The Trans-Canada Highway is celebrating its 50th birthday in 2012 and the centennial anniversary of the first coast-to-coast road trip made in the country — accomplished by Thomas Wilby and Jack Haney, travelling from Halifax to Victoria. Vacay.ca writers have hit the road to come up with great tales to tell along this vital and historic route. Previously, Katie Marti suggested tips on how best to see the British Columbia and Alberta legs of the route. In the third installment, she reveals why you should stop in Saskatchewan.
Story by Katie Marti
REGINA, SASKATCHEWAN — Of the half a dozen times I’ve driven across Canada, I’ve never once so much as stopped for gas in Regina. It’s not that I wouldn’t have liked to visit the city. I suppose I just wasn’t hungry, tired or low on fuel at the appropriate time. When you’re driving the 5,000 kilometres from coast to coast, those are the essentials that inspire a pit stop — far more frequently and decisively than, say, the promise of a beautiful botanical garden or the draw of an up-and-coming local brewery. This time, however, I made it a point to plan a route that allowed for a bit of time to pull off the highway and explore Saskatchewan’s capital city. Once I got there, I found plenty of reasons to stay.
1. Creativity. The downtown core is bursting with creative energy, from unique performance spaces like the Artesian on 13th to engaging exhibits at the Art Gallery of Regina. It’s even possible to admire and contemplate local talent simply by taking a wander through the Outdoor Sculpture Garden displayed on the grounds surrounding the MacKenzie Art Gallery. And if you have the luck or foresight to hit Regina during the annual Folk Festival in August, you are in for a treat. Headliners of Western Canada’s longest-running music festival have included Ani DiFranco, Emmylou Harris and Arlo Guthrie, and the whole thing takes place in and around Victoria Park in the centre of town, effectively transforming the city into one big dance floor.
2. Luxury. Hotel Saskatchewan sits like a jewel in the crown of downtown Regina, conveniently perched along the southern edge of Victoria Park. A Radisson property, the opulent hotel was formerly operated by the Canadian Pacific Railway. The first thing I saw upon my arrival was a wedding party in the process of having their photos taken against the regal backdrop of the hotel’s lobby and front entrance. With its vintage feel and elegant decor, it didn’t take long to see why the bride and groom chose this venue. Perks of sitting in this particular lap of luxury include Organic Essence Spa, an old-school retro-chic barber shop, and an in-house patisserie that is a big reason why my room-service breakfast-in-bed croissants were among the best I’ve ever had. Is there anything more decadent than lounging on a king-size bed in a white robe, reading the weekend paper and sipping piping hot espresso while a pastry literally melts in your mouth?
3. Beauty. Canada’s provincial capitals tend to have this in common, actually. Regina’s got green space galore, much of it belonging to what’s known as Wascana Centre, a network of parks and gardens scattered around Wascana Lake. The day I was there, I saw the mid-day sun sparkling off the hull of a small sailboat in the lake, a couple strolling hand-in-hand through the pristine grounds in front of the provincial legislature, a toddler trying her very hardest to feed a scattering flock of geese, and a busload of shutterbug tourists in their glory posing and snapping photos amidst the one-of-a-kind sculptures and botanicals throughout the park.
4. Football. As soon as you leave the highway and head toward downtown Regina along the celebrated Green Mile, a stretch of Albert Street that runs between Dewdney and 20th Avenue, there can be no doubt that you’ve landed in Rider Nation, home of the Canadian Football League’s Saskatchewan Roughriders. These fans are as devoted as they come, proudly waving flags and banners all over town, regardless of whether or not it’s actually football season and despite the fact that they’ve only won the Grey Cup three times in their 102-year history, most recently in 2007. It’s totally endearing.
After only 24 hours in the capital region, I had learned my lesson: Regina is more than just a pit stop on the Trans-Canada Highway. It’s a destination that boasts regal elegance, creative beauty and hometown pride.
Oh, and did I mention the croissants?
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, TRANS-CANADA! Have you got a great photo to share or story to tell about the Trans-Canada Highway? Share it with Vacay Nation! Email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll publish it during this 50th anniversary of the highway, which opened on September 3, 1962 in Rogers Pass, British Columbia. (Photos should be sent as hi-resolution JPEG images.)