Sunday, August 15, 2021

Navigating Water Routes, Exploring Canada, and a Little piece of Home: Into Regina

Today the Trans Canada Trail presented us with a familiar challenge - around 20 km of hiking on the extremely busy and dangerous highway 56, followed by a 47 km stretch of water trail on the Qu'Appelle River, after which the land trail picked up again and headed straight south down gravel roads for around 45 km into Regina.  When previously confronted with sections of water trail, which we lack the watercraft to paddle, we've either walked our own route around them, gotten a ride to the other end, or taken a bus around them and picked up the land trail on the other side.  In this case we were very fortunate to get a ride from Mike, who very kindly and patiently gave us and all our ungainly gear a ride from Fort Qu'Appelle to the point where the land trail picked up again and lead us into Regina.

As we loaded our mountain of gear into his trunk a group of ladies recognized us from a local newspaper article which had just been published and excitedly wished us the best of luck and offered us their copy of the paper as a keepsake!  Their act of kindness and supportive words meant the world to us this morning!

During the ride we met an interesting, intelligent and elegant young lady who moved to Yorkton three years ago from India.  She had lots of questions about the hike, and could appreciate wanting to see the country.  She told us she meets lots of people in the restaurant where she works who are cycling or motor biking across the country, but never anyone who walks.  She could appreciate our desire not to trek on the busy highway as it is the most nerve-wracking part of her day which she has to walk on her way to and from work.  She was on her way to Victoria, BC today, which was part of her ongoing explorations of the country.  It was amazing to hear her speak about India, which to us sounds exotic and exciting, and then to see her enthusiasm for discovering and learning about Canada.  It reminded us of the value of seeing places with new eyes, and coming to love and appreciate the landscapes we are privileged to inhabit.  Her tale of moving across the world to see and live in Canada is of course not a new one or unique to her. However we are both always amazed by the shear bravery of those who leaving their home nation, their culture and all that is familiar behind.  How amazing Canada is to inspire so many to make the venture!

After being dropped off on the trail we began walking along a quiet gravel concession road.  It was a very hot morning with only a slight breeze, and as we walked between the fields of grain and hay there was very little shade.  As in the valley, about half the fields seemed to have been harvested already, while the other half were still waiting, their golden grains standing tall.  Small flocks of sparrows moved about in the fields, searching for grain and insects, and we spotted a few groups of Western Meadowlarks as well.  In truth having trekked more than 1000 km in 2021 on concessions and roadways today’s focus was on getting into Regina.  Not even, construction, re-routes, or the heat was going to stop us today!   Having spent the better part of the day trekking through these fields and pulling ourselves through the heat we were grateful to see the outline of the capital city on the horizon.

As we approached Regina we could begin to feel the presence of the city even before we could see it rising above the fields.  We scurried across a busy highway, and we could hear the traffic speeding past on it for some time.  As we finally turned west we had the Trans Canada Highway to our left, and we could see the occasional service station across the fields.

Admittedly the approach to cities is usually not too aesthetic by trail, so we would count this as one of the better walks into a city center.  The outer edges of cities tend to have gravel pits or recycling depots, RV dealerships, industrial parks, and then car dealerships and various other business scattered among abandoned lots.  In this case we followed a quiet gravel road through the fields until we came to a small generating station, at which point the road was suddenly lined with utility poles.  After a very short stretch of grain fields we then came to a wall of brand new condo buildings, and there we were, in the suburbs of Saskatchewan's capital city.

Very hot and thirsty, we made a slight detour to Tim Horton's for a cold drink before continuing on, down a gloriously paved urban bicycle trail.  We had some difficulty finding the beginning of the trail, which began at the back of a busy plaza, down an alleyway between two box stores, but once we were on the Pilot Butte Creek Pathway it was a joy to walk.

From this point onward the trail wove through quiet neighborhoods, following Butte Creek through many urban parks and green spaces.  As we walked around several small ponds that were surrounded by homes we spotted a Northern Shoveller paddling through the water, Blue and Green-winged Teals flying by overhead, and American Wigeons and Canada Geese hanging out around the ponds' edges. It was a joy to see so many birds thriving in an urban area.

It was an incredibly hot and humid afternoon, and we were grateful for the shade provided by the trees in the green spaces we walked through.  We were also very impressed to see the number of saplings that had been planted along the trails in these areas. 

We took lots of breaks due to the heat, one of which was at a Trans Canada Trail pavilion which provided a nice description of the trails in Saskatchewan. 

Another highlight of our hike into Regina was coming across a White-tailed Jackrabbit in one of the green spaces.  Also known as the Prairie Hare, these enormous and solitary hares are found in western North America. They can grow up to 26 inches in length, and weigh up to 9.5 lbs.  The one we saw was huge, and it looked very comical as it bounded off with peculiar flying leaps on long thin legs.

We crossed the busy Assiniboine Ave and then made our way through a large and peaceful cemetery on the edge of town.  We were surprised to see a beautiful red Chinese Memorial Pavilion which was built to promote Chinese culture, tradition, and history.  It honoured Chinese immigrants who worked hard and contributed significantly to society on the Canadian prairies.  A large block of graves around the beautiful pavilion bore the names of Chinese families from the area.  Once again we were amazed to see the cultural mosaic of the nation and the region present itself around us.  

After this peaceful interlude we crossed under the Ring Rd, and found ourselves at the edge of the Regina Plain Native Prairie Restoration Site.  Over 80 species of native prairie grasses, forbs, sedges and shrubs were planted there in 2003, in an effort to restore a small area to the habitat that would once have existed here before the city was built.

Our view of this large natural area was of a huge cattail marsh surrounded by grassy hills with walking and cycling trails on one side, and the beautiful curving walls and tipi -like top of the First Nations University on our other.  As we hiked along the path we spotted Double-crested Cormorants perched in the trees, Blue and Green-winged Teals, Ring-billed Gulls, American Wigeons, American White Pelicans and Canada Geese floating out in the water.  We also spotted a group of Eared Grebes feeding fuzzy stripy young.  At first we thought the adults were offering their young tiny fish, but it turned out they were feeding them grasshoppers!  What a great spot to do some urban birding.

As we stood there, partially relaxing and partially birding, a young Indigenous man rode his bike up to us to ask what we could see in the lake.  He admitted that he knew nothing of birds, but had recently decided to explore his hometown of Regina with fresh eyes.  To this purpose he now spent his evenings and weekends going to places he had never gone to before, reconsidering old sites, and learning something new each day about the area.  As he saw us he decided to ask about birds!  We chatted at the water’s edge for some time, talked about IDing local birds, and generally enjoyed his great sense of humour – the type of which we have rarely experienced since Newfoundland. 

As we continued northward around the shores of the lake we found ourselves on a well-used bicycling path through a treed green space.  Interpretive signage was provided along the trail, small lookouts over the lake offered views of Parliament and the city skyline, and art exhibits were located along the walkway. 

One of the highlights was seeing the Mind's Garden sculpture.  It was designed by the sculptor Joe Farad and installed in 1999.  The lacy carved panels of the round steel structure show animals, birds, warriors, and scenes from the prairies.  There was no written explanation, and the intention of the creator was for the viewer to participate in the art by making their own interpretations.

Another sculpture we enjoyed seeing was the 'Four Directions' which was a tall metal structure resembling four bows and arrows pointing in the cardinal directions.  The bow and arrow were essential to the survival of the Plains Peoples, and in this piece of artwork they reflected young people's need to survive in a world of ever changing technology.  The number four is sacred in many Aboriginal cultures, being related to the four directions, seasons, elements, winds, peoples, and stages in life's journey.

The green space we were exploring as we walked into Regina led us to the Wascana Center, which is a treed park and cultural center that wraps around Wascana Lake at the heart of Regina.  Here soaked through and tired after a long day of trekking we varied off the trail to a local variety store to get an ice tea or ice cream.  En route we passed an open pub where a man on the patio – dressed in Hamilton Tiger Cat colours and a jersey stood surrounded by the Greens of Roughrider fans – stood enjoying a pint.  As we trekked by Sean called out to him and they chatted for a few moments discovering that he too was from Simcoe Ontario!  Upon this discovery he pulled up his Tiger Cat Jersey to reveal a Norfolk T-Shirt with the familiar saying “There ain’t no Folk like Norfolk”!  

He proudly told us that he had driven across the province for the game because he missed home and wanted to feel a piece of it again.  As a youth he had gone to Hamilton many times from Simcoe and so today’s game was set to bring back memories! Relating to his desire to be close to something familiar again we nodded our heads in agreement, wished him luck (though ultimately the Roughriders trounced the Tiger Cats this evening) and soon continued on.

We soon found that once we had sat down to enjoy our cold ice teas in the park that it was hard to get going again.  Hence, given the late hour we decided to call it a day.  At this point I have to admit that for the past few days we have been struggling to keep our energy up.  I suspect that our recent pace - which has shifted from an average of 25 km a day to one that is now consistently more than 50 km a day - has exhausted us, in addition to which, for one reason or another, we are both increasingly homesick at the moment. 

As such, we will be taking a rest day here in Saskatchewan's capital city, and will certainly spend some time exploring this beautiful natural area, as well as the rest of the city.

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