Growing up in Edmonton, Alberta, I'm no stranger to prairie living, but I've never seen the endless fields of Saskatchewan before. So my Gido (Grandpa in Ukrainian, Gigi to his grandchildren), wanted to revisit his hometown of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, I jumped on the bandwagon to join the trip down memory lane with the very best tour guide who left 70 years ago. My crew for the weekend was my Gido, my Nana, and my great Uncle Bill. I'll say that they all gave me 5-Star Uber reviews and Bill now knows how to take a great iphone photo.
When Gido left Moose Jaw in 1948, the population was 30,000 people; today, it's 33,000 people - its small town roots have not changed. Moose Jaw, also know as "The Jaw", "Band City" or "Little Chicago" has had two city slogans: "The Friendly City" or "Surprisingly Unexpected". I'll attest to the friendly part - literally some of the nicest and welcoming people I've ever met. "Surprisingly Unexpected" was supposed to draw in more tourism but I think may come across as a weak online dating tag line.
Moose Jaw has a few claims to fame: it's home to the Snow Birds - they are based at 15 Wing and are the first Canadian Air Demonstration team to be designated as a squadron. They travel all over North America and the town is very proud to call the Snow Birds part of the city's history. You're able to drive right onto the base (well, I did, and no one stopped me). I clearly wanted a photo op beside the control tower for the Top Gun fan in me.
Another piece of history this small city is known for is it's association to Al Capone (hence the city's nickname, "Little Chicago"). It's said that when prohibition started in 1920, Al Capone of Chicago fled to Canada and ended up in Moose Jaw ( to be more precise, in the tunnels of Moose Jaw), where it was rumoured he ran his bootleg operation underground. The town has capitalized on this *possible* urban legend and runs a tour through the tunnels under the town's Main Street. Be warned that this is perhaps not the best tour to take 85 year old seniors on who can be hard of hearing and that can't climb stairs well... regardless - I'd recommend it!
This city's charm can be found sprinkled in and off of Main Street in the forms of Saturday markets with local delicacies like honey, jam and wine, to a beautiful marble filled library in the heart of Crescent Park - a park so lovely and green that it reminded me of Hyde Park in London! I'll have to say that one of the things that impressed me the most were the schools; we visited Gido's high school that stood in perfect condition and brought a flood of memories of skipping math class in the second story window. The World War 2 monument outside even had our family's late cousin's name listed (spelt Harkett instead of Harcott). Mac the moose was also a hit, he's the world's tallest moose and stands over 30 feet tall!
The real magic of this city was not only it's beautiful sunsets and quaint charm, but seeing this city through the eyes of my Gido, his brother, and my Nana. Countless summers spent driving to Moose Jaw from Edmonton to visit my great grandmother for decades with my own dad and uncle. Gido would stop for gas about 40 miles from Moose Jaw, buy a 6 pack of Bohemian Beer (still sold today), enjoy one road side on a hot summer day and be on his way. The house Gido and his brother grew up is still standing and lived in, the well where there would get their water is not. The Maple Leaf bakery has new ownership but Gido reminicised about spending days looking for bottles to go get some pastries - "3 for a nickel!" We had lunch and dinner with Gido's cousin and extended family - an impromptu reunion 50+ years in the making over Chinese food. So much love and hugs to be had as pictures were passed around and playful arguments ensued trying to remember who is who in the photo and where it was taken.
My Gido and I have this thing that whenever we're toasting a drink, usually a scotch, he'll always quote the movie Casablanca and say, "Here's looking at you kid" and I'll respond "We'll always have Paris". I fear we'll never see Paris together, but I'm forever grateful we'll always have Moose Jaw.
I truly hope everyone has an opportunity to walk down memory road with their loved ones.