Slowing down after his trip over to the coffee station my colleague says, “hey Aaron how was your holiday?” Usually around this time of year we complete our annual pilgrimage down to southern British Columbia to hit a couple of hot springs, see some extended family and bring back a few cases of cider and wine. However this year we decided to skip the annual pilgrimage and instead head east to a little out of the way town called Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.
“If I’m being honest about the whole thing it was pretty relaxing” I replied. “Nice!” came the response followed by another question: “How much wine did you bring back this year?” Laughter and a smile came out and across my face… As I proceeded to explain how we didn’t go to BC this April but instead chose to go get our R&R down in Moose Jaw.
“Wait, What? Did you say Moose Jaw?” his initial reaction fell out of his mouth. Followed by in parentheses with his fingers “You mean like ‘SASKATCHEWAN‘,” he could not contain himself, “but why?”
This seemed to be the A-typical response of my colleagues when I was explaining to them that Moose Jaw is actually a pretty famous little spot in Southern Saskatchewan. A few years back I was looking for “hot springs in Western Canada” and had come across a website that mentioned two spots in Saskatchewan.
Saskatchewan, is the neighbouring province to the east of Alberta.
Our neighbours have a population of about 1,132,505 people, which is roughly the same amount of residents as we have living here in Edmonton! What makes this province interesting is there is 651,900 km2 of surface and only 9% of it is lakes, rivers and streams. Another interesting tidbit is the two largest populated areas are only a short 2 hours and 30 minutes apart. Regina (215,106 pop.) and Saskatoon (266,141 pop.).
What is Saskatchewan famous for?
If you guessed: Agriculture or more specifically wheat or canola oil, then you are the winner.
Saskatchewan grows a large portion of Canada’s grain, with the largest crop being wheat, followed by canola, rye, barley, flax, lentils, peas and oats, to name a few. They are also big on cattle being second behind our fine province of Alberta.
Perhaps this is why, when we mentioned “vacation in Moose Jaw” that people just seemed dumbstruck by the idea that one this was a possibility and two that there was something to do other than run a combine.
The Unknown Town with a Secret Past
From here in Edmonton you literally drive out of town on what’s known as the Yellowhead Highway or provincial highway 16 and you follow this due east then slowly yield right into a diagonal which runs you just under 8-hours to arrive in Moose Jaw, SK with a population just shy of 40,000 people.
Looking in the annuals of history the “geothermal mineral springs” were accidentally discovered in 1910 by oil drillers. Instead of hitting that ‘black gold’ also known as oil or black crude, they found vast amounts of note, mineral-rich water. I’m sure these dirty old men in their overalls stood around for a day thinking what are our options with this somewhat smelly mother nature brewed thermal water? One ingenious fella must have pipped up and said “How about have a bath, sir?” To which I am a thousand percent certain everyone standing around began to laugh at this ridiculous idea.
From that date forward they built a bathing area and people probably paid their two-bits to soak it up along the Moose Jaw river. Jump forward 70-years and the town of Moose Jaw and the developers of the Temple Garden Hotel agreed to have a modern day facility constructed and its doors opened in June 1996.
Around ten years after those oil drillers struck geothermal ‘gold’ another ‘infamous‘ persona arrived in the middle of town. This time the persona arrived via the Soo Line railroad originating down south in a little known spot called Chicago.
After Elliot Ness arrived in town the infamous gangster known as Scarface decided to skip town for a few days and collect some well deserved rest and relaxation. This old character knew he had the dirty cops and politicians on his payroll but some people like Mr. Ness where just not interested in bribes but were actually on the side of the law and only interested in a thing called: justice!
Scarface also known as Al Capone hopped on the Soo Line Railroad and disappeared into the night. As the train continued northeast it skipped through the metropolis of Minneapolis and continued up through North Dakota squeezing into the province of Saskatchewan and pulling into its final destination of Moose Jaw.
In the morning Al, spread his wings, along with his pocket book and began setting up an operation north of the boarder. With the help of a variety of local characters he was once again selling alcohol in the middle of prohibition. Except this time the people chasing him where in funny red suits known as a Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).
When in doubt or when being chased by the RCMP thru the town of Moose Jaw our friendly gangster Mr. Capone would exploit a set of secret tunnels below the city streets to get away. Today you can explore those same escape routes and hear all about the exploits of this infamous prohibition era gangster. Or if you’d rather not drive the 8-hour to the middle of Saskatchewan you can read all about it in The Truth About Moose Jaw’s Underground Tunnels.
Moose Jaw at Night
Another memorable item about Moose Jaw is most of the stores in an eight-block radius of the downtown core close their shops between 5:00pm and 6:00pm. Literally the only places open along Main Street were restaurants, a couple of bars, a youth centre and the hot springs.
If you enjoy photography, you will love the unobstructed views of the heritage buildings that stretch both sides of main street. The only thing that would make the evening better would have been if all the shops had turned on their neon store front signs.
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