Saskatchewan Tourism Awards of Excellence 2009

Sask Tourism Award of Excellence

The Saskatchewan Tourism Awards of Excellence are presented annually to recognize outstanding contributions to the province’s tourism industry. Sixteen awards in various categories acknowledging excellence in emerging and traditional areas of tourism in 2009 were presented to the winning candidates (pdf – 156 kb) in a gala award ceremony in March 2010. CanoeSki took the prestigious Spirit of Saskatchewan award.

Cliff Speer holding Tourism Saskatchewan Award

Award recipient Cliff Speer, stylized cut glass award in hand, with Mountie and Michelle of the Sask Arts Board, award sponsor.


Nominations for awards are submitted by tourism businesses and individuals or by the provincial tourism regions on behalf of their members. Tourism Saskatoon and West Central Tourism (CanoeSki has membership in both) had encouraged CanoeSki to submit a nomination to recognize the David Thompson Voyageur Trek canoe tour as an event of special significance to Saskatchewan tourism.

The nomination forms have specific qualifying criteria for each award which nominees must meet and provide information and documentation to support their bid for an award. The Spirit of Saskatchewan nomination form required background information on the candidate plus answers to the following:

Question One – Describe how this tourism experience captures the essence and spirit of Saskatchewan (heritage, tradition, genuine hospitality).

Question Two – Describe how this product or service defines who we are to visitors in terms of: a.Saskatchewan Pride; b. Authenticity; c. Sense of Place (uniqueness)

The following CanoeSki nomination document, which was submitted to the selection committee, outlines the company programs and philosophy and answers the preceding questions as they relate to the winning entry – the David Thompson Voyageur Trek.

Spirit of Saskatchewan Award Nomination Document

Background Information

CanoeSki Discovery Company is one of Saskatchewan’s foremost eco-adventure travel companies specializing in wilderness canoeing and cross-country skiing instruction and tours. Centrally located in Saskatoon, CanoeSki has been offering paddling adventures on southern Saskatchewan rivers and on distant northern waterways since 1990. The company offers only Saskatchewan tourism experiences. It is owned and operated by Cliff Speer.

Of the 22 separately scheduled canoe tours CanoeSki offers, each has a unique itinerary and most programs include interpretive experiences involving themes such as history, archaeology, nature and wildlife viewing, ethnobotany and Aboriginal culture. These components are facilitated by experts and highlight the natural and human heritage resources accessible to any given itinerary.

One such tour program is the David Thompson Voyageur Trek, which clearly exemplifies the CanoeSki approach to adventure travel by providing guests an opportunity to explore and learn about uniquely Saskatchewan places and events and thereby encourage them to connect with the landscape and culture of Saskatchewan (i.e., experience the “spirit of Saskatchewan”).

CanoeSki's David Thompson Voyageur canoe tour on the South Saskatchewan River

Event for Nomination Consideration

The David Thompson Voyageur Trek, initiated in 2007 by CanoeSki as a Saskatchewan entry in the international David Thompson Bicentennial Commemoration, has been conducted successfully for the last 3 years and is slated to run again in July 2010. It began as a collaborative event involving the Saskatchewan Archaeological Society (SAS), the St. Louis Historical Society and CanoeSki Discovery Company. The program offers a 3-day fur trade-themed river adventure on one of the most historically significant portions of the South Saskatchewan River in the vicinity of Batoche.

Although the overall theme of the tour is fur trade history, the river was used to connect to significant Métis historic locations en route, including Petite Ville at the start and Batoche early into the trip. The Trek ended at the village of St. Louis.

The SAS and the St. Louis Historical Society were instrumental in hosting a public open house, which ran in conjunction with the CanoeSki river tour. The open house was a land-based event designed to allow local residents of the Batoche/St. Louis area and the wider public, in addition to the river tour guests, to get acquainted with an intriguing piece of Saskatchewan fur trade history and learn how archaeologists excavate and discover interesting facets of Saskatchewan’s past. In 2008, the Open House attracted a record 200 visitors. It was held at South Branch House archaeological site, an ancient Hudson’s Bay Co. fur trade fort located on theSouth Saskatchewan River, constructed in 1786 by company workers, including a 16-year old apprentice named David Thompson.

David Thompson Voyageur Trek Introduction July 24-26, 2009

The following excerpt from a general info package sent to tour registrants, briefly and partly illustrates how the event was orchestrated to maximize visitors’ exposure to the essence and spirit of Saskatchewan. (answer to Nomination Question One – first part)

The David Thompson Voyageur Trek is a Saskatchewan tribute to an outstanding Canadian hero, who paddled and surveyed many of this province’s outstanding waterways. David Thompson established his fame as an explorer, mapmaker and fur trader working for both the HBC and the North West Company. This river journey will explore the two fur trade forts that Thompson spent time at early in his career and paddle part of the river that represents the most southerly extent of his canoe travel in Saskatchewan.

 An international Bicentennial, which began in 2007, is commemorating Thompson’s extraordinary life and work for the next four years. The print media have helped to focus local attention on Thompson with a feature article in Canadian Geographic Travel on a Saskatchewan “discovery vacation”, entitled Paddling Like Prairie Voyageursan account of the 2007 David Thompson Voyageur Trek by Saskatoon author Candace Savage and Saskatoon photographer Courtney Milne. In March 2009, the Saskatchewan publication Prairies North featured a story by Saskatoon freelance journalist Amy Jo Ehman, entitled River Rhythms, River Stories,  profiling the 2008 Trek.

Once again, we have Butch Amundson, a local professional archaeologist, on board to provide his extensive knowledge of history and archaeology associated with our river route. In addition, we have Lorraine Harder, manager of Fort Carlton Provincial Park and Jeff O’Brien, City of Saskatoon archivist to bring us campfire stories related to the Métis Uprising of 1885 after we connect with those historic places along our route.

 On the water, we again have a replica canot du nord, a 26 foot cedar strip voyageur canoe of the style paddled by Thompson and his voyageur companions, constructed by local boat builder Martin Bernardin. It will help create “voyageur” atmosphere in the canoe flotilla and give participants a taste of paddling a large multi-paddler watercraft as our early Canadian antecedents once did. The flotilla will be outfitted with replica fur trade-era company flags and once again Fort Carlton is supplying voyageur style sashes for our paddling crew.

Answer to Nomination Question One – second part

To fit the application space allocation, here is a point form reference to the specific descriptors in Question One:

  • Canoeing & portaging involved in this event is one of the most popular recreational activities for Sask residents (essence of Saskatchewan)
  • “Wilderness style” canoe-camping experience on a marvelous prairie river (essence of Sask)
  • Watercraft paddled by tour guests were a voyageur canoe (26′ North Canoes) used extensively in the fur trade on Saskatchewan rivers and smaller 2-person canoes used by Aboriginal people to travel Sask waterways (heritage)
  • Métis sashes worn by paddlers and voyageur costume worn by Cliff Speer for interpretive activities (traditional garb)
  • Batoche tour interpreters (in traditional garb)
  • Bannock, home-made wild berry jam and tea served by Métis ladies of St. Louis Historical Society at Open House (traditional Aboriginal food & hospitality)
  • Local community members (St. Louis) hosting open house event and local river guides – Cliff & crew from Saskatoon(offering genuine hospitality)
  • “Hands on” activities of river tour guests discovering Petite Ville, hiking the original Carlton Trail, exploring Batoche and the South Branch House forts and paddling a river travelled by Thompson (learning about/experiencing heritage)

(photo courtesy of Jeff O’Brien)

David Thompson Trek Itinerary Overview July 24-26, 2009

The following itinerary excerpt from the general information package sent to tour participants, illustrates how the nature of the program and related activities helps to define who we are to visitors in terms of Saskatchewan pride, authenticity and sense of place (answer to Nomination Question Two – first part)

We will depart Saskatoon in the morning of Day 1 for our launch point on the South Saskatchewan River about 6.5 km upstream of Gabriel’s Bridge (east of Rosthern). The access to the river follows a prairie trail overlooking the valley with a scenic view of the ancient Fish Creek Church. The trail ends at the river at Petite Ville, the first archaeological site on the trip, where Métis bison hunters & families spent their winters circa 1870’s in a makeshift hivernant or wintering village.

The first lap of our canoe journey takes us downstream about 20 km to Batoche, with a stop en route for a riverside picnic lunch. We land at the junction of the historic Carlton Trail with the river. It is about a 2 km hike up the Trail to the Batoche Interpretive Centre where we will take in a tour of this Parks Canada National Historic Site. After getting acquainted with the history of Batoche and the conflict of 1885, we will continue a short paddle downstream to our riverside campsite for the night. Expect to hear campfire tales of hair-raising and little-known events associated with the 1885 Métis Uprising from our on-board historians!

Day 2, we will cover slightly over 18 km travelling downstream to reach the South Branch House archaeological site in early afternoon. At South Branch House we will join in the Saskatchewan Archaeological Society’s Open House activities. The Society will have displays and conduct tours of the excavation site to show what fascinating discoveries have been unearthed at the old fur trade post. The St. Louis Historical Society will provide displays, historical maps of the river and traditional refreshments of bannock, wild berry jam and tea. You will be able to read a copy of David Thompson’s hand written post journal for South Branch House and along with other speakers, I will talk about Thompson’s life and his contributions to Saskatchewan and Canada.

Our evening camp will be in a scenic wilderness meadow in the Nisbet Forest a short distance downstream of South Branch House. From our camp, we will hike to the nearby location of a North West Company (NWCo) fort, another archaeological site situated deep in the forest, which is just starting to be surveyed with remnants of the fort buildings still visible at the site. At camp, I will don my voyageur costume and relate the dramatic story of the attack by the Gros Ventre Indians on both forts as told by Duncan M’Gillivray of the NWCo in his Journal of 1794.

Our final day will involve slightly less than 20 km of paddling to reach the village of St. Louis in early afternoon, where a replica statue of a mammoth-sized ancient bison provides a landmark for our exit from the river. Some bones of the Bison Antiquus were unearthed by professional archaeologist Butch Amundson and his crew while working at the proposed new bridge site.

Answer to Nomination Question Two – second part

To fit the space allocation for the nomination form, here is a point form reference to specific descriptors in Question Two:

  • guests having the opportunity to paddle a locally built replica of a voyageur canoe (authenticity)
  • guests paddling a waterway once travelled by David Thompson (authenticity)
  • camping menu with locally produced and/or home-made bison stew, wild rice, wild cranberry sauce, and wild saskatoon berry pie – historically, voyageurs ate bison, wild rice, and wild berries (authenticity)
  • Replica HBC, NWCo and Saskatchewan flags flying on the canoe flotilla (authenticity and Saskatchewan pride)
  • Interpretive reading of the attacks on the forts from Duncan M’Gillivray’s 1794 fur trade journal at the site of the NWCo fur trade fort (authenticity)
  • Copy of David Thompson’s 1787 hand-written post journal at South Branch House for visitors to read (authenticity)
  • Visiting and getting acquainted with places and landscapes associated with important historical figures, e.g. David Thompson on South Sask River and at South Branch House (Saskatchewanpride)
  • Connecting places with Métis historical figures, e.g., Gabriel Dumont with Gabriel’s Crossing on the river tour; Gabriel Dumont and Louis Riel with Batoche (sense of place)
  • Seeing “live” evidence of ancient fur trade forts and their remnants through on-the-ground exploration and handling of recently unearthed archaeological artifacts (sense of place, authenticity, heritage)
  • Using St. Louis Historical Society’s map of historic locations in the Batoche/St. Louis section of S. Sask River while on tour (sense of place and Sask pride)
  • River trek ending at Bison Park in St. Louis and visiting the re-created replica of Bison Antiquus with interpretation by on-board professional archaeologist (Saskpride, heritage, sense of place)
  • Local community involvement in Open House event and support for heritage/adventure event (Sask pride)
  • National high profile publication (Canadian Geographic magazine) and respected provincial publication (Prairies North magazine) featuring DT Trek as a Saskatchewan learning vacation using local authors and photographers (Saskpride)
  • Selection of David Thompson Trek for Tourism Awareness contest 2008 and participation of 2 winners in the tour in 2009 (Sask pride)


The David Thompson Voyageur Trek represents a quintessentially Saskatchewan experience, which could not be duplicated anywhere else in terms of its place in the Saskatchewan landscape and its connection to nationally significant historical figures, the intent of which has, and continues to be, an effective way of helping visitors gain an awareness and appreciation of our Saskatchewan heritage and to connect with it in as authentic a manner as possible through an adventure travel experience.

Back to Top