Day 26 CCR: Happy National Indigenous Peoples Day
Detours and unexpected meetings turn long-distance motorcycle rides into great learning adventures and a chance to see a lot more countryside. Today’s intentional detour of about 100 miles was no exception. Even though we started riding this morning in a light drizzle, all radar and weather forecasts suggested we would be out of it shortly, and within 30 minutes after rolling away from the hotel, we were on dry pavement with bluing skies.
The distance from Prince Albert to Lloydminster is only about 200 miles and could have been a very short ride. But the ride would have been east to west with little change in scenery. I wanted more. So I rerouted us about 45 miles north which added nearly 100 miles to the total. I wanted to watch farm land turn into grazing land and then into forests and lakes, which I expected it to do during that detour. And I got what I expected. Saskatchewan is known as the breadbasket of Canada because it has 40% of the arable land in the country, grows the bulk of the country’s canola and lentils, is one of the leading producers of mustard seed in the world, and has a substantial cattle and meat packing industry, along with various forest products. Today I think we saw all of that, but because my crop identification skills are next to nothing, I’m not positive.
By the time our first gas stop rolled around in Big River, rain was a thing of the past. We shed our rain gear but kept our jackets on because the temperature was still only in the 50s. At the gas stop we spoke for a while with one of the workers there about our travels, and as we were leaving he told us to watch out for bears on or near the road. Great, I thought. Photo ops. But, to my disappointment, the only bear we saw was one by the side of the road that had been killed by a car, probably within the last 12 hours. The only other critters we saw were a couple of deer. But we had mostly blue skies and reasonably decent road so I’m not complaining.
While Saskatchewan doesn’t have as many lakes as Ontario, it equals Manitoba’s 100,000 count. As we rode through the changing landscape, we could see lakes big and small through the trees or beyond a field green with fresh shoots of something. Some hills began to appear in the final miles of our northern diversion, which also made for great lookouts when the road climbed to the top and no trees blocked the view. In some instances, we had an horizon of 10-15 miles with a mix of trees, crops and lakes between us and the horizon. All that green topped with blue skies and white-gray clouds made for stunning views.
The ride was great, the scenery was wonderful, but once again, it was the people who made my day. Meadow Lake is of the largest towns on today’s route (about 5,000 residents), and I decided to make it a lunch stop for a quick bite to eat. We rode down the main street, saw a gathering of people listening to music in front of the “Northwest Friendship Centre,” and parked our bikes. As I stood listening to the music (American country music), I wondered what the occasion was. While musicians entertained, a group of women had grills fired up and were putting hamburger patties between buns and wrapping them in foil. Someone in the crowd saw me standing and listening and asked if I had eaten yet. No? Well go grab yourself a hamburger and a hot dog. Lunch was my reason for stopping in Meadow Lake, so I went to the ladies, who handed me a burger, fixings and a bottle of water. I joked with one of them and asked if they knew I was riding across Canada and was that the reason for the free food and music. No, she said, we’re celebrating Aboriginal Peoples Day and we’re glad you stopped here on your way across the country.
It turns out June 21 in Canada is National Indigenous Peoples Day (aka Aboriginal Peoples Day) when, across Canada, the cultures and contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Metis people are recognized and celebrated. Although not a statutory holiday, the day is widely observed across Canada, especially by groups and organizations like the Friendship Centre in Meadow Lake. The Friendship Centre, said my hamburger contact, works especially with families and with children who have been take from their parents by Social Services. She went on to explain that because of a breakdown in aboriginal culture in modern Canada as many people without urban skills moved to cities, many parents have no idea how to raise children. As a result, Social Services steps in but doesn’t have the resources to meet all the children’s needs. That’s where the Friendship Centre, one of ten in Saskatchewan, comes in. People helping people and improving the quality of life for those in need. I didn’t get to talk long with any of the ladies, all of whom worked in some capacity at the Friendship Centre and were busy cooking and serving, but what I learned was both heart breaking and heartening.
For the third time (Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, 2013; Witset, BC, on the Yellowhead Highway 2015; and Meadow Lake, SK, 2022) First Nations people have graciously invited me, a stranger, to share a meal with them. Each time I have been moved by their graciousness, their openness and their hospitality. And each time my view of human nature has gotten a positive boost.
Tomorrow we’re off to Red Deer where Steve hopes to get a new drive belt put on his bike while I explore another museum.