Every year Tourism Saskatchewan hires somebody new for their "Saskatchewanderer" position. This individual will visit the far corners of our province, exploring caves, lakes, hills, cliffs, deserts, coves, prairies and even the skies above us. Every year I also reach out to the Saskatchewanderer and learn a bit about them.
Just like how Tourism Saskatchewan likes to mix up where the Saskatchewanderer visits each year, they also like to mix up the person they hire. A few years back they hired Ashlyn George, a teacher turned travel-blogger who has since visited every continent in the world. After that they hired Neil Fisher, a tech expert who worked at the Vancouver Aquarium. Last year they chose Andrew Hiltz, a Saskatchewan-born and raised bartender who had returned from Vancouver. This year they chose somebody different, who's love for Saskatchewan comes from a desire to see what's beyond the city limits. He's a casual traveller who decided to explore the province on weekends and ended up with the best job in the world.
I would like to introduce you to your 2018 Saskatchewanderer, Kevin Dunn.
Kevin was born and raised in Saskatoon, went to the University of Saskatchewan for a Bachelor of Arts degree, and then got a job as a full time equipment operator for the City of Saskatoon. If you live in the Bridge City, you've probably seen him holding signs, digging holes and improving the city's infrastructure some time in the past five years. He liked his job, but he felt like something was missing. After a few years of working, he took weekend trips with his friends outside the city. Those weekend trips became longer, sometimes spanning over a week, and would take him to the far corners of the province like the Great Sandhills or Cypress Hills.
Kevin then started a vlog and practising photography. He did it for fun and watched online tutorials to learn how to do it better. He also followed other Saskatchewan bloggers, vloggers and photographers for inspiration. That is how he found me, over a year ago. Our styles are different; while mine are more intimate, his explores the vastness of space. The content he's been putting out these past few months is already different than his predecessors, which is fantastic to see, as it takes about a half year for the Saskatchewanderer to adopt their own style.
Another element that Kevin brings to the table that past wanderers didn't have is his experience with a drone. This brings a new paradigm to the program because the audience is no longer constrained to a two-dimensional image. Instead of looking at a view of a forest, now, the audience can swoop down the cliff and fly over the trees below.
When I spoke to past wanderers, one thing the always commented on was the food. Neil said he ate too much food, while Andrew said he couldn't have enough food. As for Kevin? He said he hasn't been going out enough to have an opinion.
As somebody who loves food, I asked Kevin what, then, has he been doing for the past four months if not eating every morsel he could find? Since starting in January, Kevin has been up in Northern Saskatchewan. Although he is from Saskatoon, he never explored up north, and visiting this part of the province in the heart of the winter is no easy feat. Kevin has been hiking, biking and traversing throughout this snow-covered landscape, visiting places like Ness Creek Site, Greenwater Lake, Blaine Lake, Waskesiu Lake and Nistowiak Falls.
I visited Nistowiak in the summer a few years back and was blown away by how beautiful the area was. Kevin had a similar experience, but when he visited it, it was covered in snow and ice and looked like Superman's Fortress of Solitude. The falls still run in the sub-zero temperatures and when the wind dies down, you can hear the ice creaking and groaning as the water rushes beneath it. The sounds and sights of the area are nothing but ethereal.
Besides being outside in the winter, Kevin has also been visiting northern schools and communities. The Saskatchewanderer program often involves visiting northern Saskatchewan, coming back south and telling people why they should go visit the area. This time around, Kevin had to tell people from the north about the south, and why they should visit here. This is something we often never think about, but just as we find the lakes, and waterfalls mesmerising, so would people who have never seen endless stretches of prairie.
When asked about what the number one location he wants to visit this year is, Kevin said he really wants to visit the Athabasca Sand Dunes. These sand dunes are incredibly remote and difficult to get to, and have been on the top of mine, and many Saskatchewanderer's lists for years. He said he's determined to get there this year, so I'm excited for when he finally does!
Kevin still has over plenty of time left before he retires as the Saskatchewanderer, but he has some ideas of what he would like to do afterwards. If he can't find an immediate job after finishing the program, he would like to convert a van into a tiny home, and drive across the country. While being the Saskatchewander has offered many opportunities to explore the province, he said the first thing he would do is revisit some of the best locations in Saskatchewan and fully take them in.
Kevin not only brings a new face to the program but he also a distinct perspective. He isn't a world traveller like Ashlyn, he isn't a tech expert like Neil, and he isn't a quirky bartender like Andrew. He's himself, he's relatable, and he's just a guy who wants to get outside, experience the outdoors and have a good time. He's every person who wants to live outside the walls of the office, and who wants to get out and see what life is all about is. He's just like you and me and this is what makes him the perfect 2018 Saskatchewanderer.
I've wanted to visit the Battlefords in Saskatchewan for a few years now. As somebody who loves history, just to visit a city that once housed the capital of the North-West Territories is reason enough. I'm sure I've passed through the city when I was younger, but I've never had the chance to explore it as an adult.
My interest in both cities grew when I was doing research for my 2017 article, "6 Saskatchewan Cemeteries to Visit This October". One individual I interviewed for the article was Don Light of the North-West Historical Society. Light was tasked with the sensitive job of moving about eighty graves within The Battleford Cemetery. Relocating graves is always the last option when it comes to a cemetery, but in this case, they had no choice. The Battleford Cemetery sits on the edge the North Saskatchewan River, and the banks of the cemetery were slowly eroding. Had the graves been left undisturbed, headstones, monuments and caskets would start falling into the roaring river below.
Light and I had an excellent chat that day and he told me many fascinating stories about what they found when they were moving the graves. Some of the graves he had to move were Metis graves, all while under the supervision of police and Indigenous professionals. Many of these caskets had rotted and were open, and they found a plethora of Roman Catholic crosses and First Nation beadwork, a sign of traditional Metis culture.
Normally I sleep very well, but our night in Prince Albert National Park was rough. I woke up a half dozen times, each time curled up at the bottom of my tent, with both my arms on fire. I knew my arms were sore from the sixteen kilometres we canoed the day before, but the pain seemed much worse than normal. Had it been cold out, I would have assumed my muscles were cramping, but it was warm in the tent so that wouldn't make sense. I was too tired to understand why so I straightened myself and attempted to get some sleep.
I woke up to my alarm at seven in the morning. After a little tossing and turning and denial of the day ahead of me, I got up around eight when I heard Kevin getting up.
We brushed our teeth, splashed some of our drinking water on our faces and broke down camp.
I've known Jenn Smith Nelson for several years now, and I often look up to her for inspiration and guidance on how to grow with my blog. I remember hearing about her book over a year ago, and I've been holding my breath in anticipation ever since.
Smith Nelson teamed up with Doug O'Neill, another talented travel writer, to cover two Canadian provinces. Their new book, 110 Nature Hot Spots in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, is a part of a Firefly Books series that showcase Canada's diversity of nature.