Paddling the South Saskatchewan River: Old Bindloss Ferry to Estuary

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

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Close encounter of the rattler kind and storm of the sesquicentennial behind us – Ma Nature went all out with a noisy and bright light show for Canada’s 150th – we launched two canoes and a single kayak at an old ferry site on the South Saskatchewan River. Heading downstream, we were searching for a little r’n’r – with a dash of history on the side.

Paddling the South Saskatchewan River

In honour of Canada’s 150th year, we decided to forgo modern forms of transport for a couple of days and paddle our way back into history – before planes, trains and automobiles – back to a time even before this great country called Canada came into existence.

Our starting place was the old Bindloss Ferry site, five kilometres (3 miles) downstream of Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Suffield. The crumbling remains of a concrete approach for the ferry crossing was perfect for sorting gear away from the mud. It’s early July. River levels are dropping. The spring melt is pretty much done, making canoeing and gravel bar camping a little easier.

Boats ready to launch for our 3-day river adventure. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

Day one’s route would take us on a gentle, approximately 21 km (13 mi) float down through the coulees of the Middle Sand Hills, past deer grazing along the still-green grasslands, beaver plying the waterways, and cliff swallows dipping into the mud on the riverbank to build their clay castles in rocky outcrops.

Sandy Point Bridge over the South Saskatchewan River. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

We continued to a point just below Sandy Point bridge and its established, but busy campground, where an open sand and gravel and rattlesnake-free shoreline became home for the night. Nighthawks serenade from above as we sit riverside, watching the sky turn golden.

Sunset on the river. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

River Day Two

The second day – with almost 32 km (20 mi) of river travel – should have felt a little more difficult. The light push of the wind, the warmth of the sun and the catch and release of sauger – tiny fish in comparison to the massive sturgeon that inhabit the South Saskatchewan River – had us drifting along without much of a worry. Popping back and forth along the Alberta/Saskatchewan border, the river meandered effortlessly in a northeastly direction.

A gaggle of geese pulled up onshore as we drifted by. Three young owls took practice flights in the low trees along the bank. Sandpipers ran along the mudflats. A great blue heron flew effortlessly downstream.

Ma Nature held true to course and gave us a little test of wind in our faces for a short stretch of the journey. She relented, came back in from behind and allowed us to drift down using umbrellas as sails. The ghostly abutments of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) bridge that spanned the river in 1914 came into sight.

Canoe hounds could care less about the ghostly railway abutments in the distance! (Photo: Megan Kopp)

Long abandoned, the concrete pillars on a midstream island provided the perfect backdrop for camp – with ready-built shade. Unloading quickly, it was all hands in the cooler for happy hour. Deer crisscross the river up and downstream. Beavers swim around us. White pelicans bob in slow upstream eddies. Relaxed? Oh yeah – nature’s medicine is working its magic!

Camp perfection! (Photo: Megan Kopp)

Final Float to the Pullout

We can hear the meal bell from the nearby Hutterite colony as we prep for a leisurely breakfast. Reluctantly, we load up and drift down past the flood-blasted muddy confluence with Red Deer River. The channel becomes a wide flat lake for a short stretch. Tip: stay river right to avoid having to walk on water across the shallow sections.

After the confluence of the Red Deer and the South Saskatchewan, the river stretches across like a lake. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

It is somewhere right in here, on river left, that Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) explorer, surveyor and trader Peter Fidler built Chesterfield House in the fall of 1800. HBC established the trading post on the South Saskatchewan River to provide competition for the Northwest Company (NWC) and other Canadians trading for fox, wolf, badger and beaver pelts with the Blackfoot, Blood, Peigan and Gros Ventre in southern Alberta.

It is also somewhere right in here that his First Nations wife, Mary Mackegonne, gave birth to their third son George on November 10th of that same year. Fidler and his family would spent two seasons at the original post before it was abandoned due to increasing tensions with the Gros Ventre.

The post was resurrected in the winter of 1804/05, left for almost another two decades and then rebuilt as a temporary trading post and palisade about seven km (4 mi) downstream of the confluence in 1822 – the same year Peter Fidler passed away in his post at Fort Dauphin. In April of 1823, Chesterfield House was abandoned for good.

Sadly, there are no visible remains of either trading post, but the fact that we were paddling alongside the past was some kind of Canada cool.

Empressive – packing five adults, two dogs, two canoes & a kayak into one return shuttle vehicle! (Photo: Megan Kopp)

If You Go:

  • Our trip ran from the Old Bindloss Ferry in Alberta at Km 255 (5 km east of the CFB Suffield boundary) to the Estuary Ferry in Saskatchewan, just past Km 320. We covered 65 km distance on the South Saskatchewan River easily in 2 ½ days.
  • We accessed the put-in point at the Old Bindloss Ferry landing on the north side of the river. Range Road 2-3 is graveled down to a band of willows just above the river, but be aware the lower section is not maintained and may have washouts in wet weather.
  • A second vehicle was left at the take-out point at the Estuary Ferry (talked with ferry operator to ensure that where it was parked was okay before leaving)
  • Buy a copy of Prairie River, by Dawn Dickinson and Dennis Baresco. It may be dated, but the cultural and natural history information and maps inside this small volume are still valuable. You can find it online in books at Paddle Alberta’s store.
  • You can access additional maps online at Alberta River Basins. Flow levels can be monitored by accessing the Alberta Rivers: Data and Advisories Mobile App on this same page.

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Barkerville, B.C. – A Grave History

Written by: Megan Kopp

At its peak in the 1860s, the gold mining town of Barkerville, B.C. was the biggest thing west of Chicago and north of San Francisco.

The ghost town today sees a mere fraction of the number of people that once clomped along the wooden sidewalks off Williams Creek in the foothills of the Cariboo Mountains. Past glories have become faded memories. Stories of what life was like back in the goldrush era need to be carefully curated and fleshed out by historians. One surprising way to uncover life is to look at death. Cemeteries are devoted to remembering lives, and the historic Barkerville Cemetery is no exception.

Walking Back in Time

We tromped along with a small group on a guided tour, passing the site of the Royal Cariboo Hospital before arriving at the hillside resting place for miners and soldiers, surveyors and shopkeepers, doctors and lawyers. Most came from Canada and the United States. Others travelled to Barkerville from as far away as Wales, England, Ireland, Scotland, Sweden and Germany.

Grave marker for Peter Gibson – the first person buried in the Barkerville Cemetery. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

31, 21, 32, 24, 25 – many people died young in the goldfields. Peter Gibson was the first soul to be laid to rest on July 24th, 1863 in what was then known as the Cameronton Cemetery. Peter, 31, died of typhoid fever. He worked for John ‘Cariboo’ Cameron before his early demise.

Cariboo Cameron was a miner who struck it rich with a claim on Williams Creek. A small township grew up around his strike. Not surprisingly, it was dubbed Cameronton. Cameron himself died on November 7th, 1888. At the age of 68, Cameron is one of the oldest people buried in the cemetery.

Sidenote: Although Cameron was a noteworthy citizen, it’s the tale of his first wife – who is not actually buried in the Barkerville cemetery – that is even more memorable. Seriously, who has “two caskets, three funerals and four burials?”

By 1866, the Barkerville Cemetery had 27 graves. There were no Chinese or Native burials in this graveyard – a reflection of the time. Most of the burials were men – a reflection of the population demographics during the goldrush.

Women of the Goldrush

One notable woman buried in the Barkerville Cemetery is Janet Allan. The marker on her grave reads:

Sacred
to the 
memory of
Janet Allan

The Beloved Wife of
William Allan
Native of Fireshire
Scotland

Who departed this life
September 1870

Aged 42 years

Sometimes I wish we could rewrite these tributes. There’s an interpretive sign just outside of the town of Barkerville that tells so much more of Janet’s story.

“…dressed like a man, drank like a man, and died like a man…”

Janet was actually better known as ‘Scotch Jenny’ – a well-respected woman who showed kindness for the sick. Apparently this store keeper’s wife also dressed like a man, drank like a man, and died like a man (when the carriage she was driving plunged over a bank into William’s Creek on September 7th, 1870).

Costumed tour guides lead regular hikes to the Barkerville Cemetery. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

Today, our journey to see Scotch Jenny’s final resting place was less of a hike and more of a stroll up the 750 metre (1/2 mile) long, accessible trail from St Saviour’s Anglican Church – along a portion of the old Cariboo Wagon Road. Guided tours to the Baskerville Cemetery run on a regular basis, departing from the church.

Go ahead, take a walk and discover life through death with Barkerville’s fascinating grave history.

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What a Rush: Barkerville, B.C.

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

Most people have heard of the California ‘49ers. Many know of the Klondike stampeders heading up to the Yukon in 1898. But what about the gold fever surrounding Barkerville, British Columbia? It lies smack dab in the middle of the western gold rush timeline.

Barkerville

Connecting to the Past

I have three reasons for having a soft spot for the Cariboo gold rush story. One, because I lived in the Cariboo as a child.

Two, because my grandpa – William Hill – worked the old slag heaps in Barkerville, searching for overlooked gold in the 1930s. He also searched for gold in the nearby abandoned mining town of Quesnelle Forks in 1940s.

Wedding photo
Married at The Forks (Photo: Dave Blanchard)

And because, three, we chose that abandoned mining town, at the junction of the Cariboo and Quesnel Rivers, as the site of our wedding.

Since we were driving by Barkerville – on our way to paddle the Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit – with friends who had never heard of Barkerville’s epic tale, we just had to make a little detour and show it off.

Billy’s Story

William ‘Billy’ Barker was a working-class English prospector. He started in the California goldfields in the mid-1800s. As the gold played out, Barker joined the thousands of other miners who headed north to what is now British Columbia.

The goldseekers followed the Fraser River inland in search of rich ore. Eventually, Billy and many other miners found their way to Cariboo.

William ‘Dutch Bill’ Dietz made the first strike. William’s Creek – which runs through Barkerville – is named after him. A town grew up around the strike. It was called Richfield. Billy Barker tried his luck a little further downstream of Richfield.

On August 17, 1862, Billy and his seven partners found gold at 52 feet. Billy’s mine-shaft was the deepest around. In just two days, the miners pulled out over 1700 grams (60 ounces) of gold.

The rush was on.                      

Most of the gold was found during the first five years of Cariboo gold rush. William’s Creek and two of its tributaries produced $30,000,000 of gold between 1861 and 1898.

Barkerville became the heart of the Cariboo when a 650-kilometre (404-mile) wagon road from Yale, B.C. was built to haul gear in and gold out of the goldfields. It was finished in 1865. Barkerville was the final stop along the road.

Historic wagon rides
The end of the Cariboo wagon road. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

Barkerville Today

Barkerville is the largest living-history museum in western North America.

Today, the tourist attraction features over 100 restored buildings.

There are stagecoach rides, live theatre, old-fashioned photo studios and guided tours.

Watch for costumed interpreters roaming the streets, playing the roles of historic characters.

Barkerville: By the Numbers

  • 1868 – The town is destroyed by fire and quickly rebuilt
  • 1894 – The town’s namesake dies a pauper in Victoria, B.C.
  • 1924 – Barkerville is designated a Canadian National Historic Site
  • 107 – Heritage buildings
  • 62 – Replica buildings
  • 1958 – Barkerville is declared a Provincial Heritage Property
  • 50,000-60,000 – Number of annual visitors today

Finally, if you go:

Barkerville is located in central British Columbia, about 85 kilometres (53 miles) east of Quesnel, at the edge of the Cariboo Mountains.

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Towers and Forts: An Irish Treasure Hunt

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

We often travel a route with the map in hand and randomly choose short historic side trips to investigate while on the way to our actual destination. Sometimes, it’s a wild goose chase. Other times, it’s a treasure hunt that leads to such beauties as the Ring of Kerry’s Staigue Fort and the Dingle Peninsula’s Min Aird Castle.

Staigue Fort

When is a stone defensive structure and home not a castle? When it’s a prehistoric stone fort!

Staigue Fort is one of the largest and finest stone forts in Ireland – according the interpretive panel just outside its walls! The name comes from “An Steig” – which is roughly translated as “the portion of land.” It is found on a small portion of land off the southern leg of the infamous “Ring of Kerry” on Ireland’s Iveragh Peninsula.

Staigue Fort’s impressive walls. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

The stone fort was built in the early centuries before Christianity came to Ireland – somewhere between 500 BC and AD 300. Like more “modern” castles, it was most likely built for a wealthy landowner or chieftain who had a need for security.

The wall rises up to six metres (over 19 feet) high. It is four metres (13 feet) thick and is built entirely without mortar. The wall encloses an area thirty metres (almost 100 feet) in diameter. Several near-vertical masonry joints are visible in the walls. These may indicate that the massive stone structure was built in stages rather than in one continuous act. The fort was entered through a narrow, lintel-covered passage in the wall.

The inner walls have criss-crossing staircases. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

The fort was the home of the chieftain’s family, guards and servants. It would have been full of houses, out-buildings, and possibly even tents or other temporary structures. None of the inner buildings survive today. The top of the wall was reached by a series of steps which criss-cross against the inside of the wall. An earthen bank and ditch around the fort gave further protection.

You say fort, I say prehistoric castle!

Min Aird Castle

Min Aird Castle – also commonly referred to as Minard Castle – is located in Cill Mhuire Bay on the Dingle Peninsula. It is the largest fortress on the peninsula. Cill Mhuire Bay is also known for its geology. Eighty-million-year-old fossilised sand dunes can be seen in its cliffs. It also contains one of the finest storm beaches in Ireland.

Min Aird Castle and its storm beach. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

In the Devonian period, rivers flowed south across a large desert… wait, we’re still in Ireland, right?

Crumbling Cill Mhuire sandstone walls of Min Aird Castle. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

Rivers flowed across a large desert, carrying sand and coarse sediments. The crescent-shaped sand dunes in the desert became the pale, yellow Cill Mhuire Sandstone. This same sandstone was used to build Min Aird Castle.

Blocks of sandstone have become rounded by the action of the waves and from knocking against each other. Storms have thrown them towards the back to the beach where they form a ridge called a storm beach.

A timeless view. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

The 16th century tower house that is Min Aird Castle has stood the test of time. It was attacked by Cromwell’s army in 1650 and was structurally damaged. Its crumbling remains have continued to withstand the ravages of a stormy coast for centuries.

Castles, towers, forts – Ireland’s countless historic stone structures beckon.

What are you waiting for?

Read more about our Irish adventures at:

The Stone Circles of Cork & Kerry, Ireland

Ireland’s Brú na Bóinne

Getting to Know Guinness: Going to the Source in Dublin, Ireland

Ireland’s Trim Castle

 

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Ireland’s Skellig Michael: A Storied Past

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

Somewhere between the 6th and 8th centuries, a group of monks sought an isolated locale to practice their religion. They found Skellig Michael.

Skellig come from Sceillic, which means steep rock. Over the next 500 years these Christian monks would develop a precipitous monastic complex that boggles the mind. Perched on a rugged sea crag in the wild Atlantic Ocean, 12 kilometres (8 miles) off of Ireland’s Ivereagh Peninsula in County Kerry, this well-preserved, early medieval ecclesiastical site is quite unlike any other in the world.

The Monastery

The monks chose a sloping rock plateau around 200 metres (650 feet) above the sea to build the monastery. Using a series of dry-stacked retaining walls, they built terraces to level the ground. The retaining walls not only levelled the cliffs, they provided shelter from the prevailing winds. This created a somewhat milder microclimate and allowed the monks to grow some of their food on garden terraces. As there is no fresh water on Skellig Michael, the monks built water cisterns to collect water.

Retaining walls and terraces (Photo: Megan Kopp)

The focus of the inner enclosure was the boat-shaped Large Oratory. This place of prayer was the most important building. It holds a dominant spot in the small compound. A Small Oratory is located on a separate terrace.

Entrance to the Large Oratory (Photo: Megan Kopp)

At the back to the Large Oratory is the Monks’ Graveyard. The series of weathered crosses set into the west side of the graveyard are in their original locations. Over a hundred stone crosses of varying sizes have been recorded on the island.

All of the dry-stacked buildings on Skellig Michael were corbelled. Corbelling is a technique where individual stones are laid flat, with each successive stone placed so that it overhangs on the inner face. This creates a beehive-shaped stone hut.

Beehive-shaped shelters (Photo: Megan Kopp)

There are six dwellings in the monastery. Each includes raised sections for sleeping areas and small cupboards built into the walls. Austere is a kind description of these dark and cold shelters.

In the 13th century the monks moved off Skellig Michael, leaving behind a unique legacy that became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

If You Go:

From the boat dock, today’s visitors head up the early 19th century lighthouse road before ascending the south steps up to Christ’s Saddle and on to the monastery. It’s important to note that a visit to the monastery not only demands a sometimes hair-raising boat ride, it also involves a climb up 618 steps rising over 180 metres (600 feet) above sea level – with some risk of exposure.

Boat trips to Skellig Michael run from May 12th to October 2nd in 2017 (weather permitting). Although access to the monastery itself is free, the 11 ½ kilometre (7 mile) boat trip from Portmagee will cost in the neighbourhood of 70-75 Euros per person. Trips depart from the Portmagee marina around 9:15 am, returning after 2 pm. Most landing tours fill months ahead of time, book in advance.

Read more about our Irish adventures at:

The Stone Circles of Cork & Kerry, Ireland

Ireland’s Brú na Bóinne

Getting to Know Guinness: Going to the Source in Dublin, Ireland

Ireland’s Trim Castle

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Ireland’s Trim Castle

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

Trim – the word sounds precise, with little excess. Trim Castle – on the River Boyne – is just the opposite. It is the largest Normandy castle in Ireland.

Historic stone structures always draw my attention and Trim was no exception. We had to stop and take a look.

Arriving too late in the day to take advantage of a guided tour and entrance to the keep, we strolled the grounds as the clouds lifted and the sun peeked out.

Surveying the grounds. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

The castle was started by Hugh de Lacy in 1173. It was completed in the 13th century. The curtain wall encloses an area of over 1.5 hectares (about the size of one and a half rugby fields).

Interpretive panels through the grounds explain major features of this stone landmark, but we chose to wander at will, trying to get a sense of what life must have been like in Hugh de Lacy’s world.

In 1172, when Hugh de Lacy was granted the Liberty of Meath, he occupied this site bounded by the river Boyne to the north and marshy grounds to the south. The hill on which the castle stands was easily defended.

The Keep at Trim Castle. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

Three years after choosing the location, de Lacy’s original wooden fortification had been replaced with the Keep. It housed the Lord’s private and administrative apartments. Gazing at its pock-marked façade, it’s remarkably easy to visualize the lords and ladies inside, sitting by wood-burning fires discussing the state of affairs.

The Keep was later surrounded by curtain walls with a simple gate to the north and a bridge across the moat.

Trim Castle’s entrance gate (Photo: Megan Kopp)

Trim Gate was built around 1180. It faces northwest, with its half-round gate-arch set high above the moat. A forward tower or pier would have received a bridge over the moat. The gatehouse was rebuilt early in the 13th century.

Defensive viewpoint on the curtain wall (Photo: Megan Kopp)

The south curtain wall with its D-shaped towers was completed by 1200, when new siege tactics forced a change in the design of castles. Step in close and look through the slotted archery windows.

As the town and roads developed, the barbican gate provided a new entrance from the south. It’s precise design suits Trim.

Though the castle buildings were often adapted to suit changing military and domestic needs, much of the fabric of Trim Castle has remained unchanged since the height of Anglo-Norman power in Ireland.

View from Trim Castle across the river Boyne towards the Augustinian Abbey of St. Mary and its belfry tower, the Yellow Steeple (Photo: Megan Kopp)

P.S. If the castle looks vaguely familiar and it’s been niggling at the back of your mind, but you can’t quite place it, I’ll let you off the hook.

Trim Castle was dubbed York Castle for the 1996 movie Braveheart, starring Mel Gibson.

Read more about our Irish adventures at:

The Stone Circles of Cork & Kerry, Ireland

Ireland’s Brú na Bóinne

Getting to Know Guinness: Going to the Source in Dublin, Ireland

 

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A Journey Close to Home: Glenbow Ranch

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

“A wise traveler never despises his own country.”
Carlo Goldoni

Some historical journeys are shorter than others. Just off the highway near our home town, down a winding gravel road, is a piece of the past called Glenbow Ranch. In a meadow beside a river called the Bow is a weathered grey building. You can’t drive up to it. You have to purposefully travel down a path, back down in time, to a place that now only spirits call home. The ramshackle building, once a post office and school, is all that remains from a townsite that was home to 150 people in the early 1900s.

Glenbow Ranch
Visiting the Past

The closer you look at the site from a perch up on one of the hills at Glenbow Ranch, the more you see. Scanning the fescue grasslands it becomes easy to visualize herds of bison moving through as they grazed the prairie. Look closer and you’ll see tipi camps of the native tribes that depended on the bison for their survival. This land has a history dating back thousands, not just hundreds of years.

Settle in and you will see a change. The bison are gone and cattle from the historic Cochrane Ranche have taken their place. Move ahead slightly in time and watch as a ribbon of wood and steel is built through the valley bottom. By 1891, Glenbow became a water stop for the Canadian Pacific Railway’s steam engines. Twelve years later, a CPR station would be be built here.

Becoming a Townsite

Glenbow Post Office Stamp (Source: Photo of Interpretive Panel)

Take your gaze up on to the hillsides and you’ll see remnants of another era. In 1907, the sounds of quarrying rang out across the valley. Sandstone blocks, hewn from these hills  were used in the construction of Alberta’s Legislature Building in Edmonton. A growing population meant a demand for a postal service and in 1909, the post office building was open for business.

Glenbow postmaster Cecil Edwards and his family in 1916. (Source: Photo of Interpretive Panel)

When the quarry closed in 1912, a brick-making plant was opened and soon 100,000 bricks a day were being manufactured. The wooden frame of the post office building was originally painted green and then faced with brick. Glenbow bricks – still visible in a few of the older homes in the nearby town of Cochrane – were yellowy-orange to red in colour.

End of an Era

Unfortunately, these bricks tended to crumble easily over time and the brick plant had a short lifespan. In 1914, the brick-making plant was closed. The post office and store stayed in business in 1920 before shutting down forever. The last Glenbow residents moved away in 1927.

The property became part of Eric Harvie’s ranch in 1934. Glenbow Ranch remained a private ranch for over 70 years until the park was established.

Isn’t it amazing what you can see when you look back in time? Some historical journeys are shorter than others; some are found in our own backyards.

If You Go:


Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park, established in 2008, is one of Alberta’s newest parks. You can find a park map and directions online.

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Falling in Love With Guanajuato, Mexico

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

It was love at first sight as the taxi emerged from the maze of underground tunnels which spilled out onto the streets of Guanajuato, Mexico.

In the twilight glow, the colours softened to warm buttery yellows, burnt oranges and tranquil blues. This is what we came to see.

A Gilded Beauty

UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988, Guanajuato has an outstanding collection of Baroque and neoclassical buildings that date back to the 17th century. Founded in the early 16th century, Guanajuato became the world leader in silver production in the 18th century.

At first light the next morning we started walking, up and down the impossibly narrow and infinitely charming maze of streets, stopping at every turn for yet another photograph. Eventually, we ended up in the heart of the city, staring in awe at the Templo de San Diego.

Basilica of Our Lady of Guanajuato - front view. (Photo: B. Kopp)
Templo de San Diego – front view. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

Templo de San Diego

Built between 1671 and 1696, this imposing Baroque monument is shaped like a Latin cross. A large sacristry was added on the hill side of the sprawling building. The right hand bell tower, added in the 18th century, is in the Mexican Churrigueresque style.

For a bird’s eye view of the church and an overview of the city, we take the footpath that begins near the funicular at the back of the church. Even in bright midday sun, the scene is a kaleidoscope of colours and shapes. What’s not to love about this colourful colonial city?

Basilica of Our Lady of Guanajuato - top view. (Photo: B. Kopp)
Templo de San Diego – top view. (Photo: B. Kopp)

If You Go:

We stayed at El Meson de los Poetas which, like most buildings in town, is built on a narrow lot that snakes up the hillside. We recommend the Octavio Paz suite for the views, however if you don’t like stairs, avoid rooms numbered in the 400s!

The bus ride from Guadalajara to Guanajuato takes about 4 hours.

For further information about Guanajuato, visit the Mexican Tourist Board website.

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First Time Visit to Guadalajara, Mexico

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

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“Are you sure it’s safe?”

That’s the first question people asked us when we said we were heading through Guadalajara. We were travelling by bus from Mexico’s Pacific Coast.

There are no guarantees of safety on any trip. While that may be true, we felt completely comfortable stepping out on foot on our arrival late afternoon to explore. Guadalajara is Mexico’s second largest city. However, its historical center is easily explored on foot.

Time for a Historical Walkabout

From our hotel room, we headed north for one block on Avenida Ramón Colon. Turning west on Calle Francisco I. Madero for one block and north for three blocks on Avenida 16 de Septiembre, we arrived at Plaza de Armas.

This welcoming plaza was remodelled in 1910 for Mexican Independence centennial celebrations. It frames a charming wrought-iron bandstand that was brought in from Paris.

An Orozco mural in the Palacio de Gobierno, showing Miguel Hidalgo signing for end of slavery and Benito Juarez signing for Mexico’s independence. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

The Palacio de Gobierno del Estado de Jalisco – government palace – lies on the eastern edge of the plaza. It is an impressive two-storey, Baroque-style structure. The building was completed in 1790. Peek inside for a glimpse of the murals painted by José Clemente Orozco.

On the northern edge of Plaza de Armas lies the imposing Catedral de Guadalajara. Construction of this massive cathedral was ordered by Philip of Spain. Building began in 1568.

Catedral de Guadalajara starting to glow as evening approaches. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

The cathedral wasn’t officially finished until 1618 – and even then construction was ongoing. The original towers were square. Damaged by an earthquake in 1818, they were taken down and replaced with the current Neo-Gothic towers in 1848. The brilliant yellow tower tiles come from Sayula, a small town south of Guadalajara.

Perfect Plazas and More!

Rotonda de los Jaliscienses Ilustres with Irene (Photo: Brad Kopp)

Plaza de la Rotonda lies to the north of the cathedral. This shaded green space is home to a monument built in 1951 to honour a select group of Jalisco artists, scientists, politicians and others notable figures. Rotonda de los Jaliscienses Ilustres was previously known as the Rotonda de Hombres Illustres de Jalisco (Rotunda of Illustrious Men of Jalisco). Because teacher and humanist Irene Obledo Garcia joined the group in 2000, the name changed.

Heading east we strolled through Plaza de la Liberación – Liberation Square – towards Teatro Degollado, seated at the far east end of the plaza. Construction began in 1856 on this Neoclassical theatre. The portico – or roofed structure supported by columns – includes a marble decorative wall surface over the entrance. The stone depicts Apollo and the nine muses.

The Teatro Degollado and its impressive tympanum (decorative marble surface) above the entrance. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

We walked behind the theatre along the Paseo Degollado. The tiny Plaza Fundadores includes a sculpture of Dona Beatriz Hernández de Sánchez Olea. She is one of the city’s heroines.  Dona Beatriz helped bring about the foundation of Guadalajara City in 1532.

Statue of Beatriz Hernández in Plaza Fundadores. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

Strolling down the paseo, we ended up at the art-strewn Plaza Tapatio and the Cabañas Cultural Institute.

The Cabañas Cultural Institute

Cabañas Cultural Institute (Photo: Brad Kopp)

This Neoclassical building was originally built as a charitable institute to house orphans, the elderly, the poor, and the sick. The building was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997 and is now a museum and cultural center.

From here, we worked our way down the stair off the plaza to the market – another story of its own!

It may have been our first time visiting Guadalajara while on our way to Guanajuato – but it won’t be our last.

If You Go:

Hotel Morales was not only well-located for strolling historic sites, it was elegant and had efficient, friendly staff.


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History Behind the Rocks: Exploring Yosemite’s Pioneer Past

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

Wawona means “Big Tree.” It is also the gateway to Yosemite National Park from the south. In the late 1800s, Wawona was Yosemite’s largest stagecoach stop. Today, most people zip by on their way to see Half Dome and Yosemite Valley – but there’s plenty of history behind the rocks!

Yosemite's white-washed charmer. (Photo: B. Kopp)
Yosemite’s white-washed charmer. (Photo: B. Kopp)

Take a little break and wander down the hill from the historic, whitewashed Wawona Hotel, to the Pioneer Yosemite History Center. Similar to Calgary, Alberta’s Heritage Park, Yosemite’s historic park contains a series of structures originally found in different locations and moved to a central location in order to more effectively interpret a period in time. All of the buildings in Yosemite’s Pioneer Village were found throughout the park and moved to Wawona in the 1950’s and 60’s.

Photo: B. Kopp
A tribute to the pioneers of the National Park idea. (Photo: B. Kopp)

The visit starts with a walk through the covered bridge built in 1857. Every visitor to Yosemite crossed this same bridge on their way into the valley. Explore George Anderson’s winter cabin. He was a local miner and blacksmith turned guide – and the first person to climb Half Dome in 1875.

But don’t stop there.

Dregnan’s Bakery building was originally connected to their home near the chapel in Yosemite Valley. The Wells Fargo Office was by travellers to make reservations, send telegraphs, or make long-distance calls. Blacksmith shops dotted the park during the era of the stagecoach. Horse-drawn stages were discontinued in 1914 as the automobile rose in prominence. There’s a Calvary Office (the original guardians of the area) and a Ranger Patrol Cabin, used as automobile check stations from 1914 onwards.

Wells Fargo Coach rides. (Photo: B. Kopp)
Explore on foot or see the sights aboard a Wells Fargo Coach. (Photo: B. Kopp)

Take the short detour – and discover a little of wealth that is Yosemite’s past.

If You Go:
A stroll through the village tucked in among tall pines is the perfect place to grasp the past on your way into Yosemite Valley. For more information, visit the Yosemite Conservancy.

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