Great Canadian RIVERS 


Reclaiming Treaty Territory
At Fort Qu'appelle in 1874, when 13 separate Cree and Saulteaux Nations (followed by the Assiniboine Nations) signed Treaty No. 4 with Her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain, they agreed to share 195,000 square kilometres of land with the Government of Canada. In exchange for the vast tract, which included territory in western Manitoba, southern Saskatchewan and southern Alberta, the First Nations were promised reserve land, annuity payments, tax exemptions, medical services, schools and a variety of other treaty rights. Among the rights granted were the creation of "Treaty Grounds," land set aside for treaty meetings, payment of annuities and other gatherings.

Acess Denied: Twenty years later, in 1894, the amity and cooperation that led to the signing of Treaty No. 4 has largely evaporated. In that year, the federal government's Department of Indian Affairs officially transferred the ownership of the Treaty Grounds to the Department of the Interior, but unofficially, the First Nations signatories to Treaty 4 had lost access to the land not long after the agreement was struck. Tensions between local tribes - facing ever-worsening living conditions - and local settlers had led government officials to ban large aboriginal gatherings. First Nations freedom of movement had been further limited following the Cree uprising and North West Rebellion of 1885, when the imposition of a pass system prevented reserve residents from leaving their reserves without permission.

Restitution: In 1985, when an aboriginal burial ground was discovered on the site of the original Treaty Grounds in Fort Qu'appelle, the Treaty Four First Nations filed a claim for land. In 1995, a Settlement Agreement provided compensation to purchase the land and re-establish the Treaty Grounds, and in 2001, the land was officially converted to Indian Reserve status.

Today, there are 34 signatories to the Treaty Four agreement, including 27 bands from Saskatchewan and 7 from Manitoba.

Portable Pemmican
Modern-day out-trippers who rely on specialty freeze-dried camp meals may be surprised to learn that 18th and 19th century voyageurs carried their own lightweight, calorie-packed convenience food. Thousands of years before the invention of commercial food preservation methods, aboriginal Americans were skillfully preparing a highly-nourishing, long-lasting and easily portable food known as pemmican.

Vacuum-Packed: Derived from a Cree word that originally described the preparation of bone marrow grease, the dietary staple of the fur trader was an ingenious combination of dried lean meat (primarily bison, but also moose, elk or deer), wild berries (such as Saskatoon berries) and suet or bone marrow grease. Originally preserved in animal bladders or intestines, pemmican prepared for European traders was stored in bison-skin bags called "parfleches" that were sealed with melted tallow. As the skin bags dried and shrank, they compressed the pemmican mixture and created a vacuum seal, rendering the contents virtually un-spoilable.

A Well-Balanced Meal: Highly-concentrated pemmican lightened the load of voyageur canoes, with only 1 kilogram providing the nutritional equivalent of up to 5 kilograms of fresh meat. In addition to the protein and fat contained in the mixture, vitamins supplied by the berry component helped to prevent scurvy. Greens, roots and flavourings such as wild onions could be added to enhance the pemmican, when it was made into a soup or stew.

Pemmican Gourmet: At the height of the western fur trade, pemmican production was an important First Nations industry. The Hudson's Bay Company paid a premium price for the highest quality "sweet pemmican," made exclusively from the leanest red meat of bison cows and young bulls.

Fort Espérance: Pemmican Post of the Lower Qu'appelle
Travellers who venture off the TransCanada highway, northeast of Rocanville near the Saskatchewan-Manitoba border, will encounter the historic site of Fort Espérance on the lower Qu'appelle River.

Today, amidst farmers' fields, only the ruins of an old fireplace and the depressions of some former cellars hint at the area's former role as a major pemmican provisioning post for the Assiniboine-Red River fur trading district.

Originally constructed by the North West Company on the south side of the Qu'appelle in 1787, Fort Espérance was strategically located in the sheltered wintering grounds of the great prairie buffalo herds. Hide sacks known as "tareaux", packed with pemmican made from buffalo meat, were sent down the Assiniboine and Red Rivers and across Lake Winnipeg to the Nor'Westers' supply depot at the mouth of the Winnipeg River.

Fort in Flux: The fort was re-located several times during its 32 years of operation, moving in 1810 to a site on the Qu'appelle Lakes (probably the southern end of Round Lake). Unpopular with the local First Nations tribes, the fort was again shifted downstream to the north bank of the river in 1815.

Battle Base: From its new location (known as Fort John), just west of Big Cutarm Creek, the legendary Métis leader Cuthbert Grant launched his attack on Lord Selkirk's Red River settlers, in a bloody confrontation that became known as the Battle of Seven Oaks. Fighting for control of the lucrative western fur trade, North West Company men also burned a nearby Hudson's Bay Company post, seizing furs, pemmican and prisoners.

Fort Espérance came full circle in 1816, when it was moved to higher ground above its original 1787 location. Ongoing hostilities between North West Company employees and local aboriginal people resulted in the closure of the fort in 1819, and the transfer of its provisioning function to a post on the Assiniboine River.

Furs at Fort Qu'appelle
Thirty years after the North West Company abandoned the Qu'appelle Valley, the Hudson's Bay Company established a fur-trading post further west on the Qu'appelle River, between the second and third Fishing Lakes (now known as Echo and Mission). After a brief move south, to present-day Qu'appelle, the post was transferred back to its original location, at the present site of the town of Fort Qu'appelle.

Fort Qu'appelle Museum: In the museum adjacent to the shuttered log building of the original 1865 Fort Qu'appelle trading post, visitors can view a collection of First Nations artifacts, Hudson's Bay Company items and displays related to the area's historic North West Mounted Police Post. The museum's collection also includes medical gear (such as early x-ray machines) from the nearby "Fort San" tuberculosis sanatorium, which treated hundreds of patients after its construction during World War I.

Last Mountain House: Built at the south end of Last Mountain Lake (near present-day Craven), in the waning days of the fur trade in 1869, Last Mountain House served briefly as a winter fur trade outpost of Fort Qu'appelle. Three reconstructed log buildings, a privy and an ice house have been reconstructed as a provincial heritage site.

By 1870, the fort was both a relay point for furs collected further west at Last Mountain House and sent on to York Factory to the east, and a pemmican supply post functioning much like its predecessor on the river, Fort Espérance. Near the fort's log stockade, the Hudson's Bay Company raised livestock and cultivated several acres of agricultural land, growing wheat, barley, potatoes and other vegetables. Food supplies from the fort were sent east to Fort Ellice, west to Chesterfield House on the South Saskatchewan River and north to Fort Carlton.

Cold and Dark: Life in the mid-19th century fort could be harsh, especially in winter, when fear of fire caused by exploding gunpowder-a chief article of trade-prevented the heating of storage or trading buildings on even the coldest days. Candlelight was limited by the need to use tallow in pemmican-making, and large open fireplaces were often the only source of light when darkness fell.

Rise of Retail: With the waning of the fur trade and the arrival of large numbers of settlers, the Hudson's Bay Company shifted its operation from trading to retailing. In 1897, a new brick and stone Hudson's Bay Company general store was built on what is now the corner of Company Avenue and Broadway Street in Fort Qu'appelle. The building, designated as a provincial heritage property, now houses private retail businesses.

A Millennium of Mourning at Moose Bay
Forming a grassy dome on a steep hill high above the lower Qu'appelle, a conical mound, 15 metres in diameter and 1.5 metres high, marks an ancient aboriginal burial ground.

The Treaty Four Governance Centre
Rising above the long architectural curve of a modern administration building in Fort Qu'appelle, the world's largest occupied tipi houses the Chief's Legislative Assembly of the Treaty Four First Nations. The Treaty Four Governance Centre, officially opened in 2000, includes administrative and educational offices, includes meeting, museum and cultural space, and is the home of the Treaty Four Keeping House and Archives.

Almost 1,000 years old, the Moose Bay Mound at Crooked Lake Provincial Park is one of many burial mounds built throughout North America between 1000 B.C. and 1600 A.D. The site is notable for its relative isolation, and is among the northernmost examples of this widespread early aboriginal burial practice.

A 1968 excavation of the Moose Bay site by archaeologists from the Saskatchewan Museum of Natural History revealed a total of 8 burial units, consisting of bundled remains surrounded by mortuary offerings of decorated pottery vessels, birch bark containers, tubular stone pipes and bone tools.

Monumental Effort:
Burial mounds such as Moose Bay were constructed by first stripping the sod from a circular area, then erecting a wooden post in the centre of the depression. About one year following death, the remains of the deceased, which had been tightly wrapped in buffalo hides, were rubbed with ochre, re-bundled, placed on the ground around the central post and surrounded by grave goods required for the next life. After a tipi-like structure was built to cover the bundles, many tonnes of earth were hauled to cover the burial chamber.