Canada’s Great Plains: Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, grain silos, lakes, mosquitos a’plenty!

From last week, our journey of exploration continues, from British Columbia’s Rocky Mountains, we are headed east, towards Nova Scotia, Canada, via the Trans-Canada Highway. We will log about 9,000 miles in 69 days, returning through the USA’s East Coast, Midwest and historic Rt. 66.  towing a tiny Scotty teardrop travel trailer.

Frank Slide, where Turtle Mountain's huge landslide buried 70 miners and townsfolk in 1903.

From British Columbia, we climb over 4500′ Crowsnest Pass on Hwy. 3 and are welcomed into Alberta overnight with a crashing thunder and lightning storm, dropping about 1 inch of rain on our trailer in a campground just off the highway.

Descending the Continental Divide the next morning, we come quickly to Frank Slide; in April, 1903 the side of Turtle Mountain broke loose and thundered down  on the town of Frank, killing 70 miners and townsfolk and sending boulders the size of a house up the other side of the valley. It’s a sobering stop at the overlook, gazing at the place where these people were buried 113 years ago.

We steadily descend out of the mountains to the rolling plains, with wide-open grasslands for pasture, wheat fields starting to appear and huge wind turbines capping windy ridges. Corn, canola, soy beans and sun-flower fields cover the landscape, though wheat fields dominate. We learn that Saskatchewan produces 10% of the world’s exported wheat.

Lethbridge's High Bridge carries the Canadian Pacific RR across the Oldman River.

Now on the Trans-Canada Hwy. 1, our first big city stop is Lethbridge, Alberta, famed as an early coal mining region, Fort Whoop-up (a fort dating to the 1880’s, where whiskey was traded to Native Canadians for beaver pelts), the world’s highest/longest steel-trestle bridge, 307 feet tall, more than a mile across carrying the Canadian Pacific Railroad across Oldman River. Following Hwy. 1, we seem to be on a path of “world’s largest”, finding the world’s largest teepee, at 215’, created for the 1988 Winter Olympics, rising from the prairie at Medicine Hat.

1/4 mile long pivot irrigation system irriagates thousands of acres of wheat, corn.

Along the Trans-Canada Highway, grain silos and wind turbines stand out. Corn, wheat, beans and canola; aided by spindly center-pivot irrigation systems, a quarter-mile long, produced by agri-business giants Zimmatic and Valley. It’s a wonder to me that, with computers and sensors, these huge machines can rotate over rocky ground, pilot themselves around square corners, and not tangle themselves into a pile of scrap metal. In tiny Burdette, AB, we spot, on display, the first pivot irrigation system, just 180’ long, introduced there in 1962.

We continue east into Saskatchewan, with rolling grassland prairie – half expecting to see a huge herd of buffalo appear on the horizon. Fields are planted with canola, alfalfa, corn and wheat (Saskatchewan produces 10% of the world’s exported wheat). In Moose Jaw, we tour downtown historic murals and see a variety of Canada’s armor (tanks, field artillery) on display at the local armory, home to the Saskatchewan Dragoons.

We are hosted in Regina by Canadian friends, a city of 210,000, home to the province’s stately Parliament building with shiny copper dome and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Heritage Center (on display, a shiny 1992 Chevy Camaro Z-28, one of eight highway-interceptor cars used by the RCMP in the early 90s).

1992 Chevy Camaro Z-28 interceptor, one of eight used by the RCMP in early 90s.

It’s also home to the Saskatchewan Roughriders, a member of the Canadian Football League, (with two side-by-side football stadiums rising out of the prairie, the new iteration not yet open). Our friends, noting the small size of the market, compare their team to the NFL’s Green Bay Packers.

Pressing eastward into the province of Manitoba, we spot a 30’ tall Indian head, related to the town of the Indian Head, a town boasting several huge grain silos and a fading downtown. On the edge of town is the historic circular Bell Barn, built of fieldstone, 92′ in circumference and dating to 1882. Our tour reminds me that almost all of Canada’s cross-roads, beyond large municipalities – are dirt and gravel, not paved.

30' tall caricature represents Indian Head, SK.

Heading east across Manitoba, the country grows increasingly wild and lightly settled. Tiny towns with weathered grain silos and tidy homes like Belle Plain, Balgonie, Qu’Apelle and Portage la Prairie fly by.

It’s a long day’s drive through rolling prairie to Winnepeg, Manitoba and we begin a slow climb into the Precambrian Shield country to Whiteshell Provincial Park. Here the rocky ground is folded into hills and ridges filled with scores of large lakes. Past Jessica, Red and Brereton Lake and a dozen others we reach White Lake just in time for a stunning sunset. The many lakes breed hardy mosquitoes; we are fortunate to have a can of ‘Off’ to abate the invaders.

Close to White Lake is Rainbow Falls, a cascading torrent out of Falcon Lake that earns its name on this misty, sunny morning. With many more lakes and trails to explore, we make a note to return someday to more fully see this spectacular, wet and wild country.

Rainbow Falls in Whiteshell Provincial Park, Manitoba.

We are now headed to Onterio; 20 miles west of Thunder Bay we overnight at Kakabeca Falls Provincial Park, dozing off to patter of intermittent rain on our trailer roof. Tomorrow, we’ll tour the huge falls (nicknamed the Niagara of the North, which thunders 130 feet into a deep gorge, laced with 1.6 billion year-old fossils).and circumnavigate the northside of Lake Superior!

For more information: for Alberta tourism, travelalberta.com; for Saskatchewan, tourismsaskatchewan.com; for Manitoba, travelmanitoba.com ; for Whiteshell Provincial Park, whiteshell.mb.ca.

White Lake sunset within Whiteshell Provincial Park, Manitoba.

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in the US and Canada!

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