Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Hiking the Maligne Canyon

The  hike along famous Maligne Canyon in Jasper National Park begins innocuously enough from a parking lot surrounded by tall pines. 

Very quickly as we intrepid hikers follow the path closer to the Maligne River, still cutting down hundreds of feet through limestone, we see stunning views. 

The one-way trail crosses 4 bridges, each affording glimpses of the white water at some points about 150 feet below.  

Wire fences protect us from the rushing water and chasms below, though some climb over the barriers to pose at the brink.  Several miles further down the road we find the source of the water, Medicine Lake. And our first mountain goats.

What did I take away from this several hour ramble along the cliffs above Maligne Canyon? 

A little history: The river was apparently named by a priest who had trouble crossing the river in 1846, dubbing it maligne (evil). 

An appreciation for the sheer wilderness of Jasper. 

And very sore feet.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Edmonton Birthday . . .

Just a few blocks from our hotel is the delightful Chinese restaurant, Beijing Beijing, here in Edmonton. To celebrate Allen's birthday, we strolled over to take advantage of their delicious dim sum, a treat we haven't had for many, many years.

Imagine a crowded restaurant filled with eager eaters as friendly waitpersons push carts loaded with Chinese delicacies through, we estimated, some 140 tables seating 2 to families of 8-10 each. Allen requested a fork; I continue to learn chopstick skills. 

Delicious dim sum ensued: pork buns, sticky rice in banana leaf, rice roll with shrimp, steamed shrimp dumplings, and the most adventurous -- steamed chicken feet in special sauce. With hot tea and sesame roll for dessert, and the birthday feast was complete.

Yesterday, we also visited Muttart Conservatory after a hair-raising drive through Edmonton's twisting freeways. One wrong turn and we found ourselves downtown! 

We then wandered through Muttart's very unique pyramids which are organized around four arid, temperate, tropical, and featured gardens. My favorite: the Bat Flower from Asia, delicate, fragile, beautiful.

What's next? Three days of camping in Jasper and no internet.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Fort Edmonton Redux . . .

When we last visited Edmonton in 1996, the U.S.A. women's soccer team won the World Cup, the sun shone brightly, and we visited Fort Edmonton for the first time, not realizing we would return one day. We're back. The population has doubled from about 800,000 to 1.5 million. Modern freeways mimic what I remember of driving in L.A., and yesterday, we revisited Fort Edmonton.

Rowand's Folly, Fort Edmonton

Chief Trader, Company Store
We spent about four hours in the oldest part of the park, a recreation of Fort Edmonton in 1846, exactly the period of my current book. Staffed with very well-informed and helpful costumed volunteers, this living history section of the park was fascinating, positioned as it once was right along the North Saskatchewan River.

At that time, John Rowand was a demanding Chief Factor at Fort Edmonton, enforcing a strict sense of duty with a volatile temper. When told a man was too sick to work, he said something like: "If he is not dead after three days, he is not too sick to work."

In 1842, Rowand built a very unique house to conduct business, entertain, and to serve as his family's private quarters, the largest at any of the Hudson Bay Company forts. Dubbed Rowand's Folly, the three-storied house was about 2,100 square feet with the third floor reserved for family and guests.

Kane's study at Fort Edmonton
But my primary interest is with Paul Kane who stayed at Fort Edmonton for a month during the holidays on his journey west in 1847 and again on his return east in 1848.

Rowand gave Kane quite a luxurious though small two rooms near his own bedroom. Decorated as it once must have looked, the outer room features Kane's sketches pinned on the wall, while the tiny bedroom is fitted up with a twin bed and Hudson's Bay Company blanket.

Kane's sleeping quarters,
Fort Edmonton
Class consciousness can be seen in the bed coverings throughout the Fort.

The Chief Factor, officers of the Company, and wealthier workers used furs atop those Hudson Bay Company blankets, while the poorer workers simply rolled in blankets and slept on the floor, space available.

Volunteer in full Metis dress,
Fort Edmonton
A kind volunteer dressed as a Métis donned his full regalia, explaining that the Assumption sash, which he wore, was also used to calculate how many bales of furs each man carried to ensure fair pay was received. This reminded me of Incan quippus, knotted in somewhat the same style as a kind of record. Notice the lovely beaver-skin top hat worn -- and the coat over a vest, formal dress for the wilderness.

Later today, we're visiting the Royal Albert Museum -- if our feet hold up.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A stop at Rocky Mountain House

Tromped around just half of Rocky Mountain House Provincial Park yesterday, with its tiny but very helpful museum and archaeological digs, right along the North Saskatchwan River. Serious flooding in 2012 took away the banks on the west side of the river, now fortified with rip rap.

View of the North Saskatchewan

Rocky Mountain House was never quite as successful as a trading post, especially as the fur trade wound down in the 1840s, but it was very useful for provisions at a time when starvation was all too risky. Here European goods were traded for pemmican, supplying groups traveling east to York Factory or west to Fort Vancouver. 

Paul Kane stopped here in April, 1848, for a month's stay before returning east with the York Factory brigade. About a decade before Kane's arrival, a major smallpox epidemic decimated the local Blackfeet people.

Front of capote, showing sash
and snowshoe
Here too, Allen bought me a reproduction Assumption sash, commercially made (not traditionally finger woven), but I am thrilled to have this tangible momento. The sash is considered a key part of the Métis costume and can cost hundreds of dollars if made in the traditional way. 

The sashes, practical slashes of bright red or blue, were worn to hold heavy coats closed. Sometimes the men tucked a knife or firebag into its folds.

The capotes (coats) were typically made of Hudson's Bay Company blankets -- Note the snug hood in the back. 

Back of capote, showing hood
The sashes also served to support the voyageurs' backs as they carried heavy loads (often 150 pounds or more) or pulled York boats along shallow streams or portages when rapids were too rough.

I had thought from staring at the map and thinking about the name of Rocky Mountain House that the geography would be rugged, with views of the peaks ahead, to the west. Instead, we are in rolling plains. Here bison once roamed. In August, it's hot here, the air humid, and as we walked along the North Saskatchewan, we heard the familiar call of the chickadee.

Tomorrow we leave for Fort Edmonton, a relatively short drive of 130 miles, only two-and-a-half hours by car. Such luxury.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Farewell to Calgary

Yesterday we spent at the Glenbow Museum, several hours of studying exhibits on First Nations peoples (does not include Metis), until we sank down on a nice black leather couch in the lobby and said, "Let's go back to the hotel."

I feel like I'm circling around what all these artifacts mean, without truly understanding the culture. What we experienced at Heritage Park seems tied in some way, but the meaning is not laid out. What emerges is a life in balance with nature, with the people moving in tune to the seasons, a sharp but complementary division between the work of men (hunting/protecting the clan) and women (gathering/making the home), and an underlying respect for all life in all forms. The spirituality is clear as many of these artifacts are sacred, with specific and undefined purpose.

Beaded Moccasins, Siksika, 1900s
But the realities of having human emotion can be seen as well. Story robes, beautifully painted with key events in a tribe or person's life, recall daring deeds and skirmishes between tribes/clans over land and horses.

One of my favorite mini-exhibits was a series of photographs on hair styles. Women, being modest and unassuming, wore simple braids.

The men were more flamboyant, with very specific purposes behind their hair dressing, plaited, supplemented with 'product', and embellished with beads or feathers. When a man left his hair unbraided, he was involved in something serious, most likely related to death.Children were warned not to copy the hair styles of the men, for the meanings were not always shared.

Metis Fiddle, Assumption Sash, and
Accordian (Glenbow)
A thread of outrage underlies the history of how life changed for the native peoples once the Europeans came, bringing alcohol and diseases. Early fur traders intermarried with natives, creating a mixed race of Metis; their usefulness played out against a backdrop of simple, greedy exploitation as the North West Company and the Hudson's Bay Company battled for control of the fur trade.

Even the opening definition of terms at the Glenbow says that Metis are not considered part of First Nations. But I get a sense for those men who married into clans, that the Metis were family.

Our next stop: camping for two nights in Banff and then on to Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site where we shall learn more of fur trade history.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Calgary's Step into the Past

Yesterday we spent several hours exploring just a small part of Calgary's Heritage Park, Canada's largest living history museum. Our first and major stop, a small Hudson's Bay Company post and a nearby First Nations encampment.

The fort was rather small, contained behind a high log fence, with a small trading post to the immediate right, filled with an array of traditional goods, dishes and cooking pots, pelts to trade, and Hudson's Bay blankets.

Immediately behind the trading post, a small garden featured potatoes, onions, and a variety of medicinal plants -- geranium (for cough), willowbark (for tea), and sweet grass.

The larger building, maybe 20-25 feet long, was split in two -- with one side the private quarters for the postmaster and visiting officers, and the other side shared by some 25 men, who slept rolled in blankets on the floor.

A large stone fireplace was shared between the two sides of the building.

Snow in Calgary begins by the end of October and disappears sometime in April, so I can imagine the traders and workers huddling close to this small fireplace.

Our guide wore rough pantaloons, a baggy shirt, and a beautiful traditional Metis arrow sash.

These sashes have quite a complicated history. Apparently, the Métis learned the craft of finger weaving from the native peoples in the 18th Century. The sashes quickly became a trademark of the voyageurs. The sashes were worn to hold the loose, outer coats closed, protecting the wearer from bitter cold, and to brace the back.

Fairly wide, and traditionally bright red, the sashes featured an arrow pattern, were hand woven, and later commercially produced. The modern hand woven sashes cost hundreds of dollars today.

Outside the tiny fort, several tipis had been set up, among them a ceremonial tipi, the Yellow Otter Tipi. We settled on the grass to hear the tale behind the design of this beautiful sacred tipi told by Natasha, Night Walker, of the Blood band of the Blackfoot Tribe.

This tipi's design is unique, derived from a vision quest resulting in a ceremonial tipi, sacred, not for ordinary use. From its top red banner that proclaims the otter is present, to the four sacred lodge poles, to the markings of the otter (left being male, right being female), to the two entries, one in front facing east for morning prayers to greet the sun, one immediately opposite, in the west, only for the otter -- all parts of this tent have meaning and are treated with respect.

Even the colors (red for earth, black for night, and yellow for the sun) and shapes (triangles for mountains, straight lines for rivers and circles for shooting stars) show connections to beliefs held dear. The tipi is considered to be alive, a breathing entity.

We were allowed to enter the tent to see a small exhibit of ceremonial dress, with braided sweetgrass and clumps of sage ready for use.

The rest of the day, we rode the train around the different eras highlighting the later 19th and 20th Century history, stopping for snacks. We spent a little time exploring the Gasoline Alley Museum, a collection of early cars (and gasoline pumps) to find this classic trailer, one I remember well, for my grandparents often camped in one of these and told bear stories to us kids as we bedded down for the night. Starting Sunday night, we'll not sleep in such luxury, for we begin tenting at Banff, on our way to Rocky Mountain House, another key stopping place for fur traders traveling west!

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Canada: Calgary with a boom!

Rockies at Kootenay National Park
We left Radium Hot Springs this morning, stopping for a leisure soak at the hot springs before winding our way through the Kootenay National Park and our first real view of the Canadian Rockies. Just about 330 miles from Spokane, and we are in the midst of real wilderness, rolling hills to breathtaking mountains, covered with gigantic pine forests.

Our first real hike of the trip turned into a hour-long jaunt up Tokumm Creek to the head of Marble Canyon. We walked along a winding trail, noting the glacial blue of the stream.

Hike along Marble Canyon
Marble Canyon Falls
This mountain stream cuts over a hundred feet down through an amazing variety of rock, green limestone, granite, shale, and volcanic rock. I learned that it may snow here as late as June -- when avalanche risk remains high.

Fireweed blooms everywhere. When the blooms appear at the top of Fireweed, the end of summer is near, but the bright purple-red flowers delight the eye. Did I say the temperature hit 52 degrees this afternoon? We're back to the 70s in Calgary now.

We didn't spot any bears, but we did see what Allen calls a ground squirrel and I call a chipmunk. Which is it?

The rest of the trip should have been uneventful, a drive of about 100 miles to Calgary. 

But we ran into the mother of storms as we approached Calgary. Heavy traffic and hail so loud and heavy, everyone pulled over by an underpass -- after 15 minutes no real let up, so we continued, with rainwater sloshing over the freeway in nearly impassable puddles. Tornado warnings continued as we checked in for the next several days here in Calgary. Just now, a few hours later, clear skies and a sweet sunset suggest a good night's sleep. Tomorrow, museums and a quiet library are on the agenda.

Hope your summer travels are a little less eventful.