By Wayne Litke
There is a certain degree of comfort in repetition. In fact, repetition leads to the creation of habits which then facilitate the development of a routine and ultimately a lifestyle. Last week, I was thinking about being stuck in a groove and the number of times we simply go through the motions every day and never give life a second thought.
It was at this time that my wife suggested we make a small road trip on the weekend and take in some events in the area. I immediately came up with several reasons why it made more sense to stay at home. For example, the camper had not yet been loaded on the truck and required a little maintenance work, our yard work had not been completed and to top it off, I was feeling tired – more like drained.
However, knowing that a change is as good as a rest (and sometimes psychologically better), I agreed and we made the necessary preparations. The old Big Foot camper was loaded on our not-quite-as-old truck and was filled with water and other essentials. The camper gives us all the comforts of home, except for space, so I do not consider it to be on par with real camping or tenting and all the adventure and memories it brings.
With the goal of visiting more local attractions this summer, we headed toward Empress. Knowing we simply cannot visit every local site and take in all the events in one summer, we decided to start the summer with a trip to Sagebrush Studio and Art Galleries. It is operated by Fran and Dean Francis and is a beautiful place for several reasons. Firstly, a white building surrounded by a forest of green vegetation makes a vivid contrast for anyone seeing the property for the first time.
We drove to Leader and then took the Estuary ferry across the South Saskatchewan River. As we left the ferry landing and slowly ascended a long hill northward, a stark white building on the horizon caught my attention and fueled my curiosity. Upon reaching Sagebrush Studios it became apparent the building was one of three art galleries on the Francis property. The sea of green is 20 acres of well-landscaped trees, shrubs and grass that follow the lay of the land and provide a stunningly beautiful surrounding for three old churches that now serve as art galleries.
It is a place of total serenity, largely hidden in a small valley and surrounded by an ocean of rolling prairie hills and gullies. However, it was a busy place Saturday and Sunday as vehicles filled the parking area during an open house. The event featured a piper, musicians in the galleries, refreshments and a few vendors who offered unique and quality products for sale.
All three galleries seemed to beckon and the artwork and atmosphere inside each was stunning. After finding a photo album in the Pinkham Gallery, it became apparent how much work had gone into the moving of the old churches, their renovation and the development of the surrounding property. There simply is not enough space in this column to describe the work that Fran and Dean have put into the property . . . and then there is Dean’s impressive artwork that simply must be seen to be appreciated.
From Sagebrush Studio and Art Galleries we made the short drive west to Empress. We quickly discovered the beauty of the community is in its 180 residents. While the town may lack businesses, it offers a wealth of friendship and down-home hospitality to anyone who drops in.
Of course, a person cannot visit Empress without stopping at That’s Empressive. Ross, an owner with a magnetic personality, immediately made us feel like one of the family. Before leaving, we had learned why he moved to Empress and began operating a business, the rules of engagement if attending the early morning breakfast club and information about local events such as free movie nights for children.
We spent the night at Peter Fidler Campground overlooking the Red Deer River. The small town has two campgrounds and we opted for the most remote one and were not disappointed. It was so quiet that the wonderful chirps and calls of birds were the only sounds we heard. The day ended with an evening stroll along the river and peaceful sleep. The morning began with an incredible sunrise and was topped off with a great brunch prepared by Dano (who can speak five languages) at the Agridome.
On our return trip, we stopped at another open house at Spruce Creek Antiques south of Leader and literally got lost in the past. The business is owned and operated by Deb and Wayne Wenzel. It houses a huge number of quality antiques that are exquisitely displayed. In fact, the displays irresistibly cause a desire to explore the building’s full length which culminates with small rooms at the rear where even more treasures reside. Perhaps that type of intrigue was part of Wenzels’ planning as the antique store is itself somewhat hidden by evergreen trees.
Wayne and Deb were more than happy to show us around the store and explain the history behind items and the factors that determine their value. It felt great to be around items that were considerably older than myself and a little disconcerting as I spotted a few items from my youth. It was a great trip down memory lane and my imagination danced with ideas of redecorating our house with a nostalgic flare. As for me, I am definitely not antique – I am a classic. Now I just have to convince my wife and I will have time to do that on our next road trip.