“They say in Saskatchewan that if you lose your dog, you can still see him running away a day later.”
We check out of the hotel in Edmonton and in the elevator ride down Jim dances to the elevator music “Hustle” while I collapse in laughter. We enjoyed the rest and the chance to do laundry and a little knee loosening bike ride for me, but it’s time to be on our way.
It’s flat prairie country now at the edge of Alberta and into Saskatchewan. It’s warmer, but cloudy. We miss the sun, but it’s good to feel some warmth. We pull into the Elk Island National park where there appears to be only bison, no elk. They lie in the grasses held off the main park by tall, sturdy fences.
I imagine the prairies are beautiful to those who grew up in wide, flat expanses with few trees, but I miss the trees. Old buildings, graineries and oil pumps dot the landscape. Sometimes the stubble of a field sticks up through the little snow that still coat the fields. We pass through Lloydminister, a town that straddles two provinces. Along the way we get off the road to a town like Vegravil but soon get back on Trans Canada Hwy 16.
As twilight comes, the snow-covered fields and the grey sky meet on the horizon—soon they will merge. The weather is changing and we decide to park at the Battleford Walmart. We are the only camper. With freezing rain predicted, Jim is reluctant to be caught off the main road for any distance.
We pick up a few things like milk in the store and I want a bottle of wine. I pick out a bottle of Carl Jung white from Germany for $4.67, slightly appalled at what the quality must be, but that’s all I see. Back at the Sprinter I open the wine and it has an unusual overtone, that of apricots, not bad, just unusual. I decide to buy two more bottles and hide them from embarrassment. When I finally check out the brand, I find it is a well-respected vineyard that makes non-alcoholic wine with a hundred year old process. Oh, the snob in me.
There is icy rain during the night, but the next morning is sunny and beautiful. It was a quiet night.
Saskatoon is the next major city on the route. Saskatchewan with only two major cities and Moose Jaw, of course.
A man and his wife were sitting at their campsite watching another camper move in for the night. “I’m going over to see where they are from,” said the man. He goes over and asks where they were from. “Saskatoon, Saskatchewan,” he said. The man returns to his campsite. “Well, where are they from,” asks his wife. “I don’t know,” he said. “They don’t speak English.”
The Humboldt bus accident is on the news. It is a terrible tragedy. As hockey people, we want to go and make a symbolic gesture of condolence even though we know no one. Jim played hockey in Pittsburgh for many years and taught kids in a remote Alaska village where he taught them how to play hockey. My son started playing hockey when he was five. Besides I’m a Canadian. What is it about this tragedy that impacts so many people and places beyond those killed and injured? Humboldt is just a small prairie town of 5600 people. By now, over $11m is raised with over 100,000 donors on the most successful GoFundMe campaign ever. Everyone wants to do something. Tim Horton’s is selling fund raising donuts. Other stores in Saskatoon are doing similar things. Unusually, there is also support across social media for the unnamed driver of the tractor-trailer who is uninjured, but is immediately offered mental health support.
Humboldt is a short hour detour. As we drive to the town, I contact people who might want to add their condolences to the card. It’s symbolic, but important, we agree. Everyone wants to do something. In the town of Humboldt, there are hockey sticks on porches, hockey jerseys hanging, yellow and green ribbons on all the trees, support statements on billboards.
I call to make a Marriott reservation in Regina. The Canadian reservation agent completes it and then we talk about Humboldt. Her son is 16 years and a hockey player. His teacher asked every one to wear their hockey jerseys and bring extras for those that don’t have them. He rides the bus to games. Later, I realize I should offer to add her son’s name to the card. I call back and explain. “Kevin” says he only has the employee number and she is in Sarnia, but he’ll send it to the office. He tells me he is in Saskatchewan and though he never played hockey, the tragedy affected him deeply. I tell him I’ll add his name to the card, too.
We pull into the arena where a vigil was held the previous night and the funeral of the team play-by-play radio announcer, Beiber is just finishing up.
In the end, the card includes names from Alaska, Michigan, Edmonton, Sarnia, and Saskatchewan. It feels like we helped a little bit.
I deliver the card to the three older men in dark suits at the information table after we sign the register. I have no doubt they were hockey players in their youth and love this team and town. As we look at one of the memorials, one of the men comes over to us to talk and we talk about the card and the people it represents. There is instant connection and I use the time and my palliative care experience and personal grief, and talk to him about the first year—which will be the worst. He hugs me and shakes Jim’s hand and urges us to go into the arena. There is a mix of the norm and the unusual. Jim is impressed with the arena for the size of the town. There is a huge circle of flowers and other memorials. We walk around looking at them. An article I later read talks about the overwhelmed single florist in town with orders from around the world. Florists in nearby towns jump in to help—everyone wants to do something. Over the next few days we will read so much more, online, in the newspapers, on the television. What is it about this tragedy that has affected so many people so deeply? I’m glad we stopped.
On the way back to the highway, we stop in the very small town of Starner for a break and food. It’s a little run down but there are cars there. Inside are Chinese decorations everywhere. The current owner is Chinese, but the lunch special is lasagna, Jim’s favorite. It is the worst lasagna ever. Moral: Don’t ever order lasagna when the cook is Chinese.
Two women drink coffee at a nearby. They are local residents. But their conversation turns to the Humboldt tragedy and they talk about what they’ve read and heard.
At the recommendation of Chris from Wyoming, I made reservations at The Saskatchewan Hotel in Regina, a “railroad” hotel built in 1927. The 10 story building is solid and renovated to modern needs while still maintaining its antiques and older features. I’m glad it’s a Marriott hotel as I still rank a little bit with them and with the help of the reservationist am able to use points for the most expensive night of our three day stay. I book the cheapest rooms.
Regina is the capitol of the province and the hotel has hosted many famous guests from the Queen of England to Mick Jagger.
“Happy Birthday,” says the registration person. “And the birthday surprises are still coming.” Not sure what to expect, we get our keys and head to the third flour. It’s definitely an upgrade—it’s the Premier’s suite (like governor) across from the Prime Minister’s suite—but Justin Trudeau isn’t here this weekend!!
The suite is exquisite—two bathrooms, one with a deep tub, the bedroom has a kingsize bed, TV and small reading lamps attached to the padded headboard. The main room is elegant but so comfortable. Two favorite features are the hooks and shelf near the door for gloves and hat or handbag and a small ring to pull out the desk chair. There is a knock at the door and a birthday cake is delivered.
The suite overlooks Victoria Park. We go for a walk but the cold prairie winds are intimidating. We stop at Hudson’s Bay for Jim’s memory. His grandmother worked at Hudson’s Bay in Montreal for 50 years.
It is a wonderful three days. We sleep so well and feel so relaxed. We eat breakfast in a beautiful dining room. On Saturday we sit near four retired/semi retired lawyers laughing and enjoying their breakfast. They grow somber as they talk about the Humboldt tragedy. They know many very specific details about the accident. One wears a green handkerchief in the pocket of his sports jacket.
I drag Jim to afternoon tea. He finally admits it was fun. The staff gives me another smal birthday cake to take up to our room.It’s the best birthday celebration ever!! But there is no elevator music for Jim to dance to.
Our stop in Saskatchewan is a mix of shared grief and joy. On we go to Manitoba.