Feature: The long distance drive, a journey through time   Part two travel car culture
2006 Hyundai Accent at the Alberta/Saskatchewan border. Click image to enlarge

Article and photos by Grant Yoxon

Day three would prove to be a long day, but a day punctuated by pleasant memories of youthful travels and prairie hospitality. With 110 kilometres/hour speed limits and a four-lane highway through Saskatchewan, it was easy even for the Accent to cover mostly flat ground in a very short time. Leaving Medicine Hat by 7:00 a.m., I reached Regina by 11:30 and stopped for lunch.

About 50 kilometres east of Regina, I passed by the small town of Mclean where I spotted a small church just off the highway. On the day before Mother’s Day in 1971 Jimmy and I found ourselves across the road from that same church, having spent all of that day with thumbs outreached, but without any luck at all.

As the Sun sank in the west and the cool night air descended on us, a woman crossed over the highway from the town and approached us.

“I’ve seen you here all day,” she said, with a serious look on her face. “And it looks like you might be here all night. Would you like to sleep in the church?”

Gladly, we accepted her offer and she showed us into a small community room adjacent to the main church.

“You can sleep on the floor here. Just don’t go in the church. There is coffee in the cupboard and if you look around, you might find some cookies. As she left, she turned to us, wagged a finger and warned, “I live next door, so no funny stuff.” She turned to leave then looked back one more time. “And please be out before Church at 10:00.”

We had no inclination for funny stuff and we certainly didn’t want to be there at 10:00 the next morning. We were too tired after several days of travelling and the monotony of waiting for a ride. In the morning, we made coffee and indeed did find cookies in a cupboard and well before parishioners arrived we were back on the highway, thumbs uplifted in an eastward direction.

At 9:30 we saw the minister arrive at the church. At 10:00 the parking lot was full. At 10 minutes past 11:00, the parking lot was once again empty. Then the minister left. And we were still in McLean.

We thought we might spend another day in McLean when an old sedan finally pulled over just before noon. As we approached, the driver stepped out and told us, “I’m not going far, just 10 miles down the road. I can drive you there if you’re interested.” He was a young man, not much older than ourselves, but judging by his collar, he was a priest.

“That’s just fine”, we said in unison, anxious just to move for a change. It didn’t take long for the priest to learn just about everything he needed to know about us – where we were coming from, where we were going to, where was home and where we had we eaten that day.

“Just some coffee and cookies,” I said.

“Well,” he said, I’m only having hot dogs for lunch, but you’re welcome to join me.” We agreed and 10 miles up the Trans-Canada Highway, he pulled off on a road that led toward a town called Qu’Appelle.

We stopped in front of a large rectory next to an equally large church, Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church. The young priest led us inside into a large country kitchen and began to pull out the makings for lunch from the fridge as Jimmy and I made ourselves comfortable at the table.