Great day to tour the countryside

Autumn colours and ferry, Highway 782, St. Laurent, SK (Darrell Noakes)

Autumn colours and ferry, Highway 782, St. Laurent, SK (Darrell Noakes)

We have been experiencing an uncharacteristically warm autumn. Yesterday, for example, it was reported on the news that Saskatchewan broke 27 daytime high temperature records. I guess it’s only fair. We had such a long, cold winter, followed by a delayed, cool spring. So far this fall, we have yet to get an overnight frost. Winds have been light, too. As a result, leaves are turning brilliant shades of yellow and orange, clinging to their trees, except for occasionally drifting lazily to the ground.

You can’t let this kind of weather go to waste. On Sunday, we took a drive up to St. Louis, mainly to check on progress of the new bridge, but also to see how things were looking at Riverlot Orchards winery and their new bistro overlooking the river. We decided to tour up the river valley as much as possible, taking the bridge east of Rosthern, then cruising up Highway 782 past Batoche and St. Laurent. Even at a leisurely pace, it seemed that the winery materialized into view quickly.

 

Snacks and wine on the bistro patio at Riverlot Orchards Winery, St. Louis, SK (Darrell Noakes)

Snacks and wine on the bistro patio at Riverlot Orchards Winery, St. Louis, SK (Darrell Noakes)

Riverlot Orchards plans to stay open until Thanksgiving weekend this year, Thursdays through Sundays, from 1 to 8 p.m. These warm autumn days are perfect for lounging on a patio, sipping honeysuckle wine and picking away at a plate of assorted cheeses as hawks soar above and out over the river. Although we stayed only until mid-afternoon, I can imagine that the late-day sun must do a superb job of bringing out the saturated colours of the trees, hillsides and skies at this time of year. Perhaps later in the season, as the sun sets earlier and earlier, it might be possible to enjoy a glass of wine under the northern lights.

Aurora Borealis over St. Louis bridge, South Saskatchewan River, St. Louis, Saskatchewan. (Darrell Noakes)

Aurora Borealis over St. Louis bridge, South Saskatchewan River, St. Louis, Saskatchewan. (Darrell Noakes)

We would have stayed longer, but the main purpose of our trip was to see firsthand how work was progressing on the new bridge 2 km east of St. Louis. I must confess that I have had my doubts that it could be open by winter, but it looks as though the contractor is throwing everything they’ve got into getting the new highway approaches completed. The bridge deck has been paved since our last visit.

From St. Louis, it’s about as far to Manitou Beach as to Saskatoon. The Minachinas Hills are ablaze with colour right now. The ponds are full to brimming (even full to the point where they’ve had to raise the highway in a few places), and the fall colours intermingle with that indescribable autumn sky in the shimmering water. The ducks appear to be making no attempt to begin their migration.

We arrived in Manitou Beach with plenty of time to take a stroll around the village before going to the mineral pool for a soak. It’s a great way to cap the weekend, so I guess it’s no surprise that we didn’t roll into Saskatoon until late into the evening.

 

I’ll miss crossing the historic old bridge in St. Louis. Modern highways strike me as too “matter of fact”, assembled with an air of effortless ease. When you experience infrastructure built when the country was young, you get a sense that those who created it felt like they were accomplishing something monumental. Construction was the product of hard, back-breaking work, achieved not by applying fancy technology but by focusing huge amounts of manual labour. If you find an old stretch of road or an old bridge, you can still feel the pioneering spirit that drove the work forward, especially if you are on foot on on a bicycle.

For now, no one plans to dismantle or demolish the old bridge. I hope we’ll be able to walk out onto it. If so, I’ll bet we’ll hear the echo of the whistle and feel the lingering rumble of the first locomotive that crossed when the bridge opened 100 years ago.

 

Danceland, Manitou Beach, SK (Darrell Noakes)

Danceland, Manitou Beach, SK (Darrell Noakes)

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