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.

The Beauty of Life

dancing stars in the night sky
Photo by Jim113

Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus

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

Who Likes Berries?

Choke cherries at Fort Pitt
Chokecherries, Fort Pitt, SK

Berries weave an interesting thread through the history of western Canada. They entered the story early, an important food source for many living creatures on the prairies, and proved to be essential to the success of the buffalo hunt for Indigenous peoples. Local berries would eventually be welcomed into the diets of most newcomers, and even celebrated with festivals in their name!

One of the staples of the Indigenous diet on the Great Plains was pemmican, “a portable, high-energy, highly nutritious, and filling foodespecially convenient for crossing long distances in pursuit of the buffalo herds. Pemmican is a Cree-Chippewa word meaning fat – appropriate because 50% of pemmican was rendered buffalo fat with 45% lean shredded buffalo meat, and 5% dried and ground berries. As the fur trade spread throughout the Hudson’s Bay watershed, pemmican became a portable food source for traders, voyageurs, and early travelers, too. Today, pemmican is popular as a survival food for hikers, and modern recipes feature all sorts of variations, including vegetarian options (see links below).

Speaking of recipes, a few years back I visited Fort St. James, a Hudson’s Bay Company fur trade post in northern British Columbia. They were passing out samples of Indian ice cream made from soapberries. Soapberries will foam when crushed, but are too bitter to eat by themselves so are usually mixed with something else. The recipe shown below features soapberries, water, and sugar. The berries also possess a number of medicinal qualities, as do many native plant species.

Settlers, of course, were familiar with berries, even though they may have been different from the ones in their homelands. Berry patches were located, berries were picked and preserved, eaten with fresh cream, and baked in pies, muffins, etc. St. Walburg in west-central Saskatchewan celebrates wild blueberries. Why? I’m not sure, but their 30th Annual Wild Blueberry Festival finished up last weekend.

Who else likes berries? Well, at Fort Pitt I found evidence down by the river that the bears probably really like the chokecherries. I bet you can guess what kind of evidence I found.

LINKS:

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

What About a Shelf Life?

lynx trophy head, Frenchman Butte
Lynx, Frenchman Butte, SK

Fossils, guns, antique tractors, stone tools, quilts and clothing items, memorabilia, regalia… The private collections that have launched local museums across the prairies are as unique as the people who created them and the towns that now house them. While many artifacts require little more than a dusting and a Do Not Touch sign, special care and handling are a requirement for others. Some items age well, while others? Not so much.

Take a taxidermy collection. Almost all museums have a mounted bison, elk, moose, deer, or antelope head, and many others have multiple examples of local wildlife and birds. Some even have collections known far and wide for their variety, their excellence, or their humour (see the Madhatters’ Ball photo below). If the taxidermist was a professional, or even a skilled amateur, and the mounts have been taken care of, the odds of a collection still looking impressive are pretty good.

Madhatter's Ball with mounted rabbits
Fuchs Wildlife Gallery, Lloydminster Culture and Science Centre, Lloydminster, SK | Photo by Mike Beauregard for Atlas Obscura

But, when a mount has begun to deteriorate – and there is much that can go wrong – it can be unnerving, or spooky, even stomach-churning for the visitor. The lynx pictured at the top is housed in the Frenchman Butte Museum. The eyes might look a little wonky, but the fur is still beautiful, and the overall shape of the mount remains realistic. It’s not an uncomfortable experience to view it. One collection I visited this past winter though, which will remain nameless, made me wonder why an exhibit would remain on display, when it had obviously passed its ‘best before’ date.

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

The Wabasca Canoe

wabasca canoe on display
The Wabasca Canoe display, Frenchman Butte Museum, SK

Many of the pioneer village museums I’ve visited have outdoor exhibit spaces that display their vintage farm equipment and wagons, and their earliest vehicles. The Frenchman Butte Museum is no exception. Their collection is similar to the others, but also includes an interesting item captioned The Wabasca Canoe. And, what I especially liked about it was that its early history of ownership had been recorded, and was now on display.

Constructed by First Nations canoe builders at Wabasca, AB in the 1920s, the canoe was purchased by Wilfred Hunt, a trapper, and possible fur-trader working in the Liard River watershed. It was subsequently sold to Loren Cornell of Kinuso, AB who eventually passed it on to Erven Fester, who donated the canoe to the Frenchman Butte Museum in Saskatchewan.

More from the artifact description:

Hand-made, these lightweight canoes were 12 to 14 feet long. The ribs were hand-carved and steam bent over a frame. Before fur trade days they were covered with birch bark or moose hide… They were used for muskrat trapping, fishing and hunting.

Wabasca is from the Cree word wapuskau, which means white water, and refers to the Wabasca River. Today, the majority of the residents of the hamlet of Wabasca are still Indigenous, and bands of the Bigstone Cree Nation occupy 6 reserves on Treaty 8 territory in northern Alberta. Although, the practice of building traditional birchbark canoes in Canada today can still be a for-profit enterprise, many Indigenous canoe builders are re-learning the craft as part of their journey towards cultural reclamation.

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

‘Place’ is a Moment

View from the Fort Carlton stockade
View from Fort Carlton stockade, Fort Carlton, SK

There is no mysterious essence we can call a ‘place’. Place is change. It is motion killed by the mind, and preserved in the amber of memory.

The Peregrine by J.A. Baker

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

God’s Half Acre at Fort Pitt

view of cairn through god's half acre gate
Gate to God’s Half Acre, Fort Pitt, SK

In 1829, the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) built Fort Pitt on the north bank of the North Saskatchewan River approximately half way between Fort Carlton and Fort Edmonton. The fort was originally designed to serve as a pemmican production centre for the company’s boatmen and traders, and to operate as a local trading post within the HBC’s extensive fur trade network. The original fort burned to the ground, not an uncommon fate for the wooden buildings of the time, but was rebuilt in the mid-1870s.

However, by the mid-1870s, these were different times. Fort Pitt had become a regular stop for North Saskatchewan River steamboats, and for overland travelers and traders on the Carlton Trail to Fort Edmonton. The new fort was constructed further back from the river, and was larger than its predecessor. In addition, it became the headquarters of the North-West Mounted Police at Fort Pitt, played a role in the negotiations for Treaty 6, and was the location of one of the battles of the North-West Resistance.

painting of the Battle of Fort Pitt
By The Illustrated London News – Online at Canadian Military HeritageDepartment of Defence., Public Domain, Link

It was also no longer a part of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s trading monopoly since the HBC had relinquished those rights to the Dominion of Canada in 1870. Although the HBC no longer received special trading privileges, it did retain ownership of its trading posts, and a certain amount of reserve lands surrounding each of them. Fort Pitt was destined to burn once again during the North-West Resistance, only to be partially rebuilt, and then, eventually, to be sold by the HBC in 1945 as farm land.

When I visited Fort Pitt Provincial Historic Park last weekend, it was for the role it played in the fur trade and the North-West Resistance. I already knew the fort had not been reconstructed, but that paths, interpretive signage, and the footprint of the former buildings for both forts did exist – and, there was a picnic area, which is where I planned to eat my lunch. What I didn’t know anything about was the gated and palisaded monument to God’s Half Acre.

… As the shadows lengthened into a purple wave,
I gently closed that lonely grave at old Fort Pitt,
And there resolved that these first-comers
Shall have title to that scarce half-acre of sod,
For I will deed it back to God.

R.H. Hougham

In 1945, Robert Henry Hougham (1889-1960) purchased the old HBC reserve lands unaware, until he began to break ground, that the original Fort Pitt cemetery lie just below the sod. The shallow, unmarked graves had had their markers either burned, or removed during the battle in 1885. Hougham set aside half an acre, and erected a cairn to pay his respects. In 1960, he was buried there, as well. With the river on one side, and surrounded on the others by a farm and its fields, this half acre offers the visitor an unexpectedly poetic pause.

Cairn and grave marker for Robert H. Hougham
Cairn & grave marker for Robert H. Hougham, Fort Pitt, SK

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

Don’t Fence Me In

The Town of Battleford is situated close to where the Battle River flows into the North Saskatchewan. It was designated the capital of the North-West Territories in 1876. Many of the town’s early buildings have been maintained and are still in use, and the Fort Battleford Historic Site, the Fred Light Museum, and the historic North-West Mounted Police Cemetery are open to visitors on a seasonal basis.

While Battleford is a history enthusiast’s dream come true, the City of North Battleford has an entirely different feel to it. North Battleford was established on the north bank of the North Saskatchewan River in the early 1900s when it became clear the Canadian National Railway (CNR) would bypass Battleford, by not crossing the river. Today, the Battlefords have a combined population of approximately 19,000, and are home to a vibrant, and varied artistic community.


I can’t tell a story in the white man’s language, so I say what I want to say with my paintings.

Allen Sapp

The artistic mix includes a performing arts troupe, music groups, two roadhouses for all entertainment tastes, and two pretty amazing world-class art galleries: The Allen Sapp Gallery and The Chapel Gallery. In addition to a few outdoor murals, North Battleford especially, has also installed some really interesting pieces of public art. Here are a few:

Don’t Fence Me In by Donald R. Hefner

Don’t Fence Me In by Donald R. Hefner, Saskatchewan Centennial 2005 (constructed from barbed wire). Although I love the symbolism of the barbed wire and its texture, in reality, the buffalo hunt had pretty much disappeared from the Canadian plains, and been replaced with cattle ranching, by the time the first settlers arrived in the 1880s-90s.

In 2014, The Prairie Sculptors Association held a two week symposium called Shapeshifters at The Chapel Gallery, “building a number of monumental sculptures from iron, wood and recycled materials.” A few of the finished sculptures remained near the Gallery, while two were relocated to the walking path between The Chapel Gallery and The Allen Sapp Gallery.

A Man in a Canoe by Kevin Quinlan

A Man in a Canoe by Kevin Quinlan (constructed with rebar). Interesting choice of location, just below the CNR freight yards, where it juxtaposes indigenous peoples’ method of transportation with the trains that brought in white settlers.

Wapiti
Wapiti by James Korpan

Wapiti by James Korpan (constructed with metals and found pieces). The word wapiti is an anglicized version of the Cree word for elk, which is waapiti.  The full story here:

… Across the Atlantic Ocean, Brits use elk to describe the animal we all know as a moose. When British settlers came to Canada, they saw how much larger our wapiti are than the European red deer, and they thought it had to be related to the European moose – or as they called them – elk. Despite its huge size, the wapiti is a type of deer; one of the largest species of deer, in fact.

Canadian Rangeland Bison and Elk

Both sculptures, A Man in a Canoe and Wapiti, are visible from the road, on the drive into North Battleford’s downtown core. The Wapiti is my favourite though, and up close it is spectacular.

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.

Flashback Friday: Wagon Roads

Battleford Trail Pioneer Wagonroad 1877-1907
Battleford Trail Pioneer Wagonroad, AB

The Northwestern Territories have never looked so glorious as in this last year of Grace 1902. Never were there such turquoise skies, such golden brown acres of prairie grass billowing away to the four points of the compass… We halted for dinner at “The Badger,” a neat little sod roofed shack kept by two American women of rather wide experience. We dined off exquisite Japanese china, for the West is a place of surprises and incongruities.

from “The Battleford Trail” in “The Uncollected Prose of Pauline Johnson” by Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake)

Pauline Johnson, poet, artist, and spoken word performer with a flare for the dramatic, traveled extensively throughout Canada, the United States, and England from the 1880s to 1909 on a series of speaking tours. The above excerpt is from an unpublished manuscript, and describes the stagecoach journey Johnson undertook in 1902 between Saskatoon and Battleford on the Battleford Trail.

The Battleford Trail was a segment of the Carlton Trail system that connected the Red River Settlement in Winnipeg with Edmonton, 900 miles away. This overland route followed many of the ancient trails used by Indigenous peoples, and then the Métis. Eventually, the railroad transformed transportation patterns, roads were built, and most of the old trails were plowed under.

Alberta Highway 14 West, Poundmaker Trail

The sign commemorating the Pioneer Wagonroad is located on Alberta Hwy 14, on the south side of the road just west of the junction with Alberta Hwy 883 (west of Fabyan). Today, little evidence remains of the old wagon trails except for the ruts that exist in a few locations, and the historical plaques that describe them. Across the road from the Battleford Trail sign, and a little to the east, is a sign that also marks this route as the  Poundmaker Trail.

Saskatchewan’s Hwy 40 and Alberta’s Hwy 14 form a 369 km stretch between North Battleford and Edmonton. Designated the Poundmaker Trail, this road commemorates Chief Poundmaker’s (Pitikwahanapiwiyin’s) journey on foot in 1886 from his people’s reserve near Battleford to his stepfather Crowfoot’s reserve at Blackfoot Crossing. This journey was undertaken following his release from the Stony Mountain Penitentiary near Winnipeg where he was imprisoned following the Northwest Rebellion. He died a few weeks after his arrival.

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