.
Swift Current where songbirds and waterfowl inhabit the grass and reeds along the creek.
Craft beer microbreweries for suds-loving Saskies
In 2000, our province’s only brewery was Great Western Brewing Co. in Saskatoon, launched in 1989 when sixteen former Molson workers bought it and kept the plant running as an independent industrial-scale brewhouse. Since then, there has been a proliferation of microbreweries brewing up a profusion of tasty suds.
9 Mile Legacy Brewing Company, Saskatoon
Paddockwood Brewing Company, Saskatoon
Saskatoon Brewing Company, Saskatoon
Churchill Brewing Company, Saskatoon
21st Street Brewery, Saskatoon
High Key Brewing, Saskatoon and Regina
Rebellion Brewing Company, Regina
Bushwakker Brew Pub, Regina
District Brewing Company, Regina
Brewsters’ Craft Beer & Restaurant, Regina
Pile o’ Bones Brewing Company, Regina
Nokomis Craft Ales, Nokomis
Black Bridge Brewery, Swift Current
Prairie Sun Brewery, Saskatoon
The train has left the station, but …
“Repurposed” former railway stations
Many vacated railway stations are gone now, but some were moved to the country for re-use as homes, granaries and storage sheds. Others, now vacant, are protected by the Heritage Railway Stations Act of 1988, or were bought by town councils to repurpose them. Now restored, some emerged with imaginative new identities.
Regina’s Union Station, constructed in 1912 after the devastating tornado, now houses Casino Regina, owned and operated by Sask Gaming (a crown corporation).
The pre-cyclone station in Regina is now home to a museum in Broadview.
The CPR station in Saskatoon is now a Heritage Railway Station since 1990. It currently houses several private businesses.
The former small station from Argo was moved just west of Saskatoon, where it was restored and now houses the Saskatchewan Railway Museum.
The CNR station in Moose Jaw, designated a municipal property in 1992, housed Sahara, a “destination spa”, in 2018.
The CNR station from Prince was moved and restored as part of the Heritage Village on the Western Development Museum.
Warman’s former CNR station was moved from its former site next to the railway tracks, and has become a seniors’ centre.
A railway station in Rosthern was re-imagined as the Station Arts Centre, a theatre containing a spacious café-cum-art gallery.
Another one in Simpson was scooped up by the Ogema Agricultural to replace a similar one demolished there earlier. Now restored, it is now a museums/operations centre, the South Prairie Railway for tourists offering themed rides such as robbery trains, a pitchfork fondue train, a heritage train, and a kids’ fun train.
Adaptive re-use of “prairie sentinels”
More than three thousand iconic wooden grain elevators once punctuated the railway lines in hundreds of communities. Only about four hundred remain. Several heritage groups have been taking steps to protect, restore and sometimes “repurpose” them.
Edam’s elevator was repurposed as a museum celebrating the grain-handling industry.
Hepburn’s elevator was preserved on site as a museum to commemorate its past.
In Verigin, the elevator was conserved as part of the Doukhobor National Heritage Village.
Keatley’s elevator was moved to the Western Development Museum grounds in North Battleford, and repurposed as a museum.
An elevator formerly at Mawer was moved to the Sukanen Ship Museum near Moose Jaw, and adapted as a museum.
The former Pool elevator at Harris was bought by a local farmer, who uses it as a private granary, still in its original site along the railway line.
Steps have been taken to conserve the McCabe elevator in the RM of Baildon.
Other communities that have taken such steps include Val Marie, Wood Mountain, Stoughton, Fleming, Gravebourg, Horizon and Indian Head.
Away from it all
Places to write, practice yoga, heal body or mind, or just hang out
Temple Gardens Spa in Moose Jaw, with healing mineral waters
Spa at Lake Manitou, where you can float effortlessly in the pool (or in the lake)
St. Peter’s Abbey in Muenster, a Benedictine monastery.
Emma Lake workshops where artists commune with their peers. This artists’ environment has been extremely influential in the art world. Their website says the Emma Lake concept has been the model for other workshops in such places as upstate New York, Barcelona in Spain, and Hardingham, England.
Wallace Stegner House in Eastend, which you can rent for a minimum of thirty days and write the Great Canadian Novel.
Queen’s House of Retreats, Saskatoon (Catholic Church) – located near the river, with a quiet riverside trail a few minutes’ walk away.
Living Skies retreat at Lumsden: retreat and conference centre
Shekinah Retreat near Waldheim: a religious retreat in the forested parkland wilderness.
Prairie Sky Recovery Centre, in a former convent in Leipzig.
Calling Lakes Centre at Echo Lake in the Qu’Appelle Valley.
Mural, mural on the wall
Communities with multiple outdoor murals
In Assiniboia there are two outdoor murals, one with multiple images portraying prairie scenes during the four seasons.
Duck Lake has about a dozen murals depicting Metis history, including the 1885 Resistance.
Harris has three outdoor murals depicting scenes from their popular local play The Pull of the Land.
Humboldt has several murals, including scenes based on historic Carlton Trail and Humboldt Telegraph station.
Moose Jaw has more than forty glorious murals depicting episodes of its history.
Nipawin has at least thirteen murals showcasing the town, painted mostly by Saskatchewan artists.
Regina’s wide array of outdoor murals are described in its Downtown Public Art Guide.
Saskatoon has many large colourful murals on walls and fences in the Broadway area, and in Riversdale.
Unity has a series of seven murals offering a self-guided stroll through the town’s history.
Whitewood boasts five murals depicting: a fancy ball enjoyed by the historic French counts, the Pipestone Valley, a harvest scene, an aboriginal scene and an 1885 scene.
Wood Mountain has six large murals on its community hall depicting old scenes of the village, including one depicting its origin as NWMP post.
Yorkton has more than a dozen murals portraying people and activities typical of the city.
Other communities with fewer murals include Arcola, Beechy, Cabri, Choiceland, Consul, Coronach, Delisle, Eyebrow, Fort Qu’Appelle, Glentworth, Gravelbourg, Hazlet, Love, Meacham, Mossbank, Oxbow, Richmound, Rosetown, Stoughton.
[Community sources, www.vanishingsask.ca/]
“From washboard to gumbo”
Don’t go there – consistently worst roads in Saskatchewan.
According to CAA polls each April from 2012 to 2017, which asked motorists to nominate the road they thought were in the worst repair, with the most potholes, cracks, washboards, crumbling surfaces and poor signage. Those that tended to top the lists were:
Highway #354, Bethune to Dilke
Highway #151, Buffalo Narrows to LaLoche
Highway #47, Springside to Buchanan
Highway #322 Silton to Glen Harbour
Highway #51, Kerrobert to Major
Highway #21, Paradise Hill to Pierceland