Swift Current, Saskatchewan, also affectionately called Speedy Creek, is an oil city located 135 mi/215 km southwest of Saskatoon. The city is home to the Swift Current Museum (natural and regional history), the Art Gallery of Swift Current, and the Mennonite Heritage Village, which re-creates the life of Mennonite settlers in the 1800s with restored buildings and period furniture.
Although the usual big box stores and shopping malls are located along the highway, those travelers who venture downtown will find a tranquil main street reminiscent of the past. A central town square provides a quiet place to rest, and unique shops and boutiques offer a range of locally designed and produced clothing, jewelry, art and crafts.
Children, especially, will thrill at Swift Current's Windscape Kite Festival, one of Canada's biggest kite festivals, attracting between 4,000 and 5,000 kite fliers, and featuring some top artists and performers, including dozens of internationally renowned fliers. The event takes place in conjunction with the Long Day's Night Music Festival, celebrating the three longest days of the year with music and other entertainment under a big-top tent in downtown Swift Current.
The Art Gallery of Swift Current presents Blenders, a series of live musical events September-May, featuring jazz, blues, rock, world, roots and folk music performed by nationally and internationally recognized musicians. Swift Current is also home to the province's oldest-running live theater, the Lyric, a vaudeville-style theater constructed using then-revolutionary steel framing techniques in 1912. The theater has been converted to a black-box theater for local productions. The Lyric hosts a variety of events, including the highly popular Summer Chautauqua live theater festival each July.
Northwest of Swift Current are the Great Sand Hills, a huge, 735-sq-mi/1,900-sq-km area of sand dunes. Begin your visit at the Great Sand Hills Museum in Sceptre, which provides detailed directions on how to get to the dunes.
Wood Mountain Provincial Historic Site, southeast of Swift Current, was an outpost staffed by the Mounties in the late 1800s. The post saw more than its share of activity—outlaws roamed the area, and Sitting Bull and his Sioux forces encamped there after they defeated Custer at Little Big Horn. Canada's oldest rodeo, the Wood Mountain Stampede, was set up at Wood Mountain by the Mounties in 1890.
If you like rodeos, Swift Current's Annual Frontier Days Fair and Pro Rodeo takes place at the end of June and has been running for nearly as long as the Wood Mountain event. This area is the heart of the Palliser Triangle and contains some of the oldest and most expansive ranches in the Wild West. The town of Shaunavon, southwest of Swift Current, has been organizing rodeos since 1914. Shaunavon's annual rodeo is in July.
While touring southern Saskatchewan, you can also visit Grasslands National Park, one of the more recent additions to Canada's system of 42 national parks. Grasslands preserves one of the last untouched parcels of mixed prairie grasslands in North America. Recently, plains bison were reintroduced to the park, and dozens of rare and endangered species, such as the burrowing owl, sage grouse and swift fox, live there. The park information center and accommodations are in the town of Val Marie.
South of Swift Current and nearby Gull Lake, you'll find Canada's largest wind-energy project, where 116 gigantic wind turbines generate 172 megawatts of power on three spacious wind farms.
Also south of Swift Current and west of Shaunavon is the little town of Eastend, home to some of the most exciting dinosaur bones in North America, including the complete skeleton of a tyrannosaurus rex (nicknamed Scotty) that was excavated nearby. To tour current dig sites in the area, contact the Eastend Fossil Research Station (phone 306-295-4144), which also operates a paleontological museum.
A little further to the west, Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park comprises three blocks of land—Saskatchewan's center block contains a core area of services and accommodations, and the west block is home to historic Fort Walsh. The third block is Alberta's Cypress Hills area. The Cypress Hills are a unique geological formation of the Rocky Mountains that were untouched by the great ice sheets that once covered the prairies, making the hills the highest point of land between the Rockies and Labrador on the east coast.
North of the park, along the TransCanada Highway, the town of Maple Creek welcomes visitors with a taste of the Old West and modern convenience. Be sure to stop in and visit the Jasper Cultural Centre and the Oldtimers Museum. Every September, the town hosts a successful and growing Cowboy Poetry Gathering and Western Gear Show and Sale. Like other towns in the area, Maple Creek supports an annual rodeo, held in early July.
The unique climate of this area of the province allows a vineyard and winery to flourish, producing not only its own varietal red wines, but also wines made from indigenous fruits and berries including the Saskatoon berry, choke cherry and sour cherry. It even makes a rhubarb wine and a honey mead.
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