The beautiful Canadian province of Saskatchewan is a great place to fish, ride or just explore
Octavia Pollock has a wonderful time on holiday in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan
The Saskatoon berry is a small, unassuming, purple fruit that grows on trees across Canada. Visitors might pass it by, but in the hands of jam-makers or distillers, it can be transformed into delicious drinks or condiments. Like the province of Saskatchewan itself, it only improves on greater acquaintance.
Known as the Land of Living Skies for its skyscapes of vivid blues, soft silvers and slate greys lanced by sunbeams, Saskatchewan stretches from Montana to the North-West Territories. Its lower half is agricultural but, further north, deep, dark forests are shot through with glittering streams and lakes. Startling in their incongruity are the Athabasca sand dunes in the north-west, while grass lies in rippling waves on the southern prairies.
Fishing in Saskatchewan
In Prince Albert National Park, where bears and moose roam and bison graze, fishing opportunities abound. On a sultry summer evening on Sandy Lake, when the western sky was hazy with smoke from far-away bush fires, we caught green-and-silver northern pike that became a spectacular meal of homemade fish and chips. Beavers splashed among tangled branches on the lakeside and the haunting cries of the loon, a bird sporting a string of pearls around its black neck, echoed across the water. Safe in our boat, it was easy to believe in monsters of the deep as we watched the depth gauge go from 12ft to unreadable in moments. Further north, a floatplane is needed to reach the remote inlets where any fisherman could be content for months on end, at least as long as he had industrial quantities of Avon Skin So Soft against the mosquitoes.
Saskatchewan is so sparsely populated that a town is accounted a city if it has more than 5,000 inhabitants, but its history belies its size. In 1874, the fledging North-West Mounted Police tramped across the prairies in the epic March West to drive out the illegal whisky trade. They succeeded without firing a shot and the journey remains the longest military march ever. Today, as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the force leads the world in police work from its training depot in Regina, capital of the province, where an excellent museum tells a story underwritten by the values of honesty, integrity and compassion.
Visit a micro-distillery
Further west, the streets of Moose Jaw once sheltered characters more nefarious than noble. During Prohibition, ‘Little Chicago’ was the northern base of Al Capone and the tunnels beneath the red-light district echoed to the sound of rolling whisky barrels and machine-gun fire. Capone’s bulletproof chair and bed, reached through secret passages in fireplace and wardrobe, evoke a time when the mob ruled and speakeasys flourished. In these more enlightened days, however, honest brewers across the province are thriving. Micro-distillery Lucky Bastard owes its unorthodox name to the lottery win that enabled its owner to fulfil his dream of producing spirits and creates the world’s only Saskatoon-berry gin. In Regina, Bushwakkers makes beer on its premises entirely by hand, and people queue around the block for its annual release of Blackberry Mead.
With hipflask in hand during the long winter or on golden summer days, outdoors is the place to be. If you love horseriding, you can’t beat La Reata Ranch in south-west Saskatchewan. Visiting from Germany 18 years ago, George Gaber fell in love with the open range and now runs Black Angus and Longhorns on 5,000 acres beside Lake Diefenbaker.
In a fold of the hills he built cabins, corral and saloon, complete with pool table, old Stetsons and an exhortation to ‘leave the six-shooter with the bartender’. There’s no need for clockwatching here – if you’re up late shooting the breeze, you can ride late in the morning.
Guests rope longhorns, sort calves or move the herd, go boating and feast on ranch-fed beef. And there’s no plodding one behind the other: I was free to gallop my paint quarterhorse anywhere I liked, no path beneath his thundering hooves.
Saskatchewan might be the land of living skies, but as a cowboy might say laconically, life on the ground ain’t so bad either.
Octavia Pollock travelled as a guest of Tourism Saskatchewan (www.tourismsaskatchewan.com)
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Heritage Centre, Regina (1 306 522 7333; www.rcmpheritagecentre.com)
Tunnels of Moose Jaw (1 306 683 5261; www.tunnelsofmoosejaw.com)
Lucky Bastard Distillers, Saskatoon (1 306 979 7280; www.lbdistillers.ca)
Bushwakkers Brewpub, Regina (1 306 359 7276; www.bushwakker.com)
La Reata Ranch, Kyle (1 306 375 2225; http://lareataranch.com)