Can I call it a drive in the country if I never leave the Trans Canada Highway?
That question is soon answered after a leisurely coffee and I leave for my destination only two hours west. I love the winter colours of blue skies, yellow dried grasses and white snow. Straw stubble is exposed through the snow and the colour tells me what crop was harvested on the land – wheat, canola, flax. A jumble of childhood farm memories flood in.
It is quiet on the highway and I enjoy the scenery. It is hardly flat, as most people think. I am intrigued by the Coteau Hills to the south. They continue to hold mystery for me as they hide the beautiful scenery of the Frenchman River Valley beyond. Some call it the bench. It is a part of the Missouri plateau. This landscape carries all the way through to Medicine Hat, my destination.
As I wonder if I will see any wildlife today, a herd of about 30 antelope bound across the highway causing a semi-trailer truck to make a quick stop. We watch as they clear the fence and continue north. It is very surreal when this happens. And it happens a lot. Not all are so lucky as today.
The short winter days are leaving us and allowing sunlight earlier in the morning. As I leave Swift Current the sun is still close to the eastern horizon but by the time I cross the provincial border it warms my cheek.
There is a road marker just before Webb, SK. In 1980 there was a fiery crash that claimed the lives of 22 men in their late teens and early 20’s, mostly from Newfoundland and Manitoba. They were a steel gang bussing to work on the CPR. This remains one of the worst bus crashes in Canadian history. Reading the story brings tears. A memorial cross of rails was erected in 2007 in memory.
Maple Creek has a lovely set of custom made wrought iron signs on the roadside to lure travellers into town. Maple Creek is as quaint as a western town can be. Rodeos are held in most towns and the oldest in the province is not far from here. It is the Murraydale Rodeo. It isn’t professional but more like a community picnic. Children who are tough as nails chase frisky calves around the corral and ride horses as instincively as learning to walk.
CBC Radio 2 soon becomes staticky and I hit the tuner. Next up is CKUA public radio from Alberta. Lucky me. There is lovely classical music set to the stillness of the gently rolling hills.
On the west side of the Cypress Hills, straddling the Saskatchewan/Alberta border is the historic Reesor Ranch. I stayed overnight back in 2007. It is a working ranch where the kitchen serves coffee with heavy cream. As a city girl I had never thought to use anything richer than coffee cream. Laying on the virgin prairie and gazing at the night sky I saw a breathtaking display of constellations I hadn’t seen since I was a child on the farm.
I do my business in the Hat first before I explore. I chose to have lunch downtown rather than on the highway. It is only a 5-minute drive to this historic city centre. You can see the two economic booms through the architecture – 1912 and 1980’s. Although there are a lot of store vacancies the downtown is vibrant. As with all towns of this era the train runs right through it. I have never been on the other side of the tracks until today.
|This pop-up park dressed up a vacant lot on main street. In a couple of months it will move to another site. This is a sign of an engaged community.|
Today I am returning to the Medalta Pottery factory. My last visit was in the 1970’s when my father took me on a vacation west to Banff during my university break. He stopped here and we had the tour. Although my memory is foggy I can tell that much has changed. It is a very polished exhibit and a real asset to the community. The pictures say it all.
|This is a true excavation of one of the kilns. Much was learned about the use and construction.|
|Lettuce and vegetables? Really?|
|A display of crocks in a kiln room.|
|The displays of the products produced at this factory was fascinating. There were commemorative pieces, huge pieces, custom pieces and then this, the restaurant-ware many of us grew up with.|
|This National Historic Site is also nurturing today's artists with a program of classes for all levels of skill. This gallery shows some of the recent works completed here.|
It is now about 4pm and time to head home. Living in my corner of the province one should travel with a passport. It’s only a couple of hours to the US border with a whole new, but not that different, array of adventures. It is always a temptation but there are too many drives I haven’t made yet on this side of the 49th.