Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Prairie haven

Just park the car and explore on foot

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MOOSE JAW -- In the 1920s Prohibition-era, Moose Jaw, or "Little Chicago," was reputed to be the choice destination of notorious gangsters like Chicago bootlegger Al Capone.

In the late 1800s, Moose Jaw was a major railway hub. The Chicago Soo Line stopped in the city--which is why the Capone connection is given credence.

Whether or not the feisty mobster really took refuge in the Prairie city doesn't really matter to me. Moose Jaw is still my favourite place to go to the mattresses (lay low) when I'm overdue for a holiday.

My partner Grant and I have been to the city three times in three years and every visit seems to build on the last one. The best part of this compact city of just over 32,000 is you can leave the car in the parking lot and explore on foot.

It's now a family tradition to begin our Moose Jaw getaway with lunch at Yvette Moore Gallery (76 Fairford Street W.). The artist and entrepreneur's gift shop and café is housed in the ornate former Land Titles Office. The Copper Café's airy ambiance and fresh menu make it a popular destination for savvy tourists and locals. Their diverse menu features fresh homemade fare like non-alcoholic saskatoon berry champagne, summer sweet pea spinach soup with cream and honey-orange-dill spinach salad topped with chicken.

After Grant and I enjoy the last savoury bite of their infamous saskatoon berry pie, we wander around the quaint heritage-themed gift shop in search of gourmet jams and jellies we can't find on supermarket shelves.

Our next favourite whistle stop is the Moose Jaw Art Gallery and Museum. Located adjacent to the beautiful Moose Jaw Library in scenic Crescent Park, this cultural centre is a boon for curious cultural tourists and is just a short walk from Main Street.

Saskatchewan landscape painter Dorothy Knowles is the featured artist at the gallery this summer and her humble interpretation of the Saskatchewan countryside is delicately rendered. The exhibition, which runs until September 7, is curated by Terry Fenton and features a solid survey of Knowles' best work. If you have some extra time, take in the riveting documentary Between the North Pole and New York City (2004) about the Emma Lake Workshop, Saskatchewan artists and the influential New York art critic Clement Greenberg.

After our soul enriching gallery visit, it's foraging time again. This summer we made a great new restaurant discovery: Renate's Tea Time (125b Main Street N.). Teetotalers can relax and savour the very upscale and tasty English-style High Tea. Owner and pastry chef Renate Riesch serves up creamy strawberry-flavoured millefeuilles, succulent fresh strawberries dipped in Callebaut chocolate, delicate cucumber sandwiches, scones with cream and jam all washed down with a heady selection of over 200 varieties of aromatic black and herbal teas. Riesch requires 24 hours notice to book a High Tea as everything she serves, like her moist and delicious apple strudel, is custom-baked for your own private tea.

After a very filling High Tea we amble back to the hotel room at Temple Gardens Mineral Spa and Resort and slip into our cosy terry towel robes. I've still got a few hours to linger with a good book before my evening mud wrap and manicure at the Sun Tree Spa. Grant is keen to indulge his CFL football addiction so we are both happy.

In this CFL-crazy province, another leisure activity is quickly gaining ground: spa visits. Moose Jaw is the hottest spa destination on the Prairies. With 25 day spas to attract spa trippers and its convenient location 65 kilometres west of Regina the former mob town has morphed into retreat central.

The Temple Garden's Mineral Spa and Resort Hotel is the undisputed queen of the spas with its marvelous mineral pool and popular Sun Tree Spa (www.templegardens.sk.ca/spa_services.html). The spa is a wonderland of mud wraps, rose hip wraps, massages, facials, manicures and other hedonistic pampering. (Insider's Tip: Book your spa treatments when you reserve your room as the Sun Tree Spa is booked solid on weekends.)

On the day spa front, spa-goers can experience an upscale exotic pampering experience like the Indonesian-style Sahara Spa (www.saharaspa.ca/) with its jamu massage techniques and calm surroundings. Sahara even offers a couple's jamu massage, so if holiday togetherness is your goal, you can even share a treatment room.

If you want to stick with the historical Moose Jaw theme, you can find a more heritage feel with New Element Relaxation Spa (436 Langdon Crescent) located in a charming turn of the century house right down the street from Temple Gardens. New Elements waiting area features heritage wallpaper and lush chintz chairs where you can sink in and enjoy a cup of herbal tea before your treatment.

Throughout our four-day stay, the halls of Temple Gardens Mineral Spa and Resort Hotel are littered with very relaxed patrons ambling around in their matching white robes. If you wanted to, you could effectively go to the king-sized mattresses here, order in, and never leave the building.

If you do choose to venture out, there are plenty of great downtown restaurants. A new Vietnamese place, Saigon57 Restaurant (314 Main St. N.) just opened this summer and their spring rolls are fresh and tasty as are their vermicelli noodle bowls. Amuze Lounge and Tapas (237 Main St. N.) offers casual dining and cocktails for a romantic evening for two. The Hopkins Dining Parlour is just off Main Street (65 Athabasca St. W.) and their menu includes steak, chicken and seafood and traditional hors d'oeuvres.

For daytime diversions, the most popular local attraction, The Tunnels of Moose Jaw (www.tunnelsofmoosejaw.com/), is located right downtown on lower Main Street. The Chicago Connection Tours let you play gangster. And Moose Jaw's Trolley Company conducts entertaining historic tours in a beautifully restored trolley car.

This summer they've added a very popular Saturday night Ghost Tour.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 9, 2008 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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