After we left Drumheller, the road was pretty straight through to Regina and then Winnipeg.
What I didn’t know is that south-western Saskatchewan is extremely beautiful, full of salt-water lakes, and pelicans! Our conversation went something like this:
“Why are there seagulls flying around? Is that a seagull?” “No I think that’s a Canada goose.” “What’s wrong with it? It looks all weird.” “Maybe it’s a heron.” “But it’s bigger.” “I think that’s a pelican.” “What?” “No really, I think that’s a pelican.” And so on and so forth. I asked Facebook, and was quickly told that, yes, south-western Saskatchewan has lots of pelicans – prairie pelicans. And not two minutes later, we saw an entire flock of them. And found evidence in Regina, where we stopped to take Lucy for a walk.
The next day we went looking for some of the places where Tim’s family had (possibly) lived in the early twentieth century. We ended up finding a whole lot of prairie gothic, crumbling buildings and A MEGATON OF VERY LARGE mosquitoes. I have never seen mosquitoes like the ones in Saskatchewan. It’s less like a cloud of mosquitoes than a full-fledged whirling blizzard of giant bitey flying critters, most of them an inch long. Really, they’re more like pterodactyls than insects per se. I think it was safe to say that by this point we were out of the pretty part of Saskatchewan, and into the part full of mud and things that will eat you. I am writing this from the safety of London, ON, two weeks later and thousands of kilometers away and the car is STILL covered in Saskatchewan mud despite numerous torrential rain showers. I doubt it will ever come off. Fortunately I think we left the mosquitoes behind.
There are lots of tiny towns in this part of Saskatchewan. Their names change, they disappear, they get incorporated into other towns and so on. We weren’t sure if we found any of the places where Tim’s family lived, but I think we got a sense of the area in any case. We did stop at the Whitewood Museum to see if we could find any evidence. We didn’t, but it was a fun little community museum nonetheless.
I love community museums where people just donate whatever might be important to them – like a KFC trophy.
The museum also had this stellar piece of Canadian history: are you a secret feminist? The questions are hilarious.
And this was the super creepy ad on the following page.
Right across the Trans Canada from Whitewood is Old Geo’s Antiques. All that’s really visible from the road is this sign.
And at the end of a gravel driveway is this house (this isn’t my picture – I was so overwhelmed that I forgot to take one):
It looks like a junkyard, and the day we were dropped by there was a lot more junk than in this picture. So much junk that you couldn’t see this:
To say we were both a little nervous would be an understatement. It looks like the setting for something very, very bad; like those bones might not be the only bones on the property (I have to say, if we’d seen the bones, I don’t think we would have gotten out of the car). But we did … and all of the rest of the photos are mine. We knocked on the door, and a man with unkempt long hair and yellow glasses immediately opened it. This was George, he was obviously used to somewhat timid visitors, and he launched immediately into a prepared spiel. Which lasted two hours and was definitely one of the most unexpected and amazing tours of this entire trip. First though, we had to douse ourselves in mosquito repellent and make our way through this path to…actually, I don’t know where. The entire time we were outside I had no idea where we were.
The path opens up into George’s Old West Village – some 30 buildings, many of them historic and forgotten pioneer structures that he’s hauled back to his property.
George seems totally unphased by the mosquitoes.
Not so much for us. Tim actually got a giant pteradactyl in his eye, which George then tried to pick out. Trip memories that will last a lifetime. The pain lasted a couple of days.
In any case, each separate building has a theme, and the buildings are chock-a-block full of stuff that George has found, bought, traded for and (mostly) been given. A lot of it is junk, all of it is covered in Saskatchewan mud and dust, but there are definitely some treasures, and the whole thing is completely and totally amazing.
The chapel, outside and in.
The Chinese laundry.
The lamp room.
George himself, telling us stories (and he’s got some good ones, believe me).
Tim listening intently.
At this point we were in one of the cabins (you can stay in them overnight if you wish). Up to 40 people at a time can stay in the village, and by all accounts they do! So many, in fact, that George is on the lookout for another outhouse….
The star attraction is the saloon. George built everything himself, all from stuff he had collected. What resulted is an 1890s old west saloon, that actually functions as a bar when anyone is visiting.
The (original) workmanship on one of the cabins.
This was the “deserted” cabin. He wanted it to look like a family had just upped and left, like they might have during the Dust Bowl.
Shelves and shelves of enamel.
The blacksmith shop, not organized yet, he told us, but functional.
30 cabins later, we made it back to the house. George is actually from the area, but he’s only lived on this property for 29 years. Prior to that the house was sort of crumbling away. Now it’s possible that it might be held up by the stuff that’s in it … there is so much stuff. All organized.
The kitchen and living room.
The living room is where the treasures are kept.
Including this. 22,000 visitors, he said, and no one knows what this is. I had no idea.
These photos are from upstairs, where the rooms have themes.
This is the attic.
And this is the basement.
And finally, the “primitive” room, with an extremely old birchbark canoe.
Here’s George himself.
Honestly, it would have been easy to spend hours here. The collection is immense. George asked what we did and found out that I am a Museum Studies professor. He asked, on the way out, what he could do with the collection. It’s sad, really, that there isn’t an easy answer. He said he’d already contacted a museum, and they wanted it, but only if it was catalogued. There’s no way he could catalogue all of this, nor would he want to. He says he already spends 10 hours a day just building stuff and he’s already not in great health. Why catalogue when you can build and organize? Really, I think one of the only answers is to either find someone who will take it over, or to do something like Elsewhere where it becomes an art project. But Greensboro and Whitewood are very different places – I’m not sure that clouds of mosquitoes are attractive to the people who would have to be on site all the time. Anyway, I told George that I would spread the word, so this is me spreading it and saying that there does need to be some kind of legacy for these types of places. And that legacy will never fit into a traditional museum format. Any ideas?
After Geo’s, the drive to Winnipeg was long, uneventful, and long. So long. We were pretty exhausted in Winnipeg, and just sort of hibernated (although we did take a trip to see the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. I’m going back in September for the opening!).
From there we made our way north to Thunder Bay, where we hung out with my PhD friends Kristy and Andrea, consumed large amounts of Finnish pancakes (SO GOOD), and took Lucy to see a waterfall. I managed not to get a single mosquito bite in Saskatchewan, at Kakabeka Falls I got so many on the backs of my legs that I think I actually was poisoned. I kept getting weird leg cramps where all the bites were. Yikes. The falls were astounding though.
By this point, the call of home was getting louder. We were both really tired and the drives seemed to get longer and longer. Fortunately the drive from Thunder Bay to Sault Ste Marie is really beautiful. We stayed in the Sault for a night and then made our way to North Bay.
There we continued the northern Ontario tour of my friends from grad school, staying with Susan, another former Queen’s PhD. On the way out of town, we spotted the Dionne Quintuplets museum, and we decided that we might as well go. It was tiny, and fun, but also seriously questioned what had happened with the quintuplets. Quintland? Insanity.
North Bay led to our last stop in Montreal. While Tim brewed beer with his friend Duncan (bringing us almost full circle as they brewed a first batch when we went through Montreal in November), I was downtown at a workshop. It was a nice way to end the trip with my friends Tina and Laura, some good conversations about our book, and a nice concert at the Jazz Fest to top it all off.
And then, we went home. We didn’t do a very good job with the end of trip selfie, but here we are, me, Tim, Lucy and Larry the Yaris. 39,305.8km later. What an amazing trip.