Canadian prairie road trip day two: Saskatoon-Regina

Our proper road trip begins early at Saskatoon John G. Diefenbaker International Airport. We are headed to Regina via Moose Jaw, and not a moment too soon. We’re stir crazy and we can’t wait to get on the road. We pick up our rental from a grinning car rental company employee and we’re off. As we round Saskatoon, not yet into the suburbs, we can already see flat prairie fields.

About a half hour outside of Saskatoon we see the sign for Blackstrap Provincial Park (see above) and decide to take a detour. The entrance for a single car is C$7. The park centers on Blackstrap Lake, a long finger of a body of water. The park is on one side and a handful of houses cluster on the other. It is so picturesque and serene, even with a few motorboats puttering along. A family swims in the swimming area and a group of retirees settles down for a picnic. We wade around in the blissfully cool water before moving on.

Fields of wheat, mustard, and rapeseed alternate across much of our journey. It’s difficult to convey just how beautiful these fields are in mid-summer. They’re not showy or dramatic. They’re straight-forward, and while no field is identical to the last, the color palate does not vary much. Their beauty is nonetheless striking. We wondered out loud over and over why the highways weren’t full of summer visitors eager to see the fields in their fullness.

Later the landscape changes quickly as we pass through Buffalo Pound Lake. Here, another long finger of a lake disrupts the terrain. That there is a Provincial Park nearby is not surprising.

Moose Jaw, 226 kilometers (140 miles) southeast of Saskatoon, is hot and bright and dry in the mid-afternoon. We wander into a downtown tea house called Renate’s Tea Time with a refreshing drink in mind, but the dessert menu looks so inviting that I order an apple strudel. I ask the distinguished-looking server if she is Renate and she replies in the affirmative, and in German no less. It turns out that Renate of Renate’s Tea Time is a Liechtensteiner! The probability scale crashes. Who knew how far and wide Liechtenstein’s diaspora had expanded? Perhaps it goes without saying that Renate’s strudel was terribly, ridiculously good.
Mac the Moose, about to get his ass kicked by your faithful correspondent.

On our way out of town we stop at the tourism center and meet Mac the Moose, the enormous moose replica that serves as the city’s icon, just off the Trans-Canada Highway. We also meet Henri-Philippe Lamothe, an avid bicyclist currently biking from British Columbia to Montréal. Henri is taking just two months to cross Canada by bike.

Henri-Philippe Lamothe, trans-Canadian bicyclist.

After arriving in Regina, we scurry on to Crave, a restaurant and bar located on the ground floor of the storied downtown building that housed the Assiniboia Club, an elite men’s club, until 1994. Crave is subdivided into a number of dining and recreation rooms of varying sizes. It’s a very appealing concept, and its execution works so well due to a careful renovation job. Owner Craig Perrault joins us for a beer and several small courses. The kitchen’s offerings are all very tasty and fresh. This isn’t bar grub by a long shot.

After dinner we walk through Regina’s downtown and Cathedral Village neighborhoods. The crowning glory of the former is Victoria Park, a huge block of dense trees organized around a Cenotaph commemorating fallen military heroes from the city. Cathedral Village, named after the imposing Holy Rosary Cathedral at its heart, is Regina’s funkiest central ‘hood. It’s home to a number of quirky small businesses and the annual Cathedral Village Arts Festival, which is held in May.

Upcoming events in Regina include the Regina Folk Festival (August 6-8) and the Great Saskatchewan Mustard Festival (August 8). Be sure to pick up a copy of the independent fortnightly prairie dog newspaper for a blast of principled local political irreverence and cultural listings.

Read the entire road trip series here.

Some media support for this road trip was provided by Tourism Saskatchewan. All opinions belong to the author.

The great Canadian prairie road trip: Calgary-Saskatoon-Regina-Winnipeg

This road trip had its genesis in idle travel fantasy chat, as so many journeys do. A few months ago my friend Melissa and I discussed how much we wanted to do a road trip together over the summer, and we cranked out a number of ambitious itineraries. The craziest of all involved Melissa driving 18 hours by herself from Colorado to Alberta to pick me up prior to an eastward run across Canada. Perhaps it’s best, all things considered, that this particular itinerary did not work out.

Time and other constraints meant that we had to curtail our ambition just a bit. We settled on a four-night Calgary-Winnipeg itinerary, with stops in Drumheller, Saskatoon, Moose Jaw, Regina, Brandon, and Portage La Prairie, a distance of 1486 kilometers or 912 miles.

Sounds great, right? Not so fast, cowboy. It turns out to be difficult to orchestrate a Canadian prairie road trip with a rental car. One-way car rentals are scarce in Canada. In fact, we were unable to find a single car rental company that would let us pick a car up in Calgary and drive it to Winnipeg.

After exhausting online booking site options, I turned to Twitter. The ever-generous travel writer Eva Holland suggested we take a look at Rent-A-Wreck. We did, and were disappointed to discover that the outfit doesn’t operate in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The rather less literally helpful Grant Martin suggested that we purchase the PaceSaver Plus III Electric Scooter that he so kindly found on Craigslist.

We even looked into the possibility of renting a U-Haul, rejecting that option because it was too expensive. Thinking that there might have been some secret I’d missed, I even checked in with the very helpful logistics team at Travel Alberta. Again, no dice.

Disaster! How would we ever consummate our Canadian prairie road trip?
Fairly easily, as it turns out. Once we started scrambling everything fell into place quickly. We found a one-way Winnipeg-bound car rental originating in Saskatoon. And then we found a cheap one-way fare on WestJet between Calgary and Saskatoon. (A silver lining was already emerging, as I’ve wanted to fly WestJet for some time.)

Cutting out the first day on the road means that we’ll miss some beautiful territory across Alberta and Saskatchewan, Drumheller in particular. In place of that first day on the road, we’ll spend a morning exploring Calgary and a long afternoon and evening in Saskatoon. With the replacement of Calgary by Saskatoon as the point of our road trip’s origination, our road trip will shrink to 873 km, or 542 miles. Here’s the itinerary breakdown. Day 1: Nighttime arrival in Calgary. Day 2: Calgary and Saskatoon. Day 3: Saskatoon to Regina by way of Moose Jaw by car. Day 4: Regina to Winnipeg by way of Brandon and Portage La Prairie by car.

In addition to my posts here, I’ll be tweeting about my Canadian prairie road trip with the hashtag #cdnprairieroadtrip for the next few days. Our road trip will deliver me to Winnipeg, where I’ll spend the following five nights reacquainting myself with the Manitoban metropolis.

Read the entire road trip series here.

Some media support for this road trip was provided by Travel Alberta and Tourism Saskatchewan. All opinions belong to the author.

(Image: Flickr / Space Ritual)