It felt as though we could have stayed in Kenora all summer, but the Prairies were beckoning, so we hit the road. After 1,400 miles from Toronto, we said goodbye to Ontario and crossed the border to Manitoba. Crossing provinces for the first time felt like a milestone and we were excited to see the changing landscape as we headed straight for Prairie land Canada.
Although Winnipeg is a very interesting city with lots to offer, we decided to bypass it this time as we planned to cover a fair amount of ground in a few days. The closest we got to Winnipeg was a Tim Horton’s just outside the city limits for lunch and some obligatory road trip donuts (Tim Horton’s donuts are unparalleled in their donut glory). It was in this particular Timmy H’s that we met a guy travelling across Canada on his Harley Davidson. Originally from Slave Lake, Northern Alberta, he told us about his life on the road and with his grandchildren back in Alberta. A total inspiration at 70 years old, with an amazing beard. He was full of wisdom from the seat of his Harley. In particular he strongly advised us to get shares in a couple of cannabis growing companies – which were incidentally making him a fortune.
Coinciding with a heat wave across Manitoba and Saskatchewan, we were glad of the air conditioning in our Toyota Sienna. As we saw our new friend ride off into the distance, helmet glistening in the sun, we were reminded of yet another reason to take our hats well and truly off to one of life’s true adventurers!
Just southeast of Winnipeg we found a large sign on the highway in Tache, Manitoba, celebrating its position as the longitudinal centre point of Canada. The title however, is controversial as Baker Lake, Nunavut is also a popular choice for Canada’s true centre, central in both longitude and latitude. The Canadian Cartographic Association have cited yet another location for the spot, where the intrepid can now find a geocache.
There are many stories surrounding the naming of the Prairie towns (we found a book which talks about them in detail, Calling The Praries Home by Mike O’Brien) To cite just a couple, a decision was made to name the small towns alongside the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway alphabetically – running through the alphabet several times over, across the hundreds of miles covered. The town of Xena (90 km east of Saskatoon) was the only town they could name inspired by the letter X.
In one of a few legends on how the town of Arden got its name, it is said that a group of construction workers just north east of Neepawa employed a cook who was fonder of napping than he was cooking. His frequent naps caused the gang foreman to shout “Where’s Arden” again and again. The town of Arden was born.
Travelling with two small children, we always need to factor in how possible long jumps across the country are – in a way that keeps the journey happy and meaningful for every one. Generally the best timings we could come up with for our boys on the prairie leg, which involved quite a lot of long drives, was a longer hop in the morning (2-3 hours covering Monty’s nap time), a stop for lunch and an activity, followed by approximately 2 hours in the afternoon. This and a few snacks and stops along the way.
The boys have certainly adjusted to life on the road and our schedules and plans have evolved with them – Monty’s nap timings have altered as time has gone on, so we have adjusted our long stretches accordingly. Theodore is a pretty happy car traveller’s so providing him with activities, games, music and conversation is usually fairly straight forward – although, we all have our off days!
Across Manitoba and Saskatchewan, the smoke drifting across the plains from forest fires in British Columbia and Alberta could be pretty thick and heavy. So we also needed to factor that into our activities. Mike has occasional bouts of asthma when the air quality is poor, and he was certainly feeling it as we crossed from Manitoba into Saskatchewan. Local advice was to be near water when we could be – so we prioritised finding splash parks for our breaks – a welcome decision for all!
A few miles west of Yorkton, we made a flying stop at the small town of Theodore, Saskatchewan – purely to take a picture of Theodore’s namesake, a large grain elevator. We were excited to be in Saskatchewan! As fans of Canadian folk-bluegrass ensemble (Wikipedia) The Dead South, it felt like a bit of a pilgrimage – although not entirely as we didn’t quite make it their base Regina, SK. Still, it was hard not to keep clicking our fingers, In Hell I’ll be in Good Company style as we drove through the golden plains – not a reflection of our feelings for the beautiful prairies – but an awesome song nonetheless!
Next stop, Saskatoon.