THERE’S SOMETHING about a small town, but its appeal is to the settler in us, not the tourist; for most of us, a small town is a great place to live, but we wouldn’t want to visit there. That’s a mistake. Canada is full of fascinating small towns, from Goobies, Newfoundland, to Ashcroft, British Columbia, towns packed with things to do, places to see, people to meet. We are a mobile nation. When summer comes, we roll back and forth across the land, a human tide, ebbing in the fall. Most of us go in cars, with our wives and children or our friends, on our way from one well-worn tourist attraction to another. “White-liners,” the small-towners call us.
This summer, break away from the highway’s hypnotic centre line. Visit Moncton’s Magnetic Hill, by all means, or the Halifax Citadel, ramble through old Fort Garry and Victoria’s Butchart Gardens. But stop along the way to visit at least one of our great small towns.
Maclean’s has selected ten of them, one in each province, all within easy reach of the TransCanada, all well worth the side trip. (Or, it’s just as much fun to go by rail and rent a car for the one-day excursion.) Some have been chosen for their exceptional beauty, others for their character, still others because they are jammed with interesting things to do. We don’t contend these are the only small towns worth visiting; they happen to be the favorites of the Maclean’s staffers who crossed the nation to compile the stories and pictures on the next 19 pages — 19 pages in which you will find 10 reasons why, when you plan this summer’s trip, you should think small.
THE NEW JERSEY tourist was arguing with Mrs. Wallace 01ford of Salvage. She told him she wanted to leave, to get away from Newfoundland and see a big city. “I’ve seen ’em," the tourist told her. “Don’t go. You’d be crazy to leave a place like Salvage.”
That's how this town affects people. My wife had started pricing real estate before we’d even been there two hours.
Salvage is a town of 200 souls, a hardy town, and an old one. It was well established in the early 18th century and was a respectable fishing port early in this century. Now things are quiet, despite the road that arrived after World War II (before that, ships provided the only link to the outside) and despite the banding together of seven towns, including Salvage, into the Eastport Peninsula area to promote tourism, run a cultural festival each summer, and oversee community development. This banding together is a happy scheme (when the lobster fishermen built their own lobster pool, for instance, they began to get 15 cents more per pound for their catch) but hopefully no development scheme will ever interfere with the stark, sharp beauty of Salvage, oldest of the Eastport communities, where, as postmistress Mrs. H. A. Handcock noted, “It seems everybody that comes here is gone on the hills."
The best place to stay near Salvage is at Terra Nova National Park on the Trans-Canada Highway. You will need a reservation; the park bungalows are crowded, and deservedly so. They are cheap ($13 a night for your own fully-equipped cabin), convenient (you can eat in the restaurant or do your own cooking; my wife and I cooked up such a boiling of crab legs — at 40 cents a pound — that we staggered sideways to bed) and well cared for. From the park setting, you can range out along nature trails, go fishing, picnicking or visiting the nearby towns. If you’re smart, though, after a visit to Eastport, the centre community (where you can try your hand at arts and crafts, swim at a first-class, uncrowded beach, even take in the theatre, featuring local talent, in the old schoolhouse) you will head for Salvage. There, you’ll find, besides the scenery, good fishing, cheap boat trips, a small art gallery and an enchanting museum. Based in an old home, the museum is financed by the community, furnished by the people around (the hand-lettered sign says, “It is strictly prohibited to be taking things out of its place as those things belong to other people”) and run by Wilfred and Ida Heffern, who live next door. They will be delighted to show you around, for free (you may, if you wish, donate to a discreet little tin).
The theme of the museum is the fishing life, for everywhere over the town lies the shroud of the sea, the background pounding of the surf, the sharp salt spray. The sea dominates even the speech of the sons of Salvage. Here is Wilfred Heffern: “I started fishing when I was 10, sir, and I never laid off till I was 60, and that was fishing enough. There were 40 schooners went out of here at one time, sir, 40, big ones and little ones, that is, and you could walk across t' bay on ’em ... I mind one time we was up off Labrador and I was on the wheel, and it was dead calm, and I looked up and saw the wind coming. Saw it on the waves, sir; she was a living storm. We saw a ship go by, heeling, and she had nothing on the mast but bare sticks. The Cap’n was down below and he comes up and I says, ‘Should we take down the sail? She’ll blow the top right off,’ and he says, ‘No, she won’t,’ and I says, ‘If she doos you, she doos me,’ and on we come. We double-reefed and come into port. Everybody else hung outside. We was the only ones got in. She was a good schooner.” W.S.
YOU'RE DRIVING ALONG Highway 6, near the north coast of Prince Edward Island, between soft green wheat fields, up a curving hill, and suddenly you turn a corner and come upon a view of such heart-wrenching beauty that you almost put the car Into the ditch. To your right, the Stanley River folds itself lovingly into the green and redloam hills; straight ahead, the road swings down past Tommy Gallant’s Deep Sea Fishing Shack, then rises to shoulder past the neat, white-painted houses and the church standing sentinel over the river crossing; to your left, New London Bay glimmers through the spruce trees as it marches in shimmering waves out to the shining sea.
This is Stanley Bridge. Slow down; better still, stop. You have come to one of Canada’s great small towns. "We’re 200 years old,” says K. R. MacKay, “and we haven’t changed all that much. We were fishing and farming folk 200 years ago, and we’re fishing and farming folk today.” MacKay (“This place Is knee - deep in MacKays,” he says, “Fyfes and MacKays”) runs the general store. It Is a real general store, where, in an area about the size of your living and dining rooms, you can buy a wrench, 100 pounds of flour, a pair of gloves, a bolt of cloth, three cents worth of candy, or the week’s groceries. It is one of the town’s tourist draws. The others — not necessarily in order of merit — are a museum (50 cents admission to see fascinating memorabilia and bric-a-brac from nearby farms), Gallant’s fishing pier (you can take a four-hour fishing trip aboard Tommy’s Cape Islander, the Bonnie Anne II, for five dollars for adults, three for children; and Tommy will clean your cod or mackerel catch for free), a small park where you can rent paddle boats by the hour, and a picturesque old graveyard, where the heartbreak of early settlers is chiseled on stone. One weatherworn marker reads:
Died March 16, 1886
Age 7 Months Daughter of
Angus and Elizabeth J. Ross
This lovely bud so young and fair
Cut down in early bloom
Came but to show how sweet a flower
In Paradise could bloom.
There are, incidentally, many Fyfes on the tombstones, and many MacKays.
Then there Is the Swimming Rock. When tourists, mainlanders, Americans and other strangers began buying up great chunks of the country around, the local Women’s Institute began to fret that soon there would be no place for the children to swim. So the ladies bought a small beach on the Stanley River and now, no matter what, there will always be a place for villagers to bathe. You can swim there, too, for free; it Is seldom crowded, and a pretty place to picnic.
There are three motels in Stanley Bridge, all neat and reasonable, but you needn’t stay there; the great draw of the place, besides its beauty, is the location, near the north shore — Green Gables, golf courses and a national park are only minutes away — yet out of the tourist rush, and less than an hour’s drive from Charlottetown, the Centennial Centre, shopping, and other conveniences.
For dinner you should drive three miles to St. Ann’s church (you can’t miss it; the blue and-white arrow signs dot the Island) for a lobster supper. There, in the church basement, you can buy a good martini for a dollar, a half bottle of passable imported wine for $2.50, and a complete, stomach-distending lobster supper for four dollars (or, if you insist, cold roast beef for three), including delectable rolls and homemade pie. The cooking is done mainly by volunteers marshaled by Father Denis Gallant, a bustling, shrewd, tough-minded priest who conceived the idea for the suppers seven years ago because “I have 70 poor families in this parish to support, and no money. This means money.” There are other church suppers on the island. “Ah, yes,” complains Father Gallant bitterly, “once they saw what we were up to, they all came barreling in. They're nothing but pale imita t i o n s.” (Incidentally, the church basement is divided into two areas, one where, theoretically, alcoholic beverages may not be served, and another, more convivial room, dominated by a sign that says, “Avoid illegality and embarrassment. Do not enter unless you are 21.” Pay no attention; no one seems to take it very seriously.)
After supper, drive back to Stanley Bridge and watch the sunset, or stand on the bridge itself — a somewhat precarious-looking wooden structure — and listen to the tide chuckling past, or strike out along the north shore for an evening swim. (You’ll find the beaches at the west end of the National Park, closest to Stanley Bridge, almost deserted; that’s because cold ocean currents sweep the shore there, and swimming is an act of endurance, not a sport. Great wading, though, if you don’t want to drive a few miles more to the beaches around Stanhope.) Or go clam digging, or walk across the rolling sandhills and watch the wise herons, statue-still, waiting in the water for dinner to brush their feet. Walking is one of the island’s principal entertainments and, with soft evenings along the shaded hills, one of the most enjoyable.
PEI is full of pretty towns — North Rustico, where there are dances Saturday night, Cavendish, in the heart of Anne of Green Gables country, New London, a pretty, tree-sheltered place — but of them all, the most enchanting is Stanley Bridge. If beauty had a centre of gravity, in Prince Edward Island this would certainly be it. W.S.
A CBC REPORTER, covering the sinking of the oil tanker Arrow in Chedabucto Bay last year, told his television audience that the location was probably a fortunate one; after all, he said, there really wasn’t much on the shore toward which the Arrow’s fouling Bunker C was drifting. That was a gross canard, for directly in the path of the Arrow’s sludge lay lie Madame and the town of Arichat, one of the prettiest and most hospitable towns in all the Maritimes. The mess has been cleaned up now — though some of the shoreline still wears a black stain — and Arichat presents a shining face to visitors once again.
I’m of two minds telling you this. I want people to go to Arichat, because it has so much to offer: breathtaking views of the sea, quiet walks across lovely, rugged terrain, superb fishing both in the ocean and in quiet inland lakes, a campground, an uncluttered black sand beach (located, fortunately, in shelter from the Arrow mess). At the same time, if too many people go there, the place may become touristy; my public picnic table overlooking a lighthouse will be taken, other people will want to swim on my beach, Doug Shaw’s quiet, friendly Isle Madame Motel will become crowded, and he’ll be too busy to spend an evening talking (“I bought this place,” he says, “because every time I went to a motel, there was the owner with his feet up, jawing away, instead of doing any work”). This area is usually bypassed by tourists crossing the Canso Causeway, less than an hour’s drive away; they head straight for the Cabot Trail, and that’s all right by me. But sooner or later, they are bound to discover Arichat.
The island was settled by Acadians who fled after the fall of Louisbourg in 1758 and named it for one of the titles of the Queen of France. Arichat, the principal town, was named by corrupting the Indian word nerichat, which means split rock and describes a substantial percentage of the scenery. That was the last word the Indians got in, though; soon the place was swarming with French fishermen, many from the Channel Isle of Jersey, occasionally crossed with Scots settlers from the rest of the province, to whom language was no barrier. French is still the first language of most of the inhabitants of lie Madame, although nearly all are bilingual. (One fine old gentleman said he spoke French and could read some of it, but couldn’t write it. “Isn’t that a shameful thing?” he asked.) The imaginative ear can still detect brushed-off Scots in some of the local pronunciations; “petit,” for instance, comes out “petty.”
Painters and photographers love the island, especially Petit de Grat, a postcard-pretty fishing village just down the road from Arichat, but this should really be the stamping ground of historians. There is the Lenoir Forge, centre of industry in the days of Arichat’s glory as a shipping centre, and now restored as a museum-cum-blacksmith-shop where Toney LeBlanc, a cheerful and loquacious Acadian from nearby Port Royal, will show you around between re-rimming somebody's wagon wheel and restoring ancient fishing gear for a display.
There is L'Assomption Church, built as a cathedral in 1838, a lofty, twin-towered wooden structure whose richly finished interior includes religious paint ings of exceptional quality. The altar painting was executed in 1854; others were done recently. “Brought a painter all the way over from Italy to do the job right,” explains Father Alexandre Poirier, proudly. In 1963, a fire razed the convent next door, but didn’t touch the church or the presbytery where Father Poirier lives. "I’m beginning to think,” said the priest, with a pious eye roll heavenward, “that I have some pull.”
He is fascinated by local history. “Did you know that we had the first cathedral in eastern Nova Scotia? That St. Francis Xavier University was founded here in 1853 (it decamped to Antigonish two years later)? That this was once the most important business centre in the eastern part of the province?” Once, a local citizen, back from a visit to Sydney, reported, “If Sydney continues to grow, it's going to become as large as Arichat.” With the end of the sailing ships and the great fishing fleets, Arichat languished, and has a population today of under 700, but it still retains traces of its proud French past in some of the fine old buildings, with their high-pitched roofs, Gothic-style windows and ornate decorative carving. History shows in the fancy laces and ancient artifacts in many homes, and rumbles from the mouths of the cannon overlooking the bay — never fired, but always ready in the early days just in case, as Toney LeBianc noted, “The pesky English got ideas about taking us over.”
Visitors to the area can stay at any of the fine motels at the Canso Causeway, but will do better to spend a night in Arichat, at either the Marbro Hotel or the Isle Madame, where double rooms cost about $12, and the food is cheap and plentiful. If you tire of painting, picture taking, strolling, swimming or talking to the locals, ask your host to arrange a fishing expedition. Local boatmen will take parties out to the fishing grounds — a half-hour ride — for about $35, in boats holding from 10 to 20 people, so you can enjoy an afternoon’s fishing for two or three dollars. The fishing is done by handline, and the catch is pollock, haddock and cod in the early summer, with mackerel added toward the end of August.
If you have as good a time as I trust you will, do me a favor: hiss the CBC. W.S.
THE SAND IS a blotter. You can lie there, roasting in the sun, watching the bikini wearers, thinking unclean thoughts, and you can feel your neuroses, money worries, all your tensions drain out, drawn down into the smothering sand of Parlee Beach. And you can, if you are a pious sort, say, “Thank God for girls, and sand, and sun, and Shediac.”
There are prettier towns than Shediac in New Brunswick, but there are few that have its unique combination of appeals — the superb beach that cradles Shediac Bay (you can walk a mile down the sand, and your kids can splash without danger in the shallow water, in sight of lifeguards; the beach is run by the province, which keeps it clean, cheap — 50 cents per day per car — and provides a huge campground and trailercamp nearby), the fine old houses, the conveniences, from a racetrack and golf courses just outside town to the citysized attractions of nearby Moncton. And the people. Shediac’s 2,000-plus population is bilingual, which is how an English Canadian describes people who are more than 90% French by origin, but cheerfully speak English to visitors. “We’re federal here,” says town manager Alfred Arsenault. "Language is not a problem.” Not a problem, an asset; the French flavor adds a piquant touch to everything, from the signs in the shop windows (“Leo J. Vienneau et Fils. Assurance et Souvenirs”) to the talk of the old men, standing on street corners, gossiping and gawking at the short skirts swinging past, smiling in remembrance of things past.
There are motels, good ones, but try the Shediac Inn, which has a first-rate dining room, reasonable prices, and an atmosphere of friendly but not
fawning attention cultivated by the owner, Jim McBurney, and his son Harvey, the manager. McBurney was in the food business in Montreal; he used to visit Shediac, and liked it so much he moved there 16 years ago and bought the comfortable 130-year-old hotel. He has no regrets. “This is,” he says, "about the nicest town in Canada. People like each other here.”
Moncton residents have cottages along the five miles of beach land, but so do others, from as far away as British Columbia; they like the quiet yet convenient location. Most of the townsfolk work in a nearby industrial park, or commute 18 miles to Moncton. They are sturdy workers and, in a province plagued by unemployment, seldom have trouble getting jobs. That's explained by an industrial survey of the area commissioned by the Canadian National, which remarked of the Shediackers, “These men are rugged physically, mentally alert and stable in industry. All are bilingual.”
That stability comes from having such a beach to tell their troubles to. W.S.
IF EVER YOU WONDER what it was that set the Group of Seven painters aflame about this big and sometimes brutal land, turn northeast from Quebec City and drive for about an hour to Baie St. Paul. Here you will find what the painters caught on canvas: smoky hills carrying dark coats of evergreen out to meet the brighter banners of maple and birch, plunging valleys, full of ale-brown streams and the song of birds, orderly farmlands marching in rows of gold and brown and yellow and green right up to the lips of town, and always, in the background, the silver-blue St. Lawrence, rolling northeast to the sea. The painters came and tramped across the hills, scribbled and sketched; some stayed, bought studios and settled down; a few are there yet, mixing oils and sighing over the scenery.
Baie St. Paul doesn’t care. She is very French, very pretty, very sure of her charm. If you choose to come and break your heart on her, very well; you will find passable hotels, enchanting walks, a public beach, movie theatres, a model farm to visit; but you will find no handicraft stalls or souvenir stands; there is nothing touristy about the town. It has serious business to attend to — crops to raise, children to educate, church to attend, gossip to pass over the railings of verandas that reach right out to the sidewalk and brush the sleeves of passersby.
Baie St. Paul is old. In 1535, Jacques Cartier celebrated the first mass in Canada on the lie aux Coudres, a long stone’s throw offshore; in 1678, permanent settlers began to move in, and, in 1759, during a minor engagement between British troops and the Canadian militia, the village was burned to the ground. A" futile gesture. The villagers came back, rebuilt, replanted, went on as before.
At the centre of town, and of life hereabouts, is an imposing twin-towered church, heart of the Rivière du Gouffre parish, a church well worth visiting for its beauty.
Standing in the town square, with this magnificent cathedral behind you, looking down narrow streets, where high-hipped houses with slotted windows jam up to the road and carry the flavor of old France, you feel that, come what may, fire or flood, French nationalism or English arrogance, Baie St. Paul will endure, beautiful, aloof, content, unchanging.
There is something else about the town: it is full of beautiful girls and lovely women, girls who bring sweat to the brow of man and despair to the heart of Women’s Liberation, frilly girls who wear perfume and lace and walk with twitching tails, soft, black-eyed women who clearly don’t know they are exploited objects, reviled by man. What is it that makes girls in a town of 4,700 dress for the streets of Montreal? (Perhaps it’s competition with the hills; to shine in this setting, real beauty is required.) The pace here is the measured tread of town life. As an elderly resident says, “We savor life, as our ancestors did, we do not try to gobble it, as our children sometimes will.” W.S.
A FEW MILES northeast of Lake Superior’s Michipicoten Bay Is Wawa Lake, which for more than 200 years comprised six miles of an alternate canoe route between the Great Lakes and Fludson Bay. The name is onomatopoeic Ojibway for wild goose. The town of Wawa, on the lake’s western shore, was inaccessible by road until the Lake Superior Route of the Trans-Canada Highway was finished in 1960. The long isolation is still apparent in the residents’ hospitality and the abundance of fish and game in the town’s spectacularly rugged environs. In June moose trundle along the highway — which was designed, clearly, to bring breezes into the bush and provide the moose with some relief from blackflies.
What brought the people to Wawa City (as the hamlet was pretentiously registered in 1899) despite summer flies and winter storms was gold. It happened this way. One beautiful day in 1897 a passing Indian named William Teddy sent his wife down to Wawa Lake for a pail of water. (What would you have the man do, fetch it himself?) The Teddys were making a midday camp on a small point. When she came back she showed him some pretty pebbles in the bottom of the pail. He put them in his pocket. The incident led to a minor gold rush, but it ended badly for Mrs. Teddy. The husband was paid $500 for her discovery and piously set out to visit the shrine of Ste. Anne de Beaupré near Quebec City. The bright lights of Montreal detained him and he came home out of sorts and broke. All Mrs. Teddy got out of it was a barrel of molasses and a $15 stove.
But Wawa got a muddy main street (Broadway) and a frame hotel (fancifully named the Balmoral after Queen Victoria’s summer place in Scotland). The hotel had a 40-foot mahogany bar and something called the Snake Room where drunken miners were stacked like cordwood. A big grey mare wandered into the bar one day to escape the flies and plunged through the floor. The Balmoral was always lively. Somebody in need of lumber blew off its top story with dynamite. Rebuilt, it burned down. You can have a drink on the site at the Lakeview Hotel.
The gold boom fizzled as early as 1906, leaving Wawa pretty much of a ghost town until new strikes in the late Twenties and, more important, the redevelopment 10 years later of an iron-ore operation on nearby Helen Mountain and the construction of a sintering plant. Algoma Steel now takes 2.5 million tons of ore annually from the hills along the shore of Wawa Lake; your car was manufactured principally from this steel.
Wawa’s 40-year-agitation to get a road “out” was surmounted, as an issue, only by the infamous 1947 scheme to change Wawa’s name to Jamestown in honor of steel magnate Sir James Dunn. Townspeople are extraordinarily proud of Wawa’s curious name, and mention of their enforced 13-year interlude as Jamestowners is still enough to make old men fall off verandas. In 1959 12-inch letters on a new post office inflamed residents to revolution. Letters disappeared progressively so that they spelled MESTOWN POST OFFICE, TOWN POST OFFICE and, finally, OWN POST OF ICE. Government officials sighed and in 1960, as local historian Agnes W. Turcott observes stirringly in her book,
Land Of The Big Goose, “Wawa was once more Wawa — symbol of freedom, greatness, strength and faith.”
Mrs. Turcott and her husband Al can take credit for the 30-foot steel statue of a goose that marks the Wawa turnoff from the highway. Their original concrete goose now stands somewhat incongruously inside the pallisades of Fort Friendship, a reconstruction of sorts of a fur-trading post on the nearby Michipicoten River. The Turcotts’ fort encloses, among other things, a fascinating pioneer museum and a chapel (available for weddings) whose walls are made of whiskey bottles. Somewhat closer to town is the turnoff to High Falls on the Magpie River, a cataract both lacy and unspoiled.
An overnight stopover in Wawa is a good idea for motorists going north and west around Lake Superior from Sault Ste. Marie — surely one of the continent’s most appealing drives in the summer and fall. The town has half-a-dozen first-rate motels and — in the venerable tradition of northern Ontario — numerous third-rate restaurants that persist in ignoring or ruining the fresh fish at their very door. You can wash dinner down with a selection of wine, though: there’s the red, and there’s the white. J.R.
MINNEDOSA, MANITOBA. With such a name, a town could be said to have certain aesthetic obligations. Happily, for the bumper-boggled Trans-Canada motorist, Minnedosa lives up to them. Last year it was chosen the most beautiful town in Manitoba — for the sixth time.
Minnedosa: A Sioux word meaning “swift water.” Name of the river that races through the valley, of the lake at the eastern end of it, and of the town that fans out from the middle, with its mini-suburbs sprawling up one of the southern slopes.
Minnedosa. Town 134 miles west of Winnipeg, 30 miles north of Brandon, 30 miles south of Riding Mountain National Park. Billed alternately as the farm implement capital of western Canada, and the water skiing capital of Manitoba.
What Minnedosa is, really, is the place where all small-towners grew up, rich in vacant lots and sunbaked afternoons, when the streets are empty but the silence friendly, where almost everybody in town knows everybody else, and strangers are greeted with, “Well, where are you folks from?”
For its size (about 3,000 population) it’s a town more prosperous than most, more progressive — with its proud boast of five under-30 businessmen operating on the main street — and more generously endowed by nature. The lake, for instance, is just a mile from town and, with its crystal-clear waters and sandy beaches, a considerable improvement on the old remembered swimming holes. On hot summer days Minnedosa becomes virtually a childless town, but early mornings and cool afternoons you see them everywhere — crawling out of roadside culverts, clambering over the old Churchill tank that sits in a miniature park just off the main street, fishing from the rocks below the midtown bridge, sitting on the curb in rows, just watching the world go by.
It’s a kids’ town, an old-fashioned town, a town where you don’t go looking for boutiques or French wines with dinner. You settle for the action out at the lake (which, incidentally, has a serviced campground), and on the streets, the tiny Pioneer Museum where the artistic offerings are hand-stitched samplers and the history is very close to home, shops that sell locally made honey in fill-your-own jars, restaurants where the decor is early oilcloth and you write out your own bill and serve your own coffee (both old Minnedosa dining-out traditions that grow on you), maybe a tour of the local distillery.
Minnedosa is a clean town. The yards are fenced, the tiny parks well cared for, and all the streets are paved. Somebody had the foresight to preserve the clock tower when they refurbished the old red-brick post office on Main Street, which not only lends a little New England type charm to the town but serves almost as a compass for strangers finding their way around town. Whatever you’re looking for, it’s bound to be three - blocks - from - the - tower - and - turn - right.
The tourist trade Minnedosa enjoys each summer is earned. The big, midsummer Farmers Festival is planned with visitors in mind as well as residents, there’s an attractive, easy-to find tourist information booth right downtown, the lone motel has phones in the rooms and an indoor pool. Yet none of these efforts is intrusive to the vacationer who comes for the quiet, easy things that Minnedosa offers. Mostly they come because it’s such a pretty town. Yet this wasn’t always so. Early photographs show a few shacks scattered through what looks like a semi-swamp, scrawny willows everywhere but no other trees in sight. Today trees are abundant and full-blown, the streets shady and well laid out.
The original name of the town, which grew up when John Tanner built a primitive toll bridge across the river, was Tanner’s Crossing. One can’t be certain, of course, but the intense civic pride of the townspeople, and the determination to make the most of their natural setting, may well have begun when the name was changed to Minnedosa. P.A.
YOU’RE DRIVING across the prairie northwest of Regina, playing the old south Saskatchewan highway game-of how-manytowns - can - you - see - from -here, counting the little clusters of grain elevators sprinkled from here to what looks like infinity. You’re beginning to wonder if you’ll ever see a tree again.
Suddenly the road dips, and there is Lumsden. Like the camel driver coming upon an oasis in the Sahara, you’re tempted to rub your eyes.
The valley is spread at your feet, deep and lush and ribboned with the Qu’Appelle River. And nestled at the west end of it is this little town, unlike any other in the Prairies. The houses, like the trees, are gracious and spreading. There is a hotel with whitewashed pillars and balcony, and pink hollyhocks in front. A red-brick post office that looks like somebody’s well-cared-for home, with its white-trimmed cupolas, window boxes filled with flowers, and a neat little patch of front lawn with a fence around it. There are cool, shaded side streets where the trees have long since joined to form an overhead arch, where the houses look used and protective, and beautiful children ride horses down the middle of the road without disturbing any one.
Everything looks as though it has been there forever.
Lumsden has a small campground, in the trees beside the river, a riding academy, and by way of things to do, the occasional sports meet or antique auction. But Lumsden is the kind of place where you go not to do or see, but to be. Just being there is the reward of the 15-minute drive from Regina.
It’s not simply a matter of tranquillity. The town’s special charm has to do with caring. Everywhere you look, it has the look of a place carefully chosen and well loved. The people who live here know what they have.
A large part of what they have is one another. It's a town rich in character, and characters. There’s old Doc Walsh, the Oxford-educated veterinarian who lives in a little shack crammed with stuffed birds, ancient biology textbooks and diplomas proudly displayed. Catch him as he’s hanging his laundry out on the caragana bushes, and he’ll engage you in a lengthy dissertation on the great fever of '31, or the anthropological reasons behind race riots.
Then there’s Maggie Inglis, whose little blue house across from the grain elevator used to be a nursing home. Maggie is the town’s earth mother, literally — she delivered more than 300 babies in her tiny makeshift infirmary before retiring in 1950.
And there’s Miss Lydia Jamieson, daughter of the first settler in Lumsden. The best way to get to her house is through Maggie’s back garden. It was the first building in town, and it’s jam-packed with old photographs, family documents and all the mementos of 100 years. Its occupant is a fine-featured beauty still, with all the shyness and innocence of her schoolgirl portrait still shining from her soft brown eyes. She lived here with her sister Carrie, who ran the telephone office and bustled through a lifetime of Sunday-school work until her death three years ago. Lydia, the shy one, worked for her sister as a telephone operator. She admired the vivacious Carrie very much. She’s so shy that she cannot pay a stranger a compliment without apologizing for her boldness. Everyone in town speaks of her always as Miss Lydia Jamieson.
Inevitably, Lumsden has been discovered by the commuters, and there are bright new ranch-style houses, clutches of tricycles and daily car pools to Regina. The natives, surprisingly unjealous of their little oasis, look upon the newcomers with neither hostility nor undue excitement. “I just hope it doesn’t get too big,” says 13-year-old Karen Nugent, stroking the neck of her grazing palomino and gazing somewhat wistfully over the valley. “So many people like it here, you know.”
It’s true and Karen has a legitimate worry about Lumsden’s future. It’s the kind of town, as all the passers-through keep saying, that’s great to visit. But what they’d really like to do is live there. P.A.
PINCHER CREEK? Well, it seems that round about 1868 a party of prospectors camped in this wooded valley on their way north, only to find when they arrived at their destination that a catastrophe had befallen them: they had left a pair of pincers, or pinchers, back there beside that meandering little creek. Legend has it that the pinchers were found, years later, rusting on the creek bed. By 1878, when the North West Mounted Police established a big horse ranch there to supply the post at Fort Macleod, the name had stuck.
The town got its start when retiring Mounties began taking up ranches in the area, and it’s easy to see why they chose this spot over all they’d seen on their western travels. Pincher. Creek is real foothills country. And for many people the Alberta foothills are even more spellbinding than the grandeur of the Rockies.
A busy town of about 3,000, Pincher Creek today is still primarily a ranching centre. It’s rather conservative, no more tolerant than its neighbors of the Indian reserve just outside town, no more imaginative in its main-street shops. The exception is the attractive, western style dining room at the King Edward Hotel.
It’s a pretty town, clustered in a little valley with a river running through it (ye old Pincher Creek), a downtown park, and some interesting buildings left over from early days. One is a charming bit of white gingerbread nostalgia on the main street, a former bank serving in its old age as a law office; another is the sprawling red-brick St. Vincent’s Hospital on the crest of the hill, once a family home.
Yet another is the building known to the townspeople as “the log house.” Motorists driving into town on Highway 6 see the house on the outskirts, at the foot of a hill, tucked in off the road beside the river, and they stop their cars to look. This is the home of Gaston Rigaux, a renegade French aristocrat who came to the New World to make his mark as a rancher in 1920. The house is a lovely, balanced piece of architecture made entirely of logs (off Gaston’s ranch) that have been allowed to age naturally to a soft grey-brown, superbly fitted with low, gothic, heavy-hinged doors and many paned windows that look as though they grew there.
Inside the house is a treasury of 17-century antiques,some of them have belonged to the Rigaux family for 350 years.
Pincher Creek is a pleasant town, but even the natives admit it’s the setting that makes it. An hour’s drive in any direction takes you to some of the most memorable beauty spots in the west — Waterton Lakes National Park; Kananaskis Forest, a virginal wilderness studded with wildflowers; the famous Crownsnest Pass country, with the Frank Slide visible from the highway.
The drive to any one of them has its own rewards. And always there’s that magnificent backdrop — the Rockies.
In country such as this, one should spend at least a day at a real ranch, and the Buckhorn Guest Ranch, 16 miles west of town, still runs an honest-to goodness beef herd in addition to its dude-ranch facilities.
On the way to the Buckhorn, stop at the ghost town of Beaver Mines and listen to Antoinette Biron talk about the old days. A beauty still at 73, Antoinette spent her girlhood in this once thriving coal centre, and she can point out mine sites and streets long since buried under the grassy slopes.
What those Mounties saw long ago in this part of the foothills progress has done little to diminish. You get hooked on it, like Antoinette Biron and Gaston Rigaux. Gaston once tried to return to France, but he came back after three weeks. What did he miss? “The freedom,” he said. “The freedom, and the space.”
That, really, is what Pincher Creek is all about. P.A.
ALONG HIGHWAY 97 driving east between Kamloops and Vernon there’s a faded wooden arrow-shaped sign marked Armstrong. It’s easy to miss, but worth watching for, because it takes you onto one of the most delightful country roads in the west.
It’s only a 10-mile drive into Armstrong, but the road is made for meandering. It’s paved but narrow, blissfully traffic-free, and it winds along the base of a mountain, through gentle hills and small, picturesque farms. Everything seems small-scale and close-quarters. You find yourself stopping for a flock of chickens in your path, waving to children playing on stoops and women hanging out clothes.
After a few miles you arrive at a lonely corner called Grandview Flats, from which the view is unforgettable. The beautiful, mountain-rimmed Spallumcheen Valley is spread below you, framed by clumps of tall cedars, with the smokestacks of Armstrong just visible. It’s a spot at which to get out of the car to listen to the silence before winding your way down into town.
Armstrong’s main street is one-of-a-kind, with the railway running smack down the middle. It’s a street with false-front stores and raised wooden sidewalks, where you expect to find men in Stetsons snoozing in the shade of the hotel veranda — and you do. Inside the hotel is a dining room with horse’s head plaques, an old carved piano and a snuff dispenser still in daily use. The decor is linoleum and plastic tablecloths, but the food is good, coffee is still 10 cents a cup, and it’s pleasant to sit and listen to western music whining away on the radio and dig into homemade apple pie with a slab of Armstrong’s famous cheddar cheese.
The western theme is authentic enough. Armstrong started out as a lively ranching centre, and some 100-year-old buildings still remain from the original townsite three miles away. The town was relocated with the coming of the railway.
This is a truly sleepy little town. Close to three major highways, it is nevertheless out of the mainstream, connected to the outside world by buses only. You get the feeling that nothing much ever happens there. But, on a lazy-afternoon stopover, it’s not a bad feeling at all. P.A.