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

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.

Flashback Friday: Winter’s Coming

toboggan at Fort Carlton
Toboggan, Fort Carlton, SK

TO·BOG·GAN

  • originating from Mi’kmaq (tobâkun) and/or Abenaki (udãbãgan); adopted by French Canadians (tabaganne) in the early 1800s; now toboggan. – from Canadian Icons

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

Winter Travel Clothing, 1865

Perhaps I am the best clad in the party, and my clothes altogether will not weigh much. A flannel shirt, moleskin pants, full length leggings with garters below the knees, duffil socks and neat moccasins, a Hudson’s Bay capote, unlined and unpadded in any part, a light cap, and mittens which are most of the time tied on the load, while I wear a pair of thin unlined buckskin gloves. This is in a sense almost “laying aside every weight,” but the race which was set before the ordinary dog-driver in the days I am writing of was generally sufficient to keep him warm.

In my own case, I did not for several years wear any underclothing, and though in the buffalo country, and a buffalo hunter, I never had room or transport for a buffalo coat until the Canadian Pacific Railroad reached Alberta, and the era of heavy clothing and ponderous boots came in, with ever and anon men frozen to death in them! Not so with us; we run and lift and pull and push, and are warm.

by John McDougall, describing winter travel by dogsled circa 1865 in Pathfinding on Plain and Prairie: Stirring Scenes of Life in the Canadian North-West, 1898.

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

Bert Martin’s Cabin

Cut Knife, SK

Homesteading in the early 20th century, on the wind-whipped stretches of prairie was no easy task for new immigrants. Often, they knew little about farming and, even if they had experience working the land, surviving a Saskatchewan winter would still be a bitter struggle. Much of their success would depend upon how well they were able to make preparations before the cold weather hit.

Bert Martin's Cabin, front view

First shelters were often considered temporary, constructed quickly with whatever materials a settler could afford, or could find on the land. Tents and caves, sod, or tar paper shacks were common, replaced by log, frame, or stone houses as the homesteader’s fortunes improved. Severe weather events like droughts, floods, and cyclones were widespread as were their consequences – fire, insects, mud, and hailstones.

Bert Martin's Cabin side view

Winter would be the worst. Blizzards with extreme temperatures and wind chills, little visibility, and drifting snow could shut down an entire area. A settler needed a supply of food and firewood to survive until the roads were passable, again. He would need wool blankets and quilts, lamp fuel, and something to occupy the long days of solitude and isolation.

Bert Martin's Cabin, rear view

Imagine living in a shelter like Bert Martin’s: A log cabin, plastered with mud to keep out the wind, a small wood stove for heat, and a few small windows to let in the weak winter sun. There’s a dirt floor, a single bed, a table and chair, a few pictures to decorate the walls but it’s a simple dwelling. Could you imagine living like that for a year or two? It’s humbling to think about how many homesteaders did.

For more details and some great pictures, visit the Saskatchewan Settlement Experience at the Saskatchewan Archives Board website.

Bert Martin’s Cabin, Clayton McLain Memorial Museum, Cut Knife, SK. All photos, except where noted, copyright D. MacLeod. All rights reserved. Originally published on the Clayton McLain Memorial Museum blog.