Category Archives: Saskatchewan

Southern Prairie Railway in Ogema, Saskatchewan

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We took a weekend to go to Ogema, Saskatchewan and experience the Southern Prairie Railway.  The railway is a tourist one and offers different kinds of rides every weekend.  It is the only tourist railway of it’s kind of the prairies. After getting to Ogema a little early and taking a look around a truly charming town, we headed to the train station and looked around.  After boarding, we were off to the ghost town of Horizon, Saskatchewan. 

Along the way, we were treated to entertaining local history and stories by the host of the trip who both shared a prepared presentation and interacted extensively with the audience.  Once to Horizon we were able to go inside a historic Federal Grain elevator while the train turned around and we headed back.  The entire tour takes about two hours in a restored Pullman carriage (the restoration of the carriage makes for a great story in itself).

Starting with lunch in the community, the entire afternoon was worth the time and the money.  The boys, Wendy, and myself loved the trip and want to do it again in the future.

We did learn one thing on the train and that is the back of the railcar swings quite a bit.  The difference in going to Horizon and then back was extremely noticeable.  Not a distraction but another neat part of the trip.

You can find out more about the railway at www.southernprairierailway.com.

Claybank Brick Plant

Wendy, Mark, Oliver and I visited and explored the Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site.   The Claybank Brick Plant remains frozen in time, virtually unchanged from the day it opened in 1914.

Brick manufactured at the plant graces the facades of many prestigious buildings across Saskatchewan as well as many other provinces. Face brick was produced until 1960’s, and adorns such prominent buildings as the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City and the Delta Bessborough in Saskatoon. Among many others, the beautiful Gravelbourg Cathedral is faced entirely of Claybank brick as are a number of court houses and other public buildings.

The rare fire brick produced here lined the fire boxes of the CN and CP Rail line locomotives, and of warships in World War II. The fire brick was also used in the construction of the rocket launch pads at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Not only does the brick plant constitute one of the best preserved examples of early 20th century industrial activity in Canada, but is one of a small number of heritage attractions in Saskatchewan to have achieved formal National Historic Site designation status.

The self guided tour cost us $25 and about an hour to complete.  There are also trails into the hills south of the site and I wish we had time to explore.

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This was a lot of fun for both me but the entire family.  We explored for a while together and alone and found all sorts of fascinating sites and facts while on the site.   I think it is also a testament to the vision of the community which has worked very hard to raise the money and put in the elbow grease to slowly bring this site back and make it into a National Historic Site.  They say they are $2 million into a $6 million project so make sure you visit and then donate.  It’s a site that is worth preserving.

Just a quick note for when this post is buried in the archives.  The weekend trip was made possible by Ford Canada who gave us a 2015 Ford Focus to use and review.  They also paid for a big part of the weekend.

Focus on Saskatchewan

Ford Focus on Saskatoon

Day 2 with the 2015 Ford Focus saw us say goodbye to Moose Jaw and head south towards Ogema, Saskatchewan.  First we had to get a photo with Mac the Moose.

2015 Ford Focus and Mac the Moose in Moose JawMac the Moose in Moose Jaw

Of course in the most Saskatchewan of things, the photo was photobombed by a CT-114 Tutor, otherwise known as the plane flown by the Snowbirds.

As we made our way south, we stopped in Rouleau, the home of Corner Gas and also known as Dog River.

The set of Corner Gas is a lot smaller than you would think.  It’s also falling apart.  There were reports that someone was going to turn it into a gift shop or a museum but nothing has been done with it.

We saw the home of the Dog River Howler, the Dog River Hotel, Oscar and Emma Leroy’s house and of course the surveillance bush.

The Dog River Howler in Rouleau, SaskatchewanThe Dog River Hotel in Rouleau, SaskatchewanDog River The set of Corner Gas in Dog River, SaskatchewanThe set of Corner Gas in Dog River, Saskatchewan

Then it was to Ogema where we grabbed lunch at the Rolling Hills Restaurant, checked out the old Fire Hall and the British American Gas Station.  By the time we did that, it was off to the Southern Prairie Railway, a tourist railway that took us from Ogema to what is left of Horizon, Saskatchewan. 14 miles away.

Southern Praire Railway in Ogema, SaskatchewanIMGP1415Southern Praire Railway in Ogema, SaskatchewanSouthern Praire Railway in Ogema, SaskatchewanSouthern Praire Railway in Ogema, SaskatchewanSouthern Praire Railway in Ogema, SaskatchewanSouthern Praire Railway in Ogema, SaskatchewanSouthern Praire Railway in Ogema, Saskatchewan

This is what is left of Horizon, Saskatchewan.

Federal Grain Elevator in Horizon, SaskatchewanFederal Grain Elevator in Horizon, SaskatchewanFederal Grain Elevator in Horizon, SaskatchewanFederal Grain Elevator in Horizon, SaskatchewanFederal Grain Elevator in Horizon, SaskatchewanFederal Grain Elevator in Horizon, SaskatchewanFederal Grain Elevator in Horizon, SaskatchewanFederal Grain Elevator in Horizon, SaskatchewanFederal Grain Elevator in Horizon, SaskatchewanFederal Grain Elevator in Horizon, SaskatchewanFederal Grain Elevator in Horizon, SaskatchewanFederal Grain Elevator in Horizon, SaskatchewanFederal Grain Elevator in Horizon, SaskatchewanFederal Grain Elevator in Horizon, SaskatchewanFederal Grain Elevator in Horizon, SaskatchewanFederal Grain Elevator in Horizon, Saskatchewan

A quick summary of what we learned on the trip

  • Steam locomotives were slow.  Only about 15 miles per hour.  No wonder thieves targeted trains.  They were loud, slow moving, and predictable.
  • Small Saskatchewan towns were placed 7 miles apart because that is how far a farmer could deliver grain in a day back then.  Some say it was to refuel and water the steam engines but nope, it’s about grain delivery.
  • Driving south of Moose Jaw on Highway 6 was the most isolated I have ever felt.  No houses for as far as the eye can see.  Considering at one time every section would have had a home on it, it’s incredible to think I was seeing hundreds of sections from on our drive with almost no signs of life.
  • You can still get parts for Pullman cars.
  • Each top window in the Pullman car we road in was a different size.
  • Never underestimate the spirit of rural Saskatchewan to take on impossible projects.
  • Horizon, Saskatchewan went from a vibrant rural community to only having two buildings left because of property taxes.  The government offered them a hospital but the town turned it down because they were afraid property taxes would rise in town.  This lead to the hospital going to Bengough (which is booming by the way) and eventually Highway 13 being moved.  This killed the town and today there is only a decommissioned Federal Grain elevator there.
  • I was shocked at how well built grain elevators are.  They were built out of 2x4s or 2x6s laying flat and nailed together with one foot spikes holding them together.  Each board would have 50 to 60 spikes driven into it making them built to last.
  • Locomotive collectors are a unique breed who care more about finding a good home for their locomotives then selling them.  The on that Southern Prairie Railway bought had to keep the livery colors or the original owner.  Coincidently the livery colors matched the owners of the short line railroad that own the tracks.

After we were done, it was back into the Ford Focus and then home.  It was shorter to come home via Regina so we did that.   This is what I learned about the Ford Focus

  • All of the highways we went on were in good condition but some were smoother than others.  The Focus gave a nice ride on all of them.
  • As I wrote yesterday, the car is quiet on the highway.
  • I managed to figure out who was at fault over the Google Maps weirdness, I am pretty sure the bug is with Google Maps.
  • Drink holders.  It has 8 of them.  This is great for travelling with kids.  The boys had their Nalgene water bottles with them as did Wendy and I.  Yet if you grab a coffee or a drink with a meal, you still need another one.  The Ford Focus has them.  It’s almost as if Ford engineers travel with children.
  • According to Mark and Oliver, the stereo sounds great in the back seat.  Ford’s stereo does compensate for road noise and can focus on the driver or the entire car.  It was a big hit.
  • I looked everywhere for it.  The stereo offers me an option to plug my iPod into a line in port but I couldn’t find one.  I may have missed it but I think it is a mistake in the stereo menus.
  • Handling is fine.  I wasn’t rally racing but around Moose Jaw, Saskatoon, and then Ogema, the car handled wonderfully.

Would I buy one?  Well Wendy and I talked at length about getting one (probably the hatchback) when we got back to Saskatoon.  That should tell you our feelings about the car.  It’s a car that is really worth buying.

Ford Focus Road Trip: Moose Jaw and Claybank Brick Plant

Ford Focus on Saskatchewan Road TripThis morning, Wendy, Mark, Oliver and I piled into the 2015 Ford Focus.  We tossed my L.L. Bean canvas duffle bag, go bags, and some camera gear in the back and headed south towards Moose Jaw.  The drive was pretty normal until we came to Chamberlain.

For those of you not from Saskatchewan, let me explain Chamberlain to you.  The highway from Prince Albert to Saskatoon is four lanes.  The highway from Saskatoon to Regina is four lanes, except when you go through Chamberlain and then it goes down to two lanes for about three kilometers.  There is absolutely no reason it has to do this but it does and it drops to 60/kph as it goes through town.

Today the speed was 0 kph.  It was at an absolute standstill.  My first thought was that there was an accident on the highway but no, there was a really long convey of about 20 Jays Moving trucks all pulling out of the roadside turnout and they were blocking traffic.  First of all I have no idea why they were blocking traffic and secondly, why was there a need for 20 Jay’s Moving semis to be travelling together in a convey?  It was weird.

We turned east at that point until we got to Keeler, Saskatchewan.  Keeler is home of the Cooper’s and is a town of about 15 people.  My grandparents house (and the post office) had been torn down but the bar I used to hang out when I was six was still there.

The Keeler Hotel in Keeler, Saskatchewan

I am also pretty sure that this was the garage that my grandfather used to run.  It has been moved but it’s still there.    The ball diamonds I used to catch gophers in are still there.  My grandpa’s dog Tip used to hide in the long grass beyond the outfield until a ball came near.  My memories were of a lot of ground rule doubles as Tip took off with the ball.

The Keeler Garage in Keeler, Saskatchewan

From there we drove to Moose Jaw and checked into the Temple Gardens Hotel and Mineral Spa.  Our room is small, not that well maintained and some disturbing looking stains on the carpeting.  We didn’t stay long because we wanted to check out the Claybank Brink Plant.

The Claybank Brick Plant is a National Historic Site about 30 minutes out of Moose Jaw.  I don’t know how to describe it.  The organizing committee says they are $2 million into a $6 million project and I kind of think the $6 million is low.  It’s really dilapidated yet really awesome at the same time.  I totally you recommend you go. 

The website mentioned that Google Maps has the wrong location and it does.  If you can get to Claybank, you can see the plant but getting to Claybank was hard enough with Google Maps.

Google Maps says it’s turn by turn directions are in beta but when my iPhone is plugged into the car and connected to Sync via Bluetooth, it muted the turn by turn directions entirely which is kind of annoying when you are driving.  To make a long story short, I missed my turn and had to go back… where I missed the turn again…  There was good signage and I am old school, I always have a map but I was thinking the bug has to be with the iPhone and Google Maps working together and then being connected to the Ford via Bluetooth.  Hopefully Google fixes it.

When we got to Claybank, I couldn’t help but notice this church steeple off in a distance.

St. Joesph's Parish in Claybank, Saskatchewan

No signs outside but a quick Google search told me it was St. Joesph’s Catholic Church.  It’s obviously been made by bricks from the plant.

So as I am taking this photo, my Google Maps finally starts to talking to and I think was telling me to go in two different directions at once.  Of course it is supposed to learn from correct routes but since we detoured into Claybank to take this photo, I didn’t exactly really help the situation.  Sorry about that.

We finally drove into the plant.  Part of it goes through a farm yard.  I wasn’t totally sure if I was at the right place but I realized, “It’s Canada, if I took the wrong turn, three farmers will politely correct my and then offer to have us over for lunch.”

So the plant is a step back into time.  They say it is essentially unchanged from the way it was in 1914 to 1937 and I believe them.

There are tours that you can take earlier in the summer.  Today we were given a map and sent on our way.  We explored all of it in about an hour and it was a nice way to spend the afternoon.

Here is the Focus with the plant in the background.  It’s a little dusty (both the plant and the car).

2015 Ford Focus at the Claybank Brink Plant

This is the restored bunkhouse.  It is now a gift shop, coffee shop, and where you pay to start the tours.  It was one of the first things to be restored.

The old bunkhouse at Claybank Brick PlantThe Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site near Claybank, SaskatchewanThe Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site near Claybank, Saskatchewan

This is where the magic started.  The clay was brought here and stored.  It’s the start of the assembly line.The Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site near Claybank, SaskatchewanThe Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site near Claybank, Saskatchewan

While today was hot even for the tour, I can’t imagine what it would be like to work in here.

The Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site near Claybank, Saskatchewan

This is one of the furnaces.The Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site near Claybank, SaskatchewanThe Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site near Claybank, SaskatchewanThe Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site near Claybank, SaskatchewanThe Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site near Claybank, Saskatchewan

These furnaces were all hand laid.  Inside there was no mortar because the bricks would expand so much during heating and contract during cooling.  They would put 70,000 bricks in there and heat them for a week.  Then it would take about another week to cool.  Then a week to unload them.The Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site near Claybank, SaskatchewanThe Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site near Claybank, SaskatchewanThe Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site near Claybank, SaskatchewanThe Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site near Claybank, SaskatchewanThe Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site near Claybank, SaskatchewanThe Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site near Claybank, SaskatchewanThe Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site near Claybank, SaskatchewanThe Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site near Claybank, SaskatchewanThe Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site near Claybank, SaskatchewanThe 2015 Ford Focus at the Claybank Brink Plant National Historic Site

They still are aggressively fundraising.  While our entry ticket helps out, I also plan to make a donation.  It’s a great site and I hope they are successful.

We then headed back to Moose Jaw and parked the car for the night.  We made sure we left it a nice view overlooking downtown Moose Jaw.

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Then we took the boys to the mineral spa. The pool is quite nice and we spent some time up there on the roof top spa today.  Supposedly the waters have the same minerals as the one in Bath, England does.   That being said, I have read that about almost every mineral spa that I have ever looked up online.

For dinner, the plan was to go to Smoke’s Poutinerie but it looks like they were shut down last night.  So that didn’t work out as we had planned.

Instead Wendy and the boys went to Deja Vu, a place that specializes in chicken and milkshakes.  If it sounds familiar, it has been on The Prairie Diner and You Gotta Eat Here! before.  We walk in and the Saskatchewan Roughriders are losing 14-7 when Smith throws a pick that makes it 21-7 for the Blue Bombers.  The place is full of people wearing Rider gear and no a single person reacts.   Not even a single grimace.  We are still fans but we are at the same where we aren’t going to let what happens on the field affect us.  I think this is what Chicago Cubs fans go through.

My thoughts on the 2015 Ford Focus.  They are mostly positive.

  • I love Ford’s 6 speed transmission.  I can’t say enough positive things about it.  It makes the car a joy to drive.
  • It is more than big enough for us for a weekend road trip.  The sedan has more space then the hatchback but even the hatchback would be adequate.
  • There are a lot of drink holders which is nice as you start with a travel mug and then stop for a bottled water or a soda later in the day. .
  • The car is quiet on the highway.  You hear very little road noise.
  • All of the Ford vehicles that I have reviewed have all had the Sony stereo upgrades.  After tweaking the standard Ford stereo for my tastes, the factory Ford stereo is excellent.  The one thing that is frustrating with it is that the user interface is brutal.  For some tasks you have to use the upper buttons while other similar tasks you need the lower ones.  It’s not a deal breaker and you definitely get used to it but it’s the kind of thing that doesn’t need to be annoying.  
  • From the first time I reviewed a Ford car to this time, Sync continues to be tweaked an improved every year.  It’s not a big thing but it is nice to see that Ford’s commitment to quality goes to everything.  The nerd in me would love to see the upgrades in software and processing power that has made this possible.
  • I’d seriously think about buying this car.  It’s not perfect but I like it a lot.  So do a lot of you since it is the best selling car of all time (passing the Toyota Corolla).   The only non-factory upgrades I would get would be the bars on the roof so one could add a rooftop storage container.

Tomorrow we continue south to Ogema where the boys and Wendy will take the Southern Prairie Railway for a ride and then it is back home.  You’ll see more photos and some final thoughts on the Ford Focus tomorrow. 

Ford Focus Road Trip Starts Now

Focus on my City with the 2015 Ford Focus

Good morning.  Wendy, Mark, Oliver, and I are about to hop into a 2015 Ford Focus and take it for a weekend long road trip across Southern Saskatchewan.

The first leg of the trip today is taking us from here to Moose Jaw where we will be checking into the Temple Garden’s Hotel and Spa in Moose Jaw.  After dropping off our bags, we are heading to the Claybank Brick Plant, a National Historic Site which was instrumental to the railway; from the building of brick facades for railway hotels (like the Delta Bessborough) to firebricks for trains and even World War II fireboxes.  After exploring that, we are heading back into Moose Jaw where we will explore some more of the city, hit up Smoke’s Poutinerie for supper, and then relax in the spa tonight.

Sunday morning will see us getting up early, grabbing breakfast and the heading south to Rouleau, Saskatchewan.  You may know it as Dog River.   After a stop there, we are heading to Ogema, Saskatchewan where we will take a trip on the Southern Prairie Railway.

As always, Ford Canada is lending me the car for review.  This time they are also covering our expenses for the trip but haven’t placed any restrictions on what I can write.  I did however sign an agreement that says that no one can smoke in the car.  It is unsaid  but I am pretty sure that I am prohibited from doing any Evil Knievel type stunts or jumps with the car as well.  This is in part because I don’t look good in leather jumpsuits. 

Mark, Wendy and I will be tweeting the trip, posting stuff to Instagram, and writing about the day in long form on our blogs.   Hope your weekend will be as much fun as ours.

Two views of Saskatoon (Edited)

I posted this photo this morning and was surprised by the feedback.  After writing over 25,000 words on homelessness here, for the The StarPhoenix, and other publications, I had long ago thought that very few cared enough about homelessness to care enough to respond one way or the other.

Homeless female on the west side of the river

The background of the photo is pretty boring.  Wendy and I were simply taking the 6 p.m. cruise on The Prairie Lily.   It was smoky last Friday and I debated bringing my Pentax K-3 with me at all.  I did and I took some photos of the downtown and River Landing.  As we approached Victoria Park I was looking at the east side of the river when a hush fell over the top deck and I heard someone say, “Oh My God, someone is living over there.”  I looked and took a couple of photos.  Someone actually cried a bit.  Here we were basically taking the Saskatoon equivalent of a luxury cruise down the river using the very definition of disposable income and there was someone living in a tent surrounded by garbage.  The top of the deck got very quiet as we sailed by and then as we passed it again on the way back.

The boat holds around 75 people.  Let’s say it averages 50 people a cruise so at least 100 people a day see what I saw.  It is directly across the river from the homes on Saskatchewan Crescent E. (some of which have asked that I remove the photos of their property despite it being in full site of Victoria Park and the Prairie Lily).  Rather than cause problems.  I took their photos down.

Over the last several years I have written several columns a year on homelessness and housing issues.  I have written about the cost to society, best practices on how to stop it, the impact on children, and the impact of living in a tent.  The Saskatoon homelessness count came out and there are 500 people living in some state of homelessness.

When I have written about encampments in the city before, people always tell me that they must be voluntary, when I have taken photos of the tents, I have had it suggested that they could be camping.  I decided to include a person in this photo because that is where she lives and to be honest, the angle of her head makes it impossible to identify her from anyone else.

This is what homelessness looks like.  A $80 tent from Walmart looking at multi-million dollar homes on Saskatchewan Crescent.  It is also multi-million dollar homeowners looking back at a tent and no one is moved to change a thing.

Mud Creek Trail

Despite my ankle and foot getting way worse, I decided to take the family on one last hike of the year.  So I hopped up on pain killers, put on an ankle brace, grabbed a trekking pole and hoped for the best.

Mud Creek Trail is about a 10 minute drive outside of Waskesiu along the Narrows Road.

Mud Creek Trail in Prince Albert National Park

Here is Mark and Oliver getting ready with Marley in the parking lot.  Oliver has already found a walking stick.

Mud Creek Trail in Prince Albert National ParkMud Creek Trail in Prince Albert National Park

And we are on the trail with Oliver and Mark taking the lead.

Mud Creek Trail in Prince Albert National ParkMud Creek Trail in Prince Albert National Park

I gave Wendy the camera because I was about to throw Marley in the lake. Safety first.

Mud Creek Trail in Prince Albert National ParkMud Creek Trail in Prince Albert National Park

The smoke never seems to go away for Prince Albert National Park.  First it was forest fires from the north and now this is from Washington State.

Mud Creek Trail in Prince Albert National ParkMud Creek Trail in Prince Albert National ParkMud Creek Trail in Prince Albert National Park

This is Marley after discovering a rather angry squirrel.  The squirrel is barking at Marley from the trees while throwing down nuts at her and Mark.

Mud Creek Trail in Prince Albert National Park

This is a view of Mud Creek.  During the spring it is visited by black bears who feed on the spawning trout.  Other than three angry squirrels, we didn’t see any wildlife on our hike, in part because Mark and Oliver are only slightly quieter than a marching band on a hike and also because the wind was blowing off the lake and carrying our scent up the trail.

Mud Creek Trail in Prince Albert National ParkMud Creek Trail in Prince Albert National ParkMud Creek Trail in Prince Albert National Park

So despite being sick with a badly infected ankle all of 2015, we managed to hike The Narrows Trail, The Waskesiu River Trail, Mud Creek Trail, the Gift of Green Nature Trail, and the Johnston Canyon trail as a family.  Mark and I also managed to tackle some trails at Wanuskewin in June.    The Mud Creek Trail may have been my favorite.

A couple of random late night thoughts on Saskatoon

While on the Prairie Lily cruise I over heard a couple of visiting business travellers who were stunned that Saskatoon would spend some much money on rehabilitating the University Bridge and then not get the graffiti that is all over the underneath of it at the same time.  Also they were stunned at what looks to be a smaller sign warning about the weir placed on a larger sign.  As one of them said, “It looks so bush league”.  I have to agree on them.

Then Wendy and I listened to the shock over the fact that the Traffic Bridge had just fallen apart.  “Who let’s a bridge fall apart?” as they listed off the cities they have lived in and tried to recollect a failed bridge in Canada outside of Montreal.  As someone else said, “Don’t cities just maintain them?”.

I realized that we have become so accustomed to such bad management in the City of Saskatoon that we think it is somewhat normal.  Part of me would wonder where we would be through the boom with a city council that could manage or lead together.

I also couldn’t help but notice that right across from the new mansion on Saskatchewan Crescent East was a tent for a homeless women on the westside of the river.  It looked like it had been there for a while.  Quite the contrasting views and a depressing visual reminder that Saskatoon’s homeless numbers keep growing and few care.