Hey Everyone, Let’s Go Snorkeling…In Manitoba?

Snorkel with the Belugas in ManitobaYep, those crazy Manitobans have lost it. The cold has finally gotten to their brains. They must figure they’re part of the tropics or something. Apparently, when you visit Churchill, known for its polar bears, you can toss on your snorkeling gear, dive into the Hudson Bay, and swim with the belugas.

Oooo Dive into the Hudson Bay? Must be cold enough to freeze your knickers to your backside right? Well, it isn’t warm like it would be in the Caribbean, but it’s certainly warm enough to enjoy.

The whole activity starts every July by the arrival of an estimated 3,000 belugas to the warmer waters of the Bay and nearby rivers. They’ll stay here in order to give birth to their young, feed, frolic, and sing until the middle of August, when they return to their northern home.

If you’d like to witness this for yourself and listen to the beautiful songs of the belugas and their calves, you’ll want to visit Sea North Tours, who offers tours ranging from two to three hours long. A little scared about getting in the water with these graceful animals? Don’t worry. Wildlife and tour experts assure the public that these animals are not dangerous in any way.

The adventure starts out with everyone in wet or dry suits taking a relaxing boat ride out to the whale’s favorite spots. Once there, you’ll be instructed to put on the rest of your gear and hang onto a rope that will allow you to drift along or be pulled gently behind the boat, in the crystal clear water. (You don’t have to worry if you don’t have any gear with you. All of it is available for rent!) This method also makes it possible for non-swimmers to have the same experiences.

The mammal music is stunning, but as remarkable as that is, it isn’t what most people seem to remark about first. One trait that makes these animals so popular to swim with is their level of humanity and interaction.

When they swim upside down and cock their necks to look at you, you can see that they are as interested in you as you are in them. They look at you and communicate so much with their eyes. As Doreen Macri of Sea North Tours says, ‘They are almost speechless when they get back to shore.”

This activity is ideal for almost anyone’s vacation since there’s no age or size limit. You’ll also find this adventure is extremely affordable. If you’d like more information, visit the Sea North Tours website or Travel Manitoba.

Just a few quick notes:

Just because Saturday is 40th Anniversary of 7-11’s Slurpees in Canada, a useless fact for you: Winnipeg consumes more Slurpees per capita than any other city in Canada.

A big thank you to Cathy, Manager of Media Relations at Travel Manitoba for diligently sending info and keeping me up to date on what’s going on in the province. It’s greatly appreciated. You’re a real gem!

(This post can also be found at Travel the Prairies at http://www.traveltheprairies.com/manitoba/snorkeling-manitoba/)

How Much Are Canadians Like Their UK Counterparts — A Look at Financial Systems

It doesn’t seem to matter where you live these days, there’s a lot of complaining over high costs and how our financial systems really work. I also know the best way to learn about your world it to look at it from the outside. So, I started to wonder what the real difference is at the ground level. You know, what differences would I notice if I were to move to the UK for instance? After all, our countries can’t be that different. Right?

Canadian and UK Credit Card Deals

I figured if I were going to notice one huge difference, it’d be with my Canadian credit cards. So, I headed to the mbna website to look for the best UK credit card deal. I have to admit that their interest rate of 15.9% was better than ours, which averages somewhere around the 19% mark.

They have low APR credit cards in the UK just like we do here, and the system seems to be exactly the same. Even the application process appeared to be the same. In fact, if I hadn’t seen the little symbol for British Pounds and their phone numbers, I’d have not been able to tell that it wasn’t Canadian.

What I did find interesting, however, was the kinds of credit cards they had. For instance, they had cards that let you support your favorite football team (English football, not our football). They also offered cards that supported charity. I think these are great ideas.

With the football credit cards, you collect points for every Pound you put on the card. Then, when you get enough points, you trade them in for official merchandise and the team receives the money. Charity cards are available too and they work in much the same way.

Of course, we have this kind of thing too, but the money goes back into our own pockets, or we trade them for some cool gadget, rather than giving it to a good cause. Interesting. Does this possibly mean that Canadians are more self-serving than those in the UK?

Mortgages in the UK

It seems that the UK mortgage system isn’t a whole lot different from ours. Anyone with less than perfect credit will find it difficult to get one. And, the housing market seems to be the craps to put it mildly. House prices are falling, and yet they’re giving away fewer and fewer mortgages.

There are a few differences that don’t seem too major, but if you were going to buy a home there, it would make a huge difference. For example, it seems first time homebuyers in the UK have to have 10-15% to put down on their homes. Here, it’s still 5%. Also, those with blemished credit would find it far more difficult to get a mortgage in the UK than they would in Canada. However, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing and Canada seems to be moving that way as well.

It seems that the two countries might not be a different in this regards as I thought. But, it certainly seems to outline a difference in the two cultures. Just by looking at the two financial systems alone, it seems that the UK had cut out the needless spending (or just never started). Interesting, and definitely something to consider anyway.

(This post also appears on Travel the Prairies at http://www.traveltheprairies.com/canada/canadians-uk-financial-systems/)

Qu’appelle River Valley — Where The Land Tells You Its Own Story

Fort Qu'appelle 1910

Fort Qu’appelle 1910

Dividing the province of Saskatchewan from Lake Diefenbaker to the mouth of the great Assiniboine River in Manitoba, the stunning Qu’appelle River (link has a great video of the area!) and its beautiful valley has been the center of many Saskatchewan lives for centuries.

One look and you’ll be in awe of the lay of the land while the kids will be screeching ‘go faster, go faster’ from the back seat. It is definitely the highlight of many road trips.

Qu’appelle Valley — Its History

Historically, both the Hudson’s Bay Company (known as ‘The Bay’ today) as well as the North West Company, which had a post at Fort Esperance, used the river as early as 1781 and 1819 respectively. As a main trading route, many of the goods throughout Canada and Europe during those years came down this river.

The Qu’appelle River Valley was also an important location for the area’s Cree people. The legend says, as a warrior was crossing Echo Lake, he heard a voice call his name. He answered the call by yelling back ‘Qu’appelle’ or ‘who calls’ or ‘who is calling’. The sound he heard was that of his princess who called his name with her dying breath. Many still say they can hear the calls of the two lovers today. (Lebret, Saskatchewan is said to be the best spot for echoes.)

Qu’appelle Valley — The Land

The Qu'appelle Valley near Cutarm, Saskatchewan, circa 1910

The Qu’appelle Valley near Cutarm, Saskatchewan, circa 1910

The valley was created just after the last ice age. The result of runoff from the glaciers, the fertile land is brimming with native vegetation. Some of the species here are unique to Saskatchewan and the world in some cases. In fact, the area is one of Saskatchewan’s most ecologically sensitive regions.

The water system links Katepwa, Echo, Mission, Pasqua, Round, and Crooked Lakes that come to life from May long weekend until September long weekend. There are tons of places to camp and different events to attend throughout the season. Hiking in the area is fantastic and there are some amazing fishing opportunities all year around.

For me, however, it isn’t the destination that intrigues me as much as the drive. Tons of little back roads and main highways will take you across the river, but they all seem to have one thing in common:

As you approach the valley, you can almost tell something is coming. The roads take you up and down soft river hills and past farmyards that give you a glimpse of life on the farm. My personal favorites are the abandoned farmhouses long since forgotten, but still standing triumphantly against the horizon telling their stories to anyone who will listen.

All of a sudden, you find yourself at the top of a hill and the road all but disappears. You are looking at the hills in the distance (a couple of miles in many spots) with the Qu’appelle River twisting its way through the rugged terrain below. You can see how the water has cut into the land revealing earth than hasn’t been seen for thousands of years. It is like standing on the edge of a cliff and going over knowing you’ll land safely at the bottom.

I will tell you that my favorite ones are the little gravel roads. They have a certain rustic feel that plays my romantic heartstrings and temporarily appeases my hunger for history and culture. Some even wind along the side of the river valley and take you on a quiet scenic tour not many see.

However, I recommend that you not take any of the less traveled roads without knowing for certain which ones to take. Not that you’ll suddenly find yourself without a road at the top of a cliff, but many of them do not take you across the river. You can get lost easily, and with little to no traffic and few farms along the way, it could be a bit tricky finding help. Also, the deep valley also means that cell phone service is patchy at best.

For more information about the area, check out Virtual Saskatchewan’s entry on the Qu’appelle Valley.

(Dedicated to the 4 most loyal readers ever. You guys are the best!)

(This post can also be found here: http://www.traveltheprairies.com/manitoba/quappelle-river-valley-land-story/)

80 Million Year Old Fierce Sea Creature Found By Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre

Fiece Ancient Sea Creature Discovered by the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre

Fierce Ancient Sea Creature Discovered by the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre

©2008Angie Haggstrom

In the town of Morden, Manitoba sits the very exited staff of the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre. The source of the excitement is the discovery of an 80 million year old mosasaur no far from Miami, Manitoba. The eerie prehistoric creature is said to be the biggest find in the province in more than 25 years.

The skeleton is estimated to be between 10-12 metres long and was thought to be the king of the ocean back in the day. The creature is believed to have breathed air. In its skeletal jaw, the creature sported teeth just over 5″(13cm). Even with massive teeth like that, the mosasaur could dislocate its jaw willingly to devour larger meals. The centre’s curator believes it may be an earlier relative of the snakes, a crocodile with fins, or a Komodo dragon that inhabits the earth today.

The mosasaur, named Angus, won’t be lonely at the centre. The centre has another mosasaur named Bruce who was discovered in 1974 at Thornhill, Manitoba. Other fossils have also been discovered in the same area Angus has been sleeping for millions of years making the area a priceless find.

Perhaps most interesting about this story is the fact that the ancient monster was discovered by visitors and summer students to the center during a public dig. The Discovery Centre holds all sorts of different programs and workshops not only for children and intern paleontologists, but also for the general public. They hold digs where members of the public can accompany professionals into the field to look for real dinosaur bones and not fake ones buried in the sand like with many programs. The centre also offers trained volunteer positions to those staying in the area.

The Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre holds approximately 600 different objects from the late Cretaceous period. The centre focuses purely on marine reptile fossils although it does house many different fossil plants, minerals, rocks, and invertebrates. The centre is open from 1-5 every afternoon all year around. At the time of this post, they only charge $6 per adult, $3 per student, and $12 per family. What an inexpensive afternoon!

For more information, please visit the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre or you can learn more about Mosasaurs on Wikipedia.

(This post can also be found here: http://www.traveltheprairies.com/manitoba/80-million-sea-creature-canadian-fossil-discovery-centre/)

Crocodiles and Antique Aircraft: An Insider’s Guide to Brandon, Manitoba, Canada

Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum

Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum

©2008AngieHaggstrom

Brandon, Manitoba is one of my favorite places to travel. This city gives you a sense of freedom and just seems to have the perfect thing for everyone. It’s small, picturesque university is truly one of the best. The people here are supportive and friendly. The shopping is absolutely fantastic – city prices with small town service. Besides, where else can you see crocodiles and amazing aircraft in the same vacation.

If you are traveling through on the number 1 (Trans-Canada), you will notice a large yellow airplane on the north side of the highway. Turn north here. If you are going to stop anywhere, this is a great place. The Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum is a massive building is filled with real, genuine airplane and vehicles used by the British Commonwealth from 1939 to 1945. Even though I’m not much of an airplane fanatic or war history buff. This museum was really something to see and we will definitely be going again.

The airplanes and vehicles are fantastic. Each one of them was fixed and rebuilt by volunteers who really are the stars of this place. When we arrived, a friendly and knowledgeable staff greeted us and we were could walk through at our leisure. This was great considering we had my son with who had more interest in some things and less in others. We ran into a volunteer who was putting together another airplane and he provided us with a lot of first hand information about the planes and vehicles throughout the building as well as how these planes are recovered and pieced together. He really made the tour fantastic. They do have an online tour available.

If you happen to drive down 18th street in Brandon, make a stop at the Daly House Museum. The house once belonged to Brandon’s first lawyer and mayor, and a children’s shelter. Where this museum truly shines is that it was built in 1882. This house is absolutely filled with pictures, furniture, and artifacts from the city’s past. We spent a lot of time hearing about the many different stories are held in the house. You can see the time and passion that was put into the research and preservation of each piece.

A short drive east of Brandon is the Canada’s National Artillery Museum. Found at CFB Shilo, it is a great way to see and learn about the armed forces and peacekeepers that have served all over the world. You can get a taste of what there is to see and do by visiting the Virtual Artillery Museum of Canada.

Westman Reptile Gardens

Westman Reptile Gardens

On the way back, stop at the Westman Reptile Gardens. The center is a wealth of crawling creatures including spiders, snakes, crocodiles, turtles, and lizards. The people at the center are extremely knowledgeable in the field and are really friendly.

For outdoor enjoyment, the Elenor Kidd Gardens are really well done and have a different look and feel each time you visit. Ducks Unlimited and Brandon Tourism run the Riverbank Discovery Center. It is a great place to learn about the Assiniboine River system. You can walk through the ponds on the trails, grab souvenirs, enjoy an afternoon relaxing and even have a picnic. It also connects to Dinsdale Park along the bank of the river. There is a train car for the kids to explore and plenty of other fun things to do in the area while enjoying the fresh Manitoba air.

If you think these places are great, just wait till you see the shopping, dining and accommodations in Brandon. We’ll explore those tomorrow. In the meantime, if you would like to see what else the city has to offer and visit Brandon Manitoba online they have a great website that includes a list of what’s going on in the city each day.

(This post can also be found here: http://www.traveltheprairies.com/manitoba/crocodiles-antique-aircraft-insiders-guide-brandon-manitoba-canada/)

UFO’s and Extraterrestrials Welcomed By Alberta Towns

UFOs and Star Trek Friends Welcomed with Open Arms in Alberta

UFOs and Star Trek Friends Welcomed with Open Arms in Alberta

©2008AngieHaggstrom

While most Alberta towns cater to those who travel through on the highways or arrive on hiking trails, some Alberta communities welcome guests from the air, and I don’t mean airplanes. St. Paul, AB has the world’s first Flying Saucer Landing Pad. The landing pad is complimented by a full UFO Interpretive Display and tourist information centre to learn about everything from cattle mutilations, UFO’s, crop circles, and even records creative of hoaxes that have been created.

The town of St. Paul, Alberta is located just a short drive to the Northeast of Edmonton, AB. You really can’t miss it. It’s the big, odd looking structure right on the edge of town. The Landing Pad is constructed out of 130 tons of cement and six 30 inch columns. At the back of the UFO Landing Pad is a map of Canada that is made from stones from each of the Canadian Provinces.

It was built specifically for Canada’s Centennial in 1967 and was opened by the Minister of National Defence. The tourist information center was opened to visitors in the 1990s. The Flying Saucer Landing Pad has yet to welcome an intergalactic visitor, but it enjoys seeing thousands of tourists every year. In 2000, the center even hosted a UFO conference.

Another Alberta travel destination that welcomes intergalactic visitors is the town of Vulcan, AB located not far from Calgary, AB. This is a must stop for Space Trek fans and UFO-goers alike. Almost the entire town carries a Star Trek theme including the Enterprise-A from Star Trek V and murals. The Tourism and Trek Station has all of the information you ever wanted to know about the area and the famed movie. The also have a virtual reality game to enjoy.

When it comes to events, the town has become famous for its Star Trek convention also known as VulCon and Galaxyfest/Spock Days. Their website features a great video made by the town that gives you great insight into the creativeness and friendly nature of the town and shows how involved the area is in the world of Star Trek. It definitely makes for an interesting Canadian vacation!

I would like to say thanks to Rob for the heads up! He hosts a great blog called ‘Tome of the Unknown Blogger’. Please check it out!

(This post can be found on Travel the Prairie’s new home at http://www.traveltheprairies.com/alberta/ufos-extraterrestrials-alberta-towns/)