From Montreal to Prud'homme
Two weeks traveling throughout Saskatchewan
By : Michel Marchildon
“I had wanted to go and discover Saskatchewan for a long time. I have a good friend who comes from there and every time he told me about it, I just wanted to go."
Of Acadian origin, Geneviève Bolduc lives and works in Montréal. In July of 2021, she and her boyfriend decided to take advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic to work remotely while discovering Canada. Their final destination? Saskatchewan! With their camping gear in the trunk of the car and the two bikes strapped to the bike rack, they took to the Trans-Canada highway in hopes of broadening their horizons.
After stops in Ontario and having crossed into Manitoba, they drove to Regina, where they rented a house in the Cathedral Quarter through Air B&B.
"It was fantastic. Regina really allowed us to discover the 'vibe' in Saskatchewan. During the day we’d work ‘at the office’, but in the evening we’d jump on our bikes and set off to discover the city. We attended a stand-up comedy show with 3 comedians, including one from Regina and another from Prince Albert. They were excellent! The guy from Prince Albert used all sorts of unfamiliar words like “gitch” and “bunny hug.” We also visited the Parliament – really incredible! – and we toured the micro-breweries!"
Subsequently, the couple takes the road to discover southern Saskatchewan. First stop, Moose Jaw, a lovely town with its old buildings with numerous walls covered in historic frescoes. “We went to visit the Al Capone underground tunnels. The actors were really good. It was one of my boyfriend's favorite discoveries!" Then, back on the road – “one thing is certain, in Saskatchewan you have to be ready to be on the road a lot!” - the couple reached the mythical fransaskois village of Gravelbourg where they were drawn to the impressive European-style co-Cathedral.
“The door was locked but there was a sign with a phone number, so we called. The gentleman answered us in French and we explained to him that we were from Montreal and that we were wondering if it was possible to visit the Cathedral. He replied “of course, of course!" and he told us to go to the Gravelbourg Museum where some students came to open the Cathedral. For a minute, we thought we were in Rome... the Cathedral is huge and everywhere on the ceiling there are paintings. After the visit, my boyfriend had a Zoom meeting so we thought we would have a good ‘café au lait’ at Café Paris. We spoke French at the counter… then we realized that no one in the place knew how to speak French. That’s when we realized that it mustn’t be easy to be a French-speaker in that area.”
The couple were guided to the Thomson Lake camping area, a few kilometers away, where they were able to pitch their tent. The next day, they drove West and stopped at the entrance to the francophone village of Ponteix to take selfies with “Mo” the plesiosaur - discovered by a local farmer - before getting back in the car and drive to the village to visit what they refer to as the "Cathedral", Ponteix’s larger-than-life twin-tower church. “Then we went to the Cultural Center, but it was closed; I believe it was Sunday.” They then continued to the village of Val Marie where they were both left breathless by the vast desert of the Badlands. They pitched their tent at the Grasslands National Park and spend a few days hiking and marveling at the animals and expanses of unspoilt terrain. “Definitely our favorite destination of the whole trip! We had never seen anything like it. It's so beautiful. I definitely want to go back there one day!"
Their route then continued to Alberta with the intention of discovering the Rockies, but the presence of smoke caused by forest fires took away all the fun; the thick smoke was making it difficult to breathe, the reduced visibility prevented them from appreciating the scenery. They decided to turn around and return to explore more of Saskatchewan. They spent a few nights at the Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park before returning once again to the Grasslands Park where they spent a few days discovering the “West Block” of the enormous park.
Their next destination was Waskesiu Lake located north of the city of Prince-Albert. "Our friend had told us about Grey Owl's cabin, a 'MUST' according to him, so we absolutely wanted to go see it. We rented a canoe in Waskesiu and we left for three days of canoeing. The portages weren’t easy, but the landscape was superb, and we had never seen a park so well organized. At each campsite there was a picnic table, a bear-proof storage areas, and all the firewood you could want. We are not great canoeists, so after 3 days our arms had had enough.”
The couple swapped the canoe for walking boots and hiked to Grey Owl's cabin. “It was about 25 miles - in Saskatchewan we still talk in miles!" - she adds, smiling. “We camped north of Lake Kingsmere. It was amazing. We had a soft sandy beach just for the two of us, and that's where we saw the most incredible sunset! We had had a lot of rain so it was quite a gift! Then the next day, we walked to the small Ajawaan lake where the famous Grey Owl cabin is located. It’s a log house with a beaver house attached to it that touches the water. It's crazy when you think he lived in there with two beavers! Then not far away there used to be another house where his wife lived with the children. What a story! We signed the visitor’s guestbook; that year they were almost all people from Saskatchewan, but we were told that people come from all over the world. We feel really privileged to have been able to discover this place. It's crazy how people in Eastern Canada have no idea everything there is to explore in Saskatchewan!”
After driving to Saskatoon, Geneviève and her boyfriend were pleased to discover several excellent cafés, restaurants and bars, as well as the bike paths that run along the Saskatchewan River. “It really is a paradise for cyclists. The city has so much style, a real oasis. I was thinking to myself this would be a wonderful place to hold business conferences, forget Ottawa, come to Saskatoon!"
Time was flying by for the two travellers, but before heading back to Montreal, there was one last fransaskois destination they absolutely had to visit. When Geneviève had announced to her mother her plans to drive out to Saskatchewan, her mother had revealed that her father, Geneviève's grandfather, was actually born in Prud'homme, Saskatchewan! "I couldn’t believe it! His name was Bernard Désilets. They didn't stay long, barely a year. They found it too difficult, so they returned to Québec. But I absolutely had to go see Prud'homme! As we were running out of time, we had to choose between this destination and Batoche. In Prud’homme, I took photos of the church. That's why we didn't go to Batoche. In Prud'homme, I took pictures of the church and the cemetery. It's a very small town, but I kept thinking of my grandfather arriving by train, and the fact that his family had hoped to be able to start a new life here. At that time, Saskatchewan was like the Klondike; land was cheap, and people dreamed of moving there to have something of their own."
Both Geneviève and her boyfriend were sad to leave Saskatchewan, but they both hope to return someday. “Next time, we want to spend two weeks in Saskatoon and then we absolutely have to go see Batoche!” The two got into their car, got back on the Trans-Canada highway and drove for four days before reaching Montréal.
“Since I’ve been back, I keep telling all my friends that they absolutely have to travel to Saskatchewan. I show them my photos and they can't believe their eyes. Colors, landscapes, and no need for filters!"