Sunday, August 18, 2013

Trails of 1885 — Immersed in History

Pointing to bullet holes in the wall of the rectory, the guide said, “These were made by a Gatling gun. The government forces also used cannons and cavalry.” I gulped as I envisioned the hopeless position of the Métis. I was at, Saskatchewan, a key battlefield in the Rebellion of 1885, when government troops quashed an uprising by Métis and Natives. The only armed conflict in Canada since confederacy, most of the battles raged in Saskatchewan.  The roots of the conflict, however, lay in Manitoba, and some clashes spilled into Alberta.

To commemorate the rebellion and its impact on a young nation, an ambitious project, the Trails of 1885, is being launched, which, once complete will be of national significance. The Trails will span three provinces and consist of more than 20 sites that played significant roles in the rebellion. Visitors will be able to drive all or parts of the Trail, which approximately follows the Carlton Trail, along which Red River wagons rumbled in the 1800s between Fort Garry (Winnipeg) and Fort Edmonton.

With many sites lying along the South Saskatchewan River, north of Saskatoon, a delightful way to gain insight into this rebellion is by a one-day canoe tour, the River Trails of 1885. We paddled 23 kilometres, visiting Fish Creek battlefield, Middleton’s camp, Petite Ville, Gabriel’s Crossing and the village (now abandoned) and battlefield of Batoche. Pelicans, wildflowers and Saskatoon berries now thrive where, in 1885, gunsmoke and bitterness prevailed. At the end, I was bushed, but much more knowledgeable about Saskatchewan’s early history.

Next day, I explored the Trails further, this time by car. I started at the Duck Lake Museum, which shows how the pioneers lived in those turbulent times. Accompanied by line, the museum curator with Métis roots, I drove to the Duck Lake battlefield, where a few lonely cairns marked the place where men fought and died.

A long plume of dust trailed behind us, as we headed west, passing yellow fields of canola dotted with dark sloughs. Fort Carlton was wonderful. A Hudson Bay trading post, the re-constructed fortification houses buffalo skins and many furs that were soft and silky to the touch. I could imagine Natives trading pelts for modern goods with canny Scotsmen.

The final stop was the Lady of Lourdes at St. Laurent. There has been an annual pilgrimage to the shrine for 134 continuous years. The Métis flag flapped on a rise of land, marking a cemetery where four Métis soldiers were buried.

That evening, sipping a beer at the Bessborough, I mused about having travelled pieces of the Trails of 1885 and what I had learned. I quietly planned to drive it from end to end.

If You Go
Trails of 1885:
River Trails of 1885:
General Information: &

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