Tuesday, June 19

Efforts to Preserve Burrowing Owl Habitat Pays Off

When Emile and Josie Tessier of Minton joined Operation Burrowing Owl in 1987 and set aside about 40 acres of native prairie a stone’s throw away from their house, they had a feeling this was the right thing to do.

“I grew up seeing the owls around in the hills,” says Emile Tessier. “I’ll never forget the way they looked at me with eyes on a head that just about turned around 360 degrees, perched on a post or standing on the small dirt pile right by the hole where they nested. I was amazed at their adaptation to the land — from a gopher hole widened by a badger hunting gophers, these beautiful creatures made their home.”

Tessier speaks fondly of the owls, like most of the 450 Operation Burrowing Owl participants who have kept their land from cultivation, to ensure the owls have a home. For the third year in a row they have reported an increase in the number of owls nesting on their land. In 2004, 52 of them reported 95 pairs, compared to 75 pairs reported by 44 landowners in 2003.

Kim Dohms is Operation Burrowing Owl’s Project Manager. “The trend is very encouraging. It makes us think that what we’ve been doing for 17 years is having an impact on the population, and it likely reflects what is happening elsewhere in North America. Without the landowners, of course, none of this would be possible.”

About half of the participants have been with the program for at least 15 years. On average, they make about 80 acres of land available, but in some cases, as much as a full section is allocated as habitat. Operation Burrowing Owl signs are provided, if desired, and certificates of recognition are issued. However, there is no financial compensation for this commitment. Dohms is quick to point out that the land need not be taken out of production to qualify for the program.
“Producers can still use the land for grazing. It seems cattle don’t bother the owls very much. Some landowners report owls flying in the face of cattle that come to close to their nest, to chase them away. Pretty much the only agricultural activity that cannot take place is cultivating the land. Key to success is the landowners’ commitment to staying with the program for many years, even if the owls don’t come back.”

Apparently, burrowing owl populations are still a long way from what they were: 10 per cent only of 1988 population figures. Dohms tells how every April, for participants and for her, “there is always a period of anxiety over whether the owls that nested last year will be back again. For those who didn’t have owls the previous year, the question in their mind is: are they coming?”
Emile Tessier has often asked that. After a number of years without owls, two pairs settled on his land two years ago. Then last year, a big break: to his amazement, four pairs established themselves.

“A combination of factors must have made this possible. There was no spraying in surrounding areas and there was good hunting. I could see skulls of mice everywhere in the area. When the technicians came to band the birds, it was a real treat to see how they went about catching the owls right in their nest.”

Tessier believes that it is a bit of a miracle that there are any owls left at all.
“They are nocturnal animals — therefore, they hunt at night. The pasture is about 300 feet away from Highway 6. They fly low and they tend to be blinded by oncoming traffic. Nature has put cars on their evolutionary path. They must contend with that now. With a bit of luck, the owls will stick around a while longer, for the next generations to appreciate them.”

Honeywood Nursery a Heritage Operation with Agritourism Appeal

Source: Honeywood Nursery

When Bert Porter established the Honeywood Nursery during the 1930s west of Shellbrook, he likely didn’t suspect he would one day become one of the most celebrated horticulturalists in North America.

The nursery is located on a quarter section about four miles south and one mile west of Parkside. It has operated for over 65 years. Before he passed away in 2000 at the age of 99, Porter had developed nearly 40 different strains of lilies marketed around the world.

In 1971, A.J. Porter received the E.H. Wilson Award, which is the highest award given by the North American Lily Society. A collection of his hybridized lilies was also awarded a Silver Medal at the Stuttgart Outdoor Garden Show.

After his death, the nursery faced potential obliteration until a group of local investors decided to acquire the property and operate it with the help of a dedicated group of volunteers.

David Moe is Chairman of the Board of Honeywood Nursery and one of the shareholders.

“Porter was born in Guilford, England, in 1901. He immigrated to Canada when he was six years old. He grew up on his parents’ farm in Parkside, where he became a schoolteacher. During the early years of the Depression, he struggled to support his family on the meager salary of a teacher. He left the profession and started selling nursery stock, including shrubs, flowers, fruit trees, etc., door to door. If customers were unable to pay for nursery stock when it arrived, he absorbed the loss and planted the stock at his farm.

“At the same time, he also started a market garden featuring strawberries and raspberries. It didn't take him long to realize that many of the varieties of fruit he was growing were not fully hardy for his region. This led to a lifelong pursuit of breeding to produce plants which would be high quality, disease resistant, and hardy for the prairies.”

Moe and his colleagues have inherited a true jewel, and they know it. The mission of Honeywood Heritage Nursery, as they see it, is to preserve, restore and operate it as a Parkside community heritage property. Naturally, this means exploring its tourism potential.

Ian McGilp is Industry Development Manager at Tourism Saskatchewan. He is simply in awe of the resource the nursery constitutes for the tourism industry.

“Many of the flowering crab-apple varieties, like Spring Snow, growing in the yards of residential districts in the province were developed at this place. It is one of those places in Saskatchewanthat is a hidden gem," says McGilp.

“There are different markets for its offerings. There are people who would be interested in seeing the beautiful orchards and flowers at different times of the growing season. In the spring, there are the blossoms. Of course, you have all the apple trees and different fruit trees blossoming. It is just beautiful. The early part of summer—in July—is when the lilies are in bloom, and there are all kinds of varieties of these lilies with all sorts of different colours. Some that are almost jet black in colour; others are pink, rosy and orange, of course, yellow and combinations of those colours.”

Incidentally, three of Bert Porter’s most popular lily introductions are the Earlibird, Happy Thoughts and Flaming Giant varieties. The Flaming Giant variety is known as Moulin Rouge in Holland. It is grown by the hundreds of acres for the cut flower trade.

As the summer unfolds at Honeywood Nursery, new attractions emerge, explains McGilp.

“Later on during the summer, when the fruit has grown and is ready to be picked, you can come and enjoy the preserves made from the fruit. It is fun also to see different kinds of fruit growing on the same tree, as well, because there are some apple trees on which different limbs were grafted which yield different types of apples. I have actually seen different kinds of apples growing on the same tree."

And then there are the fall colours that show up towards the end of September.

“It is a beautiful stop, less than a two-hour drive from Saskatoon, on paved roads all the way, which would be very interesting for people in particular attending conventions in Saskatoon to go through and visit, and lots of photographs and strolls through these groves of trees could be enjoyed," McGilp says.

“The diversity of trees is remarkable, as well. There are all sorts of tree varieties like oak, maple, Siberian larch and birch. I appreciate the greenery and diversity.”

Be sure to catch any of the events that take place at Honeywood Nursery every year. You won’t be disappointed.

For more information, contact:
David Moe
Chair of the Board
Honeywood Heritage Nursery
(306) 747-2275

Missouri Coteau Farm Doubles as Chipperfield Inn

The Missouri Coteau Escarpment is undoubtedly one of the most evocative landscapes in the province. It literally comes out of North Dakota, extends across Saskatchewan from the southeast to the northwest, and exits out to Alberta.

The Coteau Hills roll and spread—often as far as the eye can see—and agricultural producers are increasingly tapping into the rich heritage with which they are endowed as a means of diversifying their operations.

That is what Doug and Penny MacDonald had in mind when they launched the bed-and-breakfast they call the Chipperfield Inn a few years ago at their place.

“We farm about 18 miles west of Elrose. Between my brother and I, we farm about 4,500 acres. We could round it up to 5,000 acres with the pasture. We run a cow/calf operation with 60 Black Angus cows,” explains Doug MacDonald.

“Penny and I like entertaining. Our kids are grown and our house is plenty large. We have had some guests for upland bird or whitetail deer hunting, and others from as far away as England. Sometimes people come around and they need a place to stay. We are just happy to provide.”

One of the things that makes this place unique is Doug’s passion for blacksmithing.

“One of our good friends moved here from British Columbia. He happened to be a world-class blacksmith. I guess he inspired me. I have always enjoyed welding and working with steel. I took a course at the Western Development Museum (WDM) and built a fully equipped coal-fired forge at the farm,” he says.

“I just finished two sets of large flower pot hangers. I make candleholders, and made a candelabra type light fixture for the house. I have all the primitive tools, and I have been at it for 10 years now. This is something our guests are usually interested in.”

Above all, this is part of the heritage of the Great Plains region. MacDonald is grateful to the WDM for putting on these workshops.

"They bring in experts from the United States and Canada. It helps us ensure we don’t lose the traditions that helped our ancestors make it through the hardships they encountered in this part of the world when they first came."

And it helps provide sustenance today for the MacDonald family.

"We enjoy living on the farm. This is still the best place to raise a family. The bed-and-breakfast, our other activities and the farm income will help ensure that we can watch our kids and grandchildren grow and thrive, from this vantage point. It is a good life."

Waiting for the tide to come in at Skidegate, Haida Gwaii, BC

A quiet moment in Skidegate on Haida Gwaii. Every time the tide goes out, the beach offers opportunities to explore what has been left behind. The young Haida, the raven and the eagles in turn come out to play. In a place where every day brings opportunities for new discoveries, it is easy enough to spend an hour, or two or three just taking it all in, as we did on that beautiful summer day.

It's a Beautiful World... Saskatoon!

Here is a nice piece worth sharing from Tourism Saskatoon. The city's tourism community is really bringing out the local sense of place, the authenticity of the Great Plains tourism. This shows that beyond a CMO's meetings capacity, the local flavour also imparts a competitive advantage to a destination by adding value to the total package.

Sunday, June 17

Bald Eagles feeding on Salmon in Haida Gwaii

A quiet moment in Skidegate on Haida Gwaii. Every time the tide goes  out, the beach offers opportunities to explore what has been left  behind. The young Haida, the raven and the eagles in turn come out to  play. In a place where every day brings opportunities for new  discoveries, it is easy enough to spend an hour, or two or three just  taking it all in, as we did on that beautiful summer day.

Learn to Sail in British Columbia

Difficult to think of a way for meeting planners to ensure they have a more captive audience than to put them on a 70-foot sailboat, 100 kilometers off the coast of British Columbia, on one of our nature cruises to Haida Gwaii - The Queen Charlotte Islands. Our trips immerse participants in an authentic environment that very few - if any - meeting venues can match. They are guided by experts on the region with well-established relationships with local inhabitants. You get involved in the sailing activities as much as you care to, and you will go home with lasting memories of having experienced a Canadian destination very few can claim to have see this way.

There is no doubt in my mind that Winnipeg has much to offer visitors seeking authenticity. This city at the fork of the Assiniboine and Red Rivers played a historic role in opening up what used to me called Rupert's Land, from the days of the fur trade to those of railway development, prairie settlement and commerce. What I particularly like about Winnipeg is the way the local tourism industry harnesses that authentic character and renders into themes suitable for business meetings and events. The way Winnipeg events themselves seem inspired by local culture and natural history -- essentially Winnipeg's Sense of place -- ensure that Èfeu sacré" is there"

My personal favourite is the Festival du Voyageur organized each winter by Saint-Boniface's francophone community. A vivid two-week party where music, dance, celebration of traditions through traditional skills give a special flavour to the entire city of Winnipeg during that window. February is the month!

Thursday, June 14

Discover Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site

 Nestled on the edge of the Missouri Coteau, 40 minutes away from Moose Jaw and Regina... Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site is North America’s best preserved historic brick plant... a valuable resource for all Canadians.

Every last Sunday in June  a group of dedicated volunteers put on Heritage Day, a day of community activities for families, visitors, culture and heritage enthusiasts who come by the hundreds to find out about Claybank, and how this spectacular industrial plant helped define architectural style not only in Saskatchewan, but elsewhere around the World.  

Claybank bricks were used to build the likes of the Bessborough Hotel in Saskatoon, and the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City.

Because of their refractory quality, the bricks were used to line fireboxes in locomotives during the golden age of steam engines, even to line the Appollo rocket launch pads at Cape Canaveral.

Today, the renovated bunkhouse offers visitors to Claybank tasty and affordable country lunches featuring Saskatoon pie.

Outside, visitors are free to roam on a magnificent site that hasn’t changed much since the brick factory opened here 100 years ago. The grounds of the factory remain to this day much as they were was back when the plant closed in 1989.

Take a guided tour led by a former employee who will gladly share precious stories about the early days of Prairie industrialization.

Heritage Day provides participants a chance to explore the fascinating world of clay by engaging people of all ages and educating them about the ways in which clay products and traditions have helped shape communities all around us.

There is no better place to go play in the mud -- so to speak -- on a Sunday afternoon.

You too will be compelled to immerse yourself in an environment highlighting ancestral trades under the guidance of experts.

If you wish to learn about bricklaying, masonry, stone cutting and flint knapping traditions, if you seek entertaining knowledge about the history of transportation and manufacturing in Saskatchewan, Claybank awaits you!

Come discover Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site.

Perhaps you too will be surprised by the influence this special living heritage resource has had in shaping the places where we work and play today, wherever we live in Canada.

Monday, June 11

La Reata Ranch: A Little Piece of Paradise by Lake Diefenbaker

On the international circuit, the La Reata Ranch is considered one of the crown jewels of the Saskatchewan tourism industry.

Located on the shores of Lake Diefenbaker near Kyle, tucked away in the beautiful Saskatchewan River valley, the operation has been entertaining city folks from across Europe and North America since 1996, thanks to George Gaber and his partners.

“I come from Germany. I came here in 1995 while I was on holidays,” says Gaber. “I went up to the Tisdale area to enjoy a ranch vacation and came south, outside of Swift Current, and spent another week there. I liked both places but the south felt more cowboy country.

“We went out and camped out overnight with the horses down by Swift Current Creek and that really got me. I couldn’t believe it. It was like we know it on Europe, on TV and in the movies. I felt right in it. I decided 'Wow! That is what I want to do!'”

In the rolling hills of the Coteau region, Gaber found his calling. The landscape is a mixture of rolling prairies, open range, canyons, river hills and the sandy beaches of Lake Diefenbaker.

The large ranch property includes nine miles of river frontage. Nature changes its palette with the seasons, from the purple crocus in spring to the pink flowering cactus in summer, to the splendour of golden colours in the fall.
“I packed up and moved to Canada, to Saskatchewan. The old Shaw place it was. Robert Shaw. It came for sale. Then, we built the guest ranch part down by the coulee that drains into Lake Diefenbaker but used to drain in the South Saskatchewan River. It is just a mile east of the main ranch here.

“I learned lots of stuff. I had the experience from back home. I grew up on a ranch and had my own horses—a farm. We had cattle and pigs. I learned from my parents. We built our own herd of cattle. We took some cows over but we expanded over the years. We have about 100 pairs—a cow-calf operation throughout the summer—mostly black Angus.”

Pretty soon, Gaber found himself hitting the travel trade trail. With his native command of German, he was well equipped to attend Equitana, the world’s largest horse show in Germany, which takes place every two years. This led to his first bookings.

“We can accommodate up to 20 people. We run about 23 horses. It started out pretty good, and then September 11th knocked everything back and it was kind of bad then. Now it is finally picking up again.

"The main reason our guests come here is the horseback riding—but it is not toy riding. We take them out on a daily basis to check the cattle. We have to move the cattle. We have to rope them and treat them. The big event of the year is the branding over three days. We round them all up, bring them home, sort them out and count them, and do the authentic branding, rope them and drag them to the fire.”

The guests can get involved and hold the calves and brand them. “We have our own registered brand. It is an L and a bar for La Reata, on the left rib,” Gaber says.
“Most of our guests are from Germany, but also from Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium and France. Now we are getting into the Scandinavian market—Denmark, for instance.”

When asked how people react to him in his adoptive community—given that George is not your typical cowboy—he comes up with the answer you’d expect from a cowboy: “I never had one complaint yet from anyone. The community here accepts me. They really do. There was a huge welcome. All the neighbours are very good to us. They help me out. They like that kind of business. They socialize with us. They are kind-hearted folks.

“I like the lifestyle, being out here, the wide open space, freedom, having people coming out. You meet people from around the world. You make friends. They invite you. They love you. Most of them arrive in late evening so it is dark. It the morning, they see where they are. For them it is just incredible. They feel like crying, especially when they leave—they don’t want to go. They want to move to Canada. They just love it. It makes an incredible impression on them.”
George Gaber has no misgivings about his choices.

For more information, contact:
George Gaber
La Reata Ranch

The Claybank Brick Plant Bunkhouse - an alternative small meeting location near Regina

I have been visiting the Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site on pleasure outings and on business for years. The renovated old bunkhouse features a cafe and an impressive board room that is available for small meetings to organizations looking for alternative places to meet outside of Regina and Moose Jaw.

It takes about 50-minutes to drive there from either of those two cities, and once there, one sure gets a sense of being away in an isolated setting that is conducive to more productive meetings where meeting participants would perhaps be able to focus more readily on the meeting objectives and tasks.

If time allowed, a visit of this best preserved historic brick plant in North America could be organized at a reasonable cost.

This little known spot set on the edge of the Missouri Coteau deserves to be featured as the facility is quite lovely, and the staff is dedicated to producing authentic experiences that go beyond what one might expect.

For more information about or to book the Claybank Brick Plant Bunkhouse, visit: www.claybankbrick.ca.

Natural History Museums Nurture Local Sense of Place

This Royal Saskatchewan Museum golden eagle diorama has had quite a history. I saw it for the first time in the early 1980s. It struck me then as a vivid illustration of a land that had successfully maintained a definite sense of wilderness in the midst of massive agricultural transformation. In 1990, while the museum was undergoing major renovations, it was hit by fire. This diorama and many others were covered by black soot. The museum was closed to the public for a few months to repair the damage. The community and museum patrons pulled together, and invested in the creation of an even more ambitious set of galleries and displays that eventually yielded a spectacular First Nations Gallery.

Natural history museums play a subtle but critical role in helping shape a destination's brand identify. Their very presence in a community attests to the profound appreciation by its inhabitants of those aspects of life that enrich the local sense of place. Natural history museums highlight cultural capital and natural wealth. They are resource centres, learning opportunities for children, adults and visitors.

They are institutions tasked with the stewardship of artifact collections that researchers and citizens can enjoy in future generations. Perhaps more powerfully than other efforts, they eminently convey that private and public sector organizations are sometimes able to partner to achieve great projects. Perhaps studying what common ground was found among partners that allowed such institutions to be built might provide useful insight for all those who seek more mutually-beneficial partnerships in general.

Sunday, June 10

Year over year, visiting the Royal Saskatchewan Museum remains one the favorite destinations for a city outing for our family.  It is also the first place I will take any visitor to Regina who doesn't have enough time to go off the beaten path to more remote locations, yet needs to get a sense of the diversity of the Great Plains environment one finds in Saskatchewan -- not to mention the more boreal ecosystems.

In some cases, the dioramas and exhibits available at the RSM are the best public view currently available of some very special places like St-Victor's Petroglyphs. The RSM's diorama features easily viewed replicas of the carved motifs that have has become so fragile over the years in the real-life version on sandstone that access had to be fenced off. The RSM's rendition is surprisingly immersive in the experience it provides, an evocative glimpse of the real site. It works for us. And having experienced the real thing a few years ago -- a magical sunset experience -- I can attest as to how challenging it is to distinguish the delicately carved figures at St-Victor, even at low light.

Another example I like to use of the ways in which the RSM immerses visitors while it educates them about Saskatchewan is this lovely diorama featuring pronghorn antelopes. How many of you have ever stood this close to live antelopes? Not likely anyone. They are, after all, the second fastest mammal on earth after the cheetah. Seeing these beautiful -- albeit "naturalized" -- animals in this re-created environment helps us understand more vividly how they are so well adapted to their plains habitat. Well... seeing them like this helps understand at least why being able to run fast might be somewhat useful in a place where hiding spots from coyotes are relatively rare.