After much travel, seeing this and that,
we arrive at last in Medicine Hat.
Home Inn Express was a most welcome site,
a comfortable place to spend the night.
Looking for dinner, we saw a good sign,
across the parking lot we walked to dine.
Good food and drink, after a long day’s ride,
Authentic food, we were fit to be Thai’d.
We had heard about Moose Jaw’s checkered past before, including the discovery of tunnels beneath the downtown. We had also heard of an Al Capone connection. What the heck? As such, we had booked a tour slot for the time we would be passing through Moose Jaw.
While waiting for our tour to start, we learned a few things about early 20th century Moose Jaw:
- Moose Jaw had a lawless history in the early 1900s. It became Regina’s “”red light” district and was also a haven for moonshining and bootlegging during the Prohibition era.. Police Chief W.P. Johnson from 1905-27 was an enemy of prohibition and may have been the richest police chief in the world at the time, with a 1,000 acre farm and expensive house in Moose Jaw.
- the City of Moose Jaw had long denied the existence of tunnels under the downtown core. However this was difficult to deny, when a manhole under Main Street collapsed in 1985, exposing a hidden chamber that was not part of the sewer system. Soon after, began the tourist attraction known as the Tunnels of Moose Jaw.
- Our tour guide stated that most downtown buildings were heated with steam boilers in the early 1900s. It became a hassle for boiler maintenance workers to move equipment in and out of the buildings, taking off and putting on outerwear to move from building to building for the daily maintenance work, particularly in winter. The solution was to create a tunnel network between building basement boiler rooms.
We opted to go on the Passage to Fortune tour. Here is what we learned from our visit:
- When work on the railways ended in 1908, the Chinese workers who had been brought in to assist on construction were out of work and forced to move to towns and cities to secure work.
- Many Chinese workers had borrowed money for their passage from lenders in China, with an agreement to pay it back. The lenders used compradors in Canada to collect payments and many of them were less than scrupulous. It could take the workers up to 30 years to pay back the money they had borrowed.
- Chinese workers were apparently persecuted and beaten by local residents (there was a local branch of KKK in Moose Jaw for part of 1927) and the Canadian Government began levying a head tax on would-be Chinese immigrants. Unable to pay the head tax and in order to avoid trouble, the Chinese workers remained out of sight, hiding, living and working in the basements and tunnels. In turn, they were put to work in laundries and restaurants by local businessmen, who would also charge them for their keep. They were paid at half the going labour rate and half of that would be charged for their lodging and food. They had no choice, but to comply. Living and working conditions were harsh.
The other tour was called the Chicago Connection. We did not take this tour, but learned a few things about it.
- The Prohibition Act made the manufacturing, sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages illegal in Saskatchewan from 1915-25.
- This did not seem to phase the City of Moose Jaw, which became a mecca for moonshiners and bootleggers. See above about the police chief.
- Prohibition in the United States ran from 1920-33.
- The Soo Line railroad between Moose Jaw and Chicago became an easy way to ship alcohol into America.
- The Capone organization was one group involved in this alcohol smuggling. There is no degree of certainty that Al Capone ever came to Moose Jaw, but it makes a good story. See the motel shots below.
No photos or video are permitted once the tour starts. Here are the photos I took of the exterior of the Tunnels tour office.
Some taken in the interior
The stairway to the Chicago Connection tour is in the Tour office.
The stair leading to the beginning of the Passage to Fortune tour leaves from under another building down the street.
Whether you believe the tales told or not, the tour was a worthwhile experience.
In times long past, Cree and Assiniboine people used the Moose Jaw area for their winter encampments. The narrow river crossing and abundance of water and game made it a good location for a settlement. In 1857, surveyor John Palliser marked it on a map as Moose Jaw Bone Creek. There are two theories as to how the name originated 1) the Cree words Moose Gaw meaning “warm breezes” as the area was prone to warm breezes, due to its proximity to the Missouri Couteau (a large plateau stretching along the Eastern side of the valley of the Missouri River in North Dakota). 2) on a map of the city, the Moose Jaw River takes the shape of a moose’s jaw.
In 1881, the confluence of the Moose Jaw River and Thunder Creek was chosen as a division point for the Canadian Pacific Railway. Settlement began in 1882 and the city was incorporated in 1903. The population as of the 2016 census was 33,890 making it the 4th largest city in Saskatchewan. The population has remained fairly constant since 1981.
CFB Moose Jaw was established by the RCAF in 1940 as a Commonwealth flight training center and has since become a NATO pilot training center, due to the high number of cloudless days in the area. It is also home to the world renowned Canadian air demonstration team, the Snowbirds.
The history in this small city was pretty phenomenal. We spent some time, wandering around downtown before our Tunnels tour (separate post) and the outskirts after our tour.
There were the old buildings downtown.
eclectic coffee shops in historic buildings
Huge old houses. The one on the left was called “the Wedding Cake” house
and a City park, celebrating the Snowbirds and Mac the Moose.
We had to smile over the recent Canada/Norway kerfuffle on who has the bigger moose statue. Only in Canada (and oh, only in Norway). After a Norway diplomatic mission to Canada, an agreement has been reached to state Canada has the biggest moose statue. Hard to believe this story even made the evening “moose”. Tee Hee.
You would think that all you would see in Saskatchewan would be the rolling farmland and prairie skies. But, you would be wrong. There are many places of interest other than agriculture. Our first stop after leaving Weyburn was in the town of Rouleau, home of the fictional Dog River in the Brent Butt, Canadian comedy success, Corner Gas.
Rouleau is a small Southern Saskatchewan prairie town. It was named after Charles Boromée Rouleau, a magistrate on the council of the Northwest Territories (Saskatchewan came into existence in 1905). A post office was established here in 1895, it was incorporated as a village in 1903 and as a town in 1907. Population as of the 2016 census was 540. The local economy is primarily agricultural ,now that production of Corner Gas is gone. (Source:Wikipedia)
Corner Gas ran for 6 seasons from 2004-09. The series was conceived by Canadian comedian, Brent Butt and showed what life was like in the small community of Dog River. The viewing audience averaged 1,000,000 and while the main audience was Canadian, it developed a following in the U.S. as well. The series was followed by a movie with the same cast and an animated series. (Source:Wikipedia)
The main sets have all been demolished, but the elevator and several other building still bear the name of Dog River.
We said our goodbyes and rolled out of Weyburn along straight roads North and West through fall farm scenes…
…past farmyards big and small, old and new…
…past rail lines and trains…
…and overturned semis. Perhaps the long straight roads lead to drowsiness…
…past the salt plant at Chaplin…
…flocks of Snow Geese on Reed Lake>>>
…past…a helicopter weather vane at Swift Current…
…ever Westward to…
…the Saskatchewan/Alberta boundary…
…but, I am getting ahead of myself. There was so much else to see along the way.
After escaping Riderville, we headed for Wascana Park and the Saskatchewan Legislature Building. It was a chilly, windy day and our time outside of the car was limited.
Saskatchewan entered Confederation with Alberta in 1905. The current Legislature Building was built from 1908-1912. The design was by Edward and William Sutherland Maxwell of Montreal who also designed the replacement for the Centre Block of Ottawa Parliament Buildings to replace the 1866 building destroyed by fire in 1916. The design contemplates future expansion by adding wings to the South at the East and West ends and coming together to form a courtyard. The exterior is clad in Manitoba Tyndall stone and the total cost of construction was $1.75 million. (Source:Wikipedia)
Wascana Centre is 930 hectare urban park built around Wascana Lake, which was created in 1883 by damming Wascana Creek. It was established in 1912 from a design by Thomas Mawson. Wascana comes from the Cree Oscana, meaning Pile of Bones, in reference to the plains bison bones scattered around the creek, before non-indigenous people settled in the area. (Source:Wikipedia)
Even in the cold fall weather, we could see the beauty of the place.
When we first planned this trip, my Patty expressed a strong desire to visit Regina, capital city of Saskatchewan, as she had never been here before. I promised I would make it happen.
We decided we would drive in with our Weyburn hosts who knew the city well and promised to give us a tour.
Our first stop was the new Mosaic Stadium, home to the Canadian Football League’s Saskatchewan Roughriders and the CFL’s most rabid fans.
The Roughriders were formed in 1910 as the Regina Rugby Club and are the 3rd oldest continuously operating team in North America. Only the Arizona Cardinals and Toronto Argonauts have been in continuous operation longer. In 1924, the name was changed to the Regina Roughriders and to the current name in 1936. They played in historic Taylor Field from 1936-2016, moving to their new home, Mosaic Stadium for the 2017 season. They have finished first in the West 7 times, been Western Conference champions a record 28 times, played in the Grey Cup game 19 times and won the trophy 4 times. As the only major professional sports team in Saskatchewan, they draw their fans from the entire province. These fans are affectionately called Rider Nation and sometimes, not so affectionately called Combine Pilots, Stubble Jumpers and Watermelon Heads (for their habit of wearing football helmets carved from watermelons). (Source:Wikipedia)
As loyal Edmonton Eskimo fans, we have had a love/hate relationship with this team ever since we can remember. At the current time, it is mostly hate as former Edmonton Eskimos Head Coach, Chris Jones left the Eskies just 5 days after we won the Grey Cup in 2015 to join Saskatchewan, not even giving Edmonton a chance to enjoy their win. I guess, as they say, that’s sports.
And, so we come to this day, where we are willingly driving our relatives, who are wrapped in the their green colours into the heart of Rider Nation on a game day. YIKES!