Blowing in on the Wind

When I sat down to write Winter Walks, my intention was to describe the wind at Fort Battleford on Canada Day last year. However, at the time, the only thing I had on my mind was the polar vortex and the arctic windchill temperatures in the week’s forecast. Today, the weather has moderated, although the wind is ever present.

The sea, the woods, the mountains, all suffer in comparison with the prairie… The prairie has a stronger hold upon the senses.

Albert Pike, Journey in the Prairies (during 1831-32)

I like visiting Fort Battleford National Historic Site. It sits on a ridge above a flood plain at the confluence of the North Saskatchewan and the Battle rivers in the Town of Battleford (It’s the Little Things), SK. Annual July 1st celebrations have become less elaborate over time with fewer attendees. I don’t know which came first: a dwindling public interest in the onsite event, or budget restrictions that forced cuts to activities. In any case, in 2019, and I’ll be honest, I was there for the cake.

blanket flower
Gaillarda / Blanket Flower

I’d found a seat at one of a couple dozen picnic tables set up in front of the flag pole. The Canadian maple leaf was already dancing in the wind. Soon, we’d stand for the singing of O Canada, the canon would be fired, then cake would be served. I’d tried to unfold my road map to weigh the afternoon’s possibilities but the wind was having none of that. Instead, I put the map away and sat back to enjoy the moment.

Clear blue skies, families filing in through the fort’s palisade gate, the odd prairie dog making a beeline to the next hole, and the thundering flap of the flag above it all. And then, something else. I caught a scent on the wind, a peppery, intriguing, familiar smell that took a minute to identify. It was sage, and I wondered… who would’ve sat in this same spot 150, 200, or 500 years ago, felt the same wind on their skin as I did that day, heard the same rustle of wind-tickled grasses in the fields, and recognized the same scent of sage blown in on the wind?

Fort Battleford Historic Site, Flags representing area First Nation communities & Treaty Six signatories
Fort Battleford: Flags representing the Treaty Six First Nations from the area, Battleford, SK

There was a new exhibit just outside the palisade gate, installed on Indigenous Day 2019. Twelve flags representing the Treaty Six First Nation communities from the area were raised on June 21, 2019 and “will fly up at the fort from now on.” These nations are Métis, Lucky Man, Thunderchild, Red Pheasant, Sweetgrass, Young Chippewayan, Mosquito, Grizzly Bear’s Head, Lean Man, Saulteaux, Little Pine, Moosomin, and Poundmaker. Before I left Battleford, I circled the fields around the fort. I found sage, creeping juniper, blanket flowers, wild strawberries, and blue-eyed grass. Buffaloberry bushes, their silvery leaves shining in the sun, tumbled over the ridge to the flats below.

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

Winter Walks

And all about him was the wind now, a pervasive sighing through great emptiness, as though the prairie itself was breathing in long gusting breaths, unhampered by the buildings of town…

W.O. Mitchell, Who Has Seen The Wind

As I write this, it’s -26 degrees Celsius outdoors with the prairie wind giving us a chill factor in the high -30s. One of the town’s regular walkers passed by earlier, heading backwards down the street to protect his face from the wind and a case of frostbite. Today, I’m thankful my only outdoor task will be to top up the bird feeders, but I also appreciate how rewarding a winter walk can be: weasel, fox, and deer tracks, bluejays screaming to each other, wind-carved shadows in the snow, rainbow-hued sun dogs, and recently, a morning hoar frost.

hoar frost, Cut Knife, SK
Hoar frost, Cut Knife, SK

Cold air prairie walks have a crisp edge to them, which for me seems to produce a clarity in thinking. So, while my brain is working on one thing, my senses are caught up in the sight and the sound and the feel of a beauty that makes every shivery, crunchy step completely worthwhile.

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

Hello Friends

Take the Trail is on hiatus effective immediately.

This blog is something I do in my spare time, but my spare time has become scarce, which may have become apparent by my lack of recent postings. I’ve taken on a six month contract which involves travel outside the province and there’s little time left for exploring prairie places.

I wanted to let Take the Trail’s followers, and visitors to the site, know they can expect posts to start up again in November/December 2019. Although, if time permits, you may see a random item or photo once in a while.

Thanks for stopping by. ~ D. MacLeod

Ravens at the Peace Park, Elk Point, AB

Yesterday, I pulled into the Elk Point welcome area to stretch my legs. I’d just shut the car door and turned to read the signage when I was accosted from above by a very vocal raven. At first, I wasn’t sure where the kerfuffle was coming from but within seconds, it flew out of the trees behind the Elk Point Centennial sign to land on the hat on Peter Fidler’s head. It was quickly followed by a second raven that perched on the posts to the right of the 32 ft. tall statue.

Peter Fidler Statue
Peter Fidler, Elk Point, AB with one of the squawking ravens on the posts to the right.

The Town of Elk Point is located near the historic fur trade competitors Fort George & Buckingham House on the North Saskatchewan River. These old Hudson’s Bay and North West trading companies were responsible for the original fur trade settlements that sprang up in the area in the late 1700s. Peter Fidler was a Hudson’s Bay Company fur trader, explorer, and surveyor. This chainsaw-carved statue commemorates the historic fur trade forts of the region’s past. The Peter Fidler Peace Park was established for Canada’s 125th Centennial:

Elk Point joined with other towns, villages, and cities across Canada in a celebration of Canada’s commitment to peace among all people of the world and peace with our common home and environment… planet Earth.

Peter Fidler Peace Park, Elk Point, AB

The first raven continued to squawk and posture the entire time I was there, which amounted to about 10 minutes, with the second raven chiming in occasionally. Check out their warm welcome on Facebook!

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

Murals

I love to see public art in outdoor spaces, even if it’s something I might not personally care for. Of course, artwork is never guaranteed to suit all tastes, but communities do try to please the majority of their residents. The photos below reflect the artistic outcomes for three communities that commissioned artwork to represent particular aspects of their history. These beautiful wall murals are the results.

Town of Cut Knife, SK:

mural
To celebrate the town’s 100th Anniversary, 2012, Cut Knife, SK

Village of Landis, SK:

outdoor mural, pioneer harvest
Pioneer harvest, Landis, SK

Town of Unity, SK:

Sounding Lake Trail map
The Sounding Lake Trail, Unity, SK

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

Sunday Sunshine: Old Man Buffalo

One spring day in 2016, after years of travelling back and forth along Hwy 14 (AB) / 40 (SK), I decided it was time to take a look at the Viking Ribstones. East of the town of Viking, AB is a pull-out with a provincial heritage marker describing Ribstones Historic Site. I’d stopped there many times, but had never ventured any further because the turn off wasn’t marked.** However, I’d recently come across instructions on how to reach the site, and that encouraged me to try a quick visit, without risk of losing time on a search.

ribstones enclosure
Ribstones Historic Site, east of Viking, AB

The Viking Ribstones are two quartzite boulders known as glacial erratics that identify an archaeological site going back to ancient times. These Boulder Petroglyphs have markings that resemble the spine and rib cage of a buffalo as well as smaller circular indentations whose purpose is unclear. Speculation suggests these pits could represent 1) arrow or bullet wounds, or 2) are the result of “repeated pounding done to replicate the sound of a running herd as part of a pre-hunt ceremony“, or 3) “may have been carved in imitation of the pock-marked surface of the Iron Creek Meteorite.” The
papamihaw asiniy (flying rock in Cree) or Iron Creek Meteorite could be seen from this hilltop until it was removed in 1866 by Missionary George McDougall.

boulder petroglyphs
Boulder Petroglyphs w/ markings

The Viking Ribstones are one of nine ribstone sites that have been found in Alberta. This location, on private land, is unique in that the boulders have not been disturbed or removed. In the 1950s, the area was ploughed, and at that time many ancient artifacts were uncovered. Historically, good luck offerings and prayers of thanks were given at ribstone sites to “Old Man Buffalo,” the spirit protector of the buffalo herds. Today, this hilltop remains a sacred site. Sweetgrass braids, offerings of tobacco, and colourful prayer flags on the surrounding trees and fencing are placed regularly, and should be respected.

SOURCES:

** Note: There is now signage marking the grid road south.

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

Sunday Sunshine: Signage!

Sign- Reserved Parking for Clergy, Tramping Lake, SK
Tramping Lake, SK: “Reserved Parking for Clergy” in front of St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church, which is still in operation.
New Idea No. 16 printed on antique farm equipment
Landis, SK: “New Idea No 16” – piece of antique farm equipment at the Landis Museum. I’m guessing this is a manure spreader because both New Ideas 15 and 17 are spreaders (?).
Sign- Village Office, Cando, SK
Cando, SK: “Village Office” no longer in use as Cando became an unincorporated hamlet in 2005, and now falls under the jurisdiction of the Rural Municipality of Rosemount No. 378.
Window sign, Books, Books, Books, Books, Perdue, SK
Perdue, SK: “Books, Books, Books, Books” – bookstore featured in MacLean’s magazine, which prompted me to make this my destination, today, “Canada’s most inconvenient bookstore is a ‘treasure’ on the Prairies

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

Updates: Buffalo Hunt & Hay Lakes Trail

If you were wondering whether or not the scheduled meetup between Mr. Steinhauer, Mr. Woolsey and John McDougall ever did happen, the answer is yes. The two groups, travelling from different directions, arrived within days of each other at the Cree camp of Chief Maskepetoon. They participated in a successful buffalo hunt, socialized and celebrated, then each returned to their respective settlements. McDougall and Mr. Woolsey’s route to Smoking Lake passed through Fort Edmonton:

Our course was now westward up the Battle River, and then northward for Edmonton… We went in by the “Bony Knoll” and what is now known as the “Hay Lake Trail,” camped twice, and reached the Saskatchewan opposite the fort in the evening of the third day. Swimming our horses, and crossing in a small boat, we resaddled and repacked and rode into the fort.”

in Parsons on the Plains by John McDougall, edited by Thomas Bredin

This paragraph was particularly interesting to me because of its mention of the Hay Lake Trail. I’d come across the name before on road signage, and then on a historical marker on Telegraph Flats outside of Fort Battleford, SK (Sunday Sunshine: Afternoons on the Road). I’d assumed that the trail came about from the telegraph, but I was wrong. It was obviously already in existence in 1862 when McDougall and Woolsey traveled north on it. Filling in blanks like this is great fun. My next google search will be “Bony Knoll.”

Grid Roads & Roadside Attractions

The population of Saskatchewan passed one million residents a few years ago. Almost half of them live in Regina and Saskatoon, with the remainder distributed sparingly throughout the province. Whatever the population density may be in real numbers, in actual fact, it can often feel like there’s no one else driving the back roads, except for me. Last Sunday I spent about four hours on the grid roads southwest of The Battlefords and met only three pick-ups and an ATV.

railway sign
Near Revenue, SK. Note that this railway line has been discontinued. The track no longer crosses the road. (Opportunity to create a rail-bed walking trail?)

On the one hand, travelling on back roads can be a challenge in a small, lightweight vehicle (i.e. Toyota subcompact). Slip-sliding over ridges of loose gravel can be hazardous if you’re not anticipating them, and I speak from experience. But, this is really the only negative part of grid road travel I can come up with because, on the other hand, the freedom of being the only one on the road makes this small discomfort completely worthwhile.

There are two types of attractions in prairie farm country that will prompt me to pull over: natural and man-made. And, although it may seem, from the photo above, that a person should be able to spot something coming a mile away, this is usually true with traffic, not so much with wildlife, signage, or historical markers. Visibility also varies with the season, which is why a sudden decision to stop, and being able to do so safely, is a wonderful bonus when driving less traveled roads.

slough w/ Canada & Snow geese
Snow geese & Canada geese visible on shoreline near Tramping Lake, SK

Now, about Sunday. To begin with, it’s the middle of the waterfowl migrations on the Central Flyway, and the small sloughs that polka dot last year’s harvested fields are often full of ducks and geese on their journeys north. It’s always a thrill to see the snow geese, the white birds with black wing tips, in amongst the more common Canada geese. All these birds, with their recognizable squawks and honkings, are so welcome after our long, cold winters.

I had just turned off Hwy 21, heading east on Hwy 374 towards Tramping Lake, when I had to stop to let a Canada goose cross the road. This guy was not going to let my intrusion into his space hurry him one little bit, which of course, was fine with me. This was my second experience with birds on the road that day. I’d already had to slow down a couple of miles earlier on Hwy 21 for a pair of Canada geese strolling towards traffic on the shoulder. Impossible to pass them, too, with a semi in the oncoming lane, but I was alright with that. This is what Sunday drives are for.

A couple of miles past the goose crossing, I came to a small rise on the left hand side of the road with a cemetery situated on top of it, and a school marker and flag just down the road. I pulled over onto the little bit of shoulder available knowing I’d be plenty visible to any one coming in either direction. As I walked up to the gate of Prairie Heights Cemetery, I was startled by a scrabbling in the grass. Then, two prairie chickens burst up into the air, wings flapping, squawking away, and I thought, “this is going to be a good day.”


In the early 1800s, an estimated 35 million bison were grazing the continent – the same as the population of pronghorn ranging from Alberta and Saskatchewan through the western United States and into northern Mexico… Both suffered from rampant hunting and habitat destruction and by 1924, just 20,000 pronghorn remained. Protection efforts have helped the species bounce back.

Dawn Walton, Pronghorns get free rein on the prairie
pronghorn about to cross the road
Pronghorn about to cross the road, southwest of Wilkie, SK

It turned out to be a great day. In addition to the geese and the prairie chickens, I also came across two groups of pronghorns: one with four animals and the second was a group of eight. My day also included trips to Tramping Lake and Revenue, SK – those stories yet to be told.

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

Sunday Sunshine: Alberta Badlands

view of the Red Deer River north of Drumheller, AB
View of the Red Deer River north of Drumheller, AB on an October (2016) weekend. We were too late in the season to visit the Atlas Coal Mine National Historic Site. And, a spur-of-the-moment visit to the Wayne’s Last Chance Saloon was a bust, too: the tables were either full or reserved. No big deal though, because there’s always next time. In the meantime, there were the views…

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