It’s the Little Things

Spring may be in the air, but it’s still winter on the ground. Desperate to get outside in the fresh air, I passed up the muddy, slushy grid roads around town, and headed, instead, for the sidewalks of Battleford. This is where the Battle River joins the North Saskatchewan. The area has a rich fur trade history dating back to the 1770s, but that’s not what I’d be looking for in town.

Battleford became the capital of the North-West Territories in 1876 with a North-West Mounted Police post and an official town site. In 1883, the capital moved to Regina, as did the Canadian Pacific Railroad’s plans for its main line. In 1905, the Canadian Northern Railway also chose to bypass the town by building on the north bank of the North Saskatchewan River. Even so, Battleford remained a “government centre for land title registration, a judicial district and an Indian Affairs office“. It was a prosperous time, and the town’s heritage buildings still reflect this.

Battleford Town Hall, SK
The Town Hall, one of four red brick heritage buildings still in use today in Battleford, SK

The downtown core is about 4 blocks square. It’s an easy walk on paved sidewalks, and a couple of small pocket parks offer shade on a sunny day. The Town of Battleford is proud of its past, and much information about its history and heritage is online for visitors. The key stops on a downtown walking tour would be the four red brick, ornately trimmed government buildings still in use today: the Court House & Land Titles (1907), Town Hall (1912), and Post Office (1911).

Although these beautiful old buildings are, without doubt the main attraction, it’s always fun to poke around to find the less obvious treasures. For example:

  • The Queen’s Hotel (1883): From boarding house, to hotel, to student residence, then to rooming house and hotel. Which incarnation, I wonder, was responsible for the brick entry and the very narrow staircase leading to the second floor?
  • The Windsor Hotel (1910): Outside, at street level, is a large iron cover embossed with the words “John East Iron Works.” In 1910, John East had just opened a foundry in Saskatoon and his primary product was manhole covers, which were used in water distribution and sewage systems. Question: Was this cover lifted to fill a cistern, or extract sewage?
  • Former bank (1910): I was spotted taking photos of one particular brick-faced building along main street when the organization kindly invited me inside. They shared what they knew of the building’s history i.e. the date of construction but did not know who the first tenant might have been. However, they let me take a picture of the original door to the bank vault. Now how cool was that?

I finished my afternoon tour with a few photos of the false front buildings still in use on the main avenue. Then, I decided I’d have to come back in a couple of months when the ice cream stand was open. Many of Battleford’s historic sites are seasonal including the Fred Light Museum and Fort Battleford National Historic Site. The North West Mounted Police Cemetery is always accessible to the public except, of course, when it’s covered in snow.

Sunday Sunshine: Afternoons on the Road

Rain or shine, for me, it’s all about being on the road. I like to stop for historic markers, and keep my eye out for any, and all signage that may hint of a former overland trail. It’s almost like solving a mystery: it takes knowing a bit of background, being on the alert for clues, and then putting it all together, which in some cases only happens with luck!

Today’s #SundaySunshine is all about the clues:

Hay Lakes road sign
This road sign led me to a dead end at a T-intersection. But with help from Google and the Alberta Register of Historic Places, I discovered that the Village of Hay Lakes used to be the location of a telegraph station that went live on Nov. 20, 1877 when it passed a message from Fort Saskatchewan to Battleford. The Hay Lakes Trail probably refers to the original telegraph line, which would have provided access to the station, as well as a route north. Two and a half years later, I found the cairn below:
Telegraph Flat cairn, Battleford, SK
“Telegraph Flat was named in 1876 when the Dominion Telegraph company opened its western terminus office on this site.” The cairn is located on the west side of Highway 4, across the fields from Fort Battleford National Historic Site, Battleford, SK. Fort Battleford was the original capital of the old Northwest and an important stop on the Carlton Trail.
Post Office Ranch sign, Carlton Trail, SK
The Post Office Ranch sign is located on the Carlton Trail, SK on the way to Fort Pitt. I imagine it to once also have been an overnight stopping place for travelers, or maybe even a general store. And, what these imaginings mean is that I haven’t really done any further research. Yet.
Victoria Hotel, Bruderheim, AB
The Carlton Trail included a segment known as the Victoria Trail, which connected Victoria Settlement with Fort Edmonton. The hamlet of Bruderheim traces its origins to the efforts of a Scotsman and rancher named William Leslie, who in 1892 had taken a homestead at the present town site, also operating a store from his cabin on the Victoria Trail.”
Victoria Fancy Sausage store on 111 avenue, Edmonton, AB
It turns out that Edmonton’s Victoria Fancy Sausage & Delicatessen was originally located in Beverly, a small community on the eastern outskirts of the capital region. The Victoria Trail passed through Beverly to join up with the Jasper Trail (now Jasper Avenue) which connected Fort Edmonton to Jasper, AB.

Connections are everywhere. It’s all about finding the dots. Of course, there are red herrings out there, too, but for me, Sunday afternoons are made for this!

All photos, except where noted, copyright D. MacLeod. All rights reserved.

Flashback Friday: Prairie Wool

prairie wool
Prairie wool, Western Development Museum, North Battleford, SK

Prior to settlement, the short grass prairie of southwestern Alberta and southern Saskatchewan (a.k.a. Palliser’s Triangle) supported large migratory herds of buffalo, antelope, and deer. With the near extermination of the buffalo in the 1880s, these wide-open spaces were soon filled with cattle, and the cowboys that herded them. As long as the snow pack was such that the cattle could paw through it to access the grasses, there would be a reliable and affordable food supply twelve months of the year.

The native grass, also known as buffalo grass or prairie wool, had already spent thousands of years adapting to the poor soil conditions and semi-arid climate of this corner of the Great Plains. With a root system reaching up to five feet in length, prairie wool matured in early August, and then retained its nutritional value as it dried. Early settlers used the grass to feed their horses and build sod hut shelters.

Most of the short-grass prairie was plowed under in the early 1900s, and eventually proved unsuitable for farming (see map below). The dust bowl conditions of the Dirty Thirties are well known. Today, much of this land has returned to ranching, with the exception of a few native mixed-grass prairie ecosystems, one of which is protected within Grasslands National Park in southern Saskatchewan.

All photos, except where noted, copyright D. MacLeod. All rights reserved.

Poetry Rings

Louise McKinney Waterfront Park
Louise McKinney Riverfront Park, Edmonton, AB

beginnings just appear
so like a drowsy eye
 
suddenly awake
where a river wells up
 
uncoiling from the ice
where snug beside the land
 
it lay dreaming at
our feet in quiet sleep

E.D. Blodgett

In September 2008, poetry rings decorating 40 light standards in Louise McKinney Riverfront Park were unveiled. Etched on each one was an excerpt, in one of six languages, from Poems for a Small Park by Edmonton’s former Poet Laureate, E.D. Blodgett. The poems and their method of presentation were specifically created as public art for the park and, in 2009, the installation won an Edmonton Urban Design Award of Merit.

“Like time and history, the river is always flowing away, always moving on, so, I’m trying to punctuate, slow down that flow with these poems,” says Blodgett. – Edmonton Journal, September 4, 2008

poem samples, cree, cree syllabics, french, english
The poems were written in English and French and translated into Cree, Michif, Chinese, and Ukrainian to recognize the multicultural nature of the city.

With sweeping views of the North Saskatchewan River, it’s easy to take a seat and find your own inspiration, here, on the river.

All photos, except where noted, copyright D. MacLeod. All rights reserved.

Sunday Sunshine: A Prairie View

frosted trees, Cut Knife, SK
Facing west from the entrance of the Clayton McLain Memorial Museum, Cut Knife, SK (2018)

All photos, except where noted, copyright D. MacLeod. All rights reserved.

Trail Markers

The 2019 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race a.k.a The Last Great Race is into its fifth day. Racing from Willow through to Nome, the route approximates the old freight route, and covers 1000 miles of Alaskan wilderness. “The mushers travel from checkpoint to checkpoint much as the freight mushers did eighty years ago.” Even though cell phones, satellite tracking devices, and GPS units are standard gear today, old-fashioned trail markers remain an essential part of the historic trail.

To get a feel for what mushing in the north looks like, Blair Braverman‘s article Meet 5 of the Women Racing in this Year’s Ititarod includes accompanying photos and videos by Kiliii Yuyan that are simply spectacular. Falling snow with limited visibility, unfamiliar terrain, wild animals, and even sleep deprivation are potential threats to a team’s safety. But, losing the trail on frozen lakes or sea ice is not something a musher wants to add to that list. Open spaces on the Trail are marked with distinctive wooden tripods.

Photo of Robert Sørlie’s team approaching Nome, 2007. (Note the tripod-style log marker on the right. These tripods are used year round to mark open spaces on the Trail i.e. marshes.)

#FlashbackFriday

When Europeans began to explore the continent, circa the 1500s, they discovered that indigenous North Americans had a well-established system of way-markers in place for their trails. This shouldn’t be a surprise since First Nations peoples had been traveling over this vast expanse of land since at least the end of the last ice age, approximately 20,000 years ago.

Trail marking methods varied greatly, depending on available materials. For example, in temperate climates, hard wood trees were selected, then manipulated to form particular shapes. Trail marker and signal trees were used as tools for navigation, and as signposts for sites of a religious or ceremonial nature.  To read more, visit the Great Lakes Trail Marker Tree Society and Indian Trail Trees.

In more barren terrain, for example in the arctic regions of most northern countries, large single rocks and arrangement of stones acted as markers for a wide variety of activities. They were reference markers and points of navigation; they marked hunting or fishing spots, camps, food caches or sacred places. Some argue that the human-shaped inukshuk, which we know so well, today, is a post-European development. These rock structures have come to symbolize the North for many of us and many are, in fact, still in use today. For more on Inukshuk, visit Wikipedia and the The Canadian Encyclopedia.

Poundmaker Powwow 2012

ABOUT

In July 2012, the Poundmaker Cree Nation hosted an International Powwow, produced in commemoration of the 125th Anniversary of the Northwest Resistance.

Pow-wows celebrate the circle of life by bringing our communities together to sing, dance, and renew kinship bonds and friendships. The dancers form the center of the circle, with drum groups around them forming another circle, with the audience as the next circle…

Today, Pow-wow dancers are considered contemporary warriors, who are the survivors of a war that has been won in terms of retaining an Indian way of life. To be a Pow-wow participant is to honour the struggle of our ancestors and their desire to preserve Indian cultural ways. The Pow-wow is Indian and, as long as it continues, we as Indian people will continue.

Our Legacy

THE EVENT

We found a parking spot in the field, then wandered through the rows of vehicles and campers, past the food kiosks and craft vendors to the circular structure in the middle of the sports field. The performance area was protected from the sun by a canvas roof. Bleachers were set up under the tent on the periphery of the dance floor with the MC’s booth located at the southwest corner. The drumming and singing groups were set up next to the dance area, in front of the bleachers. Slowly, the spectators finished their visiting, and eating, and shopping, and came inside to fill the stands.

Grand Entry, Poundmaker Powwow 2012

The Grand Entry always begins the event. This is the parade of dignitaries and dancers who enter to the accompaniment of the singers and drummers. First, the Flag bearers, then, the Chiefs, followed by the Warriors (a.k.a. the Veterans), the Princesses, and the male and female dancers grouped according to age and dance type: Men’s Fancy dancers, Grass dancers, Chicken dancers, Traditional dancers, and sometimes, Hoop dancers; Women’s Fancy Shawl dancers, Jingle dancers and Traditional dancers. The Grand Entry is followed by a Round Dance that invites all spectators, and dancers to share in the healing properties of dance and community. Then the dancing begins in earnest.

Grand Entry, Poundmaker Powwow 2012

It’s difficult to describe how powerful the dancing can be. There are beautiful costumes, beaded, fringed and feathered, whirling and jingling, adorning dancers whose performance is at once, both athletic and spiritual. The drum beats are loud and deep and rhythmic while the singing is high and pure. It’s just an amazing and unforgettable experience for everyone involved. If you have an opportunity to attend a powwow this powwow season, it’s not to be missed.

LINKS

All photos, except where noted, copyright D. MacLeod. All rights reserved.

Flashback Friday: Traditional Colours

Traditional Ukrainian Farmhouse, Western Development Museum, North Battleford, SK

Another frigid winter day in west central Saskatchewan as I not-so-patiently await the spring. My thoughts have turned to gardening, heritage vegetable seeds, and perennial flowers like the ones I saw a few years ago in North Battleford. This traditional Ukrainian farmhouse is located in the Western Development Museum’s Heritage Village at the corner of Highway 40 and the Yellowhead.

A woven wooden fence surrounds the front flower bed and a plank sidewalk leads the way inside. It’s not surprising that an abundance of yellow flowers are growing on the doorstep of a Ukrainian pioneer family’s home. Reds, oranges, yellows, and browns were traditional colours used in the art of egg decorating, or pysanky, to celebrate the festival of spring. Dyes were created from natural materials, like flowers and plants.

All photos, except where noted, copyright D. MacLeod. All rights reserved.

Waiting…

Autumn arrives in early morning, but spring at the close of a winter day.

Elizabeth Bowen
Pigeon Lake at the end of the day, view through the trees
Pigeon Lake, AB (2016)

All photos, except where noted, copyright D. MacLeod. All rights reserved.

‘After Silence’ for Rachel Carson

… In balance: here’s life, here’s death,
and this is eternity holding its breath.

Neil Gaiman

From After Silence: Amanda Palmer Reads Neil Gaiman’s Stunning Poem Celebrating Rachel Carson’s Legacy of Culture-Shifting Courage by Maria Popova