Gravelbourg: a prairie cathedral town
Saskatchewan seems an odd place for an English-French showdown, with the Québec border approximately 2,000 kilometres east. However, Gravelbourg isn't your typical Saskatchewan town.
Originally a French settlement founded in 1906, it boasts a cathedral, a bishop’s residence and a few Victorian buildings (mostly neo-classical) that now house a college, an elementary school and a library, respectively. Many buildings of the era are still standing.
All the paintings within the cathedral interior were done by one man, Father Maillet. However, the stained glass windows are recent, a gift from France in the 70s, since the originals were painted glass and not as lovely.
The cathedral tour guide imparts some humorous anecdotes. Originally, the cathedral was entirely francophone, so much of the writing is in French. For instance, Father Maillet painted the names of the seven deadly sins along the walls. One day, someone decided that wasn’t right, because English people sin too. So he added the English before getting caught.
Midnight mass at the Cathedral is in both French and English, which makes the service run for two to three hours. However, everyone attends it. The cathedral used to be named after Ste-Philomène, but Church officials discovered she wasn't a real saint, so they changed it to Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption (our lady of the Assumption). It’s called a co-cathedral because Gravelbourg no longer has its own bishop, and the townspeople have to share one with Regina.
In addition to the cathedral tour, there's a small museum in town, with very friendly volunteers and information in both English and French.
Available accommodations include the Gravelbourg Inn, which seems to have the most amenities for the lowest price. However, as a tourist experience, the Historic Bishops Residence Bed and Breakfast (sic) appears to be the most intriguing.
On the way back to the Trans-Canada Highway, Highway 43 from Gravelbourg to Highway 4 is one of the worst-kept stretches of road in Canada. Patches of new and lumpy, badly laid asphalt dot the road all the way down. Some stretches are unpaved, or barely, very rough to drive on. Prairie dogs skitter constantly back and forth in front of cars.
Highway 4 is the turnoff for the Trans-Canada. However, the closest pump and gas store, in Neville, are closed. The next operating gas station is in Swift Current.