Day 16: Here We Snow Again

Happy Thanksgiving, Canada!

The bedside alarm someone (not us) thoughtfully set to go off at 7am performed beautifully.  Right at 7am it sang its thunderous, beeping melody, causing much confusion and one-handed groping of every button to get it to stop.  Well, I guess we’re getting up now.  The good news was the massive snow “they” were calling for overnight never materialized in Brooks, so we decided to go ahead with the day’s plans until we couldn’t go any further.

Our aim was Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park that straddles both Alberta and Saskatchewan.  It’s located south of Trans-Canada Hwy #1 (TC1) and so our plan was to drop down off TC1, spend some time there, and then overnight in Maple Creek, Saskatchewan, which is also located south of TC1.  We set out east on TC1 from Brooks as the snow was starting to pick up but the roads were fairly clear, with only a little snow stickage.

The Trans-Canada #1 today

The Trans-Canada #1 today

Then it changed.  Changed on a dime.  Suddenly the road was completely covered in snow and the driving conditions deteriorated quickly.  Snow was hurling itself out of the sky at an alarming rate, it was -2C (28F), and we were in a full-on snowstorm.  Ok, so sightseeing was officially off the table for today.  Jim also mentioned if we saw any elk along the road we weren’t going to stop for pictures.  I told him we’d play it by ear…  We did see a coyote, and true to his word, Jim didn’t stop.  I couldn’t blame him, the driving conditions were horrible and it was a little surprising there were no plowing efforts made in spite of the fact this snowstorm had been predicted (chance of snow was 100%, it was only a function of how much), and we were on Canada’s #1 major highway.

We had few options:  1) keep truckin’ down the road in white-knuckle conditions and try to find the end of the storm, forfeiting our booked overnight accommodations, or 2) go straight to our hotel in the town of Maple Creek, Saskatchewan, hunker down, and watch movies all day before going downstairs for Thanksgiving Dinner.

Saskatchewan looks a bit different than the first time we rolled through

Saskatchewan looks a bit different than the first time we rolled through

You see, we had specifically booked the Maple Creek Commercial Hotel because word on the street was they offered a hot and delicious Thanksgiving dinner, complete with all the fixins’, from 5-9pm.  This word on the street, in fact, came straight from the hotel when we called them from the US weeks ago to book the room, as they do not offer bookings online.  Because we were traveling on a major Canadian holiday we took great measures to plan out a day that wouldn’t be affected by closures and where we’d be able to find a hot meal.  And not even just any old hot meal, but a full Thanksgiving feast – with all the fixins’.  It was something I had been looking forward to immensely.  And the hotel itself, with attached restaurant and western bar, is an old-timey one (over 130 years old), located in a big brick building right downtown this very small town, with a saloon-type décor that includes super high ceilings, dark wood accents, and a grand old staircase.  Because of this, the image I had in my head was that we’d arrive to a boisterous crowd in the saloon enjoying the holiday, with people dressed in their Thanksgiving finery that included a lot of heavy red velvet bustled dresses for the ladies and pocket watches and monocles for the men, a huge roaring fire with a dog curled up in front, and, not to be too hopeful, playful cats grooming themselves on the staircase.  And then we could head upstairs to our warm, cozy room to watch movies for a spell before wandering downstairs in our Thanksgiving finery for an afternoon aperitif followed by a full Thanksgiving feast – with all the fixins’.

The mean streets of Maple Creek

The mean streets of Maple Creek

This is what actually happened:  we arrived to the hotel around 11am and the first thing we noticed was the signage hanging on all the windows in all caps saying RESTAURANT AND BAR CLOSED TODAY.  What?  Maybe that was just for the regular menu, but certainly not for the Thanksgiving feast.  We walked into the cold and dimly-lit lobby and were met by the desk clerk, who also happened to be the only other person on the property.  There were no boisterous crowds, no roaring fire, and certainly no playful cats.  The desk clerk already knew our name when we walked in, as it turns out we were the only reservation for the night.  But, she added, they may get some walk-ins, as the Greyhound Bus comes through town twice a day and you just never know what you’re gonna get.

Thankfully it was no problem getting into the room early, but when I wanly inquired about this supposed Thanksgiving feast, deep down already knowing the answer, the hammer officially dropped:  there was no Thanksgiving feast.  And with the restaurant closed, there was to be no feast of any kind at all.  It appears to have been the old bait-n-switch here at the Maple Creek Commercial Hotel.

She gave us the run-down of the joint, including optimistically identifying which of the town’s single handful of restaurants might be open tonight, and we went up to the room.  After settling into the tiny space we noticed we could practically see our breath and there was no thermostat in the room.  We left the room a short time later to do a walkabout around town, and asked if we might get some heat?  The desk clerk, who was really very nice, said she’d see what she could do.  I believe the heat had been turned off, but thankfully that seemed to be rectified by the time we got back to the room.

Thank you for being open

Thank you for being open

The walkabout was brief, as there is really only one main street and the snow was still coming down strong.  We did, however, find the one and only establishment that would be open later for dinner:  Bel Air Gardens Chinese Restaurant.  We retired back to the room and proceeded to watch movies until dinnertime, and then joined a handful of other locals for dinner at the Bel Air Gardens.  While it wasn’t exactly a meal comprised of turkey and all the fixins’, it was at least a hot meal and we were appreciative they were open.

After dinner we headed back to the room.  A police officer passed us on the street, which marks only the 3rd time we’ve seen police the entire trip and here he was, in Maple Creek.  What kind of town is this?  We went upstairs to plan the itinerary for the next day, and then promptly had to go back downstairs to ask for the heat to be turned on again.  They really didn’t want to part with it.  As we warmed up, we discussed strategy.  We had no more hotel rooms booked, nowhere to be, and no set itinerary.  The only plan, really, was to try to get out of Maple Creek.

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