CHASING HISTORY (Chapter 3 of 10)


The old grain elevators of the prairies decay in solitude. This one is at Raymore, Sask.

Sunday evening, I phoned around till I found someone to open Fort Qu’Appelle museum for us in the morning.

Ted met us at 10:00 a.m.  The museum comprises a decrepit log building from the 19th century and a modern heated addition.  Volunteers run the place, hours are short and sporadic, and the exhibits are stupendous.  Local money funded the addition.  This story is repeated in most rural communities in the country.  The preservation of Canada’s history falls to a few dedicated citizens and to money scratched together from bake sales and private donations.

The older building survives from the old HBC post in Fort Qu'Appelle. Gen. Middleton used it as a field office.

Since my visit in ’01, the museum has improved 500 per cent.  Then, the pièce de résistance was an ancient typewriter that the then volunteer curator said General Middleton himself had issued his marching orders on.  Not likely, but a good story nonetheless.

This summer it was the last item I looked at, because I had to search diligently for it.

Downtown, I found a book about Wandering Spirit, one of the few actual murderers during the North-West Rebellion.  Of course it’s by a local author, i.e., a seriously underrated writer.  Local authors, God bless ’em, contribute most of the worthwhile reading on a country’s history.

John and I found the road leading north out of the Qu’Appelle Valley.  It climbed through a coulee for two kilometers, following the old Touchwood Hills Trail.  There is an impressive historic photo of Middleton’s red-coated troops marching up that trail.

I knew there was a monument somewhere to mark a stretch of ruts left by Red River ox-carts.  We had to look sharp to spot the monument.  We found the monument.  We found no ruts.  Since ’01, nature has obliterated the marks.

Middleton’s column overnighted at the Touchwood Hills trading post.  Not in it, at it.  Again, unless you’re looking for it, it’s a sign you miss.  We followed a rough off-road trail in a grove of crooked poplars to a few rocks in a mowed field.   They mark the foundations of four buildings.  There’s a plaque.  And nothing else.  This is a Provincial Park.  This site, too, has been improved 500 per cent in ten years.  Someone in the Government is waking up to the importance of historic sites.

John stands on a cornerstone of the old HBC post in the Touchwood Hills.

We stopped in Raymore for lunch, and asked about topo maps for the Hills.  No one in the municipal office had heard of such a thing.  Topo maps, I mean.

The Pioneer Museum was closed, of course.  Here we encountered a delightful phenomenon that we were to see several times this trip: a list of telephone contacts tacked to the door.

The last number responded.  Sig met us and opened up.  Sig is a retired farmer.  He helped to tack together the two wooden churches that form the museum.  Fascinating stuff inside.  I started to realize that I had used a lot of that stuff myself.  I was, I realized, starting to resemble an artifact.  I asked about the alkali in the district.  Yep, he said.  Go ten miles west, he said, and the black soil has tiny white particles in it.  Useless for agriculture.  Go ten miles north, find fertile land.  That’s where he farmed.

Now began a race to Saskatoon.  It would be nice to visit the historic Marr Residence, we thought.  This private home became a field hospital for Middleton’s soldiers in 1885.  Online I had discovered there was a re-enactment scheduled that day.  No times given.  No telephone contacts. 

I advised John to look for the brilliant white alkali patches.  To the Toronto militia boys, pried from their teller’s cages and sales counters and classrooms, this section of the march was grueling.  They staggered across a waterless desert under a cruel sun.  But we saw no white patches.  The interminable rains this summer had turned them all gray.

Of course we arrived too late to visit the Marr Residence.  We had to be in Lloyd the next day to meet Grace.  But we could take in the Western Development Museum.

That’s what we did Tuesday morning.   Saskatchewan has four such museums.  The Government has spared no expense to erect and furnish these palaces of history.  The Saskatoon museum has an entire village recreated under one roof.  The highlight for me?: a five-minute ride in an emigrant railway car, with shakes and sounds and sights.

Westward we sped.  We stopped at the Western Development Museum in North Battleford.  John wanted to tour the old-time wooden grain elevator, but it was closed for repairs.  We browsed the bookstore.  Then westward we sped. 

Forgot to gas up.  Arrived in Lloydminster with 0.2 litres in the tank.

Grace had flown into Edmonton, then rented a car.  She had beat us by a few minutes.

In April 1885, the militia march up the trail from the Qu'Appelle Valley.

About EJ Lavoie

Writer and independent publisher with website
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