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.

Trail Markers

The 2019 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race a.k.a The Last Great Race is into its fifth day. Racing from Willow through to Nome, the route approximates the old freight route, and covers 1000 miles of Alaskan wilderness. “The mushers travel from checkpoint to checkpoint much as the freight mushers did eighty years ago.” Even though cell phones, satellite tracking devices, and GPS units are standard gear today, old-fashioned trail markers remain an essential part of the historic trail.

To get a feel for what mushing in the north looks like, Blair Braverman‘s article Meet 5 of the Women Racing in this Year’s Ititarod includes accompanying photos and videos by Kiliii Yuyan that are simply spectacular. Falling snow with limited visibility, unfamiliar terrain, wild animals, and even sleep deprivation are potential threats to a team’s safety. But, losing the trail on frozen lakes or sea ice is not something a musher wants to add to that list. Open spaces on the Trail are marked with distinctive wooden tripods.

Photo of Robert Sørlie’s team approaching Nome, 2007. (Note the tripod-style log marker on the right. These tripods are used year round to mark open spaces on the Trail i.e. marshes.)

#FlashbackFriday

When Europeans began to explore the continent, circa the 1500s, they discovered that indigenous North Americans had a well-established system of way-markers in place for their trails. This shouldn’t be a surprise since First Nations peoples had been traveling over this vast expanse of land since at least the end of the last ice age, approximately 20,000 years ago.

Trail marking methods varied greatly, depending on available materials. For example, in temperate climates, hard wood trees were selected, then manipulated to form particular shapes. Trail marker and signal trees were used as tools for navigation, and as signposts for sites of a religious or ceremonial nature.  To read more, visit the Great Lakes Trail Marker Tree Society and Indian Trail Trees.

In more barren terrain, for example in the arctic regions of most northern countries, large single rocks and arrangement of stones acted as markers for a wide variety of activities. They were reference markers and points of navigation; they marked hunting or fishing spots, camps, food caches or sacred places. Some argue that the human-shaped inukshuk, which we know so well, today, is a post-European development. These rock structures have come to symbolize the North for many of us and many are, in fact, still in use today. For more on Inukshuk, visit Wikipedia and the The Canadian Encyclopedia.

Traces of the Fur Trade

York boat, North Sask River
York Boat, Fort Edmonton Park, North Sask. River, AB

Today, my stretch of the North Saskatchewan River forms the centrepiece of Edmonton’s famous River Valley Trail System, a series of multi-use parks developed and maintained for residents and visitors, alike. Paddlers, recreational fishermen, jet-skiers, dragon boat racers and a holiday steamboat make good use of the river in warmer weather. This is a dramatic shift from the waterway’s former use as a transportation and communications corridor during the fur trade.

North Sask River Paddlers, April 2015
North Saskatchewan River w/ paddlers, Edmonton, AB

The North Saskatchewan River begins in the Columbia Icefield astride the Continental Divide in the Rocky Mountains, joins with the South Saskatchewan River 800 miles later at Saskatchewan River Forks to form the Saskatchewan River and, finally, empties into Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba. From Lake Winnipeg, it’s possible to paddle in a northeasterly direction to Hudson’s Bay or southeasterly to the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway. With tributaries reaching out all across the prairie provinces, this river system was the hub of the fur trade.

Trappers would head upstream for the winter to lands rich with beaver and other fur-bearing animals, then travel with their pelts back downstream, in the spring, for trade at the forts and factories; the furs would then be shipped to Europe. Indigenous peoples, European explorers and adventurers and fur-trade brigades traveled the North Saskatchewan River in birch bark canoes, then, york boats until the railways made water transportation impractical. Although the days of the voyageur and the Hudson’s Bay Company fort are gone, hints of their former presence remain.

Birch Bark Canoe, 1959

Fort Edmonton Park, on the south bank of the North Saskatchewan River is home to an 1846 Hudson’s Bay fort with a neighbouring Cree encampment. Re-enactments of the arrival of the fur-laden york boats (pictured at top) are regularly scheduled during the season and come complete with ceremony and revelry. Paddlers, following the routes of the historic brigades and early explorers, are becoming a more regular occurrence, as well. And, the beaver, star of the show, is still around – visible while swimming or, sometimes, slapping his tail in the river but, more often, we see the fallen trees and pointed stumps he’s left behind beside the river valley trails.

Beaver Activity

A few weeks ago, at a picnic in McKinnon Ravine Park along the river, we caught sight of a family feeding a smallish brown animal. I immediately assumed it was a beaver and thought to myself how tame it seemed to be. Well, it wasn’t a beaver. It was a groundhog but, still…

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