This week I was away for two days to Edmonton and Grand Cache, Alberta. We flew from Saskatoon International Airport (John Diefenbaker Airport) to Edmonton International Airport on Wednesday, February 23 (Bran’s 51st birthday). Our flight left at a fairly decent hour (about 10:45) instead of the usual before dawn flights. We arrived about 5 minutes before we left. Yeah, we went from one time zone to another. We picked up our car rental right after. Because we’d be going to Grand Cache we got a 4 wheel drive vehicle, a fairly recent Jeep Grand Cherokee.
I have to say I liked it a lot. It was reasonably comfortable, and had a few fun bells and whistles. Unlike our Volvo it had cup holders. That might seem a trivial thing, but when you don’t have cup holders you can’t even pick up a cup of coffee to take to work because there’s no place to put the damned thing while you drive. Of course it was automatic (being a rental they don’t generally have manual transmissions). The radio had a large screen where you could see what you were listening to. It had a hard drive where songs were stored (a lot of Eminem, Tupoc and other rappers). There was also a CD player behind the screen but we didn’t figure out how to work it. Not having CDs helped us not worry about that. There were controls set into the back of the steering wheel. Every function of the radio can be safely accessed without removing one’s hands from the wheel.
There were other controls that personalize the driving experience that could be accessed from buttons on the front of the steering wheel. My co-worker checked them out but didn’t set any of them. All in all it was a very nice drive in that vehicle. The one major drawback to the Jeep is that it doesn’t have great gas mileage. I know I shouldn’t expect that, but still.
The first place we went to was Edmonton Institute for Women (EIFW) in Edmonton proper. It’s a penitentiary that houses all security levels from minimum to maximum. They have a version of the men’s special handling unit (SHU). It’s very small though. There are three pods in the max house, each housing 6 to 8 women with one or two rooms double bunked. As with male prisons they have to be mindful of incompatibles, people who can’t be housed together because of conflicts. Only one pod is released for daily exercise and such at a time to prevent incidents. There is one woman that is up for Dangerous Offender status because of her propensity to try and take hostages. Thus far EIFW is the only women’s prison where she’s not successfully taken hostages.
The remainder of the population is held in houses around the main buildings. Each house has 8 to 10 bedrooms, a main common area and a kitchen. The women can either pool their weekly pay and buy groceries together or they can work individually. If they pool their money and purchases then they can get more and better groceries. It also allows each woman to keep more of her money for personal items. Once a month or so a volunteer goes out and purchases items for the women. They can get such things as hair dye, cosmetics, CDs, video games, etc. Also, unlike the men in a large male institution, the women are allowed to wear more in the way of street clothing. There is also a high needs (usually mental health) house called Hummingbird House. Women come and stay there for 4 months in an very supervised and intensively programmed environment. There is always a CX (guard) in the house and during the day there is a psychologist, social worker and program worker in house. This way the skills the women learn are always reinforced and they can be called to task immediately at times when they fail to use their new coping skills. This is more effective in halting unhealthy behaviours than waiting until the next day. It also helps avoid having volatile situations escalate.
After our tour there we began the 4 plus hours drive to Grand Cache. All I can say to this is that Alberta drivers are nuts. Really. The highway speed is 110 kph (68 mph). My co-worker was going 115 kph (71 mph) and a lot of the drivers were passing us as though we were driving at city speed. It was scary. This was on the Yellowhead highway #16 (the northern TransCanada). When we turned off the #16 and onto the #40 things changed somewhat. First off, it wasn’t a divided highway. Next the speed limit was 100 kph (62 mph). This highway was somewhat twisty and started the journey into the foothill mountains of the Rockies. There were sharper turns and twists, hills and dales and lots and lots of areas where passing wasn’t permitted. Add to that we were driving at dusk and night. Again, there were autos passing us at regular intervals. Not only personal vehicles but semi carrying full loads passed us. Many of those passing us did so in areas where passing wasn’t permitted and downright dangerous because we were going up a hill or there was a turn around a hill making it impossible to see if there was oncoming traffic. It was risky behaviour that had me thinking they were dying to get where they were going and weren’t averse to taking other people with them.
The hotel we stayed at was Best Western in Grand Cache. We arrived after sunset. They had two buildings, one for (I assume) longer term stays and the other for the hotel proper. Of course we went to the wrong building first. We finally checked in and got to eat. I had chicken Alfredo with broccoli. It was incredibly meh. The sauce was virtually flavourless and watery. The Caesar salad I had as an appetizer was good though. (I took a photo of it and of our lunch earlier in the day at Fatburger). That night I found out that we couldn’t close the curtains for privacy. They had sheers then over that they had curtains on short rods. This meant that a ground floor room was open to view to anyone who wanted to peek in. I know I’m no great beauty, but I do like to be concealed from the eyes of strangers when I’m changing clothes. It can also present a significant security issue. I shall be visiting their web site and making the suggestion that they offer full drapes that close all the way. Aside from the security issue, it means that sunshine cannot be shut out of a room if one needs to get some sleep in the day time. Non-functioning drapes are just stupid. I’ll be going to their website and leaving a comment or two about that.
After breakfast (scrambled eggs, breakfast sausage, hash browns, toast and coffee) we went to the men’s prison. It’s situated down hill from town of Grand Cache in a valley. This is a medium-minimum institution. There we talked to all the institutional parole officers (IPOs) about our half-way house and the Reporting Centre program. Then we spoke to a prisoner who plans, and has been accepted at the house, to move to Saskatoon. This gives him familiar faces when he gets to our place. Then we talked to the inmate reps who represent all the prisoners and advocate for them within the institution. From there we went to the Pathways House. This is a program that focuses on Aboriginal prisoners who want to work on healing themselves from issues such as childhood abuse, alcohol and drug addictions and learning the ways of their cultures. It’s a fairly intensive program that prisoners have to prove themselves to get into. They work with Elders and help each other in their attempts to make sure they don’t keep repeating the patterns of behaviours that brought them to prison in the first place.
After that it was the long drive back to Edmonton. We went to West Edmonton Mall to shop around a bit and eat supper. My co-worker picked up a pair of sweats for her boyfriend and drooled over purses. I wasn’t able to buy anything with cash and didn’t want to use the credit card unnecessarily. That mall is impressive. I got thoroughly lost. Oddly enough we found a parking spot only two rows from an entrance. Go figure.
The flight home was on a different air line. We flew Air Canada Jazz to Edmonton. We would have flown home on Air Canada (the only direct flight) if they had more than one flight per day. We would have had to stay another night in Edmonton to do so. Instead we flew West Jet to Calgary and Calgary to Saskatoon. This flight was around 8:30 to Calgary then a wait until the flight from Calgary to Saskatoon. We arrived at nearly 1 am in Saskatoon. I took lots of photos on my trip but wasn’t able to on the flight home. I didn’t have a window seat and so wasn’t able to get night photos of landing in Saskatoon. I had two window hogs between me (on the aisle) and the window. That sucked. Flying kind of sucks. The seats are narrow and they aren’t very comfortable. By the time I got home my butt was in need of not sitting on hard surfaces. It was a great relief to get home.
As I mentioned before, I took lots of photos. The ones from the plane have a decided blue hue to them. That is what comes from taking photos of snow. Here’s the slide show of my adventures: Trip to Edmonton/Grand Cache