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Exploring the 2017 Ford Explorer

I recently had the opportunity to test drive a 2017 Ford Explorer. I grew up learning how to drive a Ford Windstar so I figured an Explorer shouldn't be that much different. Sure, one is an SUV the other is a van, but a Ford's a Ford, right? Well, not exactly. From the moment I sat down, I knew it would be a very different experience from what I was used to.

There were things about the Explorer I liked, and some that I didn't, but it was overall a very nice vehicle. It drove smoothly, turned nicely and handled grid roads very well. I found the brakes to be a little touchy, but by the time the week ended, I mastered how to brake without awkwardly lurching myself forward.

Beyond the learning curve with the brakes, here are my positive and negative experiences with the 2017 Ford Explorer:

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Up, Up & Away at the Windscape Kite Festival

As this was my first time flying a kite, I'm proud to say I only crashed it about thirty times. Thankfully, my instructor said, the kite wasn't too expensive and was made for crash landings. After one particular sharp nose-dive, however, he came over to show me what I was doing wrong. After a few minor adjustments, I kicked the kite back into the air and managed to do my first loop.

The field we were in was empty that day. Within 24 hours, however, the field would be full of kite enthusiasts from across the world. Many of the kite flyers were from Canada and the United States, but some even came as far away as London, Germany and New Zealand. At only 13 years old, the SaskPower Windscape Kite Festival has become internationally renowned to kite flyers around the world.

When people think of kites, they might think of the classic diamond shaped kite of Charlie Brown. However, these days there are many different kinds of kites, and each with their own unique design and purpose.

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Your Great Escape to Cypress Hills

Were you planning a road trip to Banff, but plans bottomed out? Or were you looking to camp somewhere that isn't Sherwood Forest? Just a few hours west of Regina is a little-known place called Cypress Hills, and it's the great escape you didn't know you needed.

Although this is the second year I've visited Cypress Hills, I still loved every minute. Built from a geological phenomenon, Cypress Hills has one of the oldest and unique landscapes in Western Canada – and the highest point in Canada between the Rockies and the Newfoundland Peninsula.

As you can see from my piece on ZenSeekers.com, there's plenty to see and do in Cypress Hills such as biking to hiking to kayaking the beautiful Elkwater Lake. The nearby townsite also has an incredible museum, a restaurant and offers access to a variety of sporting and beach equipment. If you want to go on the water, on the beach, on the disc golf course or anywhere else, they have you covered.

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Learning to Chalk at the Sunshine Chalk Art Festival

Kristine Ens started with a simple black rectangle. When asked, she said the black helped brighter colours pop, and the base allowed for a smoother chalking surface. As I knew nothing about chalking, I nodded my head and let her work. In just over sixty minutes, Ens transformed that black box into a blue-eyed crow and surrounded it with an earthly green light.

I was very impressed, to say the least.

Ens has been chalking for three years and debuted in the first ever Medicine Hat Sunshine Chalk Art Festival in 2014. Since it began, 100 artists from across North America have made their annual pilgrimage to the festival which runs this year from August 11th – 13th.

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Regina's Night of Horror

Originally printed in The Morning Leader, July 1st, 1912

Cyclone drops to earth at south and of Smith and Lorne Street and clears houses, buildings and all obstacles to the north end – Early details probably exaggerated, but loss to city worst in Canadian history – Best buildings in city, Churches, Y.W.C.A, Y.M.C.A, Library, Phone Exchange, all destroyed – Hundreds of houses as flat as a board – Details.

"A Thousand Flags were flying where the Sky and City Meet"

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How to be a Cowboy at the Medicine Hat Stampede

I want to start this off by saying that I am in no way, shape or form a cowboy. Being a cowboy takes decades of experience and requires a special bond with your horse. Cowboys are mysterious, romantic and the inspiration behind countless films throughout history, from The Night Rider to The Last Gunslinger. Every lady wants to be scooped up by a cowboy, and every man wants to ride like one.

A few weeks ago I was able to experience what it was like to be a cowboy at the Medicine Hat Stampede and Exhibition chuck wagon races. While many think of the Wild West as being a world away, you can find plenty of chuck wagon racing, barrel racing and horse competitions just a few hours west of Regina. Although I only spent one night at the races, I still met The Medicine Hat Rodeo Queen and Princess, could pet some horses, caught chuck wagon racing and made some new friends.

One of the best things about the Medicine Hat Exhibition and Stampede is the welcoming atmosphere surrounding it. Upon arriving, I knew nothing about chuck wagons and horses, so I walked up to one of the 5,000 tireless volunteers and just asked. From there I hit the tracks and saw the races for myself – although I may have gotten a little too close.

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Experience Mosaic From Your Home

For about the third year in a row, I missed out on Regina's annual multicultural festival, Mosaic. To try and come to terms with the fact that I have failed to go for three years, I decided to throw my own little Mosaic with my girlfriend. While many people only shop at their favorite food stores, there are actually a variety of stores around Regina where you can buy unique, authentic cultural food. After all, just because Mosaic was over doesn't mean the food vanishes!

However, because I am a picky eater, and so is Jess, things didn't go exactly as planned.

Kenton: I had no idea what this was when I bought it, and I wouldn't ever buy it again. It tasted like disappointment. There wasn't much taste to it and it had some kind of strange pulp in it. I think it was coconut or a very pale fruit. Either way, I didn't care for this drink.

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15 Best Small Towns to Visit in Canada

As you know, I love Canada. I love the people, the culture, the history and everything that comes with it (except mosquitoes). Canada is an extremely diverse country that stretches from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean. It is also the second largest country in the world, featuring a plethora of different terrain.

Canada’s ten provinces and three territories are all completely different, with each having something different to offer. Lakes, mountains, valleys, waterfalls and countryside are just a few of the different things offered throughout the country. It also happens to have the longest coastline in the world.

There are many places to visit in Canada, from large vibrant cities to small mountain villages. It was hard narrow it down to just 15 places, so I got the help from Lisa over at The Crazy Tourist to help me out. Here are the 15 Best Small Towns to Visit In Canada. 

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Regina Spanish Flu Memorial Fund

While the newspapers screamed of war overseas, the real war was just beginning back home.

After four long years of grueling trench warfare, thousands of Canadian soldiers left Europe in 1918 to return home. As they disembarked from trains across the country, they unknowingly helped spread the Spanish Flu, the deadliest flu to ever occur in human history.

From 1918 to 1920, the Spanish Flu reached every corner of the globe. In the north it wiped out complete Inuit communities, and in the South Pacific whole countries were infected. Worldwide, the Spanish Flu killed between 20 and 100 million people. Canada was fortunate, but we still lost between 30,000 and 50,000 people, a number only slightly lower than that of the war.

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Why Doesn’t Regina Have A “Main Street”?

More often than not, a city or town has a "Main Street" somewhere in it. Moose Jaw has one, Saskatoon has one, Calgary has one and Disneyland has one, but Regina doesn't. Many people probably have never thought about it, or just accept that Albert Street is our version of a main street, but still the question remains.

The answer lies back to the earliest days of Regina's history. Prior to the railway arriving in Regina in 1882, Regina was a splatter of houses north of the then much-less developed Wascana Creek.  The Canadian Pacific Railway laid the groundwork for their railway system, and marked their new station to be near Wascana Creek, which was far from the current capital of the Northwest Territories, Battleford. Since the train wouldn't be travelling that far north, Sir John A. MacDonald instructed the CPR to pick the location for the new capital. They chose the area that is now Regina.

Lieutenant-Governor Edgar Dewdney owned land near the proposed railway station and grew a community around it. Rapidly, the area around his property grew and had several stores, saloons and stables. This increased the wealth of the property and made it much more attractive for the CPR to use for their new station.

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One Year After Visiting Auschwitz

This week marks one year since I visited Auschwitz. Since then, I have told scores of people what I saw and how it impacted me. I found that the more people I shared my story with, the more people I meet who have had similar experiences. While we all saw different things, we all agreed that it was a trip that changed our lives.

The passage of time has a way of turning fact into fiction. Time seems to erode the legitimacy of history, either by inflating it to incomprehensible sizes or by dumbing it down so that it is impossible to relate to. This can be said for any part of our world's history, from minor political squabbles to major world changing events. As the years pass, people rely more and more on these stories to piece together the world that once was. Auschwitz, and the legitimacy of what happened here, is one of these victims.

My flight to Europe last year had been delayed. There was an issue on the plane coming from Warsaw to Toronto and the plane had to turn around. While I was trying to get my flights figured out, I started chatting with an older woman beside me. She was heading home to see her family in Ukraine for Orthodox Easter. As we talked about our upcoming trips, I told her my plans to visit Auschwitz. When I mentioned it, the lady waved her hand at me and told me not to expect too much. Over the years, she said, they had cleaned it up so much that it isn't even worth visiting. She told me that when she went there in the 1960s, the smell of burnt flesh clung to the walls of the buildings. But now, many years later, it has become so desensitised that there was nothing there worth seeing.

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Meet Your 2017 Saskatchewanderer

It's probably a little baised to say, but Saskatchewan is my favourite province. The people, the culture, the atmosphere and the weather help make this province unlike any other place in Canada. But, being as Saskatchewan is so big and so beautiful, it can be a challenge to know what to go see and do.

Enter the 2017 Saskatchewanderer.

Since I started my blog, I've tried to interview the Saskatchewanderer every year. I couldn't last year due to the provincial election putting a temporary freeze on the program, but this year I could. Last March I called up Andrew Hiltz, the 2017 Saskatchewanderer, and learned about him, his thoughts of the program and his experiences so far.

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Regina's Glockenspiel and the Loss of Our Heritage

Progress is often considered a good thing. Progression is good for personal growth, for relationships and for society. Even the smallest bit of progress – another two minutes at the gym or a few hundred words on an essay – is better than no progress at all.

(Editor's Note: WOW! I didn't expect to get so much feedback for this article. I was featured in both the Regina Leader-Post and on CJTR's Queen City Improvement Bureau! Thank you for all the support, everybody!)

(Editor's Note #2: Looks like the city is going to reevaluate the cost and find a more reasonable alternative. What awesome news!)

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What to Expect at a Mexican Wedding

I had a wonderful trip to Mexico, and I saw and learned more than I expected. While most of my trip was full of creepy, strange and downright bizarre locations, the trip's actual purpose was for a much more normal, although still very magical, reason: the wedding of my two friends, Mari and Luis.

I met the bride, Mari, in Japan several years ago. Since I've met many people in my travels I've never seen again, I assumed the Facebook wedding invitation I received must have been by accident. A quick email later and I realised it was in fact deliberate. Since it's not every day one gets invited to a wedding in a different country, especially a tropical country in the dead of winter, I said yes.

I also learned that another friend I had met in Japan, Katarina, would be coming to the wedding too. Katarina is from Australia, so she did a trip through the United States before the wedding. It was great to catch up over the years and swap stories about our travels since Japan.

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Puebla Mexico: A Photo Essay

My past few articles have covered some pretty heavy subjects, ranging from eating dog tacos, to an island full of haunted dolls and to the ruins of one of Mesoamerica's greatest cities. To lighten the mood a little, I decided to put together a photo essay of the beautiful city of Puebla.

Puebla is much smaller than Mexico City so it isn't as noisy, it isn't as rushed and it's much more walkable. While there are still 1.4 million people living here, it doesn't feel that way. To be honest, if I was to choose between Mexico City or Pubela to revisit, I would probably choose Puebla.

Puebla is known worldwide for its colourful buildings, narrow streets and hundreds upon hundreds of churches. I was told by one gentlemen that there are 365 churches in the city – one for each day of the year – but when I told another gentlemen that, he looked at me surprised and asked "Is that all?"

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Teotihuacan: Where Men Become Gods

Forty kilometers northwest of Mexico City is Teotihuacan, one of the most important locations in Mesoamerican history. The existence of Teotihuacan was so influential that its rise and fall even has its own name: The Classical Period.

Teotihuacan began in the 1st Century BCE as a small hamlet. As the population within the nearby Valley of Mexico grew, so did that of Teotihuacan. With a growing workforce, the city could take control of the nearby mines and natural resources. This lead to the city being the birthplace of an economy never before achieved in this region of the world. Soon, its influence expanded far beyond the Valley of Mexico and reached the Mayan regions (current Yucatán Peninsula, Belize, and Guatemala) and the Gulf of Mexico. Within a century and a half, Teotihuacan transformed from a small hamlet to a city of over 125,000 people. These people were called the Teotihuacano.

Prior to Teotihuacan's existence, Mesoamerica was like Central Europe before the Roman Empire. It existed, but it existed independently. The Greeks referred to non-Greek Europeans as "barbarians", and the Romans referred to the Britons as "rude, scattered and warlike people". The same can somewhat be said for the people of Mesoamerica before the rise of Teotihuacan. Once Teotihuacan rose to power, their influence transformed language, religion, culture and economics throughout the subcontinent which can still be seen today.

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Xochimilco and The Island of the Dolls

The Island of the Dolls is in Xochimilco, a borough south of Mexico City. While it would be faster to take a car from Mexico City to Xochimilco, the traffic is dense and the roads are very congested. Instead, if you're going there, I'd recommend taking metro, which is easy and the cheapest in the world. What you gain in comfort, however, you lose in speed, as the train ride takes about 2 hours.

Mexico City and Xochimilco both sit in the Valley of Mexico. Until about a millennium ago, the whole region around Mexico City was surrounded by a massive body of water. Over the centuries due to both climate change and interference by humans, most of this water has dried up, for the exception of Xochimilco. With networks of canals crisscrossing the borough, car transportation is difficult and water transportation is essential. I'm sure there were motorized boats somewhere in the waters of Xochimilco, but I never saw any. Instead, canoes and rafts are common on the water. However, the most popular vessel is a trajinera – a colourful gonadal-like boat that is pushed along the water with a wooden pole.

Xochimilco is known worldwide for their Floating Gardens market, which are essentially canoes floating down the canals, selling wares to tourists on trajineras. These include things like food, drinks, silver rings, trinkets, ponchos and sombreros. Occasionally other trajineras full of Mariachi bands will approach tourists and offer to play beside them on the water.

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Did I Really Eat Dog in Mexico?

They say "When in Rome do as the Romans do", so the same logic should also apply to Mexico, right?

That was what I was thinking when I sat down in a classy Mexican restaurant a few weeks ago. The following morning would be the wedding -- the main reason I went to Mexico -- so this meal was to get acquainted with traditional Mexican drinks and dishes. As I was pouring over the menu trying to decipher it, the man beside me pointed out the "Tacos" section. I knew what a taco was, so it seemed like a safe place to order from. He then ran through the types of tacos on the menu. One was beef, one was shrimp and the other was dog.

I had to stop him. "Dog? Really?" Yes. It was three dog tacos. I decided then that if dog was what was commonly served in Mexico, then it's something I should try. When in Rome, right?

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Birmingham's Vodka and Ale House Food Review

Although Regina celebrated its annual "Restaurant Week" last week, I missed it while I was travelling through the jungles and deserts of Mexico. Luckily for me, the wonderful culinary dishes of Regina's finest restaurants don't stop getting served just because "Restaurant Week" was over, so I didn't miss out on some quality local food. Only a few hours after landing back in Canada, I visited one of these local restaurants and had an excellent meal.

Or should I say, it visited me.

The day after arriving back home, I opened up my fridge only to discover it was empty, as were my cupboards. I could have made something quick like a Pizza Pop, but after a week of tortillas, burritos, guacamole and tequila, I wanted something a little richer and a little less microwaveable. I then asked Twitter what I should order for lunch, and immediately my brother-in-law tweeted me back and recommended Birmingham's Vodka and Ale House.

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Curious Klondike

This is the fifth of five articles about trips to take across Canada. I was inspired to do this series after I was disappointed by what Canadian tours G Adventures offered on their website.

Earlier this year I put out a survey to hear from my readers and learn what they wanted to read more about in 2017. "More Canada!" was one thing my readers said, "More in-depth articles!" was another, and "More great pictures!" was a third. One comment stuck with me, however, and that was to stop writing about places I haven't been to. I confess, I have done that upon occasion, such as when I write about Christmas traditions around the world or spooky places in Canada. I took this piece of advice to heart so I've tried to talk more about places I've been, and only touch on places I've read about.

This article goes against all that.

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Saskatchewan Highlights

This is the fourth of five articles about trips to take across Canada. I was inspired to do this series after I was disappointed by what Canadian tours G Adventures offered on their website.

Since I am Saskatchewan born and raised, it always bothered me when people said there's nothing to do in my home province. If you're looking for culture, history, food, beer, sporting events, community or a touch of quirkiness, Saskatchewan is the best place to visit!  

If you've been following my blog for awhile now, you'll know I could write a whole article about places to visit in Saskatchewan (actually, I have written it). For sake of brevity, I handpicked some of my favourite places, but there are many that I left out. Are there any places you'd add to this list? Let me know in the comments below.

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