A blue piano in Riverhurst

Blue Piano, Riverhurst, Saskatchewan

More Canada Day musings.

After the Elbow parade, after Gallery 148, after the best milkshake in the world, we found ourselves in Riverhurst.

By the time we got there, the village’s Canada Day festivities had drawn to a close. But the sun was still up, so we decided to take a walk downtown. It’s sort of a personal goal to see every “Railway and Main” in Saskatchewan.

Riverhurst, Saskatchewan (Darrell Noakes)

Railway and Main, Riverhurst, Saskatchewan (Darrell Noakes)

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Best milkshake in the world

Central Butte, Saskatchewan, Canada Day evening. Debby-Lee's Diner in the Central Butte Hotel.When I was growing up, the best milkshakes in the world were at the Dairy Bar. Of course, when you’re a kid, everything in the world is new and every experience is the best.

The Dairy Bar was special. It was in the middle of nowhere, about as far as you’d want to ride a bike on a hot summer day. You had to ride to the end of our subdivision, across the CPR tracks, then up a long, steep hill. You’d have to travel a bit on the highway to cross over a deep ravine. Lastly, you’d have to traverse a wide, gravel-strewn field to reach the Dairy Bar, perched atop a cliff overlooking the ravine and the railway tracks and the river valley and, way off in the distance, the subdivision that we left behind.

But the milkshakes were worth the effort. There were only three flavours — vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. They were the best milkshakes in the world.

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Canada Day at Gallery 148

Gallery 148, Elbow, Saskatchewan.

I don’t know where people get the idea that art galleries are stuffy places to be avoided. Maybe they were taken to fine art galleries on elementary school field trips, where they were admonished to keep their distance from the art. Maybe they’re reminded of movies where someone scratches their nose at an art auction and accidentally finds themselves on the hook for an expensive Picasso. Maybe they’re put off by incomprehensible artists’ statements.

Art galleries, especially the ones in Saskatchewan’s small towns, are great places to get to know a community. You find some amazing art and even more amazing people at these galleries. There’s nothing stuffy about them.

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A very prairie parade

Canada Day Parade, Elbow, SK

We popped down to Elbow for Canada Day. It’s a fun little community. Things are pretty quiet until school gets out. But once the kids are on summer vacation and parents are free to take the family travelling, the town really comes alive. Once the doors open for the season, no one sleeps until after Labour Day, and many won’t rest until after Thanksgiving. Canada Day, July 1, is the day it all begins.

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The friendly people you meet at Hank’s Tavern

Hank's Tavern, Bradwell Hotel

I wonder how often people take the turnoff to Bradwell, I mean, besides the people who live in the little town. Depending on which way you’re speeding down the Yellowhead Highway, Saskatoon is barely 15 minutes behind you or ahead of you. If you’re in a hurry, as most people seem to be these days, you’ll just blow by the Bradwell access sign like it’s not even there.

I like taking the turnoff. As soon as you leave Highway 16, you feel the pace of life change. The road to Bradwell is a narrow ribbon of pavement winding a quiet 6 km into town. If you’re on that stretch of road just as the last drops of a late-day summer thunderstorm sizzle on the pavement and the sun lights your way with a pristine brightness and clarity that you only find after a prairie rain, you can’t help but think to yourself,  Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.

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Where the wind blows this summer

Windscape Kite Festival, Swift Current

I can’t believe it’s already six years since I visited Windscape Kite Festival in Swift Current. I was thinking about that earlier today, because the festival takes place on a weekend as close as possible to the longest day of the year, part of the Long Day’s Night Music Festival. This year, Windscape is June 24 and 25. Long Day’s Night is June 22 to 25.

I’d like to go back, but it won’t be this year, I’m afraid. Next weekend is already spoken for.

Windscape had been running annually for six years when I was there in 2011, but its roots go back to 1998, when the Art Gallery of Swift Current curated an exhibition of art by Canadian kite builders.

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Bunking with History: The Magazine School

To describe the midsummer day as sweltering would be an understatement. The thermometer had soared past 35° C shortly after noon. At 5:30 p.m. I’m slouched in one of two big wicker chairs on the porch of a 100-year-old log cabin. The porch, covered by a broad tin roof, faces away from the afternoon sun, and a southwest breeze gently curling around the cabin fans away the day’s heat while I take sips from a tall, dewy glass of water.

The crickets love the heat. They’re chirping frantically, all around. I waggle my wrist and the ice in my drink tinkles against the side of the glass. A few crickets nearby go silent, but only to take a deep breath it seems, because they quickly resume their chorus with renewed ferocity. With a slight chuckle, I lean back in the chair to listen to nature.

There are a few things I’ve always loved about Saskatchewan: the bright, wide open skies; the friendly, welcoming hospitality of the cities, towns and out-of-the way places; and the fiercely inventive spirit of the people. When you combine all those attributes, you get some marvelously creative and energetic activity.

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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. Continue reading

Quest for coffee

I love a strong cup of Dark French roast to start the day, especially when I’m travelling. That first sip of Joe breathes an air of familiarity into whatever corner of the world that you might find yourself. It grounds you.

 (Darrell Noakes)

Mmm. . . . first coffee of the day, a rare treat on this tour. Binscarth Regional Park, Manitoba. (Darrell Noakes)

Camp coffee is my favourite. The aroma wafting through the morning air starts the day off right. It doesn’t matter if it’s raining, or if it’s minus 40 degrees Celsius. Coffee makes every day warm and sunny.

I don’t mean cowboy coffee, either, although that’s pretty good — coarsely ground beans dropped into a tall enamel coffee pot that has been brought to a boil, then left to cool slightly (a dash of cold water helps settle the grounds just before serving).

I prefer to travel with one of my little macchinetta coffee makers, setting the pot on a compact alcohol stove to heat and brew while I go about other camp chores or preparing breakfast. Whether I’m bike camping or car camping, it’s always possible to find someplace to tuck the coffee supplies. Continue reading

Sagging for GASP 2013

GASP 2013, Lake of the Prairies (Darrell Noakes)

A broken spoke can really wreck your day, especially if it’s an outside spoke on the sprocket side of your rear wheel. Fortunately, someone had a spare “S” spoke for such emergencies, and we got our cycling colleague back on the road in fairly short order. GASP 2013, Lake of the Prairies (Darrell Noakes)

“So, what does ‘SAG’ mean, anyway?” someone asked.

Well, as long as I can remember, cyclists where I grew up referred to the support vehicle that accompanied them on trips as the “sag wagon”. Where the name came from, nobody really knew. What the term meant, everybody had their own opinion.

On the club tours that characterized my early tour experiences, the sag wagon was there to offer support and encouragement to tired riders, besides carry gear. We referred to the driver as “mom”, regardless of her or his gender or age, knowing that whoever was in charge of the van would look out for us and take care of whatever we needed. Continue reading

Summer nights at the beach

Burger Buoy, Manitou Beach, Victoria Day Weekend Saturday Night (Darrell Noakes)

Burger Buoy, Manitou Beach, Victoria Day Weekend Saturday Night (Darrell Noakes)

When I was growing up, we never had summer nights at the beach. There were plenty of beaches — Christina Lake, Champion Lakes, Kootenay Lake, Arrow Lakes, probably many I never heard of — that people went to. A lot of my friends’ families had cabins at “the beach”, and they went there regularly. We didn’t do that.

Instead, we went camping, often roughing it for weeks at a time, staying at old forestry camps up in the back country of the West Kootenay region, mainly up around Whatshan, Mosquito (aptly named!) and Caribou lakes. I really enjoyed those trips and still cherish the memories of them (even Mosquito Lake), but I never experienced the phenomenon known as “going to the cabin” or “going to the beach”. Continue reading

Banking on words

Crawford's Used Books, Perdue, Saskatchewan.I was just thumbing through an obviously well loved, but also well cared for, copy of the Money-Saving Cookbook by Ida Bailey Allen, published by Nelson Doubleday Inc., 1942. Three years into the Second World War, on the heels of the decade-long Great Depression, folks on the home front no doubt would have appreciated whatever advice they could find on how to stretch scarce resources to make ends meet.

I really enjoyed that warm September day in 2011 when we found that cookbook. I had received an assignment from Westworld Saskatchewan Magazine to photograph Ralph Crawford for a back-of-book piece about his bookstore, Crawford’s Used Books, in Perdue, 60 km west of Saskatoon. Continue reading