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 M├ętis 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.

1 comment:

Chris Loehmer Kincaid said...

I love hearing about your travels. These sound like places I need to visit some day.