The South Saskatchewan River, flowing from the Rocky Mountains, carves its way through the southern plains, historically providing a refuge and sustenance for First Nations people for millennia and for Métis people to follow.
More than 125 years ago, a civil conflict - the only one to ever occur on Canadian soil - had its focus in the river valley at the Métis village of Batoche, a mere 90 kilometres north of Saskatoon. There a pitched battle took place between the Northwest Field Force led by General Middleton and the forces of Louis Riel, ending in defeat for the Métis people and their grievances.
A precursor to the main battle took place on the trail to Batoche, at a deep ravine called Tourond’s Coulee, where Fish Creek flows into the South Saskatchewan River. There the Canadian militia was ambushed by Riel’s men under the command of Gabriel Dumont, Riel’s military leader. Middleton and his army were forced to retire to a camp near the river bank to nurse their wounds and await reinforcements before marching on to Batoche.
The Fish Creek and Batoche battlefields are connected by the South Saskatchewan River and the trails used by the combatants in the dramatic and tragic events of the 1885 North West Resistance are part of the river valley landscape. Indeed, the river itself played a role in Middleton’s attack plan on Batoche with the steamship Northcote commandeered and outfitted as a “naval” vessel.
Being able to explore events of the North West Resistance via the river provides a unique and exciting perspective - exactly what participants will get on a new historically themed series of canoeing adventures called River Trails of 1885, provided by CanoeSki Discovery Company (www.canoeski.com) of Saskatoon.
The first stop on the river tour is made at the trail that leads from the river at Fish Creek, so canoeists can hike to explore Middleton’s battle camp, now part of the Batoche National Historic Site (www.pc.gc.ca/lhn-nhs/sk/batoche/index.aspx).
The ride continues downstream past the abandoned village of Fish Creek with its landmark, derelict old church to an overnight wilderness camp at Petite Ville, an 1870’s-era archaeological site, former home to migrant Métis buffalo hunting families.
On the final lap of the river trail to Batoche, canoeists pass under Gabriel's Bridge, near a cairn and plaque marking where Gabriel Dumont operated a farm, a store and a ferry called Gabriel’s Crossing.
Last attraction on the river is at the junction of the Carlton Trail, historically famous overland Red River cart trail between Fort Garry and Fort Edmonton. Here canoeists exchange their paddles for hiking shoes and follow the trail through the former Batoche East Village as it heads upland to the site of Louis Riel's short-lived provisional government with its original church, rectory and cemetery. Here also, the Parks Canada Interpretive Centre of Batoche National Historic Site houses a museum and theatre with a multi-media show, plus interpreters in period costume taking visitors on guided walks to explore the various sites connected to the Battle of Batoche.
Besides an immersion in Canadian history, the River Trails tours offer all the thrills of wilderness canoe camping - cooking over an open fire, sleeping in tents, and having no support facilities such as plumbing. The river valley in the Fish Creek and Batoche area is scenic and serene with interesting wildlife and an aura of wilderness.
Overall, the river trails experience offers an enticing combination of adventure and education. Participants leave with a renewed connection to places and events that have greatly influenced Saskatchewan and Canadian history.
Even more of the 1885 North West Resistance history can be explored throughout the Trails of 1885 (www.trailsof1885.com), with sites located in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.
For more information or to plan your Saskatoon getaway, visit www.tourismsaskatoon.com.