Sunday, March 4, 2012

Prairie Pastimes

When I take these extended road trips, I like to visit the occasional tourist attraction to stave off the boredom that can accrue between sporting events. Having traveled extensively throughout North America, it has become increasingly difficult to find something unique or different, that is, a tourist attraction that offers an opportunity to learn or see something new. One history museum is much like the other after you've visited 20 of them, so I generally stay away from those spots similar to what I have seen before.

On the most recent journey, which lasted 3 weeks, I only found four itineraries intriguing enough to check out, one in Calgary, two in Saskatoon, and one in the LA suburbs.

Calgary Tower

At $14 with a coupon, this isn't cheap but it is worth an hour of your time if you are partial to tall buildings. The tower is easy to spot from anywhere in the city, but it is no longer the tallest structure in Calgary. That means that views to the northwest are limited by office buildings, but otherwise you can get some good looks at the mountains to the southwest as well as the Saddledome and stampede area to the south east, at least when the skies are clear.

There is also a small extension with a glass floor on which you can stand and take pictures below you. Acrophobics need not attempt this, but it is fun to watch them try.

Alberta Sports Hall of Fame & Museum
Between Calgary and Edmonton lies the city of Red Deer, and just outside of it you will find the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame & Museum. It is right off the highway, in fact, we stopped in only because of a roadside sign alerting us to its presence.

The HOF actually located in the same building as the tourist info centre, which had plenty of stuff on Saskatchewan as well, making it a useful stop. It costs $5 to enter and is quite interesting, with some interactive games for kids (that adults are encouraged to use) and lots of displays about the history of sports in Alberta. Definitely a good way to split up the 3-hour trek between Alberta's two NHL cities (as well as its two ex-PCL cities, as you can see below).

Diefenbaker Centre

John Diefenbaker was Canada's 13th Prime Minister and the only Conservative to hold that office between 1930 and 1979. Although born in Ontario, he moved to Saskatoon as a teenager and attended the University of Saskatchewan. He agreed to donate his estate to the institution if they constructed a museum to house his papers and other items. The university agreed and the Diefenbaker Centre was opened in 1980, less than a year after he died.

Unfortunately the Centre was closed due to renovations when we were in Saskatoon, but that didn't stop us from walking around the area along the South Saskatchewan River. The grave site of Diefenbaker and his wife Olive are nearby, and the pathways along the river provide for some beautiful views. I hope to return here for some NHL action and will check out the Diefenbaker Centre, which will be reopened by then.

That's the University Bridge below, with downtown across the river.

Western Development Museum

The Western Development Museum (WDM) is a Saskatchewan-wide enterprise with separate attractions in Saskatoon, North Battleford, Moose Jaw, and Yorkton. Each museum is unique and presents a different element of the history of the west. We visited the one in Saskatoon and were amazed by the amount of detail on display. This museum presents a "boomtown" with a main street that has stores and businesses on either side, much like you would have seen a hundred years ago. There were even real live blacksmiths explaining their trade and an old locomotive in which you can sit and survey the floor.

In the back there is a huge room with old farm machinery that boggles the mind in terms of its size and complexity. Nobody else seemed interested in this display but I found it fascinating.

Best of all was the Boomtown Cafe, a restaurant that serves up heaping piles of pancakes or an oversized omelette at a reasonable price. Many locals eat there and it was certainly the best restaurant meal I had on the trip.

The cost for the museum is only $8.50, a bargain to begin with, but on their homepage, there are 2-for-1 coupons which you need to print out (although they accepted my electronic version) which knocks admission down to an incredible $4.25. Truly a fantastic experience that we found rather tiring after 3 hours of walking around, but admission is for two consecutive days so if you are in Saskatoon for a longer period of time, you can split your visit.

Automobile Driving Museum

Not quite on the prairie, but the Automobile Driving Museum is also something worth checking out if you are in LA. Located just a few minutes walk from the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, the museum presents an extensive collection of old cars that is a great spot for road trippers such as myself. I am by no means a car historian but it is fascinating to see the development of the automobile from the early 1900s to the 1980s. These cars are still in working condition and you can be driven in one on a weekend, but I was there midweek so did not have that opportunity. Admission is by donation with $5 the suggested amount, a bargain for those who enjoy old cars.

1947 Chrysler Windsor, $1,861 factory price

1930 Stutz, only 3 of this model were ever made

Superb collection

There were a few other sights I wanted to visit (the Moose Jaw Tunnels and the Winnipeg Mint to name a couple) but a lack of time or poor weather limited my options. Guess I'll be back on my CFL road trip, whenever that happens!



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