When people ask me what there is to see in Saskatchewan, I don't know what to tell them. This isn't because there's nothing to see in Saskatchewan, but because I'm not sure where to start. Although I've lived here for over 20 years, I've only seen a small fraction of it. Thankfully, that's why we have the Saskatchewanderer.
In an earlier blog I introduced Ashlyn George, Saskatchewan's fourth Saskatchewanderer. The past year Ashlyn has been driving around the prairies going on a plethora of adventures both above ground, below ground, in the water, and in the air. From mining underground for potash in Vanscoy to raising the dead in Indian Head, Ashlyn is on her way to breaking over 38,000 kilometers driven by years end.
Although she's done just about everything, from snow kiting to wind surfing to air gliding to pizza growing, Ashlyn's favorite adventure hasn't been the scheduled time, but the unscheduled time – the time when she had the "freedom to wander".
Every town in Saskatchewan has a story, and every town has something unique. She found the best way to really discover a community is to ask the local residences what there is to see. It was the unexpected adventures and spontaneity that created the best memories. One of these was her unexpected bump in with the jiggers just outside Shaunavon.
Ashlyn was also able to spend the night in some pretty extraordinary places, like the teepees of Grasslands National Park, the yurts in Flora Bora and the Water's Edge Eco Lodge in Meadow Lake.
When she wasn't waking up to some of the most gorgeous landscapes our province has to offer, Ashlyn was getting her hands dirty with geologists up at Axis Lake by Stony Rapids, archeologists in Wanuskewin, picking berries in Bend on the River Berries, feeding the cows at Rayner Dairy Research and even catching herself a 25 pound, 43 inch northern pike.
Ashlyn even had the opportunity to fly with the mesmerizing Snowbirds, and took an incredible selfie while flying with the Saskatoon flying club, 3,000 feet into the air!
Unfortunately, Ashlyn's incredible stories of being the Saskatchewanderer are coming to an end. Her final day is December 18th, a little over a month away. Thanks to Ashlyn and Tourism Saskatchewan, the Saskatchewanderer program has blossomed, with over 5,000 followers on Instagram, 6,000 followers on Twitter and 17,000 likes on Facebook. Her inspiring travels have shown corners of the province people knew very little about, and have brought lesser known stories to light – like the fact that Indian Head was once the national capitol of baseball from the 1940s to the 1950s.
The end of Ashlyn's adventure ushers in a new Saskatchewanderer, one with very big shoes to fill. People can apply for the position, but only until November 9th at noon. The position runs from January to December 2016, and you are paid between $55,000 and $60,000 a year.
The website description of the role is: "[To] promote our province to the world, showing what it's like to live, work and play in our province. Some of your responsibilities will include: choosing locations and events to explore, setting up and conducting interviews, shooting and editing video, writing stories and populating a blog, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with high-quality content that shows off the best of Saskatchewan. You will need to be able to work well independently, since most of the time you'll be on the road on your own."
Whoever gets in, Ashlyn has some advice:
"Just be you. Have your own personality."
When asked if she could go back and give herself any advice, she responded:
"I wouldn't do anything different. The summer was really busy... but, there's no way around it. There's just so many great things to write about, so many stories to tell. You want to make sure the whole story's there. I wouldn't change anything I did.
That's satisfying saying that, knowing that. I did the best I was capable of giving all year. I gave it 110% all the time!"
And all of Saskatchewan thanks you, and will miss you.
If you follow my blog, you know I love history. History is what makes us who we are today. It defines our accomplishments and highlights our failures. Most importantly, it helps us move forward as a society.
A lot of my focus is Saskatchewan's history, but there's plenty of amazing history to be told in our neighbour province of Alberta too. From First Nations culture, through to early pioneers, the oil boom and the legacy the province today, there is always something to learn about when visiting Alberta.
Frank Albo is known to many as "The Dan Brown of Canada". He gained this informal title through his many decades of research, interviews and investigations into the secrets of the Manitoba Legislature. Through his work, he claims that Winnipeg was meant to have a much larger role in Canada – going so far to say that it was to be the "Jerusalem of the New World".
It may sound odd, but there are a lot of strange motifs within the Manitoba Legislature that otherwise wouldn't make sense. These include being the exact dimensions of King Solomon's Temple, having medusas and demons guarding the entrances, and a "black star" of sacrifice beneath the rotunda. Stranger still is that none of these symbols are in the visually similar Saskatchewan Legislature which was constructed about the same time and for the same purpose. For some reason, the Manitoba Legislature was uniquely created in this manner.
Albo's research has not only gotten a lot of attention in Canada, but international attention too. One of these people was His Excellency Konstantin Zhigalov, Ambassador of the Republic of Kazakhstan. While visiting Winnipeg in 2014, Zhigalov attended Albo's tour. After it concluded, Zhigalov pulled Albo aside and invited him to the capital of Kazakhstan. The request was peculiar, but the moment Albo arrived, he knew exactly why he was chosen.
Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania shut its doors in 1970. A year later, in 1971, it would briefly reopen and house inmates from Holmesburg Prison after a devastating riot. After the prisoners were returned to Holmesburg, Eastern State would sit empty for over two decades. It would rot, decay and collapse. Trees and shrubs would grow into the structure and a clowder of cats would take residence. These hallowed halls would sit empty, the only noise being the chatter of startled birds and the trotter of feline paws.
The following decades would see various discussions of what to do with the building. Eventually, it was decided to preserve it and turn it into a tourist attraction. Although it officially opened for tours in 1994, attendants would have to sign a waiver and wear hardhats before entering until 2008. They had 10,000 visitors the opening year, a number of tourists not seen in the prison since 1858.
From 1829 to 1970, Eastern State Penitentiary underwent a variety of changes and transformations. This massive, sprawling, 11-acre complex was founded under the belief that solitary confinement was the cure needed to prevent criminals from committing future crimes. It was believed criminals who served in solitary confinement would turn to a higher power to reconcile with themselves for their crimes – hence feeling "penitent". To assist in this process, each cell was equipped with a slit window on the ceiling nicknamed "The Eye of God". It would be the only light source available to the inmate.