Things To Do In Canada — Fort Steele, BC

Things To Do In BCYou know that ‘someday’ list we all seem to make? The one that just keeps getting longer? Yeah, that’s the one…underneath your coffee cup. Well, I’ve got one too, and I plan on knocking off a few items this summer.

One of the items on my list, aside from stopping in at the Royall Tyrel Museum in Drumheller, is a stop at wonderful Fort Steele, a restored and reconstructed pioneer town situated at the foot of the Great Canadian Rocky Mountains. Not far from Cranbrook, this delightful little town began as a small collection of homes and was driven by gold rush and mineral discoveries until it died out in the early 1900s. One step on the dusty street and you’ll easily lose 150 years or so.

The cars disappear. There’s no loud music, and all signs of modern life seem to melt away. I haven’t been there since I was a young kid, but even then you could feel the stress dissipate. It seemed almost pushed out by a simpler life that somehow envelops you like a favourite childhood blanket.

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Blackpool Illuminations 2009: Fun for all the Family

One of the UK theme parks I‘ve really fell in love with is Pleasure Beach (in case you couldn’t tell hehe). So, I did a bit more exploring, and here’s what I’ve found so far…

Blackpool's Central Pier -- Ferris Wheel(credit)

If you’re looking to view a dazzling light show this year, Blackpool Illuminations 2009 will tantalize, amaze and delight your whole family. This time-honored tradition attracts visitors to the area in their droves, and the Illuminations remain one of Blackpool’s most popular tourist hotspots. Surrounded by luxurious casinos, the Pleasure Beach family theme park, and spacious beaches, the Illuminations thrill tourists year after year with their innovative designs, spectacular visual illusions, and amazing colors.

Here is a whistle-stop tour of Blackpool’s world-renowned Illuminations. From its historic conception to this year’s show, families from all over the world have been left gasping in wonder as they travel the colorful miles together.

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Top UK Theme Parks: Let’s Explore!

I’ve received numerous questions about the UK theme parks I’d mentioned previously. And, since I’ve recently made the decision to move to the UK, I thought it would be fun to explore them a little more. I can hardly wait to try them myself! So, without further ado…

If you’re looking for a new sensation-packed stomping ground, the top family theme parks in the United Kingdom will not fail to delight. Whether you’re into thrilling rollercoasters or prefer to sample the nation’s premier haunted houses, the UK’s best parks have something to offer everyone.

Here is a list of the UK’s theme park leaders:

Pepsi Max Big One at Pleasure Beach Blackpool(credit)

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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!

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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!)

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Three Romantic Manitoba Getaways on a Budget

Dog Sledding in Manitoba

Dog Sledding in Manitoba

©2008Angie Haggstrom

Just because gas prices are rocketing doesn’t mean you have to turn your romantic getaway or honeymoon into a staycation. Manitoba has some fantastic spots to get an unforgettable vacation at prices you can handle. Budget vacations means thinking outside the box and a taste for trying new things!

Northern Manitoba – “Bluesky Bed & Sled”

Dog sledding anyone? Believe it or not, this remarkable vacation is affordable for even the tightest of budgets. Once you arrive at the fantastic bed and breakfast you will immediately fall in love with the local area. The quaint B&B is beautifully decorated giving you the feel of luxury and comfort in one space. You almost seem to travel back in time as you open the door.

Once you have settled in, a tour of the area is a great place to get started. The B&B work in conjunction with Bluesky Expedition gives you the perfect opportunity to see and learn about this amazing ecosystem. The sledding tours are led by Manitoba native and resident expert Gerald Azure and his amazing four-legged friends. Best of all, there are opportunities for guests to see the area and get to know the team all year round. Definitely worth the trip!

City Vacation – Bob and Margret’s Place

If it sounds like you are stopping in to stay with a friend, you are exactly right. Located next to the river, this stunning and historic house is a home away from home. You get the benefits of living in your own home with the added benefits of staying in a hotel at reasonable rates! From here, you can spend afternoon sightseeing at the many local attractions and beautiful scenes in historic Winnipeg. The city often hosts a variety of events and festivals all year round, so it is always a good idea to check around. The B&B is the perfect opportunity to take a lunch for a picnic. Head down to the river or to the nearby Vimy Ridge Memorial Park or Munson Park across the river.

Winnipeg has some great places to see during you stay. With a donation, the Grant’s Old Mill is a great opportunity to see a real working mill from the 1800s. The Living Prairie Museum and the Manitoba Crafts Museum are fantastic as well. The Manitoba Museum, the Children’s Museum, and the Forks National Historic Site do charge an admission, but it is definitely worth the small charge.

These are just two great romantic honeymoon vacations available in Manitoba. When you are looking to travel to the area, keep your eye out for deals. Many places like the Manitoba Tourism website has many great deals. You can get passes that get you into the best of Winnipeg’s sites or deals on accommodations and adventures for Churchill and the rest of Manitoba. Whether you would like to see polar bears or city sites, you are sure to find it here at a price you can afford!

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Fort Walsh: Horses, Whiskey, and Murder

James Morrow Walsh

James Morrow Walsh


South West of Maple Creek, Saskatchewan Canada is a national historic site that not many know exists. Part of the Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, Fort Walsh National Historic Site is a recreation of the Trading Post, town site, cemeteries, and North West Mounted Police (NWMP) Fort that once flourished here. The Trading Post was a major trading point in the west and was an important part of daily life for the Aboriginals, traders, and settlers who lived here. In fact, the events that occurred in this area changed life on the Canadian Prairies forever.

The area had been a hub of activity before the construction of the Fort and even before Farwell’s Trading Post. The local tribes often used this area for winter camps because of the trees and abundant wildlife in the park. The Metis people (those who had Aboriginal and French lineage) also settled into the area. In fact, you can still see the tipi rings and the cellars of the Metis shanties to this day.

Then, in the 1870 a man named Abe Farwell moved out west and built a trading post here to trade furs and supplies for the Hudson Bay Company. The tribes and fur traders (often called wolfers) camped not far from the post and would bring in their pelts and collect their much-needed supplies. This was a huge benefit to the area at the start. European settlers received furs, beads, and other supplies from the west and the people here could get pots, tobacco, lanterns, and other items that were simply not available this far west.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t all innocent. Farwell also brought in whiskey, which the natives and wolfers traded for freely. One night in 1873, the wolfers were drinking heavily and chatting away when they noticed their horse missing. Immediately the local Nakota tribe was blamed for stealing it. The drunken wolfers gathered up their buddies, grabbed their guns, and headed towards the village. It is not known who fired the first shot, but what is known is the devastation left behind. By the end of the fight, men, women, children, and even the elderly were murdered where they stood; almost the entire tribe was eradicated.

The worst part was yet to come. After the massacre was over, the horse was found a short time later not far from the wolfers camp. The horse’s owner hadn’t tied him off properly and the horse had simply wandered off. The traders were taken to trial, and even with Farewell ‘s testimony, they were found to be innocent of their charges. Today, this event is known as the Cypress Hills Massacre.

Chief Sitting Bull

Chief Sitting Bull

This event did cause two positive changes in the Canadian prairies. First, because the wolfers went to court, the Aboriginals eventually respected and trusted the NWMP. This became vital three years later in 1876 when General Custer was defeated in the ‘Battle of Little Big Horn.’ Chief Sitting Bull and the Sioux would arrive and stay until they signed treaties and return to the United States in 1881. Secondly, the Massacre led to the arrival of the Canadian Mounties (NWMP) and the building of Fort Walsh in 1875. James Morrow Walsh initially ran the Fort. He would become a great friend of Chief Sitting Bull and would eventually arrange talks between the American Government and the Sioux.

After a long and trying fight, the Mounties would eventually bring peace to the area. After there was no more buffalo for the wolfers to trade and the Aboriginals had been settled onto reserves, (the Nikaneet still live on a reserve in the Cypress Hills not too far from the Fort), the need for the Mounties was gone and they left in 1883.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Musical Ride

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Musical Ride

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) returned to the Fort in 1942 and used it to train and breed their horses until 1968. This would lead to the creation of the famous RCMP Musical Ride and their signature black horses.

There is so much to see at the Fort Walsh site and the quiet countryside makes it a peaceful and interesting afternoon. You can get a tour of the Fort including the Trading Post, the museum and theatre, the cemeteries, the town site, and even enjoy the picnic or cafeteria. They even have cannon demonstrations, the Musical Ride, and other events throughout the year.

If you would like to take more information about the area or history, here are some sites that might interest you:

A virtual tour of Fort Walsh

Comprehensive information about Abe Farewell and the Fort

Pictures from the Fort

Thank you for taking the tour of the Cypress Hills!

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