A few articles ago I listed Ogema as one of the top destinations to visit in Saskatchewan. Immediately after I wrote the article, I put my money where my mouth was and booked a weekend trip to Ogema for my girlfriend and me. I figured it wouldn't be fair to my readers to recommend a place for them to visit without actually visiting it myself, and after getting my new Galaxy S7 from TELUS I figured I needed a reason to test it out.
Earlier this year I took my Galaxy S6 to La Ronge, and had very little coverage. I wanted to use Facebook's new Live Video option, but I couldn't get enough service to even send a text message. I was pretty disappointed by the coverage with that provider, so I was interested to see how TELUS' network was in Ogema.
The result was pretty darn good! We streamed Spotify all the way there, were able to do a Live Video from the Deep South Pioneer Museum and took some really great pictures and videos of the trip. It also helped to have a reliable network when I got lost driving there (don't ask me how!). TELUS has invested over $29 billion into their network since 2000 and it has really paid off. It's a great feeling knowing that no matter where you travel, you can rely on TELUS to keep you connected.
We left Regina a little after 7 PM, took the highway down to Ogema and rolled into Burns' House Bed and Breakfast about two hours later. Our host, Shelia Larson, met us there, and gave us a quick tour. The bed and breakfast has four rooms available, ranging from $80 to $90 a night, has free Wi-Fi, satellite TV, and offers a unique experience of the prairie landscape.
My girlfriend grew up on a farm and moved into Regina about four years ago. One of the things she misses the most about the farm is the quiet silence the country has to offer. After unpacking our bags and just pausing to catch up on social media, she told me how much she enjoyed the silence away from the hustle and bustle of city life. I couldn't agree more!
After unpacking, we took a walk around the house, went for a night stroll on the property and then came inside to play some board games. As the day was ending, we washed up and were getting ready for bed when a strange scream came from outside. Jessica informed me that it was just some nearby coyotes, which was another sound she missed from her time on the farm. Unlike the earlier silence, I didn't care for the howling coyotes outside, so I was happy when they stopped.
The next morning we had fruit, yogurt, fried eggs, bacon and toast for breakfast. Shelia also had a variety of different foods for people with different diets, including gluten free options. After breakfast we learned about the history of the property. The two-story house is a beautifully restored 1919 structure, purchased out of a T. Eaton's catalogue. It had fallen to disrepair after it was abandoned in the 1970s and quickly became home to raccoons. In 2003 Sheila and her husband Harry found the house and, recognizing its potential, cleared it out and moved it to its current location. It would take them over a decade to refurbish it, but when they finished it was a gorgeous, one of a kind bed and breakfast. It officially opened in June of 2015 and has already attracted guests from as far away as Switzerland.
After our delicious breakfast, we packed our bags and drove the short 18 minutes to Ogema. Having more than an hour to spare, we dropped by the Deep South Pioneer Museum. Admission is $5, or free if you have tickets to the Southern Prairie Railway train. The only requirement to get free access is that you have to present them physically to the museum's front desk. If you didn't print them earlier, that's okay because the Southern Prairie Railway train station will print them off for you.
The Deep South Pioneer Museum is made up of 32 buildings, making it one of the largest in Western Canada, and is all community owned and operated. The museum was constructed in 1977 and was built to showcase the lives of early settlers in the region, preserving their technology and way of life. The museum has buildings such as the Radio Shop, the Café, the Post-Office, the church, a traditional house, and the school. The Union Jack is commonly seen in these buildings – since Canada didn't have its own flag yet – as well as pictures of Queen Elizabeth II when she was a child, back when she was Princess Elizabeth. There are outdated maps of Canada before Newfoundland became Newfoundland and Labrador, and before Nunavut split from the Northwest Territories. There is also a map that shows the turbulent borders of Europe prior to World War II.
To cover more ground, Jessica and I separated, with myself taking the buildings along Main Street and Jessica going to see the buildings deeper into the museum. We met up at the half way point near the church and discussed some of the things we saw. It was unanimous that the museum was pretty awesome, but we didn't have nearly enough time to explore the whole thing. If you're planning to visit the Deep South Pioneer Museum, give yourself a few hours to take in all the buildings.
After the museum we stopped at the Rolling Hills Restaurant, just down the street from the train station. When we got there the earlier train had just arrived at the station, and about ten minutes after ordering our meal the restaurant got very busy with post-train tourists. The food was very good, but if I ever went back I would pick a quieter time to really enjoy the quaintness of a small town restaurant.
After eating we walked down to the train station. The story of the train station is fascinating, as it shows the determination of a town to revitalize itself. The original train station was built in 1912 and survived for 59 years, bringing life into Ogema. In 1971 the Canadian Pacific Railway closed the station, as it would with many stations throughout Saskatchewan, and the train no longer roared through the town. To the denizens of Ogema, the town was never the same. It was like "a mouth missing one of its front teeth", says Southern Prairie Railway's book "Pulling the Past into the Future". After closing down, the train station was dismantled and used to store grain.
In 1998 the town decided to find another train station, and located an identical station in Simpson, Saskatchewan, 270 kilometers away. In 2002 the new station arrived into Ogema, being transported down grid roads in two parts. Once the two parts were reattached, the CPR provided paint colors for the inside of the station. Items were also brought in from the museum to complete the 1920s look.
The train station was then completed, minus the train. After some searching, an engine was found in New Hampshire and a passenger train was found in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The cost of bringing the trains to Ogema was over $100,000, and between 4,000 to 5,000 hours of volunteer work was spent to restore them. A third car, a baggage car, was acquired in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, and is currently being refurbished. When complete it will be used to provide a wider variety of food and beverages to the guests.
The train tour we took was the Heritage Tour, a two and a half hour long train ride to the ghost town of Horizon. Horizon was once a thriving community, but once Highway 13 was moved and no longer cut through the town, it quickly became abandoned. All that remains is one grain elevator and one house. The train took an hour to get there, spent a half hour there, and then took an hour back. The train only went about 20 kilometers an hour so there was plenty of opportunity to photograph the gorgeous prairie landscape.
The grain elevator was also very interesting, especially since I have always seen them but have never been inside. For those who don't know what grain elevators are, they are where farmers would bring their yearly grain to be graded, weighed and priced. Due to the highly flammable grain dust, smoking is not prohibited inside the building – even though it has been decommissioned for decades. Our guide told us about the elevators' "leg" where grain is filtered down into the "boot" and then spouted out to train cars to distribute it. We also learned about the architecture of the 100 foot high elevator and how securely it had to be built to support the extreme weight of the grain. We were told that the elevators are so strongly built that when they are condemned, they are simply knocked down and left to rot because it's easier than trying to tear the boards apart.
Once we arrived back in Ogema, we took a few more pictures of the train, checked out the line up at the local ice cream shop and headed back home to Regina. We rolled in around supper time. It would be easy to make it a one day trip, or a whole weekend getaway, depending on the number of things you wanted to see. One place we didn't get to was Castle Butte, which isn't that far from Ogema. There is an eight hour tour of the area that I've been dying to go on, so this probably won't be the last time I visit Ogema.
Ever since visiting the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg last summer, I've wanted to include more about First Nations culture on my blog. Being of European descent, I often feel I am culturally blind to First Nations culture, and I noticed a severe lack of it in my writing. In fact, I feel in past articles a lot of my focus has been on European history in the New World, with only a side note regarding First Nations history. Now, I am trying for there to be more equal representation in my blog.
To finish off my #BucketlistAB series, I thought this article would be the perfect place to flip the tables, and instead focus on First Nations culture, with a European side note. Sometimes it is impossible to talk about one without the other, but I tried to focus more on the First Nations people and their story in this article. Please let me know what you think in the comments below.
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