TC-1 from Alberta to Saskatoon Davidson Coffee Break... Moose Jaw Moose Jaw City - Al Capone's Tunnels - Murals Regina Legislative Building - RCMP Academy - RCMP Heritage museum TC-1
From Regina to Saskatoon Article the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Other pages Saskatchewan : overview and history | other provinces | articles
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Driving into Saskatchewan is an experience that is immediately felt! This province has relatively few inhabitants with corresponding low tax revenue, and this clearly shows in the quality of the road surfaces. Trans-Canada Highway 1 is a patchwork of repairs, although it is only fair to mention that these are very well executed and they don't end up as holes or bumps. Sometimes there is a brand-new highway with 4 lanes, but soon this changes back to the 2 traditional (and heavily repaired) lanes...
The landscape presents more and more oil tanks and oil pumps, that jumped up as mushrooms since the recent oil discoveries. The drive also leads you into the Central Time Zone, but for once this won't impact upon your watch, since Saskatchewan does not apply Daylight Savings...
Over a stretch of more than 20 kilometers the landscape becomes a real No Man's Land. There are no villages, no fields, no meadows, no houses, no farms, no cattle, simply nothing! Somewhat later one drives back into civilization along vast expanses of fields, upon which apparently only corn is grown.
We drove through Battleford and Radisson, and finally reached Saskatoon, Saskatchewan's largest city. This is a vibrant city, with lots of traffic and apparently in full growth, probably partly due to the recent oil discoveries.
From Saskatoon highway 11 leads to the capital, Regina. Describing the Saskatchewan landscape becomes rather monotonous after a while, for it consists mainly of prairie, interspersed with vast fields and meadows, but only very rarely a farm...
The only "attraction" is a coffee break in the village of Davidson, that built a very original Rest Area in the shape of a coffee pot. Apparently constructed with limited resources, it is however cleverly designed and beautifully decorated!
Highway 1 leads from Regina to Moose Jaw, which is about 60 kilometers away. The origin of this somewhat unusual name has several explanations. According to a first version, it comes from the Cree word "moosegaw", which means "warm breeze". The Indians used it to designate the Trading Post, and though this name was adopted by the English settlers, it was soon corrupted to Moose Jaw.
According to another version there is a strange twist in the river, exactly where the Trading Post was, and it has the shape of a moose jaw. Hence the name of the town. Actually the Indian word for moose jaw is "moosichappishannissippi", but that was asking too much of the English pronunciation...
Anyway, Moose Jaw started its life as a distant Outpost, which soon grew into a permanent Trading Post through the fur trade with local Indian tribes. In 1882 the railroad came along, and it quickly changed the settlement into a vibrant prairie town. In 1903 the village developed into a city, and it started to install electricity and paved streets, and built grand architecture.
In 1915 there came another strong impulse, albeit in an unusual way, with the advent of the gangster Al Capone, who thought that the city would be a perfect base for the distillation and storage of liquor. In the United States this was strictly illegal because of Prohibition. Moose Jaw, just over Canada's border, proved to be the perfect hiding place, and it was safe for the FBI agents, as it was located out of their jurisdiction. Even though the city was some 1,250 miles distant from Capone's headquarters in Chicago in Illinois, there was a direct train connection and the roads were excellent.
Now Al Capone was not only a tough and ruthless gangster without any scruples, but he also was an excellent businessman. He immediately saw the many possibilities of a foreign base, and he exploited them with his usual verve. He instantly put the local mayor, all the judges and the entire local police force on his payroll, and spent several years in Canada with total impunity. In the golden years of his heyday Al Capone managed to make 100 million dollars per year with the sale of liquor, gambling and prostitution!
The station at the end of Main Street was the traditional scene for "special hotels" and gambling. This location housed the "Chicago heavies", who prepared the liquor transport to the United States. Now some of these "hotels" were also particular in another respect, since a vast network of underground tunnels had been built to heat all these buildings with steam pipes. Capone realized the priceless value of underground storage and secret evacuation routes, and he built a whole underground network.
The house at number 18 offers a visit to Al Capone's tunnels. The visitor gets an amusing and well-commented exploration of the tunnels, whereby all the actors are dressed as authentic 1930 gangsters... The tour actually begins on the opposite side of Main Street, where brothel keeper Madame Fanny tells a captivating story. The visitors are immediately upgraded to Bootleggers, who have come to buy liquor!
The story continues with a visit to the bar, where the various personae of the story are presented in detail. They are the local mayor, the head of the local police force, and of course all Capone himself. For security's sake however, it is far safer not to meet the latter in person... But of course Al Capone just happened to pay his hideout in Moose Jaw an unexpected visit!
The visitors have to hide right away, and what better place than in Capone's bedroom? This room is beautifully decorated in a 1920 style, and it has several well camouflaged false walls and escape doors. But as luck will have it, Al Capone is again on his way, and so Fanny leads the visitors to the tunnels, where gangster Gus continues the tour. His explanation is interesting and spiced with humor.
Between the narrow tunnels you'll find the gangsters' arsenal, the distillery and a few small offices. The entire tour lasts 50 minutes, and it ends at the other side of Main Street. Definitely worth the trouble !
Moose Jaw has some 35 Murals, which are scattered all over the city. The city map that is provided by the Visitors Center doesn't really correspond with the city's layout, but after a while you'll be able to work it out...
Regina houses the Saskatchewan Legislative Building. It was built in 1908, in a beautiful Renaissance style and in the shape of a cross. The external architecture is well designed and equally well executed. The stark and imposing interior was decorated with an overwhelming use of more than 20 different types of marble, coming from all over the world.
The corridor walls are heavily laden with the inevitable paintings and photographs of prominent figures, who all desperately wanted to go down in history... The visit is very well documented by the guide, and though his seemingly endless series of numbers and names might seem somewhat boring, it is most interesting!
The RCMP Academy, or Royal Canadian Mounted Police Academy, was built in 1886. The facade of the building still shows "Royal Northwest Mounted Police", which is the original name of the Corps. It is also mentioned in French and listed as GRC, or "Gendarmerie Royale du Canada". The Visitor Center of the Academy includes the Heritage Museum.
The tour begins with a guided visit to the "public" part of the school. On the parade ground there is an inspection of the troops, who during our visit had the first external parade of the year. The choreography of a military march, complete with music, is quite interesting. A macho Sergeant Major allowed us to "enjoy" his powerful vocal organ, and his frequent sarcastic comments to the recruits...
The building in which the chapel is located previously served as a military bar for the men. That is, until the officers' Ladies decided (rather unilaterally, I'm afraid...) that the recruits were better off with a place to pray than with a place to drink... It has outstanding stained glass windows, that were donated to the corps. Furthermore, it also contains several memorabilia.
The next visit went to a large room, in which drill exercises are given. The Sergeant Major with the powerful voice got another opportunity to address the cadets with a lot of pathos. The man is actually an attraction all by himself, and as such he is obviously theatrically staged for the benefit of the tourists...
This concludes the public tour of the academy's buildings, as the other buildings are off-limits to the public for security reasons. In the medical center a very comprehensive first aid can be administered, and it even has its own dentist. The next building houses the cadets' dormitories, and every year some 600 of them undergo their training. Finally, the Academy also has its own utilities, which means independent power and water.
In the Heritage museum an interesting 20-minute movie is presented about the history of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. There is only one basic training school for the Mounties in Canada, and that is the one in Regina. The RCMP also has many other schools, but they are used to provide specialization for the cadets, according to their functions.
The RCMP museum contains many interesting objects and even some really antique gems. Thus it exhibits many antique uniforms, weapons of all kinds, and the most diverse vehicles.
Everybody knows the traditional image of the Mountie on horseback, but since they have to be able to work in almost every imaginable climate, the museum also shows a dog sleigh, a motorbike, a car, a snow-halftrack, a boat, an airplane, and simply anything imaginable! Finally, the museum offers a comprehensive overview of the history and and development of the Mounties.
Trans-Canada Highway 1 bridges the distance between Regina (Saskatchewan) and Winnipeg (Manitoba) over a "mere" 525 kilometers. According to the official map there is a 4-lane highway into Wolseley, followed by a more traditional 2-lane road up to the border. However, major work is in progress to modernize and enlarge also the last parts of the TC-1.
Officially this part of the highway is called a Scenic Highway. The reason for this was rather obscure, since its surface was downright antique and had been repaired uncountable times... But perhaps that WAS its special attraction...
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