Summer Travel ’09: Saskatchewan

Sparkling lakes and golden fields
Brian Banks

SaskatchewanHike Among the Bison/Grasslands National Park When most people envision the Prairies, they think of fields under cultivation or rangeland. But before European settlement brought fencing and agriculture, much of the natural prairie was, in fact, grassland. And it was occupied by vast herds of wild bison. Today there are only a handful of areas of mixed-grass prairie still in existence. One of them is Grasslands National Park. Its rolling terrain and colourful ground cover is spellbinding. Equally enchanting is the chance to hike among a herd of plains bison that were reintroduced in 2006. The animals have free range over 181 sq. km in the park’s western block and are flourishing.

Churchill River/Lac La Ronge Peaceful, gentle, big-sky Saskatchewan has a wild side. It reveals itself where the flatlands of the south yield to the exposed Canadian Shield north of the 55th parallel, and suddenly lakes, rivers, rocks and forest are everywhere. For kayakers and canoers, this is nirvana. There’s no shortage of options, but the mighty Churchill River is one of the most popular draws for paddlers of all skill levels. The river cuts a ragged path across the entire province, from Churchill Lakes in the northwest to Sandy Bay in the east, skirting Lac La Ronge and La Ronge Provincial Park on the way. Outfitters are standing by.

ALSO AT MACLEANS.CA: Full coverage of Summer Travel ’09

RCMP Heritage/Regina (July 1-Aug. 11) The city of Regina is home to the only training academy for new Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers. That academy becomes an attraction every summer when, once a week, it stages the Sunset-Retreat Ceremony. The ceremony, which lasts about 45 minutes, replicates the British military tradition of having a drummer signal a post’s daily routines. At sunset, in this case, a lone drummer beats out a tattoo that is a “signal” to all personnel to return to the post. Once they do, the post’s flag is lowered and another day is marked. Visitors can find out even more by visiting the Arthur Erickson-designed RCMP Heritage Centre, also located on the academy grounds.

Saskatchewan Jazz Festival/Saskatoon (June 26-July 5) Saskatoon has a long list of summer festivals on tap, from the Pride Festival in early June to the Saskatoon Fringe Theatre Festival in early August. But the biggest and most popular is the Saskatchewan Jazz Festival. The 10-day event this year features headliners such as Buddy Guy, Kool & the Gang, the David Sanborn Group, as well as Canadians Kurt Elling, Nikki Yanofsky and K-OS. The big names play to big crowds at the Delta Bessborough Gardens and Broadway Theatre; local and smaller acts fill free stages in parks and clubs around town.

Summer Star Party/Cypress Hills Dark Sky Reserve (Aug. 13-16) Unlike most attractions, the appeal of a dark sky preserve is what you don’t see—light—or, more precisely, “sky glow” or “light pollution” from surrounding areas that reduces the visibility of stars, planets and other features in the night sky. Canada is a world leader in the creation of these sanctuaries, with at least nine. The preserve at Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, established in 2004, is one of the largest (39,600 hectares) and also one of the darkest. The annual Summer Star Party attracts professional and amateur astronomers, and at different times the public is invited to share in the extraordinary viewing experience. This year, the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada is holding its annual meeting in conjunction with the Star Party event.