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Published: June 28th 2006
Canada has it's fair share of unusual town names, Moosejaw being the first that I've hit. Whilst sitting on the Greyhound from Alberta, the image of a goofy looking horse with horns talking non stop on the seat next to me kept popping into my head. Of course it never came to life, which is clearly a good thing as I don't really want to be that crazy on my travels. After a not so restful sleep rolling along the flatlands through the night, I thought my eyes were having some colour issues when I managed to pry them open. The horizon in front of me was such an intense blend of orange and red, it managed to bring me to my senses rather quickly. I suppose the license plate statement, 'Land of the Living Skies' is really true then. I reached into my bra for my camera (protective habits die hard) and began clicking away. The bus driver to my left was alerted to an awake passenger and we began talking about the riches of life on the prairies. And it was still barely 6am.
A few hours later I said my farewells to Duane (the bus driver) and
I cracked my eyes open at one point and was greeted with the endless road starting to brighten up with morning colour. Who ever said bus journeys were hell? Me? Ooooops!
threw my pack into a locker at the station. I wasn't planning on staying the night in town due to the lack of a cheap hostel, but I was looking forward to exploring a Canadian town made famous by an American fugitive. Al Capone 'secretly' roamed the streets in the 1920's when the Chicago police seemed close enough to lock him up. Ironic that the most notable mobster of his time , 'Scarface' actually got done for tax evasion in the end. I hadn't intended on following the trail of such a don, (I saw his jail cell at Alcatraz) but then, I never intended to spend time in Moosejaw.
I can usually tell if I'm going to like a town within the first 15 minutes. In Moosejaw, it took me only 5 minutes. Each corner I walked around I faced a mural that livened up the dullest brickwork. Taking in the details of these paintings were as good as listening to the best Canadian history lecturers. Fashionable flappers caught doing the fox trot on one wall, whilst hockey players swooshed alongside pedestrians across the street. I even understood more of the Saskatchewan wheat industry after examining the intricate
tools caught within the artists' brushstrokes. It was such a pleasant surprise to find this artwork in Moosejaw. The only way I could enjoy it more would be with a coffee in hand, and I continued to resist joining the line-up at the Tim Horton's. It may be Canada's favourite coffee shop, but I'm afraid it isn't yet mine. My resistance paid off when I found a java juice hang out tucked into a building named after a great man, Walter Scott. It seems that my Scottish grandfather made his mark in more places than I knew about!
I then followed the guidebook suggestions and bought myself a ticket to 'The Tunnels of Moosejaw'. An actor dressed as an historic character, lead me down a few dark corridors before launching into a speech about what sort of activities usually happened under the streets. Chinese immigrants had arrived in Canada with dreams of building their fortunes, only to be forced to live in squalor beneath the shops. By day they built the Canadian railway or washed clothes for citizens able to live in fancy houses, and by night they barely survived. The second tour focused on the criminal activity behind
Moosejaw Mural 1
Confirming the provinces' main industry
the doors of the drinking clubs. I joined the actor in the bootlegging ways of life in 1929, and was comicly entertained, and appreciative of 2006.
My day in town had approached the end as I looked at the Greyhound schedule. Moose Javians had led my eyes to appreciate their town; I wonder what it will be like when I get to the capital of Saskatchewan. Regina has always been one of those Canadian cities that has made me smirk just at the sound of it. But I expect there will be a few more things to smile at. Any girl that likes the look of a man in uniform, will certainly have a few things to smirk at.
Built in 1906, the Turgeon Hostel soon became a relaxing haven. During the walk from Regina's bus station, I had endured the sky throwing buckets of water all over me. Eva, another backpacker that I met whilst staring at the map in the bus station, soon joined me for some food at the Thai restaurant behind the house. We swapped a few travellers tales and then tucked into a good nights' sleep as the only female residents in the
Welcome to Moosejaw!
Who needs a big sign anyway?!?
hostel. The usual attraction to the local coffee shop (Atlantis Coffee Co.) was the initial kickstart to the following day, which then gave Eva and I enough steam to head over to the most worthy attraction in town, the RCMP Museum and training grounds.
I never thought I had a thing for uniforms, with exception to the occassional fireman. Or pilot. Perhaps even a sailor, but a police officer? I don't think I've followed enough rules in my lifetime to be drawn to our law abiding citizens. But being able to watch the marching men hold their holsters as they passed did have quite an effect. Eva and I had had our history lesson in the museum (we had to exit when we were busted for sucking a lollypop where no food was allowed!!) and we were now able to study the new recruits as they tried to impress their superiors with the finest spit polish and stoic stance.
"Hang on a sec Fi, isn't that guy wearing running shoes?" whispered Eva.
"Yyyyyyyyyup, and that 'gun' can't hold anything more than a few bubbles" I giggled.
I was then informed by our host that during the
Moosejaw mural 2
throw a bit of paint on the wall and any town can become classy!
24 weeks of rigorous training, cadets needed to earn their boots by completing specific lessons. Before I was enlightened with more statistics about the base (approximently 15% of the troops are women and the average age is 26), my attention was drawn to a few grunts. It seems as though pushups have remained as a form of punishment, and are still a pleasure to watch.
For my final day in town, I called up an 'old' friend with hopes of seeing more than the average tourist. My former bus driver Duane was happy to oblige and just as I sipped the last of my latte, he stood in front of me. Eva and I were quite glad that he wasn't driving the Greyhound to show us the sights, although his car did have the decal of a loyal employee. We drove out of town to an area called Qu'Appelle Valley. This might be the only area in the province that isn't flat, so it's an ideal spot for a dayhike. We tightened our shoelaces and began the trek as the outdoor adventurists that we are. Within a few minutes we found a resting bench, and a few minutes later
Grandpa knew what was coming!
I've bumped into a few areas around the world where my grandpa's name has remained, but it seems the one in Moosejaw knew I would follow... a coffee shop!!
we found the end of the trail. I kind of like the hiking style in the Prairies! What we also found at the end of the trail, was a stunning view of the charming town of Lumsden below. Who needs statuesque mountains when there are rolling wheat fields to level out the complexities of life.
I think Duane was rather amused that two girls such as Eva and myself, found the flat feature along the drive back into town, so intriguing. We laid on our bellies trying to get the perfect photo, and then burned off more energy running in circles and doing cartwheels. I obviously don't do cartwheels everyday (I pulled a muscle within the first 5 seconds!) but I couldn't think of any other way to appreciate the prairies as the wheat wasn't long enough to start chewing on it. Once we had used up all of our energy we continued our drive back into town, and stopped at Wascana Lake.
The provincial legislative buildings came into view as we walked around the pedestrian path circling the lake. Chunks of ice were melting at such a rapid rate in the sunshine, it sounded a bit like
an icy gin and tonic sitting under a heatlamp. Everybody in sight was enjoying the sunny skies after the downpours earlier in the week. Even the Canada geese were happy to pose for pictures. Our conversations defined regional tastes as we discussed the love for country music in the prairies compared with Madonna and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers in other parts of the world. Before long, the walking loop lead us back to the car and we said our thanks and farewells to Duane before continuing our touristy tour and approaching the Royal Saskatchewan Museum. The museum was very well presented, but as it was such a sunny day, we skimmed the info panels. Although my favourite sight certainly deserved a few extra moments of study. With shoulders standing at seven feet high, the moose wasn't the cartoon character I had imagined talking in a Walt Disney voice. Moose are not common enough to be walking down the main street in most Canadian towns (as depicted on tv) so I was brought back to a thought I had had when visiting Moosejaw. How exactly did the town get its' name? Well...apparently the name Moose Jaw comes from a Cree
name for the place, moscâstani-sîpiy, meaning "a warm place by the river". The first two syllables, moscâ-, sound remarkably like "moose jaw". So there you go, my moose tale under the Saskatchewan skies, are finally complete.
The bus will next be pulling over for a quickie in Manitoba. No police officers were involved.
And my intense blogging catch up has truly begun.
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