From Robin Esrock, author of The Great Canadian Bucket List , comes a look at the best that Canada’s prairies have to offer.
Having travelled to over one hundred countries on six continents, international travel guru and bestselling author Robin Esrock turns his attention to the Canadian prairies. Robin spent years personally discovering these one-of-a-kind destinations and activities you have to try in Manitoba and Saskatchewan:
- Float in “Canada’s Dead Sea”
- Track polar bears along Hudson Bay
- Horse-ride through herds of free-roaming bison
- Uncover ancient archaeological mysteries in Winnipeg
- Learn what it takes to join the Royal Canadian Mounted Police
- Witness the largest gathering of snakes in the world
- Party with the wildest sports fans in Canada
- Bask on a tropical beach on a prairie lake
Bundled with an extensive up-to-date companion website, The Great Canadian Prairies Bucket List provides all the inspiration and information you’ll need to follow in his footsteps.
About the Author
Robin Esrock’s stories have been published in over a dozen major newspapers worldwide. He is also the creator and co-host of the forty-part television series Word Travels , seen on OLN and CityTV in Canada, on National Geographic International, and on Travel Channel in one hundred countries and twenty-one languages. Robin lives in Vancouver.
Read an Excerpt
FLOAT IN CANADA'S DEAD SEA
Before you die, you really should experience the wonders of the Dead Sea. The lowest place on Earth, with waters 8.6 times saltier than the ocean, one floats without any effort, cradled by the lifeless yet legendary therapeutic waters.
The Dead Sea splits Israel and Jordan in the Middle East, which is a little far to travel even by Canadian standards. So it's Saskatchewan to the rescue, with its own lake, unique in the western hemisphere, located just a ninety-minute drive southeast of Saskatoon.
Twelve thousand years ago, a receding glacier trapped a lake at the bottom of a valley. Hemmed in by the valley walls, water was prevented from seeping away by pressure caused by ground- water aquifers. Thousands of years of evaporation later, the result is Little Manitou Lake, with waters three times saltier than the ocean and laced with all sorts of wonderfully helpful minerals.
As in the Dead Sea, you can float, you can heal, and you can smother yourself in goopy mud that international spas could market for small fortunes.
Having visited the Dead Sea a number of times, I admit I am skeptical. Surely, if such a lake existed, it would be on the world map, or at least North America's. Driving through the prairie, passing small towns and pot- ash mines, I have a sinking feeling (ahem) that Little Manitou will not live up to the hype. Although few people outside the area know about it, it was immensely popular in the 1950s. "Canada's Carlsbad!" reads an enthusiastic wooden sign as I enter Watrous, the nearest town. It’s sleepy and quiet, but then again, so are the towns that service the Dead Sea. I check into the Manitou Springs Hotel & Spa, my room offering a lovely view of the calm lake mirroring a big prairie sky. A few people are taking a dip, but nobody is floating on their back. Downstairs, the "rich golden colour" of the heated indoor mineral pools looks suspiciously like dirty tea, even if it is 100 percent natural.
I walk across the street to find adults sunbathing among rows of kids playing on the coarse sandy beach. I try to imagine Cree Indians on these same banks, discovering, to their surprise, that drinking and bathing in the water cured deathly fevers and painful rheumatism. Legend has it a group of sick men were left for dead here, only to recover thanks to the water's healing properties. When they returned to their tribe, they were initially thought to be ghosts.
Chemically, the water is rich: magnesium (helps regulate body temperature, tones skin); potassium (antibacterial); sulphate (aids nervous, blood, muscular and lymph systems); calcium (great for the skin); silica (skin tone, bone and nail growth); sulphur (for aching joints and collagen synthesis) all of which should easily take care of the uric acid, as contributed by the small kids playing in the shallow areas.
Unlike the suitably named Dead Sea, there is life in these waters: brine shrimp, bugs and sticky green weed the kids are collecting for messy wigs.
I walk to the edge, dip in my toe thermometer, lie back and expect to sink like a stone. Instead, the water is buoyant, and I find myself easily floating on my back. Admittedly, the liquid is not as supportive as the Dead Sea, but it’s comfortable enough, in that one would have to work very hard to drown oneself.
After applying and rinsing off the mud, I find my skin wonderfully silky and shiny, making me wonder why Dead Sea mud sells for big bucks while Manitou mud is unheard of. Watrous, there's cash to be made here! The Dead Sea undoubtedly benefits from that repetitive Trio of Important Rules: location, location, location. Manitou, on the other hand, literally means "Great Spirit" in Cree, a godly lake blessed with healing, recreational and definite bucket list qualities.
START HERE: canadianbucketlist.com/manitou
SEE POLAR BEARS FROM A TUNDRA BUGGY
Standing on the outdoor viewing platform of one of Frontier North's customized Tundra Buggies, I gaze at the permafrost of northern Manitoba. Two polar bears are on their hind legs, sparring like boxers, oblivious to the fact they are providing one of the most spectacular animal encounters you can experience anywhere. I'm wearing two thermal under-layers and a layer of fleece beneath my parka, but what does it matter if my nose is an icicle?
Watching the largest carnivore on Earth in its natural habitat lights a fire under your soul.
Each October and November, hungry bears along the southwest coast of Hudson Bay emerge from a state scientists call walking hibernation, reducing their metabolisms while waiting for the ice to freeze. When it does, they’ll head north and break their long summer fast. Cool ocean currents in the bay freeze these waters early, making the small bayside community of Churchill the most southerly point for humans to encounter polar bears.
The 900-plus bears that annually migrate through this region are joined by thousands of tourists, scientists, media and students, all excited by this unique wildlife encounter. It is not uncommon for bears to wander directly into town. Surrounded by bear traps, Churchill is closely monitored on camera, and famously has a jail for offending bears that continue to pose a problem. We're advised to stick within certain town limits, with polar bear warning signs reinforcing the message.Considering that Churchill's population shares the landscape with hundreds of hungry bears, it is remarkable there haven't been any human fatalities for decades. In fact, Churchill has become a model of how humans and wildlife can live together.
We're not ten minutes from the airport, seated in a school bus shuttle, when we spot our first bear. Fellow passengers around me explode into action: cameras, whoops, sighs, even tears. A solitary sub-adult male bear is ambling over rocks close to the bay. He stands on his hind legs like a giant meerkat, observing us with curious eyes. Although the bear has yet to feed after a long summer, there's no doubting he is a magnificent creature: shag-carpet hair the colour of a vanilla milkshake, round furry ears, a black button nose. Polar bears look too cuddly to be hungry carnivores, but a loaded rifle above our driver's seat reminds us otherwise. The bears can run up to forty kilometres an hour, and with one of the best noses in the animal kingdom, can smell prey from miles away. Camouflaged against the snow, these ruthless hunters are perfectly adapted to be top of the Arctic food chain, with no natural enemies - save humans, and the rapid disappearance of their habitat.
Elated from our first sighting, we transfer to a Tundra Buggy for the ninety-minute drive to Frontier North's Tundra Buggy Lodge. The forty-passenger Buggy sits on 1.7-metre tires above a customized fire truck chassis. Heated by a propane furnace, it has anti-fog windows, an eagle-eyed driver and a handy latrine at the back (it’s way too dangerous to step on the ground, and besides, good luck finding a tree on the tundra). The "road" is a rough, bouncy mud track, but all discomfort vanishes when we spot several more bears, anxiously waiting for the ice to freeze. Hundreds of photographs are taken as we observe them for a half-hour.
Docking to the impressive hundred-metre-long lodge on wheels, we settle into the bunks, kitchen and lounge for the next few days. Since the lodge is located at a particular gathering point for bears, the onboard crew don't touch ground for the entire eight-week season. The price of the excursion is steep, but nobody is complaining about sharing quarters. We're here for one reason - polar bears - and fortunately, nobody is going home disappointed.
For the next three days, we spend eight hours a day roaming the tundra and are treated to a polar bear extravaganza. Multiple male pairs spar just metres from our windows, exerting their dominance for the winter to come. Large, curious bears stand up on their hind legs against our buggy, their warm breath literally fogging up our camera lenses. A lone bear walks across a frozen lake, backlit by the low afternoon sun. It’s a photographer's dream, and pure heaven for a polar bear enthusiast.
Arctic foxes, hares and gyrfalcons also make an appearance, as do boxes of wine, great food, interesting presentations and wonderful company.
The bears around Churchill are among the most threatened of the estimated twenty thousand polar bears remaining in the Arctic. They're also the most accessible to reach.
Frontier North's Tundra Buggy experience is without a doubt something to do before you die. Although, with melting sea ice, rising sea levels and the increasing threat to their natural habitat, you might want to act before the polar bears surrounding Churchill sadly beat you to it.
START HERE: canadianbucketlist.com/polarbear
Table of Contents
How to Use the Book ix
Salute the RCMP 2
Climb Castle Suite in Big Muddy 7
Bust the Chicago Connection 13
Support Rider Nation 17
Float in Canada's Dead Sea 21
Visit a Haunted Drove 24
Stargaze in a Dark Sky Preserve 29
Zip Through Time in the Cypress Hills 32
Explore Worth Americas Largest Sand Dunes 35
Horse Ride with Bison 38
A Tale of Two Hotels 43
Track Wolves in the Snow 46
Meet the First Nations 49
Prairie Paddles 54
Cut the Mustard 57
See Polar Bears from a Tundra Buggy 64
Snorkel with Belugas 69
Crack the Hermetic Code 71
Get Creepy at the Narcisse Snake Dens 77
Watch the Royal Winnipeg Ballet in the Park 81
Catfish on the Red River 85
Visit a Tropical Beach 87
Feel the Crystal Menthol 92
Have a Happy Folk Festival 95
Paddle a Bloody River 100
Stand Beneath a Polar Bear 103
Hé Ho to the Voyageurs! 107
The Forks for All Seasons 112
Ride in to Riding Mountain 115
Channel Your Inner Viking 121
The Canadian Museum of Human Rights 122
Photo Credits 132