August 29, 2015

Travelling through Saskatchewan

By: Rob Lowe

Featured Picture

Crossing into Saskatchewan, we noticed many of the same traits that we saw in Alberta. There were some differences though. We stayed overnight in Swift Current, a nice sized city on the western side of the province. As we entered along the TransCanada Highway, we saw the largest displays of farm implements, tractors and equipment we had ever seen. A photo would not do this display justice, unless it was an aerial photo. Imagine a car and truck auto mall or auto strip in a larger city where every make of car and truck is offered for sale and each dealership is beside another. All the inventory is in outdoor displays, ready for inspection and purchase and all the accessory stores and upgraders are in the mix. Now expand the size to reflect farm tractors, large seeders, combines, harvesters and all manner of accessory equipment with literally hundreds of items on display. That is what we saw for blocks on the frontage roads adjacent to the Highway.

The city also has a lot of newer retail stores typical of those you find in larger cities. It was obvious that the larger big box stores and the new format ones of established retailers were expanding in Swift Current. While looking for a place to stay around Walmart, we saw a new Mark’s Work Wear (MWW) and a Sports Authority at right angles to a new Canadian Tire (CTC) store.  We permission to stay on their newly paved parking lot for a night and the immediate answer was yes. As we enjoyed dinner, we noticed a large Mark’s Work Wear sign on the wall of the Canadian Tire store near the Parts and Service entrance. After the MWW acquisition by CTC fourteen years ago, these retailers operated independently and as CTC expanded in smaller communities, a MWW section was incorporated into their newer stores. As MWW business expanded, new stores were built and they operated independently. That assumption was challenged when we noticed that people were busily moving stock from the brand new MWW store towardsthe CTC most of the evening. A walk by the MWW store later showed a brand new, now empty building, except for the fixtures. This was obviously an example of a change in corporate philosophy. Rather than common ownership and independent stores, they were integrating the MWW inside a CTC store. It seemed very strange to see a brand new store now sitting empty.

Not to be outdone by Whitehorse with their DC-3 weathervane, Swift Current has a helicopter used as a weathervane. Slide 1 shows this weathervane which we saw as we drove just east of town. Saskatchewan has a number of indigenous native populations and in some of them they are harvesting more than just grain. Slide 2 shows numerous wind turbines harvesting wind energy to generate electricity. As we drove, we saw hundreds of these turbines on high ridges of land. Slide 3 shows that the grain harvesting has already begun with the cut grain left in rows on the fields creating neat patterns that stretch for miles. Not only were the farm fields being harvested, they also harvested the hay from along the highway medians and rights-of-way. (Slide 4) I am not sure who benefits from these bales of hay, but we saw a lot of bales as we drove along the highway.

Slides 2 and 5 show the abundance of lakes we saw throughout this area of Saskatchewan. The previous day, as we passed Gull Lake we a large number of "sea gulls” on and around this and other large bodies of water. Our perception of the prairies did not include lakes before seeing these on our drive through this province. Slide 6 and 7 were unique and we wondered "what was this white ‘sand’ along the waterways and visible in the fields”? It looked like sand from a distance, yet we knew it was not. Upon thinking about it, we realized that this was potash, a mineral used in making fertilizer. Saskatchewan is one of the world’s largest producers of potash and not too far along the TransCanada Highway, our thoughts were confirmed as we passed a large potash processing plant.

As we entered Moose Jaw, we saw a couple of large icons off to our right at the visitor information center. In Slide 8, Jane is sitting under a decommissioned Snowbird CT114 Tutor Jet. The Snowbirds are the Canadian Air Forces premier air acrobatic flying team and these diminutive jets are the planes used in their performances. Another close-up picture is shown in Slide 10. The second icon is ‘Mac the Moose’, a 9.1m (30 foot) tall moose (statue) weighing 10 tons. It is the World’s Largest Moose. The irony for us was that while we did see a mother moose and two calves early one morning in the Yukon and a bull grazing on the way to Anchorage, AK, we never were able to get a good picture. We commented on this a few times as our trip progressed. Now we have a picture – of course we thought we would take a picture of a real living moose! Oh well – next time.            

We stopped for lunch at a rest area in the town of Indian Head. Slide 11 and 12 show a large monument placed on display by the local Indian tribe for the future generations to see and be reminded of their heritage. Every so often we see something that makes us smile and Slide 13 is one such item. The sign says it all. Interestingly, we saw similar rocks at the Musk Ox farm and they were indeed used for rubbing up against.  

The last major city we drove through in Saskatchewan was Regina, the provincial capital. We stayed on the major highways through this city however the agricultural heritage and nature of the Province was obvious. Whereas in Swift Current we saw the "farm implement mall”, in Regina, we saw block upon block of large single buildings showcasing one specific brand of farm implement or equipment followed by a competitor with a similar set up. They each had their own facility and large display lot however they were not side by side as they were in Swift Current.  Prospective customers would need to drive between the buildings. The displays were huge and the equipment appeared to be very sophisticated. We recalled while touring around the farm areas of Chilliwack, that Bill mentioned one of the farmers had a GPS controlled tractor which a somewhat disabled man was able to operate for hours each day carrying out his task. All he needed to do was to turn around the tractor at the end of a row and engage the GPS, to do the work required.  The size of these farms require large farm implements and a lot of knowledge to understand how to operate them.   Watching the farmers go about the task of harvesting, as we did while driving along the highway, gave us some sense for the enormity of the task and the high level of sophistication that the farming industry has embraced to be able to carry out their work efficiently. The varieties of crops also adds an additional level of complexity. We saw all of the grains (wheat, barley, rye), corn, soybean, sunflower and hay among other crops. Obviously each requires specialized equipment to plant, to spray fertilizer and pesticides and to harvest. These large displays show the needed equipment is readily available.

In our next message we’ll talk about our trek thorough Manitoba.   


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