Southern Saskatchewan, Land of the Living Skies. Canada’s Breadbasket. The Prairie Heartland. Known the world over as “Sasquatch!? WHERE?!?!?” What is there to do in a place you have never heard of? Well, it turns out there are tons of things to do in Regina Saskatchewan!
Where is Saskatchewan?
First things first, Saskatchewan is a province of Canada, in the middle. It is the heart of the Prairies. Parts of it could safely be assumed to be the flattest land in the world. Other parts are heavily forested and practically impassable. It is home to hundreds of lakes and rivers, beautiful crop land, and straight roads. Despite all of this, Saskatchewan isn’t on the typical tourist trail. People often make lewd jokes about the provincial capital’s name. So why have I been to Saskatchewan three times? Two words: Lindsay Manko.
Lindsay Manko is an enigmatic soul who I first met in 2003 at the University of Victoria. She has been my best friend and one of my favourite people ever since. She is from Southern Saskatchewan and now lives in Regina. So naturally, with my upcoming year in Jamaica, I needed to make a trip to see her before leaving. Also, Lindsay has a fetus in her body, so there’s that too.
Regina, Saskatchewan is home to Ms. Manko, as well as to a small football team called the Saskatchewan Rough Riders. Rough Riders fans are said to be some of the most loyal, frenzied fans in Canada, and there was a game the weekend I was visiting. We did not go. This is what we did do:
Things to do in Regina Saskatchewan
I arrived on a Friday afternoon and after a lovely meal and some local ale at Leopold’s Tavern, Lindsay and I started what would turn out to be a weekend of Saskatchewan history and culture. I was going to get the full Southern Sask/Prairie culture experience. With so many things to do in Regina, we had to have naps on Sunday. But I’m getting ahead of myself!
The Trial of Louis Riel in Regina Saskatchewan
First up, a trip to the Royal Saskatchewan Museum to see a play, the yearly tradition of The Trial of Louis Riel. For readers who did not take Social Studies 10 in a Canadian high school, Louis Riel was a Metis rabble-rouser and rights advocate during the time in Canadian history when the ‘West was being won’ and conflict between First Peoples and the new Confederation of Canada was abound. Well, there is still conflict between these two parties, so I’ll be more specific and say he lived between 1844 and 1885. Riel was a major player in the interaction between Metis (First Peoples with both Aboriginal and French ancestry) and the government. He was outspoken for Metis rights, and was not afraid to take up arms. Louis is a huge part of Aboriginal, Prairie, and Canadian history.
After a rebellion in Manitoba, he fled to the US for a time, only to return to Canada for another rebellion, after which he was caught by the feds and faced trial for treason (and basically being a pain in the Canadian governments collective ass). Sorry to say, and spoiler alert, as passionate as Riel’s famous speech in his own defence was, it was all for naught, and Mr. Riel was found guilty of everything they could throw at him, and was sentenced to a tragic end.
The play we saw, The Trial of Louis Riel, was commissioned by the City of Regina to commemorate the 100th birthday of Canada in 1967. It runs every year for three weekends, around the anniversary of the trial that took place in Regina. It has run for 49 years, making it the longest continually run play in North America. I know, I was impressed too!
So we went to the play, and learned so much! I mean, I wasn’t a bad history student in school, but wow, did I know nothing! The play was written directly from transcripts of the trial, and stuck to the plot! Lindsay and I did joke about the lack of ‘diversity’ in the cast, as naturally given the era the trial took place, everybody involved, save for Louis himself, was a white male. Thoroughly impressed by the guy who played Louis (he nailed the famous Riel speech) we were thrilled about getting our pictures taken with Louis after the play was finished. Just us, a major Canadian historical figure, and his literal ball and chain!
We were very glad we went, what a beginning to Saskatchewan Prairie Culture Weekend!
Day Trip on the Southern Prairie Railway in Saskatchewan
The next morning, we got an early start, as we had a train to catch. Literally, we were going to ride a historical train! Despite waking up early, we still hadn’t really left enough time to make our 10am ride on the Southern Prairie Railway out of Ogema, Saskatchewan. As the driver for the weekend, I let that car fly across those Prairies! I tell you, I am typically a pretty defensive driver, but that flat land and those straight roads make you feel like you are going a respectable speed, only to look down and notice you’re basically in a NASCAR event!
Thanks to my excessive speeding and disrespect for traffic regulations, we made our train and boarded the 1922 train car, pulled by a 1945 diesel electric locomotive. It was somewhat reminiscent of my ride on the Hershey Train in Cuba, except these seats were far more comfortable, and the scenery was of stunning Prairie vistas, brilliant yellow canola fields, and watery blue flax. We passed 7 miles from Ogema to Glasnevin, population 2, all the while hearing history and anecdotes from our knowledgeable guide. Lindsay and I also enjoyed a nice cold drink each, this was luxury! We saw three coyotes along the way! Fun. It was a very cool thing to do!
Fun fact about the small town of Ogema: When it was originally founded, as it was along the railroad, the railway master went to name is Omega. At the ceremony, he was told that there already was an Omega, Saskatchewan, so he merely flipped the two consonants, and thus named the town of Ogema!
That’s what is called pragmatism.
Another 7 miles from Glasnevin, we arrived at our destination, the almost deserted town of Horizon, home to a 1922 grain elevator. Now, I have been in a modern grain elevator with my Uncle Larry in Eastern Washington state during harvest, but at the age of 12 I didn’t quite grasp who neat they are. We heard all about old grain elevators and the parts they played both on the railway and in Saskatchewan. So interesting! Did you know that grain elevators are built so strongly with 2x4s all nailed together so tightly all the way up that they are basically INDESTRUCTIBLE??? Seems like overkill to me, but hey, if it keeps the grain dry, do it! Most of the old grain elevators unfortunately have been destroyed (with fire), so historical societies like the South Pacific Railway organization are working hard to save the remaining ones in Southern Saskatchewan.
Weyburn’s KFC Buffet
After the train ride back to Ogema, we drove towards Weyburn, Saskatchewan, renowned as the ‘Largest Inland Grain Gathering Point in Canada’ and the birthplace of Lindsay Manko. Lindsay had sent me an article several months back about a Weyburn landmark, the KFC buffet.
KFC BUFFET???? These exist?!?!!?
Barely. They were never that common, but as time has worn on KFC has closed them all the world over, except for two. Both of which are located in the province of Saskatchewan and one of which is in Weyburn.
Several months ago, KFC Corporate tried to close this one, and the entire province went up in arms, with the Premier tweeting about it and the Minister of Health (yeah, the guy in charge of the province’s HEALTH) visiting the buffet and advocating for its security. Of all the causes to champion… I had to go! There are some things you can skip, one of two KFC buffets in the world is not one of those things.
To me, this is the height of Saskatchewan tourist attraction. If I can be a glutton under the guise of “I need to do it for my blog…” I’m like a pig in shit. Almost literally, in this instance.
With my ever healthy appetite, we hit the KFC buffet for lunch. The buffet had the typical culprits, coleslaw, mashed potatoes, gravy, macaroni salad and of course a ton of chicken. Interestingly, the array also included nachos and three different kinds of Jello!
I will take it all!!!!
I started with a little of everything, heaping my paper plate with all the goodness. It was undoubtedly one of those moments I would look back on, while convulsing on a toilet, and regret. But I had no time for foresight, I had chicken to eat! After my first plate, I felt great, and returned for a clean paper plate and another 2 pieces of chicken.
In total, I ate half a chicken. Half a KFC chicken!! As they say, live each moment like it’s your last.
Somerville Fun Fest, Weyburn Saskatchewan
In a pseudo-KFC coma, Manko and I stopped by the infamous Somerville Fun Fest, otherwise known as the best organized beer Olympics in the province of Saskatchewan. For the past 5 years, a couple called the Somervilles have hosted an elaborate day of drinking games in which teams of four, split into countries and wearing country specific costumes compete for the grand prizes and bragging rights.
With Lindsay knocked up, we weren’t there to compete, but being a spectator made me want to return with costume and drinks next year! I never heard what country won, but I know Team America, dressed up as 4 Donald Trumps were waging war against Team Mexico, who had brought their own Wall. Hysterical.
Also impressive at the Somerville Olympics was the purpose made, competition precise 8 way beer pong table. For anybody who doesn’t know about beer pong, I have found the Beer Pong Wikipedia page for you. Clearly you haven’t been to university recently. Or to Saskatchewan ever.
Another important aspect to beer drinking in Saskatchewan is the shotgun. Shotgunning is an art that requires dexterity, agility, speed, and lack of shame. You pierce a hole on the side of your beer, near the bottom of the can, seal your mouth around this hole, crack the top, and then with the pressure of air, guzzle the beer as fast as your throat allows. This video can help understand this more: How to Shotgun a Beer
I have never been a good shotgunner. Lindsay Manko has always been a star. There were many shotguns at her wedding a year ago and there were many at the Somerville Olympics.
A visit to Weyburn is not complete without a night staying with Grandma Gail, Lindsay’s Grandma. Gail is tons of fun. She drove us around town in her convertible (which she also drives pretty fast, so she and I are clearly on the same page), giving me the highlights of Weyburn tourist attractions.
Guided Tour in Weyburn Saskatchewan
We visited the Tommy Douglas statue (Hailing from Weyburn and voted the Most Influential Canadian of All Time for his creation of our renowned universal health care system, take that Obamacare!), drove past W.O. Mitchell’s house (writer of Who Has Seen the Wind), the site where Lindsay and Mike were married (hands over our hearts!) and Gail’s old farm where she and her husband had a fight in a wheat field about Tommy Douglas. Gail also drag raced a large truck.
Lastly, we went through the Dairy Queen here we ordered a litre of ice cream as well as three Dixie Bell sundaes, a specialty that you can only get in Weyburn which is a swirled combination sundae of both hot fudge and caramel. We think the window guy assumed we were stoned when he gave us a spoon with the litre of ice cream. We weren’t stoned or drunk, just high on Saskatchewan! Through the whole drive, the sun was slowly setting and we rejoiced in those Living Skies that Saskatchewan brags about on their license plates.
On the way back to Regina the next morning, Lindsay and I were regaled by the show of a crop duster spraying a field right beside the highway. Seriously, we watched this plane swoop down so low we thought he would hit the power lines, only to then suddenly angle straight up to come back around. As we drove past, despite knowing what was coming, I actually slammed on the brakes and screamed, convinced he was going to hit us. He didn’t.
Visit the RCMP Heritage Centre
That afternoon back in Regina, we continued my Prairie education and visited the RCMP Heritage Centre. Again some context: the RCMP is short for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and the central training facility where every recruit must complete their police training is in Regina, a large facility called Depot. They have built a fantastic heritage centre just off the grounds, which was hosting a play! Yes, another play, but this one was, wait for it… a play on horseback! We had to, how could we not? Another great thing to do in Regina? Serve it up!
The RCMP play was about the meeting of Major Walsh and the famous Aboriginal chief Tatonka, or better known by his English name Sitting Bull. Tatonka led his Lakota tribe warriors against the American army and defeated Custer at Little Big Horn, much to the chagrin of the Yankees. He and his people then fled back to Canada to their traditional hunting lands. Tatonka and Major Walsh, who was basically in charge of the Saskatchewan area, met and came to a cordial agreement to the peace and satisfaction of all. Some years later, the Dominion of Canada didn’t feel like honouring this agreement anymore, and forced Tatonka and his people back to the US. Tatonka actually did alright for himself, later joining the Wild Bill West travelling show, and making a lot of cash.
The play…was amazing! It told an interesting bit of history, the actors were all either experienced amateurs or actual young actors, and the horses, well they were very pretty! I thought it was a very fair portrayal of both sides of history, not sugarcoating the fact that yes, Canada did its fair share of screwing over the Native people. The play was outside, and the horses were on and off the ‘stage’, which also included a traditional teepee. Lindsay and I both loved it, and were quite moved at the end, goosebumps and all!
After the play we went for a driving tour of Depot, and got the whole story of what it’s like to be in training for the RCMP. Not something I would ever want to do, I’m not so into rules and stuff, but I’m sure glad that other people are into it. We also took a quick look around the museum part of the Heritage Centre. I would have loved more time, but it was closing so really, we got a chance to take pictures wearing RCMP uniforms and hats from various eras, and that was about it. Always love a good dress-up corner!
Walking in Wascana Trails, Saskatchewan
For the early evening, we drove out of Regina to the Wascana Trails, a gorgeous creek valley with walking trails throughout. We were on the hunt for Saskatoon berries growing wild along the paths, and boy did we find them! Saskatoon berries are a Prairie treat, and eating them ripe off the bush is a joy. By this time, we were both wiped out, so much culture, so much activity! Time for pizza delivery and bed!
By Monday morning, Lindsay had to head to work, but her husband Mike and I met her for breakfast anyways before my flight out. Between the historical figures, the gorgeous vistas, and the scrumptious KFC buffet, I can attest there are all kinds of things to do in and around Regina Saskatchewan that do not include watching football! It was a truly great weekend, in which not only did I get a full Saskatchewan experience, but I got to spend the whole time with my best friend. Sigh, more goosebumps. Love you Lindsay!
Things to do in Regina Saskatchewan
The train car that we rode on the Southern Prairie Railway was almost 100% original save for the glass of the upper windows. The seats were such that they could be flipped so that passengers never had to sit moving backwards. I was quite thrown off by this when we got back on the train and needed to have a good look at those hinges!
A trip to the Royal Saskatchewan Museum is never complete without a quick visit to Mega Munch, the terrifying robotic T-Rex who has his own very dark and very creepy nook. Mega Munch is on a censor, so when you walk towards him he starts to move and roar. He is horrifying. It’s actually difficult to look at him or get too close. Lindsay’s husband Mike hates Mega Munch on principle, but for now at least, Mega Munch is a solid Regina tourist attraction.
I got to drive for most of the weekend as Lindsay isn’t feel too hot with the baby cooking inside her. Thankfully Lindsay is a great navigator and is totally cool with stopping at “Points of Interest”, aka the original site of some town that no longer exists.
Mike, Lindsay’s husband, was gone for most of the weekend at a music festival, Craven Country Music. We did not go, despite our loves for country music, mainly because we didn’t want to stand for too long in mud pit. Sounded like it was quite the time!
Not going to a Riders game was not shocking. I have never been to a Canadian Football League game, and have no intention of starting. The only football I enjoy is coached by Coach Eric Taylor with Tim Riggins blocking.
Basically, everybody should go to Saskatchewan. There are so many things to do in Regina, who new?!?! On your road trip across Canada, don’t just blast through the Prairies, they are so pretty and so fun! And really if you want a great guide and a guaranteed hoot of a time, shoot me a message and I’ll hook you up with Lindsay and Gail!
Have you been to Saskatchewan? Tell me your favourite things to do in Regina and Southern Saskatchewan!
This blog is dedicated to my wonderful Aunt Joan and Uncle Larry, who I thought of often during my weekend in Sask, what with the horses, the trains, the grain elevators and much thought of farming! Love you!