Cruising down the Trans Canada Highway, through Saskatchewan - arguably Canada's most underrated province -, travelers looking for unforgettable and western flavored stops and adventures have their choices laid out for them!
Just off the highway is Cypress Hill, a geographical area shared between the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan where the natural beauty of the Canadian prairies and hills and the history of Canada’s wild west come together. And right off Cypress Hills rests Maple Creek, a little town that has the quintessential charm of the Canadian Old West, complete with cowboy-styled accommodations, natural reserves, delicious wine tasting, a dinosaur park, and wait for it: cowboy poetry!
The Cypress Hills has had many names, in many different languages in the long history of pre and post-colonial Canada, due to the many peoples, Native Americans, First Nations, and European immigrants who have settled in the region for over eight thousand years. It was a popular wintering site for its many natural resources.
A bloody and key event in Canadian history was the Cypress Hill Massacre, wherein in 1873 a group of American hunters opened fire on a camp of Assiniboine people. The event created friction between Canada and the United States and was one of the catalysts to the creation of the North-West Mounted Police or Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The site of the massacre is where Fort Walsh, a Canadian historic site, was built.
Today, Cypress Hills is a geographical, natural reserve and protected area, making up the Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park. The eponymous hills of Cypress Hills surround miles of prairie land, full of natural and historical landmarks and attracting thousands of visitors every year.
On the park, travelers can visit the historic site of Fort Walsh, camp in one of the many camping grounds - which range from bare minimums to fully equipped -, or enjoy the trails, hills, and lakes perfect for hiking, trekking, horseback riding, country biking, and fishing.
The nearest town, 21 kilometers away from Cypress Hills is Maple Creek, population: 2,000. A small town born from the construction of the transcontinental Canadian railway out of its (aren’t all good western towns?), in Maple Creek it’s like the wild west is not really a time gone by but a way of life (though it is, thankfully, a good deal less wild).
Winner of a 2014 traveler Canada’s Greatest Western Town title by the Western Horse Review Magazine, and fondly named ‘The Old Cow Town’, with wild-west heritage present in the towns architecture, museums, and even traffic plaques, Maple Creek is the place to get your cowboys boots on and go out exploring - and for a city on the smaller side, there’s quite a lot to experience!
Wine & Dine
Beyond being the cowboy center of Saskatchewan, Maple Creek is also known for its culinary experience. Try wine tasting at the Cypress Hills Winery, a hearty steak dinner downtown at the Rockin’ Horse Cookhouse & Bar, or take advantage of the Taste of Maple Creek, a city-wide food festival where diners of the entire city showcase their food and specialties.
Lodgings with a western flair
For accommodations, travelers have options such as the scenic The Resort at Cypress Hills, which has wooden barbecues and picnic areas available with the backdrop of the natural beauty of the Cypress Hills.
For a quirkier, but certainly unique, shall we say, conceptual option, there is the Ghostown Blues B&B, where guests can stay in pioneer housings, literal sheep wagons, and every piece of architecture in there has been carefully restored and moved from their historical contexts. It’s like staying in the coziest history book!
Beyond the great outdoor activities in Cypress Hill, Maple Creek has starred facilities for golf, swimming, team sports, and curling - a.k.a 3D ice chess.
Culture and history at the Cow Town of Saskatchewan
Maple Creek has a handful of museums and cultural event centers that should not be missed in any cruise by the city.
The Oldtimers’ Museum, first established in 1926, showcases life as it was in the Frontier Period of Saskatchewan.
The Jasper Cultural & Historical Center is a museum located in a former western school building and holds exhibits in rooms with many different themes chronicling the wild west, settlement history of the region. Visitors can go into “The Parlor”, “The Railway Room”, “The School Room” and more, and step into a different time in Maple Creek.
Festivals and cultural events keep this western town lively! Beyond the Taste of Maple Creek Festival, there is also the Maple Creek Heritage Festival, the recreation of the Battle of Little Puck, and the Cowboy Poetry and Western Art gathering - and yes, it’s just as fun as it sounds!