Flashback Friday: Banff, AB

Kinnear Centre on campus
Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, Banff, AB

A few years back I attended a work retreat at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. The campus is located in the trees on a rise above the town site, across the Bow River from the Fairmont Banff Springs. Even if I hadn’t had any free time at all, it wouldn’t have mattered because the campus is incredibly beautiful and interesting all by itself. However, since access to the trail system was just steps away, I was able to squeeze in a couple of quick walks down the hill to town.

The first morning, I went as far as The Old Banff Cemetery, which is not far at all. It’s also not the kind of place a person wants to rush through on their first visit, but that’s exactly what I had to do. To anyone passing by, I may have looked like a mad woman: power walking, scanning the monuments, kneeling for photos, then rushing on again to the next one. One monument brought me up short, though. The epitaph was especially eye-catching: “Trail Blazer of the Canadian Rockies | Lake Louise 1882 | Emerald Lake 1882.” Hmm, so who was Tom Wilson?

Tom Wilson grave marker
Thomas Edmonds Wilson and wife Minnie McDougall Wilson grave site, The Old Banff Cemetery, Banff, AB

Tom Wilson was a NWMP Officer, CPR survey packer, trapper, prospector, mountain guide and outfitter, rancher, and trail blazer. His early explorations of the Rocky Mountains were instrumental to trail development in the Banff and Yoho valley areas. The bronze plaque in the above photo was originally mounted near the Takakkaw Falls in the Yoho valley, but was relocated to his grave site upon his death. Mount Wilson, near the Columbia Icefield, is named after him. Cemeteries are filled with monuments to lives lived, and are always worth exploring – with google follow-ups usually required.

St. George's In-The-Pines Anglican Church
St. George’s In-The-Pines, Banff, AB

One evening, I succeeded in making it all the way to town and back. I discovered a plaque commemorating the life of Reverend Robert Rundle, a missionary I had crossed paths with at Pigeon Lake the year before. I learned St. George’s In-The-Pines Anglican Church is the oldest active church in Banff. The building’s cornerstone was laid in 1889 by Lord and Lady Stanley, then Governor-General of Canada. I found a cairn dedicated to men and women who had died overseas in service of their country.

They will never know the beauty of this place, see the seasons change, enjoy nature’s chorus. All we enjoy we owe to them, men and women who lie buried in the earth of foreign lands and in the seven seas.

Government of Canada

Now, my last photo is not really historical in nature, although it will definitely be a flashback to an earlier time for some…

Banff, AB

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

Rhubarb: Food or Medicine?

Who grows rhubarb? Raise your hand… Yes, most of us probably, whether we want to or not – especially if our yard or home site dates back 50 years, or more. Rhubarb is hardy and drought tolerant. It seems to be looked upon as either a dependable source of stalks for jams and baking, or as a weed, if we’re trying to eliminate it. But did you know it began its life as a cultivar in China for medicinal purposes?

It’s snowing out there right now, but this year’s rhubarb is beginning to break through!

The botanical roots of the word are Greek, although historically, it was the Chinese who produced the powdered rhubarb root, acclaimed for its purgative properties. The medicine eventually traded its way to Europe via the Silk Road in the 1400s, but the plant, itself, didn’t appear in European medicinal gardens until the 1600s. By the mid-1700s, European records show rhubarb as a food plant used for tart and pie fillings, and by that time, it was already growing in North American gardens, as well. The food plant is suspected to be a hybrid developed from the original Asian medicine plant.

What most of us have growing in our gardens, if we’re lucky, is the strawberry rhubarb plant, a modern flavour favourite. Heritage cultivars may not be as tasty as the modern hybrids, but their genetic connections to the original Asian medicine plants would certainly be worth preserving. Both HBC men and missionaries relied on the rhubarb plant for food and for medicines. If you live near what used to be an old Hudson’s Bay Company fort or an early mission site, that rhubarb plant in the back 40 – that goes dormant mid-summer – may just be an original HBC import.

Sources:

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

Three Sisters

In gardening, “three sisters” refers to a very specific trio of seeds that had been planted together by the Iroquois for centuries prior to the arrival of Europeans in the Americas. The corn, bean, and squash combination is referenced in the Iroquois creation myth but its success is also supported by science. Each of the vegetables contributes to the health and vitality of the other two plants, and together, they ensure soil fertility.

The three sisters are a perfect example of companion planting, but are also a nutritional “powerhouse when combined.” Corn is a great source of energy; beans provide protein and fibre; squash is full of vitamins and minerals. For specific directions on how to plant a traditional arrangement of three sisters seeds, whereby the corn supports the beans and the squash shades their roots, check out Catherine Boeckmann’s article in the Farmer’s Almanac. Click through for Three Sisters Stew and Three Sisters Soup recipes.

The growing season in parts of the prairies may not be quite long enough for a real bountiful harvest, however, if you’re interested in trying it out, Heritage Harvest Seeds (Canadian mail orders only) offers a Three Sisters Heirloom Seed Collection of Hidatsa Shield Figure Bean, Mandan Bride Corn, and Algonquin Pumpkin. The seeds were originally sourced from indigenous peoples in North America, and are now grown on site on the company’s Manitoba farm. Varieties similar to those listed above can also be purchased separately through Seed Savers (Canadian & U.S. orders accepted).

Sunday Sunshine: Lilydale

Along the stretch of Saskatchewan Highway 21 connecting Hwys 40 and 16, there’s a roadside pull-out just south of the Battle River that marks an old ferry crossing. I’ve driven this road fairly regularly over the years on trips to-and-from Lloydminster or Edmonton. The traffic’s not too bad; the rolling hills are beautiful, and I’ve actually seen moose once or twice. I read the historical marker on the site years ago, and never really thought much more about it.

Lilydale Road sign, SK
Lilydale Road, SK

Last week, however, I had an ‘aha’ moment. A mile or so before the river crossing is a large decorative sign on the corner of Hwy 21 and Township Road 460. I know it’s been there a while, but in my mind I’ve brushed it aside as a family farm marker. This time, though, when I read “Lilydale Road,” I suddenly connected it with the ferry, and decided I just had to investigate. So, on my way back home, I detoured west.

In 1905, pioneer Elijah Marshall constructed a home-made ferry boat to cross the Battle River. He named it “Battle Lily” after his daughter. In 1912, when Barr Colonist Thomas Simkins built a school for the area’s children, it was named Lilydale: ‘Lily’ for the local resident, ‘dale’ for the surrounding area. This school gave the school district its name and, later, the local post office, as well. Lilydale School District No. 450 was dissolved in 1963; the area is in the Rural Municipality of Hillsdale.

Since 1980, the building was restored and preserved by The Lilydale School Historical Society Incorporated and it was designated as municipal heritage property in 1981.

Lilydale School No. 450

Lilydale School remains on its original site with its flagpole and water pump. It’s also retains the classic architectural features of a prairie schoolhouse like the front cloakroom, the wall of windows, and contrasting window and door trim. Behind the school is a baseball diamond – complete with old backstop posts! A small house (a teacherage?) and a barn (for students riding to school?) are also part of the property. The schoolhouse is maintained and used for community events and rented out for weddings, reunions, etc. (Click on gallery above to view photos.)

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

Hand-crafted Crosses

Men are not great or small because of their material possessions. They are great or small because of what they are.

James Cash Penney

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

Sunday Sunshine: Pîhtokahanapiwiyin

Chief Poundmaker Historical Centre, Poundmaker Cree Nation, SK

Everything I could do was done to stop bloodshed. Had I wanted war, I would not be here now. I should be on the prairie. You did not catch me. I gave myself up.

You have got me because I wanted justice.

Poundmaker at trial, July 18, 1885, Regina

The Chief Poundmaker Historical Centre sits atop a hill on Poundmaker Cree Nation, SK. Along with the museum and interpretive trail, this site is the final resting place of Pîhtokahanapiwiyin (Poundmaker). Last summer, the Historical Centre and Fort Battleford partnered to present a Storyteller’s Festival, art shows, and concerts but the Historical Centre’s vision is focused on much more than Cree cultural events.

Chief Poundmaker was wrongfully convicted of treason in 1885 following the Northwest Resistance. He served only one year of a three year sentence at the Stony Mountain Penitentiary near Winnipeg due to contracting tuberculosis. Upon his release, he journeyed from his people’s reserve near Battleford to his stepfather Crowfoot’s reserve at Blackfoot Crossing. He died within a few months of his arrival and was buried there.

In 1967, Chief Poundmaker’s remains were interred on this hill in Poundmaker Cree Nation.

chief poundmakers grave
Chief Poundmaker’s grave, Poundmaker Cree Nation, SK

In 2017, Poundmaker’s gun and ceremonial staff were on temporary display in the Historical Centre’s museum. Floyd Favel, museum curator, explains that the Winchester “represents livelihood and the staff represents good governance.” Having these items on loan is just the beginning of the Historical Centre’s campaign to repatriate all of Poundmaker’s belongings housed in museums around the world. Their return will “allow us to once again own our own history and cultural artifacts and to interpret our own history in our way.

In 2018, the Federal government agreed to “move forward with Poundmaker Cree Nation to develop a joint statement of exoneration for Chief Poundmaker.” This agreement is the result of more than 25 years of lobbying by leaders for the truth of Poundmaker’s legacy as a peacemaker to be acknowledged and to be represented in the history books. Ultimately, the wish is that the repatriated artifacts be housed in a new modern building that meets international museum standards. The process will begin to move forward once Chief Poundmaker’s exoneration has been made official on May 2, 2019.

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

Flashback Friday: Choices

Trans Canada Trail signage

At this time last year, I was just as anxious to see the snow disappear as I am now. I’d gone out looking for The Great Trail (formerly the Trans Canada Trail) on the grid roads north of The Battlefords. There’s a trail spur that connects Fort Battleford Historic Site to the main trail, and I eventually found it.

Now, my transportation of choice for exploring the back roads is a little puddle-jumper that gets amazing gas mileage. However, it does have its limitations, and that afternoon I ran into one of them. Rather, I had the choice of trying to get through, what would be for my car, a dangerously muddy stretch of gravel road, or turning back. I turned back, which was probably for the best.

Anyway, this year I’ll wait a little bit longer before I head out on the back roads. But it’s so difficult to be patient when the sun is shining!

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

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. This building is over 130 years old; it’s the oldest operating hotel in the province. Question: How old is that 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.

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

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. Indigenous peoples used the wool as a soft bedding and lining material for their cradleboards. 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.