Several paddlers on the David Thompson historical and archaeological river adventure wrote about their experiences on the Trek. Prairie boy and retired farmer Georges from St. Louis, Jamie and Connie, a tourism contest winning couple from Morse and Velma, a farmer/drug store worker from Rosetown, each have a story to relate. Some common themes run through their tales – good food, good company and a lot of interesting history to discover on the South Saskatchewan River.
South Saskatchewan River Adventures in History & Archaeology
By Jamie and Connie Baxter, July 2009
In the summer of 2009, we went on an adventure that everyone should experience. It all started by entering a contest in 2008 sponsored by Tourism Saskatchewan. We won the draw for a canoeing adventure for two provided by CanoeSki Discovery, an eco-adventure company owned and operated by Cliff Speer of Saskatoon. On account of personal schedules, we were unable to attend the 2008 trip, but Cliff kindly invited us to join the 2009 trip instead. My spouse Connie and I had never canoed before, so we elected to attend lessons in Saskatoon instructed by Cliff. We were now ready and early the morning of July 24th we met with Cliff and a group of other canoeists to commence our adventure.
After leaving Saskatoon, we had about a 45 minute drive north to Petite Ville on the South Saskatchewan River, a historic wintering location for the Métis during the early 1870’s, located across from the former town site of Fish Creek. We were given a history lesson on the site and then we were on our way with 6 standard canoes and 1 voyageur canoe with 19 paddlers in total.
With the river low and also very clear, you could see the bottom for most of the trip. Besides always watching out for large rocks, we could see numerous clam shells as the current moved us along. Our first stop was a riverside picnic lunch and then off to Batoche National Historic Park. The hike from the river was a bit of a walk, but the tour of the Park and time spent in the Interpretive Centre had us ready to continue the adventure. Not far from Batoche, close to the riverbank, we set up our tents, ate and settled in for the night. We were amazed with Cliff’s ability to pack so much food, and healthy food at that, for our large group. That evening we were treated to stories of Fort Carlton and the Métis and Native people that were involved in the events of the 1885 North West conflict.
The next morning for breakfast we had coffee, bagels, fruit salad and more over a camp fire. We ate, packed up, and on we went. Next down stream we came upon an old fur trade fort site called South Branch House, where archaeologists were digging right before our eyes. Just prior to our landing, they had unearthed a Hudson Bay Co. button. We were shown how arrow heads were made and how to hunt buffalo with a Native spear called an atlatl, which would have been used some time before the European traders arrived. Before we left, we read the 1787 post journal that was in David Thompson’s handwriting. We were then back on the water paddling to our overnight camp, which was at the southeast corner of the Nisbet Forest.
That evening while all was quiet a couple of deer danced through our camp site, disappearing into the trees. Once again we were treated to evening stories of historical events connected to the South Saskatchewan River. As we drifted off for the night, Elizabeth, one of Cliff’s assistant guides softly played a flute. What a memorable way to fall asleep after such a busy day of history and adventure!
On our third and final day, we woke to a light rain which ended by the time we were part way through breakfast. With wind to our backs and sun in our faces, we ended our trip in late afternoon at the big buffalo park in St. Louis.
You might wonder who the people are that go on these adventures. Well, we were fortunate to meet the most interesting people. The group included an archaeologist, a city archivist, a project manager, a park manager, druggists, massage therapists, an engineer and both of us, a hair dresser and a Credit Union manager from Morse, Saskatchewan. And of course, a wonderful guide and host, Cliff Speer with his helpers. This is the type of trip we recommend to anyone who likes the outdoors, good people and fun.
We thank Sask Tourism and of course, Cliff Speer of CanoeSki Discovery Company.
Prairie Boy Discovers a Treasure Trove of Archaeology
By Georges Doderai
As a member of both the St. Louis Historical Society and the Saskatchewan Archaeological Society, it almost goes without saying that I love history and archaeology. I am a prairie boy who has recently discovered that the Saskatchewan River, both north and south branches, has been at the forefront of our prairie history, oral and written, and is a trove of archaeological treasures. I accepted the invitation to join the David Thompson Voyageur Trek in the summer of 2009, hoping to deepen my knowledge of these two fields. I was not disappointed. I appreciated the fact that we had knowledgeable people accompanying us on this trek.
As an amateur canoeist, I was also able to learn from my companions, many of them accomplished canoeists. The south branch of the Saskatchewan River was tame enough for a novice such as myself, but numerous sand bars and boulders challenged most everyone and made the trip an enjoyable experience.
The food – fantastic! The choice of healthy foods and the cooking preparation were unmatched! I would recommend this trip for adults of all ages no matter what their past experiences and canoeing abilities are.
Learning About History and Wilderness Living
By Velma Persson
I celebrated my birthday by embarking on a three-day canoe trek that my friend Pam and I had talked about doing for years.
After talking to CanoeSki guide/owner Cliff Speer, we realized we couldn’t do the women’s trips that we had planned. He advised us that with our lack of experience we try the David Thompson Trek “to get our feet wet”.
We drove to Saskatoon on Friday morning with butterflies in our stomachs and apprehension in our hearts. With no canoe experience and modest physical fitness at best, we feared we would be stretcher material after a day paddling and a night sleeping in the outback.
The excursion was meticulously planned by our guide, Cliff. The meals were tasty, nutritious and authentic (bison stew, wild rice, wild cranberry sauce). The campsites included the river bank near Batoche and a forest meadow with abundant wildflowers near a former North West Fur Trade Fort. Even though we were not in total wilderness, we could gaze at the starry sky and hear the coyotes.
We learned some basic paddling skills, as well as how to camp and cook where there are no picnic tables, BBQ pits or washroom facilities. We came to understand some of the history on the South Saskatchewan River after exploring Batoche and South Branch House archaeological site.
On the drive back to Saskatoon on Sunday evening, we were tired but not sore. We felt content having experienced many new adventures and were committed to acquiring more canoe skills so that we can do that women’s trip in the near future.