Blog #22 Saskatchewan Museums and Bear Encounters

Tags: Saskatchewan travel; Saskatchewan museums;  Batoche; Duck Lake; 1885 Northwest Resistance;  1885 Riel Rebellion; Fort Battleford National Historic Site;  Frenchman Butte; Maple Creek; Val Marie; Willow Bunch;  black bears 

As mentioned at the end of Blog #21, I still have one more Blog left to complete my series on the education of girls during the Red River Settlement era (ca 1812-1870).  This week, however, I want to talk about some of the interesting places and museums my husband and I visited during our recent trip to Saskatchewan. If you live in Saskatchewan or plan to visit there this summer, you   might like to check some of them out.

The Saskatchewan trip was a multipurpose one.  We went to visit family and friends and at the same time we made a circuit to visit a dozen museums and gift shops across the province. I have found that museum gift shops are one of the best sources to sell the kind of history books that I write. Thus, the purpose of the circuit, in addition to seeing the country and visiting the museums, was   a mini book tour. We visited Rosthern, Batoche, Duck Lake, the Battlefords, Frenchman Butte, Maple Creek, Val Marie, Willow Bunch, Regina and Fort Qu’Appelle before returning home to Manitoba.  If you are not a resident of Saskatchewan, you may not be familiar with some of these places because they are very small or off the beaten track.  Although I will only discuss half of the places listed, that does not mean the remainder aren’t worth visiting. Actually I recommend all of them.

I had not realized until I started writing this Blog that four of the museums I visited mark the sites of events connected with the 1885 Northwest Resistance — otherwise known as the Riel Rebellion. You may know about the Batoche National Historic Site. It marks the location of the major battle between the Métis and the Canadian Government forces that took place between May 9 and 12, 1885, in which the Métis were soundly defeated. Batoche is certainly off the beaten path. There is no longer even a village there. It is located about half way between Saskatoon and Prince Albert, and few would be able to find it without a good map or GPS since it is not on a major highway.  The scenery is beautiful. The original church, rectory and cemetery are still there to visit. The rectory served as a combination residence for the priest, chapel, school and local post office. Now there is also a large new museum and interpretive centre on the site.

Batoche Cemetery

Batoche Cemetery overlooking the South Saskatchewan River

(Taken by Irene Ternier Gordon in 1996)

The nearby community of Duck Lake is also worth visiting for its museum and to view the murals painted on many of the buildings along the main street. The North-West Mounted Police were defeated there in a skirmish with the Métis led by Gabriel Dumont on March 26, 1885.


 “ A Métis family”, one of the many murals on the main street of Duck Lake.

(Taken by Irene Ternier Gordon in 1996)

The Battlefords — the city of North Battleford and its smaller neighbour Battleford – have several museums worth a visit, including Fort Battleford National Historic Site.   Women and children took refuge in the fort on March 30, 1885, when several First Nation bands arrived and looted the town.  Three weeks later Lieutenant-colonel William Otter arrived to relieve the siege with no fighting taking place.


Fort Battleford National Historic Site (Wikipedia)

Another interesting museum (and tea house) connected with the Northwest Resistance is at Frenchman Butte off Highway #3, northeast of Lloydminster and about 40 km from the Saskatchewan-Alberta border.  We had an excellent tour there, guided by a university student whose family has lived in the area for three generations. In addition to the museum, you can tour the rifle pits overlooking the scenic valley of the North Saskatchewan River where a clash took place between the military and a First Nations band led by Mistahimaskwa  on May 28, 1885.   Also worth a visit is the nearby site of the Fort Pitt fur trade post that was captured by Mistahimaskwa on April 17. He finally surrendered to the North-West Mounted Police on July 2.

Leaving central Saskatchewan, we next headed to Maple Creek in the southwest corner of the province just south of the Trans-Canada Highway. It is an attractive small town that is advertised as being in “Genuine Cowboy Country” where the “spirit of the Old West is alive and well.” Here are located two museums – the S.W. Saskatchewan Oldtimers’ Museum and the Jasper Cultural and Historical Centre. The Jasper is well worth visiting; however the Oldtimers is undergoing renovations this summer so we did not see it.  Unfortunately, we did not have time to visit the nearby Fort Walsh National Historic Site commemorating the North-West Mounted Police; however we had visited it on a previous trip and highly recommend it.


An pronghorn antelope near Maple Creek (Taken by Irene Ternier Gordon)

Next stop on our trip was the little town of Val Marie at the junction of Highways #4 and #18.  It is home of Prairie Wind and Silver Sage, which is an excellent combined eco-museum,   book store and gift shop with a coffee bar. The town is also a gateway to the Grasslands National Park, which is well worth visiting.


A view of Grasslands National Park (Taken by Irene Ternier Gordon)

The last of the museums I want to mention is in the town of Willow Bunch.  The museum is located in a former convent built in 1914. The chief claim to fame for Willow Bunch is the giant Edouard Beaupré who was born there in 1881.  He grew to be 8 ft. 3 in. tall and weighed 374 pounds before he died of tuberculosis in 1904.

Edouard Beaupre

Edouard Beaupré and his father (Wikipedia)

I don’t plan to talk about the personal part of my trip except for one event. In recent years, it seems that we are hearing of more and more encounters with bears, further and further south in both Saskatchewan and Manitoba. I grew up in the Battlefords area, and you very rarely would hear of a local bear sighting when I was a child.  If you did, it was not likely to be legitimate.  Now bears seem to be a regular occurrence. While visiting my sisters, we saw two bears in a single afternoon. First, a small bear walked in front of my sister Betty’s house, stopping long enough to attempt to knock down a bird feeder. Shortly afterwards,  at my sister Judy’s house nearby, we saw a larger bear running across her front yard on its hind legs, waving its front legs in the air like a monster in a horror movie.  My nephew Johnny raises bees, so he  rushed out of the front door with his rifle hoping to protect his hives by shooting into the air and scaring away the bear. That plan did not work because he realized that he had grabbed the wrong clip of bullets. Johnny was followed by his parents, who stood on the step yelling at the bear.   Johnny rushed back into the house for the right bullets. In his hurry, however, he slammed the door so hard that the window glass smashed all over the step. The yelling, the sound of breaking glass, or a combination thereof scared the bear away.

While that bear encounter ended OK and was even rather humorous, some neighbours had a sad experience when a bear attacked and killed a miniature horse belonging to their eight-year-old daughter. One shudders to think that the bear could have attacked the girl had she been present at the time.

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