#TakeMeBackTuesday

No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn. – Hal Borland

The snow is melting, the prairie spring is on its way, and I look forward to the honking of geese overhead. No stocknagels will be waiting for me on the completion of any of my planned hikes this season. But as walking culture in Canada evolves with the coast-to-coast-to-coast connection of The Great Trail, one day there just may be prairie trail badges to collect.

HIKING STICKS W/ STOCKNAGELS

Stocknagels, or badges, were souvenirs purchased from European mountain destinations once a hike had been completed. Attached to the hiking stick with small nails, they acted as a great motivator for all ages! This tradition continues today – even in Canada.

Vintage hiking stick points
Antique German hiking sticks w/ points.
Vintage hiking sticks w/ stocknagels
Antique German hiking sticks w/ stocknagel badges.

Photo credit: Hiking sticks by Alexander von Bronewski; Matterhorn by pixe07 via Morguefile.com.

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 (top) by Donald R. Hefner, Saskatchewan Centennial 2005 (constructed from barbed wire). I love the symbolism of the barbed wire, and the texture, but 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.Man in a Canoe by Kevin Quinlan

  • A Man in a Canoe (above) 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 by James Korpan

  • Wapiti (above) 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, and up close it is spectacular.

Traces of the Fur Trade

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 Saskatchewan River w/ Paddlers
North Saskatchewan River w/ Paddlers, April 2015

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.

Signs of Beaver, Muskrat

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…

Cemeteries and Family Histories

(Originally published on the Clayton McLain Memorial Museum blog.)

The Cut Knife Cemetery, like so many others in Saskatchewan, is over one hundred years old and, meandering through on a Sunday afternoon, it’s easy to recognize the older graves. Lettering has eroded on many of the softer marble stones, and names and dates on others have filled with mosses and lichens, both of which make the inscriptions difficult to read, and the graves to identify. A few headstones have broken, a few plots have remained unmarked for reasons unknown. Perhaps, there are records that can fill in the gaps, perhaps not.

Cemetery records everywhere, especially the older ones, are notorious for having been lost, or damaged, or destroyed in fire and flood. This makes it especially difficult for families who are searching, at a distance, for an ancestor. A grave connects a person to a place, and provides a context; a grave marker records vital statistics. Sometimes, a marker can also shed light on a personality through the choice of epitaph, the presence of religious or association symbols, nicknames, etc. When both records are no longer accessible, a vital piece of family history is lost.

Many rural cemeteries are cared for by volunteers, and are just not in a position, financially, to undertake large restoration projects. In addition, the volunteer hours required to clean, photograph, and annotate a whole cemetery of headstones is probably not realistic, either. Maybe, a simpler approach would work . . . providing online accessibility to researchers. . . 24/7?

Grave markers in disrepair

CanadianHeadstones.com is a volunteer-driven, not-for-profit organization that archives photos and text of cemetery grave markers submitted by individuals, or cemetery committees. The Clayton McLain Memorial Museum has listed it on their Family History | Canada page as a genealogy resource. The Cut Knife Cemetery, and the Carruthers Cemetery are already represented online with a number of photos to view for each.

The next time you’re wandering through your local cemetery with your phone or digital camera, consider digitizing your family’s headstones, and sharing them online with those who may be searching for them. In all probability, if any part of the headstone is illegible, you or a family member would have the knowledge needed to record the correct information.

Bert Martin’s Cabin

(Originally published on the Clayton McLain Memorial Museum blog.)

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

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 tarpaper 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-sideWinter 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-rearImagine 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.]

Winter Travel Clothing, 1865

Métis in capotes hunting buffalo in the Red River area 1822
by Peter Rindisbacher, (1806-1834)

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.