Summer Road Trip I: Saskatoon

For Ty’s August holiday we decided to cruise 14.5 hours east down the road in the wheels to the Qualityman Inn, Day Spa, and Suites, a 5 star establishment half an hour south of Saskatoon in beautiful Dundurn, Saskatchewan, pop 500. Its proprietors, Tracey, Darrin, Tango, and Molly, really rolled out the red carpet for us for the 4 days we were there.

One of the very beautiful features of this hacienda is the Tradar Trail (est. 2010), a tree-lined path around the perimeter of the estate, created by Tracey and Darrin and walked by them and their faithful beast Tango twice a day, summer and winter.

From the trail a walker can gaze out over the vast fields of wheat, canola, and peas.

Tango enjoys his daily jaunts, when he’s not hunkered down eating fallen apples from the laden apple trees close to the house.

This view from the homestead shows, on the left, the original farmhouse, now a tractor garage and nesting area for local swallows, the 100 year old barn, used for storage and the odd barn dance, the solar panel array, and the water pump.

Our first day was cloudy, with the odd bit of torrential rain, a perfect day for gallery-going in the city.

Art Placement Gallery, one of the art spaces downtown, had an expansive show of prairie landscapes by a doyen of the prairie painting scene, Dorothy Knowles, who celebrated her 90th birthday in April.

There are still a few old early twentieth century buildings downtown with nice facades and elaborately decorated lobbies, such as the one below. Saskatoon does not have many highrises and the ones that do exist are not very tall. Most of the buildings are no higher than the one below. It has a pleasant, compact downtown area.

Tracey and Darrin were very good tour guides, showing us around the cool parts of town where galleries, studios, pubs, and coffee shops abound.

Ty fired up his holiday fedora, a newish travelling hat that replaced his previous short stovepipe straw hat; with it on, he can always be found in a crowd.

We didn’t see a lot of street art, but a few murals caught my eye.

Seeking out galleries was thristy work so naturally we had to duck into one of the local coffeehouses, which just happened to house the remnants of the Void Gallery’s art collection on its walls.

Initially we sat outside but spitting rain chased us inside, where we watched a chalk artist cum barista execute some underwater images on the blackboard.

While waiting for the rain to subside, we had a fantastic lunch at the Seoul Koren Restaurant just down the block, big bowls of spicy seafood soup for Ty & I, beef, egg, and noodles for Darrin, and veg for Tracey – really great if you like red chilies, which we do! (The below picture shows Darrin and I discombobulated, not sure whether we would actually be getting a feed anytime soon).

 

Sufficiently sufonsified (sp?), in other words stuffed with shrimp, mussels, and noodles, we headed over to the Craft Council gallery to check out the exhibit of ceramic artist Jack Surs, a senior artist from Regina who, to celebrate his 82 birthday, had 82 pieces on display, some of which were enormous.

I was very impressed with his work, especially some of the larger vessels, and many of them had very intricate surfaces designs and glazing. If I had untold money and room space, I would certainly have purchased a few.

He made a number of quirky vessels with tiny animals on top.

I have done a small bit of ceramics and was only able to create tiny candy dishes on the wheel; it takes a lot of upper body and arm strength to throw pots. I am amazed that an 82 year old man was able to make these vessels – they really are incredible (although possibly the huge ones were created earlier …).

The second day dawned sunny and warm – huzzah! – so a bike ride along the river was in order. The Bike Doctor, from whom we had previously rented our steeds, didn’t have any rental bikes available – a brief moment of devastation ensued, and the 5 star rating of Qualityman Inn, Day Spa, and Suites was in jeopardy – but Darrin made a quick call to the Bike Universe and lo and behold, they came through for us with 4 bikes from their 7 bike rental stock.

Suitably set up, we rolled river-wards onto the north path which took us through rolling grassy knolls on the path along the water, past a beautiful, but closed, public pool, and the grounds of the former Saskatoon Sanatorium.

After cruising across one bridge with a pedestrian and bike path running beneath the cars, a great innovation that Vancouver should adopt, we eventually headed back over another bridge with a great view of the river and the Bessborough hotel and downtown.

We passed through Saskatoon’s equivalent of Shaughnessy, with its stately homes and tree-lined streets.

Back along the river we had a great view of the new Remai Modern Gallery, a vast new emporium of art slated to open in October: I was a bit disappointed not to be able to visit it on this trip.

The park areas along the river are beautiful but we were working up a powerful hunger from our cycling explorations, and getting a bit saddle-sore, so pulled into the Cut Restaurant just around the corner from the Bessborough for some sustenance.

Much of downtown is in the midst of roadworks, not surprising since summer is the only time that’s possible here, and orange tape was up many places around the city.

We had a tasty snack on the patio after Darrin had helped the wait staff erect the umbrellas necessary to keep us out of what turned out to be quite a hot sun.

After a quick zip through the Bessborough Hotel to check out the decor, we returned the bikes and returned to Dundurn to rest and recuperate.

The two old farm houses across from Tracey and Darrin’s place are even more rickety than the last time I was here, leaning ever more groundward – not sure how much longer they’ll be able to stay erect. If there weren’t such a tangle of underbrush in the field making it very difficult to get out to them, I would love a closer look.

Just off the Tradar Trail Tracey and Darrin have created a pet cemetery, where the remains of animal friends rest under carved wooden headstones. At certain times of day, the sunlight comes through the tree leaves at just the right angle and  strikes the glade with a golden glow.

Every angle of view across the fields from each corner of the property is interesting, especially with the different crops each being a distinct colour.

I remember thinking when I first came out to the farm from Vancouver that it was a little spartan in terms of vegetation and greenery. Well, after living in northern BC for a year, it seems incredibly lush and diverse here. All depends on perspective!

Below, surrounded by green, you can see the main house in which Darrin grew up, the Qualityman 5 star hacienda.

Tracey is currently researching the history of the big red barn; it’s more than one hundred years old and was the biggest barn built in these parts. On the main floor various treasures are stored; a tractor, Darrin’s first car, below, a Lincoln Continental, old windows, and other farm paraphernalia. Farmers never throw anything out because you never know when it might come in handy.

The upper floor is cathedral-like and is the venue for barn dances, the last of which will be coming sometime soon. The bathtub finds a new use as a cooling tub for drinks when the dance is on.

This would be an incredible space for an art installation – I will have to ponder the possibilities …

The booming metropolis of Dundurn is about 5 kilometers south of the Qualityman hacienda and houses about 500 souls; it also has a cemetery in which rest the pioneer families who tilled this land in the past. We stopped to pay our respects on a windy, sunny day.

Some of the headstones are quite eroded and covered in an orange organic material that is slowly obliterating the surface lettering.

When I was last here with the ladies in 2013 we had walked the Dundurn labyrinth and I was interested to see whether it was still intact – well, it sortta is …

In a park area next to the village’s church, the labyrinth was finished in 2003 and over the years has slowly started to disappear back into the grass from whence it came. I suppose not enough people are walking it to keep the path from becoming overgrown.

Speaking of walking, Tracey took Tango around the block to let him have a good sniff of the area.

Some of the houses here are from the beginning of the 20th century and remind me of the older houses in lower Lonsdale where my grandmother lived.

The garden of the house below looked fabulously full of blooming flowers; upon closer inspection we realised that almost all of them were fake. Odd.

The robin in the bird bath isn’t fake, though – definitely the real deal.

Below is a photo of the road back to the Qualman farm, past several very shallow bodies of water that host many duck families.

On the way back to the city one day we passed by the homestead and studio of a very well-know Saskatoon sculptor (so well-known that I can’t remember his name at the moment) who seems to be an avid airstream trailer collector.

Also in the area are several new mega-house subdivisions, products of the recent and now bust Saskatoom boom.

We saw a beautiful white horse in a brilliant red barn.

Darrin’s sister Lori and kids from Houston were also visiting and we spent some time at the fair with them one afternoon. Of course, Ty was bugging me to go on the ferris wheel but I declined firmly; a fear of heights makes these rides not at all enjoyable to me.

Ty, Darrin, and the kids enjoyed the ride below, being whipped around at about 200 miles an hour.

Tracey the hat lady wisely decided to pass and kept cool in the shade with her many chapeaux.

Very foolishly, I suggested that we all try the Octopus – it looked relatively tame from the ground but was definitely a different story once it got going.

I was utterly terrified, which Ty and everyone else found quite amusing.

And, once again, Darrin emerged victorious at Whack-a-Mole, keeping his crown and adding a Nemo to his collection.

I took several infrared photos of the farm and am starting to play around with them. Below is a picture of Frankie in the Field, the metal sculpture that Barb, Christine, and I created the last time we were here.

Good times! Thanks so much to Tracey and Darrin for their generous hospitality! See more photos here. Stay tuned for Part Two of the summer road trip.

At home on the Prairies

Ahhh Saskatoon – the prairies, big sky country. Four of us city gals headed to Central Canada for a long weekend of country fun at the farm. Around here the wheat and canola fields predominate; it’s easy to tell where the farm houses are because they’re the only places where there are small stands of trees in the vast expanse of waving grains. Around the perimeter of Tracey and Darrin’s farmyard they have mowed in the Taydar Trail, a grassy path encircling the homestead.

The fields here behind the Lumberman’s Curve are canola waiting to be gathered up by combine harvesters.

Along the trail are various bits of used and disused farm equipment, boat trailers, huge metal grain bins (I suggested that they be repurposed into above-ground swimming pools), a gigantic truck trailer, and hidden gopher holes.

The big red barn is over a hundred years old and used to store farm equipment and Darrin’s old 1970s Lincoln Continental, its smooth length a wee bit dusty from hibernation.

Of course, the first thing one thinks of when contemplating prairie life is water-skiing … not. But Tracey and Darrin are lucky enough to live only a few kilometeres away from Blackstrap Lake and the mighty Blackstrap Mountain (a tiny pimple on the landscape that formerly served as a ski hill where Darrin learned to zoom down the slopes as a child, whose facility is unfortunately now shuttered).

Darrin’s friend Phil, who lives at the lake, was kind enough to let us use his boat for the day to try water-skiing, an activity that I had tried precisely once previously in those long-ago days of youth up at Pender Harbour. I proved to be hopeless at it, not even able to get my water skis on. Tracey, on the other hand, was a natural; she gave an excellent display of superpower on the water – we were impressed.

After our collective attempt to walk, or ski, on water, we headed to the beachside concession stand to consume the famed onion rings for which this place is known.

Since we’re all about the outdoor activities here on the prairies, the next item on our weekend agenda was biking the Meewasin Trail along the river that flows through the city.

After having rented our bikes at the Bike Doctor we rolled along Broadway and down to the trail that runs riverside.

One of the must-see trail stops is the University of Saskatchewan Sculpture Park, a collection of peculiar cement and metal creations that called out for climbing and crawling along.

This cement dragon boat proved to be a hit with the gang, as we imagined ourselves running victorious over the finish line.

There are several bridges over the river; we picked the very high railway bridge that required pushing the bikes up and down wooden staircases. Luckily one such staircase provided a trough that ran along its length, allowing us to put the bike wheels in a runner that eased its passage upwards.

A surprising sight for me was the flocks of white pelicans cruised over the water. Right near this weir is the rusted hulk of the Varsity Ski Jump, built in 1931, enjoyed for 43 years and dismantled in 1978. From here people could zoom down the shoot onto the frozen river. A nice stop along the east side of the river trail is the Mendel Art Gallery; too bad it’s going to be relocated to a not particularly nice spot further down the river soon.

Back at the ranch, across the street from the farm are two abandoned houses slowing sinking towards the grass, an odd sight against the horizon.

On the farm, Tracey explained to me, nothing is ever discarded; old houses, equipment, metal parts, and the like are saved, just in case they might prove useful again someday. Some obsolete stuff is repurposed into art objects, as in this example made by Tracey.

We enjoyed a beautiful sunset over the canola fields with a nip of wine and a soupcon of bug spray.

Tracey took us for a spin around the neighbourhood, including a visit to the Mennonite cemetery where some of Darrin’s relatives are resting.

And the Dundurn Community Labyrinth, a surprising find that is now unfortunately somewhat overgrown.

We also paid a visit to the local glass blowing studio, the Hot Shop run by a retired teacher and nurse. Al Hiebert was kind enough to show us around this enormous space where they do cold, warm, and hot glass, and also have space for wood and metal working. I have to confess that I was jealous of the incredible studio.

Interestingly, upstairs we came upon a nice stash of mannequins …

On the farm there was a tree … an apple tree, laden with fruit crying out for picking and eating … we obliged.

The final item on the farm activity agenda was metalwork, welding a metal sculpture for the Tradar Trail from the vast collection of metal bits stacked for reclamation. Darrin was kind enough to show me how to use a metal grinder and acetylene torch; I may look like I know what I’m doing but this would be a false impression …

After piling up the metal that we thought we’d use, the next morning was spent creating Frankie, the elephant-man.

As far as welding goes, Barb was a natural … me, not so much.

The amazingly ever-patient Darrin showed us how to arc weld; we discarded the first base for being too flimsy to hold our emerging metal creation. First the crossed legs, the the pelvis and ribcage …

then the ear-arms

and finally the nose and eyes were crafted. Frankie had emerged from the heap of metal.

Supplied with the final touch, a metal chain, our sculpture was then rolled across the lawn for placement on the trail.

Even Tango approves … a great time had by all.

See more pictures of farm fun here.