Public invited to join pilgrimage along the historic NWMP Trail

Written by  Matthew Liebenberg
Volunteers unload a concrete marker along the NWMP Trail on a ranch near Fort Walsh, July 1961.

A unique walk will take place later this month through southwest Saskatchewan along the historic North West Mounted Police (NWMP) Trail and the public is invited to be part of the event.

The walk is taking place under the auspices of the Saskatchewan History and Folklore Society (SHFS) over a distance of about 310 kilometres, starting on July 18 at Wood Mountain Post historical site and ending at Fort Walsh Aug. 7.
Swift Current resident Hugh Henry, who is a SHFS board member and convenor of the society’s Historic Trails Committee, and Dr. Matthew Anderson of Concordia University will walk the entire distance.
“The two of us have been working on organizing and planning a walk along the trail for this summer,” Henry said.
Dr. Anderson is an assistant professor at Concordia University’s Department of Theological Studies. He teaches a course in pilgrimage studies and has done walks along pilgrimage routes in various European countries. He grew up in Swift Current and contacted the SHFS about a walk along the historic NWMP Trail.
Henry was excited when he heard about Anderson’s proposal and he is looking forward to the pilgrimage.
“I was really encouraged by it because I saw it as a challenge to myself in terms of walking that distance for that period of time, but also for the History and Folklore Society,” he said. “We’ve been talking about these sorts of things about the board table, about making this trail better known to the public.”
The SHFS has a longstanding association with the NWMP Trail. The organization’s first president Everett Baker initiated a project in the early 1960s to erect 260 white concrete posts along the route. Local volunteers along the trail route assisted him to complete the project by 1964.
Henry’s role as current convenor of the society’s Historic Trails Committee involves co-ordinating trips by volunteers to document and maintain these concrete posts.
“They’re not all necessarily documented,” he said. “So we try to find the posts and over the course of a couple of work bees we paint the posts, replace the cast aluminum heads on them if they need to be replaced and just add them to the database.”
The walk will therefore be a useful way for him to gather more information about the posts. He noted the sons and daughters of the local volunteers who assisted Baker to erect these posts are still staying on farms along the route.
“That’s part of the connection as well that these people are the caretakers of the land and that is a historical component about their land over and above the practical one of making a living,” Henry said. “So we’re hoping to instill that in them as well that they’ve got a legacy within their family about this trail and that we’re kind of relying on them to carry on and be respectful of it.”
For Anderson the walk is a pilgrimage along an important part of Canadian history. He will document it from that perspective and look at linkages between the region’s past and present.
“From his perspective it’s Canadian history in the same way that the pilgrimages in Europe are tied to their quite old history,” Henry said. “This trail was important to First Nations, Métis and newcomers to the land as well. So he wants to include all of that as well as all these pressures now in terms of maintaining ecology, which Grasslands (National Park) is doing, and what’s going to happen to these PFRAs.”
Members of the public will have different opportunities to be part of this walk. They can participate by walking along sections of the route. During the initial days of the walk the close proximity of the trail to Highway 18 will make it possible for people to participate by riding their bicycles.
“There are also going to be a couple of sections where we’re going to hopefully have horses along too, like longer areas of pasture and they will help locate posts for us,” he said. “This will also be a way for them to engage in the trail in a more familiar or historic sense.”
Alternatively people will be able to attend a number of presentations to learn more about the walk and the NWMP Trail. There will be a potluck supper and presentation at the McCord Community Hall at 6 p.m. on July 19 and a presentation at the New Horizons Centre in Mankota at 7:30 p.m. on July 20.
During these presentations Dr. Anderson will talk about pilgrimage and Henry will present a slideshow with images taken by Everett Baker in the early 1960s when these markers were installed.
A similar event will take place at the Prairie Wind & Silver Sage in Val Marie July 24 at 7:30 p.m., but Dr. Anderson and Henry will also be joined by well-known prairie writer and naturalist Trevor Herriot, who will do a reading from his new book The Road is How: A Prairie Pilgrimage through Nature, Desire and Soul.
The SHFS is hosting a special day of heritage activities in Eastend on Aug. 1 to coincide with the walk. There will be presentations by Dr. Anderson on the NWMP Trail pilgrimage and by associate film producer Scott Parker on the National Film Board’s Grasslands Project.
In addition there will be opportunities for tours to various local landmarks and attractions, including Chimney Coulee, geology sites along the Frenchman River Valley and Stegner House. There will also be a buffet supper at the historic Jack’s Café with writer Candace Savage, the author of the acclaimed book A Geography of Blood.
Seating is limited for the buffet supper and pre-registration is required by phoning the SHFS office at 306-780-9204 or Hugh Henry at 306-778-2531. More details about the walk along the NWMP Trail, including a daily itinerary and trail maps, are available under upcoming society events on the SHFS website at:

via SW Sask News – Prairie Post – Prairie Post

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