Everything I Knew About the Canadian Prairies was Wrong

The most important thing I’ve learned so far on this Cross-Canada excursion is to always take the advice of others with a grain of salt. Maybe less than a grain, a milli-grain.

Whenever I told someone about driving through Northern Ontario rather than taking the route through the US, the immediate reaction was negative, even from those who did the trip. The same thing happened when discussing the prairies.

I have to admit, I didn’t go into the prairies with big expectations. Thousands of kilometres of flat farmland… what’s so exciting about that? But not once had anyone ever told me about the prairie skies.

With the sun setting, the sky on the prairies went on forever in every direction. You don’t see that on the east coast, or the west. The soft contours of fields and small sloping hills were lit up with sunshine and the clouds took over the skies in layers upon layers. I couldn’t stop snapping photos, it was like living in HD. Monstrous windmills turned lazily alongside the road and red barns sat on the horizon from forever away.

prairie land

When we drove into Winnipeg, I was genuinely stunned. I was expecting a city the size of Halifax, but it’s more like triple the size. I was embarrassed by my lack of knowledge. The city itself is an anomaly in the middle of farmland: grandiose government houses, art deco designs sitting idly in the middle of the downtown core, and skyscrapers towering along the river. It’s easily the best walking city I visited. We were there on a Saturday night, eating dinner with a view of a giant cube flashing different colours in the city center, apparently a place to host parties. Then we passed a bar named Whisky Dix spilling onto the sidewalk with its outdoor disco ball lighting up the deck.

The Forks, Winnipeg. Market area, and my favourite place we visited in the city.

The day we left Regina in Saskatchewan, Cailin and I had planned to drive straight on to Banff since we had a 10 hour drive ahead of us. But a last-minute email from a tourism rep offering us complimentary tickets to the Tunnels of Moose Jaw made us sidetrack, and I’m so glad we did. Moose Jaw was high on my list, but things got so rushed, I hadn’t thought much about it.

Moose Jaw is the perfect little prairie town I pictured in my head; I expected to see tumbleweeds rolling by or John Wayne riding up on his horse. I knew I had made the right decision the minute our Tunnels tour guide pushed aside a hidden door in the underground and led us into the dark history of the Chinese’s role working as slave labourers in the laundry. It deserves an entire blog post in itself, but the fact that Moose Jaw doesn’t hide its unglamorous, troublesome past was really respectable in my books.

Moose crossing sign in Moose Jaw.

Moose crossing sign in Moose Jaw.

We met with tourism folks from both Manitoba and Saskatchewan who were super enthusiastic about their homes, and their excitement was contagious. We desperately want to come back and visit Saskatchewan’s Cypress Hills and take the 50-hour train ride to Churchill, Manitoba on a polar bear expedition.

We definitely didn’t allot enough time for the prairies, but I’m glad I formed my own opinions on it all before listening to others. That’s not to say I don’t look at each place with a critical eye. While I loved Moose Jaw, I definitely wasn’t fussy about Regina (sorry, Corbin!). Canada is full of surprises, eh?

  • http://camelsandchocolate.com Camels & Chocolate

    Funny, I just drove through the Midwestern plains and prairie lands in the US–South Dakota, Nebraska, etc.–on my husband’s and my road trip without intending, too, though unlike you, I have no real plans to return soon…ha =) It made me ever so claustrophobic, all that endless space with no end in sight.

    Though I will gladly join you on a 50-hour ride to see polar bears! I went to the Arctic Circle north of Norway two years ago, and no dice. Apparently, on the boat you have a 99% chance of seeing polar bears…I was that other 1%t. On secondhand, maybe you don’t want to take me with you after all…

  • http://www.travelerahoy.com Alouise

    I really enjoyed reading your view on the prairies. For myself the prairie sky is just sky. It’s so familiar to me that I don’t really take note of it, except maybe the aurora borealis because I don’t see that all the time. But when I come to the coast and can’t stop snapping pictures of the ocean because it’s just so different to me, and I’m sure there are some people who think, “it’s just the ocean.”

    And taking the advice of others with a mili-grain of salt is a really good thing. I can say, and I’m sure others can relate, that if I listened to the people who told me not to go someplace, I wouldn’t get to travel anywhere.

  • http://www.sitdowndisco.com Adam @ SitDownDisco

    Eh, alright. My Aussie view of Canada is this. Rockies, skiing, fog, French and the north. So the prairies are something totally different to what I would have expected. Nice. Will have to visit one day.

  • http://refrigeratormagnate.wordpress.com/ SpilledInkGuy

    This all looks very familiar… I grew-up (about 150 miles south of Winnipeg).
    But… where are all photos of cow pranks, Candice? Hehe – I was sure I’d totally convinced you to try tipping one or two! ;)

  • http://onmyfeetorinmymind.blogspot.com Erik

    I love the prairie, too. I couldn’t spend a lot of time living there, but I do enjoy driving across it- it makes me feel small and keeps constantly reminding me how big my country is.
    I agree with you- I love the skies. They seem to go on forever.

  • http://www.marktisdalephotography.com Mark Tisdale

    I’ve yet to make it to the prairies, but a friend suggested it as a beautiful place and all the photos I’ve seen (including these) bear that out! One day!

  • http://travelfunnytravellight.blogspot.com Claire

    I felt the same way about the wide open desert and the sky above on my trip out to the Grand Canyon last summer. So beautiful and each time of the day is its own version of pretty ;)

  • http://trustmaggie.wordpress.com/ maggie

    I don’t let myself have much of an opinion of the prairies… Manitoba and Alberta I haven’t been to since I was little, little, little. . . and I went to Saskatoon in the dead of winter. I’m not going to be able to form a fair opinion of any Canadian city in the dead of winter. (youthink a cold wind in St John’s is bad? You don’t know a cold wind. HOLY SACRED HEART OF MARY. Every time we went outside to the car I wanted to die.) But, there was great dress shopping in Saskatoon. . .

    I am so, so, SO envious of this trip you’ve taken. You have no idea. I have so many thoughts and plans in my head now. . .

  • Susan

    I am SO glad someone else likes the Prairies too. As I mentioned, my daddy grew up not too far from Moose Jaw. After he died, I missed him so bad I went out there to hang around with the relatives and see if I could find him again and I did, in that theatre of sky. He was a pilot in WWII and when I looked up, I thought, “Of course. Of course. You would want to get up there and turn some circles around those ice cream castle clouds” (thanks, Joni M.)

    The Prairies’ wide open spaces are like BC’s mountains, the North’s remoteness and Newfoundland rocky crags to me. I can’t use the word ‘awesome’ as it’s lost its currency but I can say awe-inspiring. It is Nature with a glorious capital N. I find it comforting even, as I hold out hope that Nature can trump humankind’s slings and arrows against it.

    Rock on, Prairie skies and rock on you two! I can’t tell you how excited I am about you being in BC – man, oh man, I REALLY hope you get at least a couple of sunny days, just so you can see the pretty Pacific sparkling in its ribbons and curls. I want to offer all kinds of suggestions but I know you have a billion things to do already while you’re here…..yay!

  • http://lorihenry.ca Lori Henry

    Fun stuff, Candice! I particularly love road tripping through Saskatchewan, which I did a couple of summers ago. I’ve only been to Winnipeg, once, in the winter, but I loved the Exchange District and the Forks. I’m actually taking that train up to Churchill next month! There’s little chance I’ll see polar bears in the summer, but I’ll be snorkelling with the belugas, that’s for sure. Will have to let you know how the train ride goes. Glad you made it to Van. :)

  • http://corn-bean.com linlah

    When my family moved from Colorado to North Dakota my brother said he gave up mountains for the sky. There’s something to appreciate in any space and prairies are a wonderful thing.

  • http://www.overyonderlust.com Erica

    I love prairie drives! It makes you appreciate the small details!

  • http://www.twitter.com/katerookes Kate

    I live in & love Winnipeg! I wish I could articulate how amazing it truly is to all the non-prairie folks I meet, especially those who’ve got it in their head that it’s a terrible place to be! Very glad you formed your own, positive opinion :) So, what’s the ‘vibe’ from Winnipeg? All the other major cities had one, or maybe you didn’t spend enough time in the city to really get a feel for it yet?

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com Candice

    I love that you say “claustrophobic,” when I’ve heard others say they feel claustrophobic when they’re NOT in the plains! Haha. Hilarious you missed the polar bears though, I’m def all about that tour.

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com Candice

    You can see the aurora borealis from the prairies?! Damn, I didn’t know that. Hahaha and yes, I’m sure I’d be entirely discouraged too.

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com Candice

    Hehe, you Aussies come to Canada and get stuck in Banff! It’s true, the place is run by Aussies. I love it. But yes, come do the full cross-Canada trip.

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com Candice

    Oh man, I was so tempted. SO tempted.

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com Candice

    Looove those skies. I probably couldn’t live there either, I need to be near water. But I’d love to spend some time there.

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com Candice

    Thanks, I highly encourage it! Such a different place.

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com Candice

    Agreed, I wish I had seen more sunsets!

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com Candice

    Hahaha, I’ve heard of those winters, apparently Montreal is awful too. Eeeeep. Time to do your own Cross-Canada trip with Mr. Ollie!

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com Candice

    This might be the most poetic comment anyone’s ever left me. You’ve totally overshadowed my blog post with its awesomeness. Damn you! Hahaha. Kidding. Awesome, I’m so glad to hear so much passion from someone who loves the prairies too.

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com Candice

    AHHH SO JEALOUS! I want details!

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com Candice

    Totally, all that space. Makes me wonder how people get crammed into city spaces.

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com Candice

    And the BIIIIG skies!

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com Candice

    So nice to hear you say that, woot! Winnipeg! I’m not totally sure about the feel. I mean, it’s THERE, but I have put my finger on it yet. Stay tuned for another post. ;)

  • http://www.travelerahoy.com Alouise

    I don’t know about everywhere on the prairies, but I’ve seen the Aurora Borealis around Edmonton and Saskatoon. Not all the time, but every now and then. Further south they might be harder to see.

  • http://trustmaggie.wordpress.com/ maggie

    haha, sadly, that kind of time off I probably can’t afford until my student loans are paid off… and if Ollie lives that long he’ll be a miracle dog :(