River Trails of 1885
A penchant for Saskatchewan history and outdoor adventure inspired Humboldt resident and businessman Brad Lefebvre and his sons to join a group of CanoeSki paddlers on the South Saskatchewan River to re-live events and places connected to the North West Resistance of 1885. He sums up his river experience this way: “What a pleasant way to spend a couple of days, getting to know new people who have the same feelings about nature and history that we do. We enjoyed absolutely the most perfect weather we could ask for, great water conditions for canoeing, abundant and delicious food, and good fun amongst new friends.”
Exploring the Historic River Trails of 1885
By Brad Lefebvre, August 2010
I love to canoe, camp, and explore and learn more about history, especially our own Saskatchewan story. With all of these interests in mind, when I came across info about the “River Trails 1885 Canoe Adventure” being offered by Cliff Speer’s CanoeSki Company, to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the Riel Resistance, I immediately did more checking, and reserved spots for myself and two teenage sons, Nathan and Landon.
Here we are now reminiscing about our adventure into history on the South Saskatchewan River, setting in at the Hague ferry crossing on Saturday morning, and taking out at Batoche on Sunday afternoon.
What a pleasant way to spend a couple of days, getting to know new people who have the same feelings about nature and history that we do. We enjoyed absolutely the most perfect weather we could ask for, great water conditions for canoeing, abundant and delicious food, and good fun amongst new friends. We were nine, Cliff being our leader and guide, assisted by Jen Kohut; accompanied by seven fairly novice paddlers: Camie and Taylor Scott, Aaron and Linda Guenther, Nathan, Landon and Brad Lefebvre.
We all met at Cliff’s place on Saturday at 8:00 am, loaded up his van and headed for Hague and the ferry. Settling in there, we were all given some good basic instruction from Cliff with regard to Paddling Rules and Techniques, and common sense things to keep in mind as we travelled. We were on the water by about 10:00 am, and the current was fairly strong, but a good headwind from the east made us keep our heads down, paddles to the water and keep up an energetic pace. Smoke haze from the British Columbia forest fires (BC was abnormally hot and dry) kept the hot sun obscured, so we did not have to worry about sunburns. Temperature was about 24° C.
About three hours later we chose a beautiful river bank area containing a nice sheltered spot for our lunch and Cliff provided us with a splendid feast to keep up our energy and smiles. We carried on and enjoyed the views, the birds and the fast moving waters, but only after Jen and Linda test drove the old Ford sitting as a sentinel of some wild party that must have taken place near our lunch site once upon a time!
Further downstream, we pulled in at a designated spot called Tourond’s Coulee and hiked one of the “Trails of 1885” up the river bank to the meadow where General Middleton once rested his men and horses, after being ambushed by the Resistance fighters of Gabriel Dumont. The army retreated here to bury their dead and regroup for their ensuing battle at Batoche. It was very surreal to stand on this spot, and think about a time in history when hundreds of soldiers and horses would have been on this very spot, nervously awaiting orders to march on to fight another day. Wow!! They spent about two weeks here, in a cold April of 1885.
We were fortunate to have Linda and Aaron with us, as they live in the area and are very knowledgeable with regard to the history and local stories. Linda is Métis and also a Parks Canada Guide at Batoche, giving tours as her day job. They related many good anecdotes and historical episodes to our group.
Paddling on, past the area where Fish Creek empties its contents into the South Saskatchewan River, we eventually came to the deserted village of Fish Creek, and took a hike up to the old church, once grand and proud, now sadly dilapidated and falling apart.
Around a few more bends, we came to the area known as Petite Ville, where the Métis wintered their families in the late 1800s. As many as 300 or more people would spend winter in the very meadow where we set up our camp for the night. They were the buffalo hunters, who eventually formed the settlements of St. Laurent, Duck Lake and Batoche. I felt awe-inspired to be eating and sitting around the campfire and tenting on this special ground. Jen and Taylor did some river swimming here too. The bison stew, wild rice and carrot cake we feasted on at supper were especially tasty. We had a great night at Petite Ville.
Up early and packed up Sunday am, breakfast enjoyed by all, and on the water about 10:00, we made our way to Gabriel’s Crossing. There we hiked up the old ferry road to enthusiastically join about 40 folks gathered at Maria Campbell’s beautiful riverside home. The weekend gathering was organized by the Dizaines for Batoche cultural group to celebrate their first annual Chokecherry Festival. When we arrived, singing circles were in place to showcase homemade songs to celebrate the chokecherry and then we were graciously invited to share in their big dinner feast to wrap up the event. Wow!
Paddling on for a few more hours, we all too soon came to Batoche, and the exit point of our paddling adventure. Too much fun and over too soon! Linda toured us around the Batoche National Historic Site for about two hours of very informative and interesting history and displays. Then we boarded the van to return via the Hague ferry, and on to Saskatoon and Cliff’s place. There we had a short debriefing and several of Jen’s homemade cookies, and off we headed for home.
We will each have our own special memories and favorite things about the trip, but overall I think I can speak for our group when I say that we were blessed to have been able to take part in such an adventure, to remember those who have gone before us, and to think about how we can connect with our past.