Swift Current resident Hugh Henry continued his efforts this past summer to connect Saskatchewan residents to their past through walks along historic trails in the province.
He is the current president of the Saskatchewan History and Folklore Society (SHFS), and has served on the board since 2010.
He is the convenor of the SHFS historic trails program and in 2015 he initiated the first trail walk along the North West Mounted Police Trail from Wood Mountain to Fort Walsh. In 2017 he organized a trail walk that closely followed the original route of the historic Swift Current – Battleford Trail.
Last year he coordinated a walk along the Frenchman Trail from Mortlach to Gravelbourg, but that was not a SHFS sanctioned event. For 2019 he again organized a walk through SHFS that took place from the original Humboldt site to Fort Carlton.
“The Fort Carlton Trail was basically the Trans-Canada Highway of its day,” he said. “It went from what was then Fort Garry to Fort Edmonton, that is Winnipeg to Edmonton. It started probably in the 1860s and a lot of trading when through there. … There would have been branches coming off that main trail, but Carlton Trail was the main highway that brought goods and services and then furs and stuff out of that hinterland back to Winnipeg. It was very important in its time and it was really essential for the settlement or for example for the Métis moving out of Red River.”
Participants walked about 170 kilometres during eight days, from Aug. 17-24. They walked about 22 kilometres per day for the initial five days, then about 20 kilometres on day six, and 19 kilometres on each of the final two days.
He felt the walk was successful, with 15 walkers at the start and 13 on the final day. Some walkers only participated in a portion of the route, and a total of 21 people joined the walk during the eight-day period. Thirteen were repeat walkers who participated in a previous walk and eight were new.
“There were four from Swift Current, one from Val Marie, one from Eastend, one from Frontier, and then others from different parts of the province, and one from Victoria actually,” he noted.
He selected this route for the walk because it has a strong heritage component. Original Humboldt, which is about eight kilometres west of the city of Humboldt, was a strategically important telegraph station during the North-West Resistance of 1885. Fort Carlton was a Hudson's Bay Company trading post and it has historical importance as the location where Treaty Six was signed in 1876.
A highlight during the walk was a guided tour for the group at the Battle of Fish Creek site, which was a major Métis victory during the North-West Resistance. They also visited Petite Ville, an early Métis settlement, with a local historian.
The walk included a visit to Batoche and they stayed overnight at St. Laurent-Grandin, another early Métis settlement. An archaeologist came out from Saskatoon to provide a guided tour of a site along the South Saskatchewan River where two fur trade posts were located side by side during the period 1805 to 1810.
“I think the strong point of this walk was the fact that we were engaging participants in sites and kind of a history lesson related to the activities of 1885,” he said.
Each participant in the walk experienced it differently, but Henry felt the walk provided them with an opportunity to reflect on life and on the past.
“You're engaging with the landscape and the animals and the wind and the sun and everything else, and it's really having an effect,” he said. “It's almost spiritual in a sense, just in the way of connecting with yourself and connecting with other people and you really have a chance to think about life.”
The SHFS will soon be starting a new three-year planning cycle and he will also report to the board about the walk. The usefulness of such walks as part of the organization’s mandate will also be considered during these discussions. Henry feels there is a usefulness to have these historic walks.
“This area of walks is something that is new in a sense to the province in an organized fashion,” he said. “It's not necessarily a tourist kind of thing in the sense that you're not attracting people from far and wide, and it's a little bit different than the regular tourism concept. The bottom line is to be engaging the people of Saskatchewan in their history. Settlement history, but also indigenous history, First Nation and Métis history, and experiencing that. You're not just reading about it, but you're experiencing it in a physical sense that is unique and looks like it is rewarding as well.”
He is already looking at options for future walks, which will require board approval if it is to take place as a SHFS event. He is thinking about a cross-border walk from Fort Ellice, which is just inside Manitoba, to Fort Qu'Appelle in Saskatchewan.