With a tattered roadmap, a diary of notes, and a stack of pictures on the coffee table, Ruth Bitner has tales to tell.
“It’s been a real interesting journey,” Bitner said in reference to her 12-year adventure.
In that time, she’s worn out a road map and a couple of vehicles as she travelled to every Saskatchewan location south of the 54th parallel, which is an east-west line just north of Waskesiu.
“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.”
Most of the time, she’s had her trusty co-pilot Leslee Newman along to enjoy the adventure and diarize the trip.
“They were just jotted down and in various states of legibility because sometimes the roads are very bumpy,” Newman said with a coil bound notepad in her hand.
The duo did more than push pins into a map.
“It didn’t count if we didn’t go in so our rule was that we had to go in. Generally speaking we took a photograph,” Bitner explained.
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They’ve seen everything from the great wall of Saskatchewan in Smiley, to Indigenous petroglyphs at St. Victor, to boot hill south of Sceptre – appropriately named for the wood apparatus that stands there with dozens of cowboy boots nailed to it.
The adventure began during Saskatchewan’s centennial year with a plan to visit 100 places in the province. Bitner was hooked “because we were having such a good time exploring the province, we just kept on going.”
In June, one day after Bitner retired, she and Newman set out to cross the remaining 22 locations off the list, 961 in all.
“The image of Saskatchewan as flat and boring is so not deserved. 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,” Newman said.
“I’ve learned a lot,” said Bitner. “Or if I meet somebody from anywhere in the province, I can say, ‘yes I’ve been there.’”
And the adventure isn’t over. The two have their eyes on Narrow Hills, Gem Lakes and the Hanson Lake Road north of the 54th parallel.