During the 2023 season, we planned to walk the Manitoba and Saskatchewan sections of the Trans Canada Trail (TCT). After the COVID hiatus, we were happy to get our boots back on the trail.
We chose to make it a road trip. Our plan would be to follow the TCT through small towns and hike all municipal, provincial, and national parks along the way. Between these sections of natural trail, our car provided easier access to water, food, and camping options. We also had the freedom to change our trajectory on the spur of the moment in reaction to poor weather or trail closures.
We started near the Ontario and Manitoba border in Whiteshell Provincial Park. The geography of this park was a fine example of the Canadian Shield with a plethora of small lakes and bogs, mainly coniferous forests, and rolling rocky terrain. Julie’s fingers quickly became stained blue as she spent much of her time picking wild blueberries along the trail. This section of trail led through Turtle Rock, where we hoped to see examples of Petroforms (stones shaped into patterns by Indigenous ancestors). Unfortunately, the name referred to a rounded rock the ‘shape of a turtle’s back’. It seemed to us that every rock bump was that shape. But what did we know?
One of our first night in Whiteshell was memorable, we got up at midnight and watched the northern lights. The cool breeze off the Brereton Lake and the dancing night sky were truly magical.
As we exited North Whiteshell we trekked through Pinawa, a quaint town. The trail system followed the Winnipeg River and crossed a section of boreal forest along marshes which led to the ‘Pinawa Suspension Bridge’ then looped back into town. We met a few Hutterite women out for a walk along this lovely trail and had a chat.
We did stop at the famous corner of Portage and Main but it being summer, we didn’t experience the cold winds. There was a sculpture of Louis Riel by the legislature. In Manitoba he was revered for what he had done for the province. As a Canadian politician, he was one of the founders of the Province of Manitoba. He was also leader for the Métis people. He led two resistance movements against the Government of Canada and its first prime minister John A. Macdonald. It was interesting how our history classes (in the 1970’s, in Ontario) had presented him only as a rebel. We were glad to learn a bit more about this strong man and leader.
We minimized long stretches of ‘Connector Roads’ in Southern Manitoba but added Turtle Mountain P. P. This area was not part of the TCT, but we felt the need to explore the southern border landscape. The trails in the park circumnavigated Adam Lake, it was a pleasant hike in the shade of a boreal forest with a few glimpses of the lake. We visited Souris and Boissevain with its many murals depicting the history of the area.
a well renowned naturalist, artist, and father of the Woodcraft League and the Boy Scouts. We met a hiker who complained about the steep inclines and sandy hills in the vicinity. We did find it challenging, but it gave us the excuse to enjoy an ice cream cone when we crossed Brandon. This town was very familiar as we had stayed there a few times before. We took advantage of the city and enjoyed a great pizza and craft beer in a funky joint. One of the pleasures of long hiking days was the guilt free consumption of high caloric foods.
This gave us a bit of time to check out the town of Wasagaming. It was busy with lots of tourists enjoying the sun and fun of the park. We found a shady spot, sat on Adirondack chairs, and ate ice cream cones. This was becoming our season’s preferred treat!
The next day our hike followed the Clear Lake north’s shore. The lake breeze reduced the bug presence, and we kept a good pace for this 25km section. Julie had a refreshing dip in the lake before setting up camp. We slept well that night.
The geography was shifting from the shield with its rolling terrain to flat fields filled with ripening grasses. The wind danced on the wheat creating a fluid motion like the swells of the sea. The morning sun made the fields look gold under clear blue skies. Every few fence-posts, we spotted Redtail or Swanson’s hawks looking for their breakfast of delicious rodents.
We then crossed over into Saskatchewan. We stopped in Verigin to take a picture of a Grange and discovered a Doukhobor community museum. The town had rebuilt the 1800’s Doukhobor Colony that had existed here from the late 1800’s to the 1930’s. Besides P. Verigin’s house of worship, a few modest homes, there were Brickworks, a grain elevator, and a flour mill. All were beautifully restored. Verigin was named in honour of the Russian philosopher Peter Verigin. The Doukhobors were pacifists whose maxim was ‘Toil and Peaceful Life’. The community later moved to the Slocan valley near Castlegar BC.
For the Prairies, we can thank him for the practices of lining trees along fields to reduce wind and snow drifts, digging water catchment ponds to collect snow-melt, and the development of farmer’s grain co-operatives.
There are a few long stretches of ‘water ways’ along the Qu’Appelle Valley but we did enjoy many sections of the Wolseley, Abernathy, and trails in the Echo Valley P.P. These trails mainly followed to meandering river and lakes along the Qu’Appelle Valley. Getting up on the plateau, we enjoyed the breeze and the views of the valley below which was (way back when) a major continental waterway and corridor into the Great Plains.
the North-West Mounted Police in 1873, to the modern-day Mountie. It gave us an appreciation of how the RCMP shaped the west and protected our borders.
From there, the 120km Chief Whitecap Waterway reaches Saskatoon. What can be said about Saskatoon? We think it’s our favorite prairie city. We hiked the Meewasin trail along both sides of the South Saskatchewan River in order to spend time in the downtown core. We spotted a red fox, pelicans, and other waterfowl along the way. We took a well deserved ‘zero day’ and our host at the B&B suggested the D’Lish Restaurant for lunch and we were glad to have taken her recommendation. It was indeed D’Lish! The city had lots to offer from the Ukrainian Heritage center, galleries, great eateries, and a blend of old and new architecture.
Instead of heading north and west on the TCT (which we will continue next season – summer 2024) and given the limited amount of time left in our walking season, we decided to head south west to discover Saskatchewan Landing P.P. This was a natural crossing point on the South Saskatchewan River for natives and settlers alike. Now a provincial park, it offered trails that followed the countless travellers that had passed through this area.
As we neared the Alberta border a few of our old haunts called out to us. They were not part of the TCT, but we were so close we had to go a see them again. Kinbrook P.P. was a park offering spectacular bird watching opportunities. This large wetland reserve was home to white pelicans, cormorants, and many other species of waterfowl. In our Edmonton days we came here often to bird watch. It did not disappoint. We also enjoyed the curious prairie dogs popping their heads out of their burrows to watch us pass by. On our way out of the park we saw an American badger sunning himself on top of his set (burrow). We stayed quiet and watched as he scratched and snoozed in the afternoon heat.
It was time to start heading east. A stop-over in Medicine Hat was worthwhile. This orphaned TCT trail followed the South Saskatchewan River across town. Lovely cottonwood trees offered shade along this path. We looped back into town and enjoyed the Rib Fest celebration in the downtown core.
In Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park we hiked on the TCT (another orphaned segment), climbing up the grassy hills and dipping down into forested valleys. Our campsite offered a swimming pool where we cooled off after our two days of hiking. We also sampled the ice cream. It was good (just so you know).
Grass Lands N.P. was not part of the TCT, but it was a ‘must’ to fully experience the Prairies. In fact, we both voted it “the best park of this season”. The grass lands opened to the Rock Creek valley and the badlands. We booked a guided tour with a ranger. Kyle was very knowledgeable and showed us how to find dinosaur fossil
chards and crystals in the clay mound formations. The following day we spent many hours meandering through these amazing clay formations looking for the ‘Big Find’. We didn’t find any Brontosaurus heads, shucks. Driving east along the Red Coat Trail, we searched for ghost towns. We managed to find a few derelict buildings here and there. The wooden grange silos were becoming rare and having the opportunity to see them was worth the few detours we made.
The small multicultural towns in remote Saskatchewan and Manitoba retained their heritage proudly. One such town was Gravelbourg Sk. We stopped there for a break and found a charming French community with a large convent and the Cathedral of our Lady of Assumption. The Cathedral was very beautifully maintained.
Entering Ontario, we stopped in Pukaskwa N.P. We took advantage of another TCT segment trail to the White River suspension bridge for a challenging hike and swim in the river. That night, we spent the evening playing cards with our friend’s, Mike and Jeannie, who were camping at this beautiful park. It was good to catch up with friends and revisit this amazing park. A few more days of driving found us back home where we were in time to celebrate Simon’s mother’s 99th birthday.
Julie was just starting to relax and settle into her routine when Simon announced that he was going for one last motorcycle trip, ‘before the winter comes’. Nothing surprising with this statement. The adventures never cease. Until next time. We will pass the winter at home working out and cross-country skiing. Sadly, we will have to wait for next summer’s walking season to sample ice cream again.
Until then be well.
We are Simon Lanoix and Julie Chatelain and we are 'JuSi Adventures'. Our passion is to share our experiences with others. We revel in seeing others becoming more confident and authentic selves through the challenges found in nature.