Monday, 24 July 2017 05:26

Trail walk to take place from Swift Current to Battleford

Written by 
Rate this item
(0 votes)

During the late 19th century, the regular trips by carts and wagons along a trail between Swift Current and Battleford left a clear mark on the prairie landscape.


For the most part, the wheel ruts along this historic trail are not visible anymore due to agricultural and other human activities during the past 127 years, but a trail walk in August will closely follow the original trade route.
This unique walk from Aug. 3 to 20 is organized by Swift Current resident Hugh Henry, who is the vice-president of the Saskatchewan History and Folklore Society.
“There’s very few spots that the trail is visible,” he said. “I’ve heard from some farmers and ranchers that they have a section in their pasture or whatever that they can still see it, but those are off the beaten track. For the most part, we’re talking about cultivated land, so that the trail is all gone. In terms of this walk we’ll be taking, we’ll be staying on the roads.”
The Swift Current – Battleford Trail became a vital trade route in 1883 after the arrival of the railway line at Swift Current. It was the closest railway point to the thriving community at Battleford and the trail also had significant strategic importance during the 1885 Resistance.
“That was a significant period of time and also that brought it to national attention,” he said. “It was one of those events in Canadian history that Swift Current was critically important in some people’s minds to the success of the military endeavours in the Battleford area. It was critically important to get troops and goods there as quickly and efficiently as possible.”
The trail lost its importance as a trade route in 1890, when the railway line reached Saskatoon. Traders then started to transport goods from Saskatoon to Battleford, but for years thereafter the Swift Current – Battleford Trail still had some significance to settlers moving into the area.
“It became important later on when homesteaders came in there,” he said. “They used the trail then to orientate themselves in terms of locating their land and also it was used then when towns started to spring up — Kyle, Elrose, Rosetown and so on. Then, it was still a way of getting to town in the very early days before roads were established.”
The original trail was re-surveyed in 1886 by Richard Laurie, and Henry has transcribed the information from this survey onto current rural municipality maps.
“I’m able to see what the closest roads are, and stay as close as possible to where the trail would have run back in the 1880s,” he said. “So we’ll just sort of follow the roads and get the experience that way. The geography, the heat, the dust, the rain, everything else that goes with it, and then follow as nearly as possible all the way up to Battleford. There’s still a few spots of pasture, which I got permission to walk through, and hopefully we’ll be able to pick up the trail, but it’s uncertain at this point.”
The historic trail ran west of the current Highway 4 between Swift Current and Battleford, and during this walk the participants will mostly be using dirt and gravel roads. During the 1960s the provincial government placed about eight historic markers at different locations to indicate the existence of the historical trail.
“Wherever it crossed the highway, there was a turnout from the highway and a marker established there so people could stop and just read the historic marker and get a sense of where the trail ran that way,” he said. “Most of those markers are not there. They’d been vandalized over the years. ... Some have been repaired and replaced, I would say half of them.”
One of the goals of the Saskatchewan History and Folklore Society is to preserve the legacy of historic trails in the province and to create more awareness about these trails. During the past two years Henry received permission from municipalities between Swift Current and Battleford to install some new markers.
“I’ve put 17 markers on some of the main roads, the grid roads and so on, that the trail went across,” he said. “So we’ll maintain them for a couple of years, just to see how well they’re being received, and how much repair work is involved with them, and hopefully maybe again have an opportunity to add to them in subsequent years and just make it a bit more visible than it is now.”
The upcoming trail walk is another means to bring more attention to the historical importance of the Swift Current – Battleford Trail. This will be the second time that Henry will undertake a long distance walk along a historic trail in Saskatchewan.
In 2015, he organized a walk along the North West Mounted Police Trail from the Wood Mountain Post historical site to Fort Walsh.
He organized the previous walk in association with Dr. Matthew Anderson of Concordia University, who will also participate in the Swift Current – Battleford Trail walk. Two other people will walk the full distance, but most people who will participate in the walk will do shorter distances.
“There’s a few other people who’ve committed half way, but work obligations and family obligations have limited their ability to go the full distance,” Henry said. “Most of the people will be come and go, like a day or two days, and that’s what we want to do, just to make it comfortable and not be a burden to anybody, but to get that experience.”
He hopes more people will be able to join the walk than the previous one, because the route between Swift Current and Battleford is more accessible
“There’s a lot more country roads to follow, so you actually get closer to the trail for one thing, and then support vehicles can also be closer by in case of emergency,” he said. “It is parallel somewhat to the No. 4 Highway, so there’s towns to pop in for food and any kind of motel, if you want to spend the time in a motel for the night, then that’s easier access in a sense to the trail and also for people to join. So if they want to come out for a weekend, then it’s an easy connection to Saskatoon or Regina or that sort of thing.”
The Swift Current – Battleford Trail was an official trade route between these communities from 1883 to 1890, but before then the Métis and First Nations also travelled through this landscape. This walk will therefore be an opportunity to reflect on the history of the area and the previous inhabitants of the land.
“We’re promoting this walk in the spirit of reconciliation,” he said. “How we came to be where we are today has a lot of building blocks to it and a lot of history to the land, and that’s one of the things we would be considering as we walk through the landscape and some of the history of the Métis and indigenous people that were here before the colonial period and settlers came west, and just reflecting on some of that.”
The walkers will camp on the land of the Mosquito Grizzly Bear’s Head Leanman First Nation during their walk.
He hopes it will be an opportunity for them to receive a different historical perspective, because the Grizzly Bear’s Head and Leanman bands are Treaty 4 signatories that were relocated from the Cypress Hills as a result of federal government policy to clear the land.
“We’re also going to have at least two Indigenous people walking with us,” he said. “One is an elder. There may be opportunities for him to speak to us. I’m also working on having another elder come and talk to the group before they walk or someplace on the trail, to sit down and focus on walking in a good way, what does that mean, and is it tied in with reconciliation, is it just tied in with an understanding of the land, and the people and life in general.”
The trail walk will start on Aug. 3 in Swift Current at the Battleford Trail Ruts Municipal Heritage Site, which is located next to Houston Pizza. The Art Gallery of Swift Current is hosting a Métis culture camp at this site on the same day, and there will be a departure ceremony for the walkers at 9:30 a.m. People will have an opportunity to accompany the walkers as they leave Swift Current and a shuttle will return them to the heritage site at noon.
There will be public presentations about the walk in a number of communities along the route. These events will also be an opportunity for people to share their family’s own memories about the historic trail with the walkers. There will be presentations in Kyle (Aug. 5), Fiske (Aug. 10), Biggar (Aug. 15), and Cando (Aug. 17). All these events will start at 7:30 p.m. The walk will conclude with an event at Fort Battleford on Aug. 20 at 2:30 p.m.
People are welcome to join the walk at any stage during the route and to walk along for as long as they prefer. There is no cost to participate, but there may be tenting fees at overnight stops. Walkers are responsible for their own food and camping supplies, but there will be support vehicles to transport their camping items to the next overnight stop.
For more information about the walk or to register to participate, phone the Saskatchewan History and Folklore Society at 306-780-9204, or visit the website for more information at: http://shfs.usask.ca.

Read 1122 times Last modified on Thursday, 20 July 2017 15:36
Matthew Liebenberg

Reporter/Photographer

More Swift Current News...