When we woke it was pretty foggy outside and the fog seemed to get denser and lower while we got dressed. We could not see the lake shore outside the hotel let alone the other side of the lake. We went down to breakfast to find no signs of life at all. Having paid last night we decided to just head on a get breakfast on the way.
Outside it was freezing cold and Morty was pretty caked in ice. We turned on the engine to start to get it warm and the thermometer inside told us it was -4C, our coldest morning yet. With foresight Stef had bought and ice scraper and it took us a good fifteen to twenty minutes to scrape the windows clear. By that time there were signs of life inside so we went back for breakfast. There were a couple of tables in the corridor under the stairs and that constituted the breakfast room. How they cope when the motel is full is beyond me. As it was just us we were left to our own devices in the kitchen – a bit bizarre!
We left Manitou Beach following the road through Watrous to join up with the route 16 to Saskatoon. It was foggy for most of the way so we could not really see far around us. When we could see though it was just flat farmland stretching for miles with the odd tree looking crisp and white with frozen snow. It was around noon by the time we got to Saskatoon and we checked into a Comfort Inn. They have a special deal that if you are a member of their reward programme you stay for two nights and get the third one free. It sounds too good to be true so we will wait to see what happens when we try to claim our free night.
In the afternoon we went to Wanuskewin Heritage Park (see www.wanuskewin.com). Wanuskewin comes from the Cree word for “seeking peace of mind” and the park tells the history of Indian occupation of the Opamihaw Valley. Archaeologists have been at work here for many years and have found evidence of occupation dating back almost six thousand years. At the visitors centre they reinforced the mindset that underpins the Indian’s traditional way of life. They see themselves as guardians of the land and that it is important to live in harmony with nature. They take from the land only what they need to live and no more.
The centre is set in one hundred hectares of land of the Opamihaw valley. Along the valley floor is the Opamihaw Creek which flows into the South Saskatchewan River. There are short walking trails around the valley which explain more about the Indian way of life. In summer they have guides and actors in traditional costume giving information and demonstrations and you can even camp here in a tipi. Today though it was far too cold for any of that but undeterred we went to follow the trails.
As an actively inhabited site they have been able to explain how some of the local land features were used. The southern edge of the valley has a steep edge leading from the plains above. Working as a team, the men of the village would herd buffalo along the plain often for many kilometres towards the valley edge. Buffalo are short sighted and by the time they would see that they were running out of land it was too late to stop, especially with the rest of the herd stampeding behind them. They had no choice but to run over the edge, falling to the valley below.
There the women were waiting to kill any buffalo who did not die in the fall and then to start to process the carcasses. Every part of the animal was used. Their hides were used for clothes and coverings for tipis. The meat was dried and stored to see them through the winter months. The bladder and intestines were used to store fats and liquids. Even the brains and bones were used.
On the valley floor remains have been found of an Indian encampment with evidence that it had been used for many years and by different generations. Different types of spear heads have been found which chart the changes over the years. On the north side of the valley is another flat plain where buffalo and bison would come to graze. From here there are fabulous views up and down the river. There is something quite magical and mystical about the site and I can appreciate why the tribes would come here time after time.
Tribal traditions, legends and values are passed down through the generations through story telling and day to day activities. Even erecting a tipi is used to teach the younger generations about Indian ways of life. Tipi’s evolved from dome shaped dwellings that were made by bending willows into an arch shape. Tipi’s grew in size and became more elaborate as horses became used by the Indians. They were practical homes for the buffalo hunters who had a nomadic lifestyle.
Tipis are made from fifteen wooden poles covered by buffalo hides and sewn together with sinew. The hides are attached to the poles so when erected the pole frame is already covered. Each pole represents a different value in the cycle of life and the tribal elders use the process of erecting the tipi to reinforce these to the younger generation. The cycle of life is important and consists of four key phases. The values are linked to each phase. Childhood values are obedience, respect and humility. In Adolescence the key values are happiness, love and faith. Adults have the values of kinship, cleanliness and thankfulness while the Elders values are sharing, strength and good child rearing. The remaining values of hope, ultimate protection and control flaps apply to all parts of the cycle.
After getting a little cold walking around the park outside we stopped at their café for a quick snack of buffalo soup and bannock. Bannock is a typical bread and to me was a cross between scones and foccacia bread. It was very tasty. We watched a short film about the site before heading back into town.
It was too early to eat and neither of us felt like going back to our anonymous hotel so we went to see what was on at the pictures. The films did not start for an hour or so, so we used the time to write diaries. It was worth the wait though. We saw the new Zorro film and it was really great fun. For us the show was stolen by the little boy who plays Zorro’s son – he was just brilliant.