Saskatchewan woman makes it her mission to see every bit of her province below the 54th parallel

The South Saskatchewan River southwest of Beechy. Ruth Bitner. Sandcastles on the South Saskatchewan River southwest of Beechy, Saskatchewan.

It took 12 years, but Ruth Bitner has finally completed her tour of Saskatchewan.

That’s right: there’s so much to see in Saskatchewan, it takes over a decade to get to it all.

Bitner’s comprehensive exploration of her home province began in 2005, the year of Saskatchewan’s centennial. In what she called “my own personal centennial project,” Bitner decided to visit 100 places in honour of the province’s 100 years. However, once she got started (along with travel-mate Leslee Newman), she realized there were so many more places she wanted to visit.

“We were having such a good time exploring the province, we just kept on going,” Bitner told Global News. In the end, the friends decided to visit all of the communities in the province south of the 54th parallel.

“It amounts to 16 cities, 144 towns, 284 villages, 517 hamlets, ghost towns or places that are still on the map but they don’t exist anymore,” Bitner said.

Ruth Bitner holding "I did it" sign at Cana, Saskatchewan
Ruth Bitner at her final destination, Cana, Saskatchewan. Photo by Leslee Newman.

Bitner and Newman decided early on that they didn’t just want to drive by the communities. Instead, the two women had a strict policy of stopping at each one at least long enough to get a picture, an approach that taught Bitner all kinds of things about her home province. “Who knew there were orchids growing in Nisbet Provincial Forest [southwest of Prince Albert]?” she told the CBC.

The women visited everywhere from communities so small that they didn’t have a sign to notable tourist destinations like the Great Wall of Saskatchewan. The trips gave Newman an appreciation for Saskatchewan’s versatility.

“The image of Saskatchewan as flat and boring is so not deserved,” she told Global News. “It is vast, it is hilly, it is flat, it is treed, it is Prairie grasses, it’s desert sands. It’s just a wealth of landscapes and lakescapes and desertscapes.”

yellow orchids
The orchids growing at Nisbet Provincial Forest/ [Credit: Ruth Bitner]
And now that the project is complete, Bitner has realized she still doesn’t want to stop. Next, she’s looking at visiting communities north of Parallel 54.

Along with everything else it’s given her, the road trip will make her possibly the most well-connected Saskatchewanian of all time. “If I meet somebody from anywhere in the province, I can say, ‘yes I’ve been there.'”

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