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.
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?
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.