Scouting the Trail

Today we scouted the beginning of the North-West Mounted Police Trail. It meant piling five of us into a big Dodge Ram and pounding over the Wood Mountain hills. Thelma, a renowned poet and historian from the area, called it the “Boundary Commission Trail” several times, since the original NWMP trek was further north. Or it might be the “Metis Trail”, or the “Major Walsh” trail (although she doesn’t have kind words for him).

Anyway, we scouted it. Today we pulled out maps. Come summer we will walk.

Between then and now dreams and visions.

My Corner of Gloryland

 John Golling (Grandpa) as young man 1          farm-2-new-homeland

This week I’ve been seeing some of the old photos of my grandparents and their parents before them, and hearing stories of the first European settlers on this prairie. My grandparents, like most of their neighbors, were hard-scrabble, tough immigrants. Before electricity, before water lines, before roads even, they came. They came for the promise of land. Most of them were not as romantic about the countries they had left as we, their grandchildren, are. After all, they’d made the decision to go. In the words sung by Archie and the Boys (see below), the old time band that played today at my father’s care home in Herbert SK, they wanted, not the old, but the new: their own ‘piece of gloryland’. And the Government of Canada was happy to promise it to them.

The posters advertising the new homeland, however, neglected to mention that there were already people living here. The nomadic First Nations and mobile Metis were not used to, nor invited into, this new world of fences and property title and cattle rather than bison. A combination of starvation and forced removal cleared the land of Aboriginal peoples so that my grandparents – more fortunate pawns, but pawns nonetheless – in a continental political-economic development scheme, could take their place.

Did it turn out to be Gloryland? Saskatchewan is a great place. But we are all – First Nations and settlers alike, but particularly First Nations, still feeling the aftershocks of that great removal. To me, the posters advertising a new homeland in the Canadian West for European immigrants aren’t just art. They’re chilling propoganda.

(Photo is of John Samuel Golling, my grandfather. Thanks to Archie and the Boys for their music and their permission to post!)

Of stories and spaces

Herbert with semi trailer

We human beings find our sense of place by attaching it to stories. “This happened here, and then under the oak trees, or by the prairie slough, or on the top of Mont Tremblant, this other thing happened.” Places without narratives are just spaces, the blanks at the edges of our maps, unknown and unknowable.

Airports, for the sake of safety and convenience, do everything they can to tell the same story everywhere in the world. Boarding pass – security – gate – runway. If it weren’t for the constant human drama – families saying goodbye at the entry, the security fellow flirting with his colleague, the noisy high-school group on their way somewhere – airports, with their standardized everything, risk becoming mere spaces, simple stops on the way to real places like home-towns and vacations, and reunions and the city of your new job.

Here’s what excites me: if it’s the story that turns a space into a place, that means that if we add to the story, we can add to the place. A harmful story, of wrongs done and injustice, can change, at least a bit, in the retelling. We can tell OUR story of that space, and if in our story there is at least some hope, and some openness, and some healing, then maybe… Maybe the place itself changes too.

Still thinking of how it will feel to walk the North West Mounted Police Trail in July.

waiting at the baggage Helsinki