April 18 to May 8, 2017 - Vancouver (BC) to Elbow (SK)
On April 18, we left Vancouver. We finally decided to rent a U-Haul truck to move toward Lethbridge, Alberta. The current on the Fraser, Thompson and Columbia Rivers was still too strong and portaging was out of the question because of my knee. We had to find an alternative to keep moving ahead. It was not an option that we would have chosen to take, but nevertheless it allowed us to make ourselves useful. Having plenty of room in the 20’ box of the truck, we were able to carry another canoe, Yukon model, from Clipper Canoes (Abbotsford) to Lethbridge at High Level Canoes & Kayaks.
We took the Highway 3, called Crowsnest, from Hope (BC) to Lethbridge (AB). The first day, we drove under the rain and the snow over Bonanza Pass. We stopped in the village of Nelson for the night. The next day we took the Kootenay Lake ferry. The morning fog lifted quietly on the lake and the sun appeared in different places. The road was nice and we enjoyed the scenery. Fernie is a pretty village surrounded by beautiful snow-capped mountains. The closer we got to Lethbridge, the more the mountains disappeared behind us. The plains now predominated and stretched out on the horizon.
On April 20 we moved to Bridgeview RV Resort. The campground managers generously allowed us to camp for free during our stay. We dropped the truck at the U-Haul dealer that day and prepared to leave. The scenery was so different. Instead of the green trees of the Sunshine Coast and Vancouver, we saw a dry arid climate. Everything was in tints of ocher, yellow and brown. In front of us, the Oldman River, which for once flowed in the direction we were going. We stayed put on Friday, April 21 because of the rain ... why pack up and leave under the rain, I thought, while we could start this new leg of our adventure the following day under the sun? So it was on Saturday, April 22nd that we started paddling. Melanie and Aidan from (High Level Canoes & Kayaks) came to see us just before we left. Melanie brought us delicious honey from her home and warm sweaters that we love.
Our first day on the Oldman River was fantastic. It was hot, sunny and we went downstream quickly, with little effort. What a difference from last year! A full season paddling against the current made us appreciate the true value of the happiness of paddling with the current. The Oldman River has amazing and charmed us. Its fauna is abundant. There are so many different species of birds, and they are numerous. We saw deer in profusion, coyotes, foxes and otters. We have also seen many cows, with their calves, and oxen. A large part of the Alberta economy is based on meat production. We can certify that there are many ranches along the river. We met, near the Folks (meeting the Oldman River and the Bow River), John, a farmer and cattle rancher. He took the time to explain the entire beef production process to us. A great enthusiast of fossils and dinosaurs, he also taught us where to look for petrified wood pieces and dinosaur bones and teeth. He even gave us pieces of petrified wood that he had found on the beach earlier in the day. From the Oldman River, we could see a lot of oil wells and pumps working tirelessly.
On Monday April 24, we were already entering the South Saskatchewan River. There were an impressive number of swallows that meandered around us and fed on insects on the surface of the water. The swallows established nests on the sediment that form mountains on either side of the river. The relief was higher than the section of the Oldman River we paddled. We were in the Badlands. The Badlands are lands bared, gutted and eroded by the runoff of the water. They are formed of soft sedimentary rocks. They are also associated with dinosaurs. We spent hours looking at the different layers of sediment in these magnificent natural formations. It was so impressive to imagine that somewhere under one of these layers of land lies the remains of dinosaurs.
On Tuesday, we arrived at Medicine Hat (AB) after a late start in the snow. A huge temperature contrast compared to what we had experienced the last few days. We were expected at Medicine Hat by Gregg, Krista and their children Gareth, Ethan and Tomas. Gregg is a longtime friend of Pierre and it had been more than 30 years since they had seen each other. Gregg and Pierre know each other from the Biathlon. Pierre was Gregg's coach at one time. The reunion was happy and the new acquaintances were pleasant. Gregg and Krista invited us to stay with them. They really took good care of us. The day after our arrival, we were able to do errands with their car and then we gave two presentations at two different schools (Elm Street School and École Connaught Community School). The subject of the presentations was: "Follow Your Passion".
On Thursday, Gregg and Krista convinced us to go to Cypress Hills with their car. They were right to send us there. This place is special and there is a beautiful interpretation and history Centre. We learned that a cougar can jump up to 12 meters in a single jump! We also realized that we know very little about our history. There is so much to learn. One picture particularly impressed me. The one where more than 20,000 skulls of bison are stacked and formed a mountain. It was from the years of 1878-79. Our visit to Cypress Hills also made us understand why cattle are also present here. After the near complete extermination of the bison, food had to be provided to feed the people, especially the first nations who had lost their land. In 1879, the government created two farms. In 1883, the railway opened up immigration to western Canada.
So it was on Friday, April 28, that we started paddling again on the South Saskatchewan River. Many thanks to our friends Gregg, Krista and their children for their great hospitality and generosity. Our stay has been wonderful. The section from Medicine Hat to the Saskatchewan border was our favourite section on the river. The scenery was simply sublime. Badlands, cliffs, bluffs, coulees, terraces ... the different formations along the river intrigued and fascinated us. The arid to semi-arid climate is exotic. Here, prairie rattlesnakes and black widow spiders have taken up residence, there are cactus too.
We stopped to take pictures and film, especially a grand place where everything seemed oversized, just after getting out of the boundaries of the Suffield military base. We could have spent hours and hours investigating crevices, terraces, plants and rocks. It was really beautiful! The following images unfortunately do not pay homage to the beauty and grandeur of the place.
On Monday, May 1, we crossed the junction with the Red Deer River. Water from the Red Deer River was sandy and milk-coloured. A whole contrast to the colour of the South Saskatchewan River (green/yellow). The mixing of the water was gradual and eventually we could not even see our paddles in the water. There was also much more erosion along the banks. We had a few thunderstorms during the day with hailstones. By the way, we've had rain every day since we left Lethbridge until Wednesday May 3rd. But we must admit that the skies of Saskatchewan are magnificent. They impressed us last year and they are doing it again this year.
On Tuesday, May 2nd, we met a very lovely couple at Eston Riverside Regional Park. Maureen and Glenn welcomed us as family members. We had a long day with 86 km and paddled through a few thunderstorms.
The next day, we met Ruth and Kevin. Originally from Ontario, they sold everything 10 years ago to live more simply. They have traveled extensively with their camper and for the past four years have been working during the summer at the Capri Regional Park and traveling the remainder of the year. It was really pleasant to meet people who have a philosophy of life similar to ours. You can follow them on their blog at the following address: www.travelwithkevinandruth.com.
On Thursday May 4 to Monday May 8, we paddled on Diefenbaker Lake (which is an extension of the South Saskatchewan River and a reservoir formed by the Qu'Appelle River Dam and Gardiner Dam located on the South Saskatchewan River). The temperature increased considerably during the last days, reaching even 32C! Here, it's summer (except for today May 8th ... rainy, grey and cold)!
Lake Diefenbaker offers 800 km of shoreline and is home to two world records for the largest rainbow trout ever caught. There are 27 species of fish that live in its waters ... (not surprising to see so many birds)... including walleye, Northern pike and sturgeon. The lake reaches a depth of 70 meters. We stopped at Lakeside Marina Services located in Elbow. A real little piece of paradise. The marina is family owned, friendly and the owners are really nice and welcoming. Thanks to them, we were able to have a warm shower, do grocery shopping, and wash our clothes. This marina offers 150 slips. This is where you must come to sail and boat in Saskatchewan and enjoy the joys of the summer!
The sense of community is not found everywhere. We have found it in many places throughout our adventurous years, but we have to admit the community of Elbow in Saskatchewan can write a whole chapter on it. We arrived in Elbow on Sunday, May 7th. The marina was closed, but Donna and her daughter, Tracey, were there cleaning and preparing for the new season. After a short exchange Tracey offered to drive us to the grocery store. Unfortunately the store was closed (the summer hours had not yet started). Donna suggested we set up our tent in the fenced yard and wait until the following day to do our errands. She gave us the keys to her truck and provided the code for the bathroom. Monday morning, while Pierre was doing laundry and running errands in the village, a whole community came to him. In a very short time, he received a coffee and freshly baked bread courtesy of the BackHome Bakery & Deli and Carol. Then we had an appointment with Joan and her husband Dennis, who offered us lunch and a very pleasant time. Joan is the author of a book on the region: http://www.looking-for-aiktow.com/. Then we received multiple offers to stay with people and even the suite at the motel was offered to us. More meetings are scheduled for Tuesday and we will give a presentation about leadership at the school. We arrived in Elbow hoping to do some errands, but then the whole community took us under their wings.