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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Accordingly it was arranged that we should meet some fifteen or twenty days later on the plains “somewhere.” This was very indefinite, but as near as we could plan under the conditions of the time. Mr. Steinhauer would go with his people, join those at Saddle Lake, and cross the Saskatchewan to the plains and buffalo. We would go to Smoking Lake, find Mr. Woolsey, and then strike out also for the plains and the buffalo. There we hoped to meet in a large gathering before long.
The Cochin Lighthouse is, not surprisingly, the only one of its kind in Saskatchewan and offers spectacular views of Jackfish Lake and neighbouring Murray Lake. It sits atop a hill in the resort village of Cochin, about half an hour north of The Battlefords. Cochin, named after missionary Father Louis Cochin O.M.I., was originally settled as a Métis community, and Métis people continue to live in the area, today.
Also nearby are the Saulteaux and the Moosomin First Nations, both of which are Treaty 6 signatories. The Saulteaux are an Ojibway-speaking band whose forebears made their way to Saskatchewan from the northern United States via the northern Great Lakes. The group traveled west with the expansion of the fur trade. Land near Battleford was allocated for the Moosomin First Nation in 1881, but after the CNR main line was constructed through the reserve in 1903, the Moosomin were forced to surrender their land and relocate to the Cochin area.