Finding heritage and architecture on an epic trip across Canada

Merrilyn continues with her memories of an epic trip across Canada

Picking up from last week, you may recall that I told you of our epic trip across Canada, Rosebud Dinner Theatre and the little town it is situated in. We next traveled through East Coulee, Alberta and past the official hoodoos found on Highway 10. Those hoodoos are just a precursor to the area east of there that contains Dinosaur Provincial Park which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and The Cypress Hills. The teepee rings and ghost towns in this part of western Canada echo with the history of some steely people who lived through indescribable hardships. There is an eeriness that makes a person feel like they are trespassing on sacred places. Colours are faded to pastels and neutrals. Even the antelope appear ghostlike and to see them is a magical gift. It must have had the same profound effect on each wave of inhabitants, starting with prehistory.

As we drifted over the provincial line into southwestern Saskatchewan, we discovered Ponteix, a town of 600 souls. The parish was established in 1908 by Father Albert-Marie Royer, a priest from the Auvergne region of France. Although originally named Notre Dame d’Auvergne, it received its present name within a few years. At this point, I should tell you that most of our camping sites were side streets or little parks. We would also park next to the grain elevators when we were traveling the prairie provinces. More times than not, we would be awakened at about 2 a.m. by that melancholic sound of the whistle of the once a night freight train passing through. I tell you, that sound brought back childhood memories, but I digress. What I wanted to point out is that I was surprised to find such a strong heritage in an area of western Canada that was so decidedly French. The town is dominated by a group of buildings that include a cathedral, plus a school and a hospital originally run by nuns. The architecture was spectacular. We were able to spend a couple of hours exploring the church and viewing the artwork and stained glass windows. We left the next day and just to throw a curve into that little French experience, we found the best ever cafe that served a perogy breakfast that fuelled the next three hundred kilometers or so through little towns such as Willow Bunch, home of the Willow Bunch Giant (a sad story for later) and Assiniboia which, like Ponteix, had remarkable hints of European architecture in its civic buildings.

At this point in the journey, we had been hungrily gobbling up sights, taking photos and talking to locals. Paul was the expert in chatting up folks and he would ferret out the most amazing bits of information about each place. I was still in the information gathering stage as well with no hard conclusions in sight. My information collection was mostly visual and my note taking was slap dash, you know, just the facts. I thought I was being fairly objective and often times quite astute. This was easy! I figured I had the information I would need to sum up the prairie psyche and would deal with that later when I had nailed the rest of Canada. Ha! I was not prepared for crossing the border into Manitoba and all the childhood memories with their emotions attached that would come rushing to smack me right between the eyes.

More about that next week.

 

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