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Every Day a Bit More Real

Pine Cree Park 2014

While I plan conferences and teach pilgrimage classes here in Montreal, my colleague Hugh Henry has been doing the heavy lifting of contacting folks along our planned walking route in Saskatchewan. Some of the on-the-ground details remain to be determined. But the route is set, and those who would like to walk with us for a day, a few days, or longer, are encouraged to contact the SK Historical and Folklore Society, at http://shfs.ca/contact/   for more information and to register their names for the walk.

Today I met with two young film-makers who would like to be part of the project. Some of you may hear from them soon, as they are setting up a crowd-funding site.

In the meantime, here is the tentative itinerary:

NWMP Trail – Walk Schedule

July 17   arrive at Wood Mountain Post Prov. Historic Site  Accommodation: camp at Wood Mountain Regional Park (adjacent to Post – pool, showers, food service)  Activities: tour Wood Mountain Post; Rodeo and Ranch Museum; NWMP cemetery

July 18 trek ‘commissioning’ event in morning at Wood Mountain Post; walk through W. M. First Nation to Orthodox church south of Glentworth  distance: est 13 miles/21 km  Accommodation: tenting at church yard; hotel in Glentworth (food service)  Bike Hwy 18 – 19 mi./29 km to Glentworth

July 19 from church to McCord     distance: est. 12 mi /19 km Accommodation: tenting at campground next to McCord museum (store and service station in town)  Bike Hwy 18 – 8 mi./13 km to McCord

July 20 from McCord to Mankota   distance: est. 11 mi /17.5 km Accommodation: hotel in Mankota. or tenting in town; showersOther events: public presentation about history of NWMP Trail markers; reconsidering the history  Bike Hwy 18 – 11 mi. to Mankota

July 21 from Mankota to Walker farmyard     distance: est. 13 mi / 21 k Accommodation: tenting in Walker farmyard  Bike Hwy 18 – 41mi. to Val Marie

July 22 from Walker farm to farm at corner of Hwy 18, E of Val Marie. distance: est. 14 mi / 22.5 km Accommodation: tenting in farmyard    

 July 23 from farm to Val Marie. distance: est. 9 mi / 14 km  Accommodation: Val Marie hotel / convent / The Crossing, campground in town  

 July 24 rest day in Val Marie Activities – visit Grasslands N.P. interpretive centre; Prairie Wind and Silver Sage; etc. Program in evening – presentations at Prairie Wind & Silver Sage (Museum); campfire sing-along Note: `Sleep under the Stars` event at Grasslands National Park on July 25.

 July 25 from Val Marie to Range 15/16 road.       distance: est. 13 mi /21 km Accommodation: tenting in abandoned farmyard

 July 26 from Range 15/16 road to Jensen family ranch. distance: est. 13 mi /21 km Accommodation: tenting in Jensen Ranch yard

 July 27 from Jensen Ranch along Frenchman; detour to Bible Camp. distance: est. 8 mi / 13 km Accommodation: Riverview Bible Camp on Hwy #37, south of Frenchman (toilets, showers, campfire)

July 28 from Bible Camp to Gronhovd farm. distance: est. 13 mi / 21 k Accommodation: tenting in Gronhovd yard

July 29 Gronhovd farm to Wig farm (?) along Frenchman river. distance: est. 13 mi / 21 kmAccommodation: tenting at farmyard  

July 30 Wig farm (?) to Chimney Coulee. distance: est. 14 mi / 22.5 km Accommodation: tenting at Chimney Coulee  

 July 31 Chimney Coulee to Eastend. distance: est. 3.5 mi / 5 km Accommodation: Cypress Hotel, Riverview Motel, B&Bs, camp at Pine Cree Reg. Park

August 1 Rest day in Eastend SHFS-sponsored field trips and presentations (archaeology, geology, paleontology, local history, etc.). Communal supper (café or catered) Accommodations: hotel, motel, B&B, Park

Aug. 2  from Eastend to Ravenscrag corner, Hwy 13. distance: est. 13 mi /21 km  Accommodation: tenting in Arnal farmyard

Aug. 3  from Ravenscrag corner to farm near Robsart. distance: est. 11 mi /18 km  Accommodation: tenting in farmyard near Robsart

Aug. 4  from Robsart to Cypress Lake. distance: est. 15 mi / 24 km Accommodation: tenting at Cypress Lake (no facilities)

Aug. 5             morning at Lake; Cypress Lake to Brost Ranch distance: est. 6 mi / 9.5 km Accommodation: tenting at Clint Brost ranch.     NWMP patrol station (Cottonwood Coulee ?)

Aug. 6  Brost ranch to Parsonage Ranch. distance: est. 14 mi / 22.5 km Accommodation: tent at Parsonage Ranch

Aug. 7   Parsonage Ranch to Ft. Walsh distance: est. 5 mi / 8 km Event: welcoming celebration

 *Home*

 

Notes

  1. Walkers are responsible for providing all of their personal needs. A support vehicle will follow walkers to carry food, bedding and other supplies. Note the towns passed along the route and the possibility of booking motel or related accommodations. (On your own for this.)
  1. Suggested bike route at beginning of trek is on paved Hwy and parallels the NWMP Trail. There is the opportunity to join walkers during stops at Wood Mountain, McCord, Mankota or Val Marie. Daily travel distances and pace to be determined by individual bikers.
  1. There may be opportunities to trace the Trail on horseback, along dirt roads or through pastures. Details on dates and locations will be determined after landowners have been consulted, and may be affected by weather events.
  1. The daily walk schedule may be affected by weather, so distances and stops are approximate. Also, the number of walkers able to access cultivated fields may be restricted by landowners.

NWMPT map SHFS

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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.

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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!)

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Sir John A’s birthday and the ‘Indians’

John_A_Macdonald_(ca._1875)

So.

Sir John A. Macdonald – he of the vest, the big nose, the whiskey bottle, and the reins of government – is 200 today. This afternoon in Kingston Ontario’s city hall, Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave a speech to kick off the year-long 200th anniversary celebrations of the birth of Canada’s first prime minister.

Such anniversaries are always political, especially in an election year. But with luck, this anniversary will also be a learning opportunity. Especially for those, like me, who are “settler”, or “newcomer” Canadians, there’s a chance this year to find out just how wrong is our founding myth of the kinder, gentler, Canada. In retrospect, Sir John A. fits right in with some who are pushing to remember Canada as a military, conquering nation. Because, against the First Nations, under Macdonald and others, we were all that, and worse.

To mark the 200th anniversary, you might want to get a copy of “Clearing the Plains”, by James Daschuk. It’s a riveting and disorienting re-telling of Canadian history. From Chapter Six onward, Macdonald figures prominently. For example: “On 24 March 1882, the prime minister announced to Parliament that all Indians in the territory of Assiniboia would be removed, by force if necessary, from the land south of the proposed railway.” Growing up in southern Saskatchewan, I came to wonder why there were no aboriginal people around. Now I know. Reading Daschuk’s book, you realize that they were systematically lied to, starved, beaten, cheated, and forcefully relocated. The treaties, once signed, were ignored, since the true goal was to clear the land for European settlement, for the railway, and for the (often Montreal) investors who were looking for a profit.

Macdonald was the architect behind much of this terrible attack. But he was not the only one. The Liberals, when they were in power during that period, were even harsher in their treatment of First Nations. Some have even argued that, judged in the light of the time, Macdonald was better than most. Disturbingly, both Liberals and Conservatives hid their power and money-grabbing behind ideals of so-called “Christian statesmanship”.

Daschuk concludes his book with this telling statement: “The effects of the state-sponsored attack on indigenous communities that began in the 1880s haunt us as a nation still.” This summer, I’m hoping, with a group of others, to walk the North West Mounted Police Trail, a 275 km half-forgotten path that was crucial to that 1875-85 clearing of the plains. That will be our small way to mark this ambiguous anniversary.

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Soon Enough

IMG_1587

The few lights that are on in my apartment this January 1 evening don’t so much illuminate it as provide a counterpoint to the darkness. There are candles here and there, gusts of winter wind at the door. We are at the change of years, a liminal moment, a threshold time. Folks don’t go out much today. Everyone prefers to stay at home with soup, maybe a movie. It’s quiet on my street. My boots, recently repaired, sit at the door. Soon enough, we tell ourselves.

This year will be, I hope, a good year for pilgrimage. I’ve heard from Concordia University that the Vieux Montreal – Kahnawake student walk that’s part of our Department’s summer-term class on Pilgrimage will most likely be accepted for what’s called the “FundOne” initiative. That means that Concordia will advertise our 34-km pilgrimage for crowd funding, to help pay the costs of the students. Old Montreal is so close to the Mohawk territory, and yet so far away. If you’d like to contribute something to help this worthwhile walk, there will be a chance!

Our own conference will take place May 8-9 at Concordia, under the title “Indigenizing Pilgrimage”. This doesn’t mean only Aboriginal and First People’s pilgrimage, although it certainly includes that. It will be about ALL the ways we can, and should, from Sussex to Saskatchewan, connect our intentional, transformative journey to the actual physical places through which we move. Sara and Christine and I managed to get both of the keynote speakers we had dreamt of having – Raymond Aldred, a Treaty Eight Cree and professor in Calgary, and Simon Coleman, a pioneer pilgrimage scholar and professor at the U of T. It will be a great event.

And in July, if all goes well, I will be walking, together with Hugh Henry of the SK History and Folklore Society, and some – how many? – others, 300 km across the southern plains and low hills of Saskatchewan, tracing with our feet the North West Mounted Police Trail. Raymond Aldred has said of the First Nations’ need to recover their past that “when you have no history you have no future.” I am hoping that it is equally true of those of us who are from settler stock, that when we re-visit, re-walk, and remember our past in a new way, particularly by remembering the generations of ill treatment of First Peoples, we might also re-imagine and re-create our future together in new ways as well.

There is another gust of wind at the door. It is winter in Canada/Turtle Island, but that doesn’t keep the pilgrimages from beginning. I’m feeling the itch to walk.

 

 

 

 

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The Watchful Trees

up close painting

The Watchful Trees (Ode to a Prairie Birch Wood)

Matthew Anderson Nov 2014

++

I could lose myself here.

Paper-bark peeling

white bone from the green,

your quiet, revealing

what I might have to mean.

++

Here the dead are not buried.

It’s all boom and bust.

A hardy, short-lived pioneer species

is what they call us.

Come to break the treaties.

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My leaving stopped the dying.

It stanched the blood-flow.

You were rooted, you had to stay,

I learned to fly; I had to go.

At least if they ask, that’s what I’ll say.

++

I’ll tell them the story

of how hard you grew me up,

my birthright a knife,

instead of a cup.

Sharpened steel to hold close, in case of real life.

++

I could lose myself here.

Your paper-bark peeling

back ghosts and regrets. Such blood in this place.

Your quiet, revealing,

what I still have to face.

(painting by Janice Donato)

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Two Smooth Stones

photo

I have in my jacket pocket two smooth stones – river pebbles, worn by years of exposure first to running water, and then to wind, snow, rain and sun. When I picked them up they were still so warm from the late autumn Saskatchewan sun that I could put my hand in my pocket and feel the warmth lingering there.

The stones come from the foot of the first concrete marker in the North West Mounted Police Trail. It was at the Wood Mountain historical site, site of the Wood Mountain trading post, and of the original boundary survey camp. It’s a three-hour drive south and east of Regina, on increasingly small roads, where I met local historian and NWMPT curator Hugh Henry.

Technically, the young, untested recruits from Ontario started further east. In their second-hand gear and with their quick training , they were so poorly-equipped for the harsh environment facing them that by the time they reached Wood Mountain they’d already see a number of their horses die and had been beaten down by storm, swamp, and pest. Jim Daschuk, author of Clearing the Plains, told me how the SK First Nations still recount how the NWMP recruits contracted lice and fleas so badly that they had to teach them how to take off their clothes and put them onto ant hills where the ants could eat the lice and thus relieve the young military force. The thought of the future red-coated pride of Canada buck-naked on the open prairie on their first expedition west to “save” the Indians says a lot about how our history needs to be revisited.

Between Hugh Henry, Jim Daschuk, Kathy Grant, Brenda Peterson and others I learned a lot about the NWMP trail this visit. I’m hoping that some of us will walk the trail in the next year or two, not just to commemorate the brave and young Ontario men who came west, but also the Metis, and First Nations peoples who were there already to meet them, who had walked the trail, and who would soon be pushed off the very land they then called their own.