Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada

In the year 2000 my husband’s job took us to a little known place, at least to most Americans, called Regina (Latin for queen), Saskatchewan. At the time we lived only a seven hour drive away from there, but had never heard of Regina. As the years waged on we learned it was not exactly the hotbed of Canada either. I lost count of how many times other Canadians gave us their condolences on having to live in Regina.

When we moved there, a part of our permanent residency application requested we go to the police station to be finger printed. The officer who was finger printing us asked, “Where in the states are you moving to?” When we told him that we were Americans and we were moving to Regina, not Canadians moving to the US, he laughed and said they didn’t get many people making that move.

It wasn’t until our first winter spent in Regina that we became acutely aware of the reputation Regina had earned of being a place people moved away from, not to. Winter came and it didn’t fully leave for another eight months. The local joke in southern Saskatchewan is you can see your dog run away for three days because it’s so flat. This flat terrain allows the winds to howl and blow unencumbered. The only thing to slow it down is the 100’s of trees that were hand planted by the early settlers back in the early 1900’s.

The flat frozen tundra that surrounds Regina, SK

The flat frozen tundra that surrounds Regina, SK

Temps can reach 30-40 below zero. In Canada they measure temps using celsius not fahrenheit, but at those temps celsius and fahrenheit are virtually the same. And these kinds of temps don’t stick around for a day or two but can stick around for weeks at a time. Your skin can freeze in seconds at these temps. Car tires can break and their electronic systems can freeze up.

We quickly learned how these hearty residents got through these long hard winters. They took extended winter ‘holidays’ of upwards of 3-4 weeks at a time or several long weekends to warm weather destinations to thaw out. But beyond that they are doers. Reginans don’t hide out until winter passes, they bundle up and venture out. In the ten plus years my kids attended school in Regina they never had a snow day or school called off because of cold temps.

Bundling up to work outside in the freezing temps at the Regina, SK airport.

Bundling up to work outside in the freezing temps at the Regina, SK airport.

I definitely have to say there is something to people in the northern colder climates having thicker blood than those in the southern warmer climates. My husband and I spent the last weekend in Regina to watch our son play basketball at the university. Regina was going into their second week of sub 20F degree temps. I bundled up to walk the two blocks from our hotel to meet up with a couple of girlfriends – one who waltzed in wearing a long sleeve thin shirt and a faux fur vest – and I think I was colder!

As you can imagine, hockey is king in this Canadian city – home of the WHL Regina Pats, a training ground for future NHLer’s. But this growing metropolis – pop. 195,000 in 2000 and nearing 230,000 in 2014 – is game for all games. The CFL Roughriders, the 101st and 2013 Grey Cup Champions, have some of the most ardent football fans in all of Canada. Regina is home to Olympic level curlers and snowboarders. Ice fishing, basketball, snowmobiling, ringette, Globe Theatre, science museum, IMAX theater, 5-pin bowling, Agribition, RCMP, cross-country skiing, MacKenzie Art Gallery and the casino can all keep one busy throughout the long winter months.

The sign says it all! 30,000 Roughrider fans fill the stands of the outdoor Mosaic Stadium to create a ‘sea of green’ also dubbed ‘Rider Nation’.

Wascana Lake, a man-made lake, is the main city attraction. The beautifully domed provincial legislative building sits at the southwest shore of this highly active lake. With wide paved paths skirting the edges of the lake and its far-reaching tributaries, the area is great for walking – year round. The lake draws attention from across the country and even further bringing in competitions for dragon boat racing, wake boarding, canoeing and other events. Weddings are held on the island and fireworks reflect off the lake on July 1st, Canadian Independence Day.

Looking across Wascana Lake at the Regina skyline

Looking across Wascana Lake at the Regina skyline

A statue of Queen Elizabeth riding Burmese, a horse given to her by the RCMP, stands in front of the Saskatchewan Legislature building on the shores of Wascana Lake in Regina

The Queen City (Regina), so nicknamed because of being named after Queen Victoria by her daughter Princess Louise who was Governor General of Canada during the founding of Regina. In the years since, the city has been visited by a lengthy and notable list of royalty: The Queen Mum, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Camilla, Prince Andrew and Fergie, Prince Edward, Princess Anne, Princess Margaret.

But it’s the people who make Regina worth the visit. Growing up in Minnesota, where ‘Minnesota nice’ is the mantra, one experiences a similar vibe in Regina. We originally had plans to stay for 3-5 years, but ended up staying for 10 years, because we had settled into a community of great friends that eventually drew our son back to go to university and draws us back to spend time with people who became lifelong friends, no matter how many miles separate us now. Over the years many locals moved away for better job opportunities or tax reprieve, but moved back for quality of life and cost of living. Long live Regina (the Queen)!

Thanksgiving: not about the where, all about the who!

In a travel writing course I took, the main ideal was a travel story did not have to revolve around the actual act of traveling. The story can be about an event or a gathering or an experience.

This week’s blog is dedicated to Thanksgiving – one of the biggest travel weekends of the year. But this post is not about the journey to get to where the turkey is being served. It is about the opportunity to spend this special day with loved ones – related or not. A tradition that started in our family 21 years ago, when my son was born the day before Thanksgiving. I was in no condition to cook a large dinner, so my husband did most of the cooking (which has now turned into a tradition of it’s own), and invited his college roommates to join us under the condition they each brought one side dish.

In recent years, we have taken this tradition of spending Thanksgiving with whoever is front and center in our lives that year and celebrate those relationships. These gatherings have culminated in many gatherings inclusive of non-family members either because of circumstance and location. We have celebrated from Regina, Saskatchewan (Yay Roughriders – 2013 Grey Cup Champions!) to New York, New York to Calgary, Alberta to Phoenix, Arizona.

Friends sharing turkey carving duties, Regina, SK

Friends sharing turkey carving duties, Regina, Saskatchewan

Thanksgiving spread, Regina, SK

Thanksgiving spread, Regina, Saskatchewan

Family and friends sharing a Thanksgiving meal in Arizona.

Family and friends sharing a Thanksgiving meal in Arizona.

Yes. U.S. Thanksgiving in Canada. No, it is not also Canadian Thanksgiving – Canadian Thanksgiving is in early October, and not nearly the massive celebration it is in the U.S. So why you ask would we leave our beloved U.S. to travel to a place where we can’t even buy a turkey without special ordering it a week in advance?

Family! As my 22-year-old daughter, who lives in New York, said, “I don’t care where we celebrate Thanksgiving, as long as we are together and celebrate Thanksgiving on Thanksgiving Day!” Touche’! For years this has been an ongoing challenge for a family that is spread far and wide across many states and two countries. Whether it was because of our son studying at a Canadian university or my husband working in Canada, we have learned to work around these differing schedules.

Stuffing the bird, Calgary, Alberta

Stuffing the bird, Calgary, Alberta

Thanksgiving spread, Calgary, Alberta

Thanksgiving spread, Calgary, Alberta

Often we found ourselves in locations that our immediate family was our only family. As it is a near impossibility to make a Thanksgiving meal for only four people, the quick and easy solution was to open our doors to expand our ‘circle of love’ to friends when we celebrate in these ‘out of the norm’ locations.

When in Canada we have had Canadian friends join us to experience a real, full-out Thanksgiving dinner (request for return engagements have been made.) Or, we have had Thanksgiving dinner for many of our displaced American friends living along side us in Canada.

Our Thanksgiving in New York was the first time we did not fix the actual Thanksgiving dinner. We found other ways to make this experience equally special. Taking in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade; eating a prix fixe Thanksgiving dinner at a riverside restaurant in Brooklyn looking across the East River at the New York skyline; flying in my son’s girlfriend to surprise him for his pre-Thanksgiving birthday; having my daughter’s boyfriend join us because he could not get home to his family in California.

Catching the end of the Macy's Day Parade, NY, NY

Catching the end of the Macy’s Day Parade, NY, NY

Snoopy floating down Central Park West, NY, NY

Snoopy floating down Central Park West in the Macy’s Day Parade, NY, NY

Family and friends enjoying a prix fixe Thanksgiving dinner in Brooklyn, NY

Family and friends enjoying a prix fixe Thanksgiving dinner in Brooklyn, NY

Thanksgiving is about making memories, sharing time with loved ones – related or not, and overloading on turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and all the other fixins’!

From one of our many extended family and friends gatherings to yours: Happy Thanksgiving!

From one of our many extended family and friends gatherings to yours: Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to all! No matter where your Thanksgiving Day plans take you or who is sitting at your table!

Calgary – Timing’s everything!

Will & Kate - all duded up for the Stampede

Will & Kate – all duded up for the Stampede

People gather to catch a glimpse of Will & Kate 2011

People gather to catch a glimpse of Will & Kate 2011

Arriva 2011 - home sweet home - sits kitty-corner from Will & Kate's arrival spot

Arriva 2011 – home sweet home – sits kitty-corner from Will & Kate’s arrival spot

Will & Kate arrive 2011 at Calgary Stampede

Will & Kate arrive 2011 at Calgary Stampede

Will & Kates downtown route - Calgary 2011

Will & Kates downtown route – Calgary 2011

Not to get stuck on Canada, and specifically Alberta. But the story lines connecting this city and the two individuals in the first picture make for some compelling story lines – because of the timelines involved.

Rewind back to 2011. Prince William and Kate Middleton helped kick off the 2011 Calgary Stampede. In the days prior to their arrival, I watched the streets below where I saw local police and security forces make a dry run to prepare for the royal arrival. At the time I didn’t know what was going on – I hadn’t heard they were coming to town. It was unnerving to see so many security vehicles en-masse – I thought we were under siege.

On the day Will & Kate arrived, the security forces resurfaced to handle the masses of people lining up to catch a glimpse. My husband, mother and I made a reservation at a restaurant in the red brick building shown in the above picture. When word spread through the crowded restaurant that Will and Kate were around the corner, I ran outside, climbed up the drain pipe, and while holding on with one hand, I held up my camera in my other hand and took pictures of Will and Kate as they made their way to the stagecoach and climbed up to their western throne. It was a magical moment for all. Being witness to the newlyweds, in one of the Queen’s commonwealth countries, as they embark on a tour of the world’s largest and most well-known stampedes. Calgary as a whole turns into a western themed town for the weeks leading up to the Stampede. Windows are awash with cowboy murals; restaurants are decorated with saddles, bales of hay, and corral fencing; and bank CEO’s get duded up in jeans, western shirts and cowboy hats and boots.

Fast forward to 2013.

640 × 360 –
620 × 349 –
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606 × 604 –

Calgary is hit with massive flooding.

The above pictures show the stampede grounds and the same streets depicted in the pictures of Will and Kate’s visit to the Calgary Stampede in 2011. Emotions went from celebratory in 2011 to devastation 2013. But in true Calgarian style – the show did go on. The concerts booked for the uniquely shaped Saddledome had to be moved to another location as there was water up to the 10th row. The consistently sold out rodeo and chuck-wagon races slogged their way through the muck and mire. And people dressed up in their western garb and proved the show needed to go on to help get this amazing town up and running.

In 2011, I lived on the 25th floor of the green-glass 36th-floor Arriva high-rise, which sits kitty-corner from the Stampede grounds and had allowed me the bird’s eye view of Will and Kate’s parade route. I moved out in January 2013. A week after the flood, people were still having to walk the stairs to and from their condo. When we lived there, we had two dogs. I can’t even fathom having had to take them up and down the stairs to do their business, especially when the streets below were flooded – where would I have taken them? Our cars would’ve been underwater in the four stories of underground parking.

Now a month after the 100-year plus flood, Calgary and outlying areas, reaching as far west as Banff (depicted in my previous blog) are getting back to business as usual. Part of the Trans-Canada Highway 1 was washed out by the floods on either side of Banff – making it a virtual island as there are basically no other routes. Within a day the road was reopened. It is a miracle and a marvel when human suffering can be transformed into engineering feats to put a city, a region, a province back on its feet.

A new royal is born.

As of the timing of this writing, we celebrate the birth of Will & Kate’s first baby. It’s a boy! The name is yet to be announced.

Hopefully this happy news, can give Calgarians something to smile about, when thinking about the great visit they had with Will and Kate back in 2011.

Cherish the bright moments, as life is sure to bring change in many forms!

Where we ate:  La Vita e Bella, 401 12 Ave SE, Calgary, AB T2G 1A5, Canada, 1-403-264-6046.  $$$  Great Italian restaurant (in the building I was hanging from for the picture of Will & Kate).  More traditional fresh pasta meals that have been paired with a well thought out, albeit minimalist wine menu.

Lake Louise – Just as beautiful in summer

Moraine Lake July-2011

Moraine Lake July-2011 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chateau Lake Louise, Banff, Alberta, Canada: Just as beautiful in the summer

Chateau Lake Louise, Banff, Alberta, Canada: Just as beautiful in the summer

The path along Lake Louise

The path along Lake Louise

Lunch at Chateau Lake Louise

Lunch at Chateau Lake Louise

Trans-Canada Highway in Alberta, Canada, in th...

Trans-Canada Highway in Alberta, Canada, in the Banff National Park, between Banff and Lake Louise (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Banff and the Banff Springs Hotel may get more traffic and notoriety, but I think the extra hour it takes to drive up to Chateau Lake Louise is worth the extra effort. Both hotels were once owned by the Canadian Pacific Railway and built-in the late 19th century to attract wealthy Canadians to visit the natural beauty of what is now a World Heritage Site, Banff National Park. Now the hotels and trails are packed with people culturally diverse as the multitude of amazing views you see en route to the hotels, at the hotels and on the paths leading from the hotels.

On the 45-minute drive from Banff to Lake Louise you delve deeper and deeper into the Canadian wilderness. The slate blue Bow River sits on one side of road with the Canadian Rockies flanking the other side. For years the only way for wildlife to get from one to the other was to hoof or pad their way across the one and only road – the Trans-Canada Highway 1. Named “Highway 1” because it is the one and only National highway in all of Canada – and it flows only east and west.

Over the years, as road traffic to Lake Louise became steadily heavier, so did the amount of vehicle-animal accidents. And when these animals are elk, moose, caribou, deer, bear, big horn sheep – nobody wins, car or animal. To ease the rash of these incidents, high fences were erected along the sides of the highway. These fences lead into specially designed bridges that cross the highway. The bridges are animal crossings and are covered with natural fauna so the animals feel it is part of their natural surroundings and comfortably make the trek back and forth, up and over the highway, saving the lives of wildlife and people.

Eventually you arrive at the little hamlet of Lake Louise which sits at the base of the world-renowned Lake Louise ski hill. Since the advent of World Cup Ski Races in 1980, and the Winter Olympics in 1988, Lake Louise has become a destination skiing hot spot. Prior to this, however, the area was mainly a summer destination. The Chateau, which sits higher up in the mountains on the opposite side of the Lake Louise river valley from the ski hill, was not even winterized until 1982.

The drive from the heart of Calgary to Lake Louise is only two hours, but allowing plenty of time to take in the surrounding beauty is a must. With the long summer hours you can cover a lot of territory in a day. Make the short drive from Lake Louise up to Chateau Lake Louise to experience views unlike any other: the bright white hotel sits at one end of the vivid blue-green colored Lake Louise and Victoria Glacier, that feeds into Lake Louise, sits at the other end. Spend the hour to hike the well maintained path along the lake, to allow you to take in both views – about a 3 mile round trip hike. Come back and enjoy lunch in the hotel with views of the lake and Victoria Glacier in the background and then walk off lunch by taking a tour of this magnificent hotel.

Or, after taking in the views from the Chateau, head back towards Lake Louise, but take the turn into Moraine Lake. A picnic basket and a blanket is all you need to take in views equally as breathtaking, but more rustic, than at Chateau Lake Louise.

If you can find time in your busy schedule to spend a couple of days in the area, a stay at Chateau Lake Louise would allow you the time to hike back to Victoria Glacier. The glacier can be reached on foot or horseback along a well-worn and well maintained dirt path leading from the hotel. Round trip is about 8.6 miles (14 km). Be sure to look up as you pass the first major bend at the far end of the lake – you are likely to see rock climbers working their way up the sheer face of Mount Victoria.

Or make your way back to the Lake Louise village and stay a night at the world-renowned Post Hotel that sits along the wild rushing waters of the Bow River. Eat at the world-renowned restaurant which focuses on using local ingredients, specialty meats from the area, and fresh fish caught nearby. And enjoy a bottle of wine from their world-renowned 25,000 bottle wine cellar.

My husband and I lived in Calgary for 2 1/2 years and made the trip to Banff National Park several times. There are few greater stress relievers like the majestic views of the Canadian Rockies. I am in awe of the engineering marvel of winding a well maintained four-lane highway throughout the valleys allowing us to get up close and personal to all this area has to offer.