Stonehenge, Saskatchewan, is just a little over two hours southwest of Regina, just past the town of Assiniboia. I've explored this area of the province before on previous trips, but I've never been to Stonehenge. In fact, my journey started out as a trip to Castle Butte, but after seeing a nearby marker for Stonehenge on a map, that quickly became my primary destination.
I've driven this area a few times looking for abandoned buildings. Normally I'd keep an eye out for them, but I knew most of them were a little further south. Before I got that far, I took the turn off to Ogema.
Shortly after, the landscape began to change. Long stretches of prairie turned into rippling hills and then hills turned into a dramatic snow-covered valley. Although I had arrived in the Big Muddy Valley, I still had a bit to drive before arriving at Castle Butte. Under the snow and ice, the valley looked like a massive stretch of prairie, but looking at maps later I realized there were plenty of streams and lakes hidden under the snow.
As I ventured into the valley, my GPS lost signal. I followed the single road through the valley, past a turn off near a dairy farm and then back up the other side. I imagined Castle Butte would stick out like a sore thumb, but I didn't see it. Once I was able to regain signal, I realized the turn off near the dairy farm was exactly what I was looking for. Returning from the south, I then saw a sign that said "Castle Butte" with an arrow. I didn't see a sign coming from the north, so I wonder if the winds of winter had stolen it and buried it under the snow.
After winding past stretches of cows, I eventually saw Castle Butte sitting on the edge of the valley. I had expected it to be surrounded by prairie, but instead there were nearby sandstone cliffs. The road leading up to it gave the illusion that there was nothing around it, but it wasn't as much of a "sore thumb" as I had expected.
Nevertheless, the butte was impressive, and being always adventurous, I immediately attempted to climb it. Unfortunately, as the spring run off had just started, all the main climbing paths had turned to mud. In fact, the road up to Castle Butte was nothing but mud as well. I guess that's expected, since the area is called the Big Muddy Valley.
Big Muddy, and Castle Butte, were a primary landmark used by both the earlier settlers and the RCMP. This area is where Wild West outlaws such as the Sundance Kid, one of Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch members, often hid to escape law enforcement. Caves throughout the area gave him the ability to disappear from the police, only to appear days later. These caves were used by other outlaws as well, such as Dutch Henry and his brother Coyote Pete, Sam Kelly and the Pigeon-Toed Kid. Considered the most northern part of the "Outlaw Trail" this was the final stop on a network of trails that led from Mexico, through the United States and up to Canada. In the summer this area is home to several tours, and the rocking Gateway Festival. Today though, the Butte sate silent, covered in a mix of snow, mud and sand.
Unable to climb the butte, I walked around the half a kilometer wide base of the free-standing structure, amazed at the sedimentary stone that jutted out awkwardly of the otherwise smooth surface. In the winter the massive geological formation was impressive, so I wondered just how breathtaking it would be in the summer.
When I had finished taking pictures, I jumped into my Ford Escape and started back towards the dairy farm. I turned north, exited the valley and carried back onto Highway 13. I passed through the remains of Horizon and drove through the towns of Verwood and Willows before arriving in Assiniboia.
Although Assiniboia is only a couple hours away from Regina, I don't believe I have ever explored it. I stopped at the local A&W for a bathroom break and took a quick look around the town. The first thing that impressed me were the wide streets, and late 19th century shopfronts that were once common throughout the prairies. A lot of them have been replaced with brick buildings in Regina, so I often only see them in ghost towns or Boomtown in Saskatoon. Instead, I saw streets and streets of them in Assiniboia. This really impressed me, and I hope to revisit Assiniboia in the summer so I can explore them further.
After leaving Assiniboia, I followed Highway 2 south for a few kilometers. The road curved so I kept following it. I had checked my phone in Assiniboia to see how far I had to go before I arrived in Stonehenge (as it didn't show up on my car GPS) and I felt like I had gone far enough. Granted, I didn't expect to see a monolithic stone structure, but since it showed up on a map, it had to be something, right?
I pulled over on the empty highway and checked my phone agin. Although the road had curved a few kilometers past, I had mistaken that for a change in highway. I had been going the wrong way for about 10 minutes. I turned my car around, found the correct highway (Highway 719) and kept driving.
Finally, I found the turn off to Stonehenge. I was really excited! What could it be? Was I going to find the "new Beechy" in Saskatchewan? Would this be the new hot spot for provincial travel? Would there be some kind of sign symbolizing the stone formation 6,700 kilometers away? Was there going to be a Heritage Saskatchewan pullover that talked about the British settlers that arrived here over a century ago?
I kept driving and I didn't see anything, so I pulled out my phone again, checked the map and it saw I had driven past it. I turned my car around, held my phone against the steering wheel and watched. Slowly I encroached closer and closer to the marker. Was it here? No, just a little further. Was it here? Not yet. Now? Finally, I had arrived.
But there was nothing here. I was sitting in the middle of a gravel road surrounded by snow covered prairie. There was no sign, there was no structure, there was no building, and there certainly wasn't a 5,000-year-old pile of stones.
It turns out Stonehenge is a rural municipality. It's a vast area, not a singular location, and this marker just happened to be where it began. The population of Stonehenge is somewhere around 440 and covers a vast area of farmland. I didn't explore the area to see if there was anything that connected it to Stonehenge in England, other than the namesake, so I made my own little Stonehenge instead.
It was small, and probably fell down the moment I drove away, but it was a journey to Stonehenge nevertheless.
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And, as always, a big thank you to my sweetheart Jessica Nuttall for proof reading a countless number of my articles. I couldn't do any of this without you. I love you.
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About a year and a half ago I visited Kyiv, Ukraine. As I walked down the millennium old streets and gawked at the towering cathedrals, I saw the beginnings of a new country, one that was slowly rebuilding from a much darker time. The process of what I was seeing had a name. It was called decommunization.
Decommunization includes renaming architecture, changing laws and protocols, and even tearing down monuments. People's Friendship Arch in Kyiv, for example, which symbolised the friendship between the Communist East and the Capitalist West, was torn down. Some statues, like war memorials, are exempt, but there is still talk of making modifications to them. Anywhere you go throughout the former Soviet Union, the hammer and sickle are being removed – not from history, but from modern society.
Nestled between the impressive Mount Royal and the majestic St. Lawrence River is Montreal, a city known for its festivals, abstract art, history and mosaic of countless cultures. Montreal is the second largest city in Canada, with a population floating around four million people. While the city is a dynamic mix of Canada's two primary cultures – French and English – there are areas of the city that are culturally specific, such as Little Italy, Greektown and Chinatown. Known for its artistic and liberal mindedness, Montreal also boasts the largest community of homosexuals in North America in their very own "Gay Village".
Being nearly 375 years old, Montreal was pivotal to the creation of New France and Canada and at a time held control over every waterway from the St. Lawrence down to the Gulf of Mexico. Having such incredible influence over the western part of the New World, Montreal hosted the "Great Peace of Montreal" in 1701, which started sixteen years of peace between the French and over 40 different First Nation tribes in North America.
Since its early days, Montreal has been one of the most influential cities in Canada. Montreal housed "internment camps" during World War I, became an ideal location for Americans looking for alcohol during Prohibition, and was the official residence of the Luxembourg royal family during World War II. Montreal held host to the incredible Expo 67, showcasing some of the most incredible architecture of that decade. The seventies saw serious political reformation in Montreal, with many Americans arriving, fleeing the Vietnam Draft. The late seventies paralyzed the city as a terrorist organization, the Front de libération du Québec, detonated explosives throughout the city and kidnapped and killed political figures. These actions forced the Prime Minster to enact the "War Measures Act" and deploy the military into the city to apprehend the terrorists. The eighties and nineties saw two referendums in the province of Quebec to separate from Canada, with Montreal playing a major role in both decisions. The last referendum in 1995 ended with 51% percent of Quebecers wanting to remain part of Canada and 49% wanting to separate.
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.