QC2BC10: Prairies and Valleys July 31, 2020
We got up in the morning to have some breakfast and leisurely rise before Susan knocked on our door and invited us for coffee. We chose to take a walk out into the field to see the horses and enjoyed a lovely hour or so watching them, learning about their histories, needs, and idiosyncrasies before returning to the RV and setting it up for the day’s travel.[photos 0415, 2010]
After our goodbyes we took some photos, especially of the lovely field of sunflowers across from her farm. They were not quite ready to show us their glorious blossoms but we can imagine the amazing sight as they all turned their heads towards the sun.
We set off for our visit with Bill and Jan in Winnipeg and were soon immersed in the “uglification” of strip development: businesses behind parking lots spread out for kilometres along the wide roads. It was a relief to turn off the main drag into the more suburban layout of single family dwellings and begin our search for Bill and Jan’s house. It was a bit of a challenge since we had the wrong address but a phone call quickly resolved the problem.
We had a lovely visit at a local coffee shop before finding our way to highway #1 headed west toward an unencumbered horizon. This part of the prairie is one of the flattest: a straight highway as far as one can see, long lines of telephone poles, the train track to our right, and huge fields of varying colours according to the crop.
We travelled through the prairies at an interesting time. The crops are not ready for harvest but they are showing many of the colours and shapes for which they are well known: the yellow of canola, the golden brown of oats and wheat, the dark green of soybeans, and the tall stocks of green and yellow corn. I found myself wishing for a travelling companion who could identify the variety of crops we saw. Perhaps there is already an app for that.
We stopped in to Sidney, Manitoba where Fran first went to school. Her father was a United Church minister there (with 5 other local towns on his charge) for a number of years so we usually check out the town as we pass.
It is a very small town – facing the loss of its grain elevator, train station, and blacksmith shop over the years we have visited – but the general store remains open, several public buildings have been renovated, and the few private homes appear well-kept. Even the local school has been repurposed and the church manse was being repointed.
Another notable feature is the general store. It was clearly a centre of activity since a corner of the store had been set up with two tables, photos of the past, and various items from the town’s history. During the time we were chatting with the owner, more than 6 or so people came in, sat down for a coffee, or spent a few minutes chatting. One of the patrons was an expert on the town (having lived there all his life) and was quick to recognize and add to the stories and people that Fran recalled.
Carberry Sandhills and beyond
Just west of Sydney, we entered one of the first major changes in the prairie landscape: the Carberry Sandhills. The road remained as straight as an arrow but it began to rise and fall with the shoulder and nearby terrain showing more sand than gravel and soil.
Instead of fields with expansive crops in black soil, the landscape was dominated by grasses and scrub trees in a sand base: signs of ancient beaches and rivers bordering a massive lake. In regions a bit farther from the highway, these hills become dunes and desert.
By the time we passed Brandon, we were well into the rolling prairies. Rather than very flat, as found on the east side of Winnipeg, it is more rolling, with occasional patches of deciduous trees and sloughs. Farms crops are planted around these various obstacles, making the landscape much more varied.
Once we crossed the border to Saskatchewan, we passed the turnoff to Rocanville, a few kilometers north. This is the place where my mother grew up, so we have plenty of stories and pictures about it in our family history (See: Lilian (and Rose Emily’s) Stories (pdf 149KB).
It is the town where my grandmother headed with her two very young daughters after her husband was killed in the First World War. She travelled across the Atlantic with her daughters to visit a relative in Waterloo, Ontario where she saw an advertisement for a housekeeper in Rocanville. She travelled by train all the way, only to find that the position was filled. Fortunately, the stationmaster suggested that Ed Dumville, one of the local farmers, was looking for a housekeeper. My grandmother applied for the job, got it, and eventually married Ed–who became my grandfather and one of the most wonderful, devoted, and interesting grandfathers that anyone could have.
We passed several areas where windmills are scattered across the prairies. They have been a feature of prairie farms for many years–as pumps for water–but the large windmills for power generation are a new phenomenon.
They make a great deal of sense to me since one of the constant elements of standing, walking, cycling, or even driving, is the wind. In the flat country there is nothing to get in its way. My colleague from Australia who cycled across Canada, identified the prairies as the greatest challenge of his trip. Even the mountains were not as difficult as the constant wind of the open prairie–making every stroke an effort or always threatening to blow the cyclist over if a strong grip on the handlebars was not maintained.
The Qu’Appelle Valley
Just after Percival, SK, we turned north on highway 201 in order to seek our overnight spot at Crooked Lake Provincial Park in the Qu’Appelle Valley. This section of highway 201 is an amazing strip of undulating road with few potholes to slow us down, but many round lumps and depressions in the asphalt that do the trick. It’s as if its construction was accomplished without the aid of a grader and the asphalt was simply laid out on the raw prairie surface.
The Qu’Appelle Valley is one of the wonders of the prairies–a ribbon of green vegetation and blue lakes that travel hidden beneath the flatlands almost all the way across Saskatchewan.
As usual, it was not until we arrived at its edge that the valley became visible and we dropped quickly down its side to the lush valley and our campground below. We were greeted by a young woman from East London and directed to our site among the trees.