2017 marks the 150th anniversary of Canada’s confederation. Commemorative events like Canada 150 invite us to consider how our heritage has shaped the present, to learn lessons from the past, and to discuss what we would like our future to be. In recognition of Canada 150, Heritage Saskatchewan invites you to explore the diverse living heritage of our province through a video series, launched July 1st. Every two weeks until the end of the year, a new video will be released that examines some facet of Saskatchewan’s rich living heritage. These videos are not a definitive collection of Saskatchewan’s heritage in 2017, but rather a sample of the diverse practices, beliefs, and experiences of Saskatchewan people. Visit this page often for updates, and subscribe to our YouTube channel!
Nov 6, 2017 - "Every day I think about it"
As Remembrance Day approaches, many Canadians wear poppies to commemorate Canada's involvement in various armed conflicts, to honour those veterans who served in the forces, and perhaps to remember family members who were killed during military service. The Royal Canadian Legion runs the poppy drives each year, and many branches continue to host Remembrance Day services each November 11th.
I have attended these services all my life. Many of my family members served in the armed forces during World War I and World War II, and the Remembrance Day service was particularly important to my grandfather, who was a member of the Legion for several decades following his service in WWII. He passed away twenty-five years ago, but my family continues to attend our local service and to lay a wreath in his memory.
At last year's service, I was struck by how well attended it was by people of all ages. I saw little children there and remembered myself attending these services as a young child, understanding the great solemnity of the occasion, but not fully comprehending the reasons behind it. When I was young, there were still several surviving veterans who sat at the front of the room. Last year, the Radville Legion branch had only three surviving veterans. I wondered how children these days connect with events that are increasingly receding in the past. We talk of freedom and sacrifice in Remembrance Day services, and we repeat the names of those who were killed in conflicts as long as a century ago. As the world changes, and these "wars to end all wars" become further removed from us in time, how are these issues still relevant for people today?
My sister and I joined the Legion as associate members a couple years ago, and last year I decided that my contribution to our local branch would be to record video interviews with our three remaining veterans: Leonard Anderson, who served in the Royal Canadian Air Force in post WWII Germany; Alphonse Fossenier, who served in the Royal Canadian Navy during the Korean War; and Stewart Scott, who served in the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II.
Editing this Canada 150 living heritage video was especially challenging. All three of the interviews were more than an hour long and contained a wealth of fascinating stories and recollections. How could I possibly narrow that down to the 5-8 minute parameters of these Canada 150 videos? In the end, I decided to focus on the beginnings and the aftermaths of these three men's experiences. How and why did they "join up" in the first place? How have their experiences stayed with them ever since? In essence, their memories are not just interesting anecdotes from significant historical events. They are personal, they are real, and they remain with them to this day. In that sense, these events live on through the people who experienced it firsthand. They are our living link with the events we commemorate every November, and as we lose more and more of them with each passing year, so do we lose that living heritage.
Since I recorded these interviews in January, 2017, Mr. Alphonse Fossenier has passed away.
Oct 11, 2017 - "Meditation at three miles an hour"
In the summer of 2015, I attended a presentation in Eastend about a pilgrimage along the Wood Mountain - Fort Walsh trail led by Dr. Matthew Anderson, professor of Theology at Concordia University in Montreal and expert in pilgrimage, and co-coordinated by the Saskatchewan History and Folklore Society (SHFS). I've long been intrigued by trails in Saskatchewan, but I only had time to participate for about an hour in the 2015 trail walk. When I found out that SHFS was coordinating another trail walk in the summer of 2017, I made sure to participate for more than an hour!
Led by Hugh Henry, a board member of SHFS, and Dr. Anderson, this year's trail walk/pilgrimage followed the historic Swift Current-Battleford trail. The trail, and the land surrounding it, are steeped in history and meaning. Dr. Anderson believes that walking a long distance, aka going on pilgrimage, is a powerful way to connect with the land and the people who have occupied it, past and present. This "meditation at three miles an hour" connects a person deeply with himself, and allows reflection and introspection not usually easy to come by in a busy and fast-paced world.
I found this to be true during the day that I participated in the walk, which happened to be the first of 17 days. We struck out from the trail ruts in Swift Current after a warm send-off and covered 14 miles (22 kilometers) that day, mostly on gravel road, but also a bit through unbroken prairie pasture in which Red River ruts from the original trail were still visible. It was a sunny, very warm Saskatchewan summer day, and it turns out that 14 miles of walking is no easy feat to accomplish! It absolutely does stimulate meditation. As Dr. Anderson mentions in the video, this type of activity also creates community, both within the group of walkers themselves, and with the strangers they encounter along the way. That particular day, we stopped at the Swift Current Hutterite Colony where we were given iced tea and cookies. I have never in my life been so grateful for such refreshments! Experiencing the kindness and hospitality of strangers, especially when in a vulnerable state as in walking through the summer heat all day, is a deeply humanizing experience.
Hugh Henry and Dr. Anderson both speak to the importance of reconciliation, and how they believe this pilgrimage is a part of realizing reconcliaiton. Connecting with the land, with the self, is a powerful way to contemplate the experiences of the many peoples who have lived and moved through this landscape for thousands of years. Indigenous and non-indigenous people now share this place, and to truly work towards reconciliation, we must first, as Dr. Anderson states, "get to know each other."
Though I only walked for one day, it was a deeply meaningful experience for me. To walk such a trail is to feel connected to the rich heritage of this province, as well as to feel deeply connected to the self. It's hard not to when ankles and feet are throbbing! But in seriousness, walking the land is a powerful way to experience place and to connect with the self and with community.
For more information on pilgrimage and this walk, see Dr. Anderson's blog, Something Grand. For detailed reflections on the walk from those who participated, see the SHFS Trail Walk 2017.
Sep 25, 2017 - "I like to create"
I first met Bonnie Masuskapoe when she was a guest presenter at a Heritage Saskatchewan and Museums Association of Saskatchewan workshop at Wanuskewin last year. She did a beading demonstration and was interviewed about the tradition. I was impressed by her obvious artistic talent, and also by her thoughtfulness in her interview answers.
Born and raised on Ahtahkakoop First Nation, Bonnie grew up going to powwows and round dances, which is where she first recalls seeing traditional beadwork adorning the regalia of the dancers. She learned how to do beadwork from her mother, and sometimes in school, but it wasn't until she was an adult that she started to seriously create. After immersive culturel experiences in Africa and on Manitoulin Island in Ontario with World Youth Canada, Bonnie began to appreciate her own Cree culture more. Upon returning to Saskatchewan, she started to learn how to make traditional objects like moccasins. She also started to experiment with her own style, and with using traitional designs on contemporary items.
Bonnie has tried her hand at many different art forms, and shares her expertise in workshops at Wanuskewin where participants can learn how to make things like moose hide mittens. Bonnie is particularly proud of the dolls she made for her nieces. Composed of felt, the dolls are designed to look like traditional Cree girls, with braided hair and beaded regalia. Bonnie explained that growing up, the kinds of dolls she played with were Barbies. She wanted her nieces to have a doll that looked like them. She recalls the joy of one of her nieces upon receiving the doll, "it made me cry."
Bonnie's work, as well as that of her peers, is a powerful indication of the strength and reslience of First Nations culture. As she explains in her interview, in the recent past, making traditional cultural art like beadwork was illegal. Now, a new generation of indigenous people are continuing these traditions on, but adapting them to contemporary life. For Bonnie, creating traditional crafts is a meaningful expression of her Cree heritage. Beadwork designs often contain stories that are particular to a people and a place. Bonnie is creating her own story through her work, one which includes stories of the past.
Sep 11, 2017 - "It feels like my ancestors are with me"
Food security has always been a pressing issue, but in recent years debates about the agricultural methods behind the production of our food have become more mainstream. The marketing behind organic foods, non-GMO foods, and local, slow food have created trends. The trendiness suggests that these are new concepts, when really they are a revival or a return to the way most humans have procured food throughout history. In response to this movement, entrepreneurs across the province have made it easier for Saskatchewan people to access locally grown food. Nicole Davis from North Portal is one of them, but in her case, she is carrying on two long-standing traditions in the far southeastern corner of the province.
First of all, she is carrying on her family's organic farm, which was established in 1890. Nicole farms alongside her father, and feels proud to be the latest generation to continue on her family's operation. In one way, she's continuing on tradition, and in another, she's breaking with it. In Saskatchewan it has been the custom, if not the rule, for family farms to pass to male descendants, and many people still equate the term "farmer" with "man." Women have always farmed alongside their husbands in this province, but were rarely afforded the same social standing, or even the privilege of being able to call themselves farmer.
The second tradition Nicole is keeping alive is that of milling. There are few flour mills left in Saskatchewan, and very few attached to individual farming opertions. Daybreak Mill has been in business since 1953 when Alvin Scheresky began it as Scheresky Mill. At the time, chemicals were being introduced into farming operations, but Scheresky chose to continue farming without them. He grew the grain, milled it, packaged it and delivered it to customers in other provinces.
In the early 2000s, when Scheresky retired, the mill's ownership passed to Ray and Marianne Aspinall. They began retailing their organic flours and cereals in smaller packages for the local market, and this is how I first became acquainted with Daybreak Mill. Several years ago I started buying Daybreak Mill products from Old Fashion Foods in Weyburn. I was excited to be able to buy locally produced flour, since as the daughter of a farmer, I know that most of what gets grown in this province leaves it, and it's hard to know where it ends up. As a kid, we used to sometimes wonder when eating pasta or bread if some of the flour used to make it came from our farm. There was no way to know!
I found out when I got in touch with Daybreak Mill that the newest owner is Nicole Davis, a young woman my age who not only owns and operates the mill, but also grows all the grain that goes into the mill. Nicole bought the company in 2012 and now employs a year-round staff to operate the mill, including miller Brock Aspinall who has been with the mill since 2006. Brock is an expert at operating the mill, which is over 50 years old and original to Alvin Scheresky's beginnings. I find Nicole's story very inspiring, and I spent a beautiful day with her and her staff last spring learning all about Daybreak Mill.
To learn more about the history of Daybreak Mill and its products, check out its website. And enjoy this video where Nicole explains what it means to her to be carrying on the traditions of farming and milling!
Saskatchewan’s settler history is a story of diverse people coming from many parts of the world. What some people may not realize is that Saskatchewan is home to a sizeable population of people of Icelandic descent. Following a volcanic eruption in 1875 and the resulting catastrophic effects on agricultural, many Icelanders emigrated to North America. They settled primarily in the West - throughout Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Alberta, BC, as well as the Dakotas, Minnesota, and Utah. In Saskatchewan, Icelanders primarily settled in what they called the VatnaByggd - or the Lake Settlement, which refers to the area Icelanders homesteaded south of Foam Lake, Fishing Lake, Little Quill Lake and Big Quill Lake in eastern Saskatchewan around the communities of Wynyard, Mozart and Elfros.
I was first intrigued by the connections between Iceland and Saskatchewan when I visited Iceland last year. In a small town in northern Iceland’s library, I discovered history books from Manitoba and Saskatchewan towns. I then visited the Icelandic Emigration Centre museum at Hofsós and learned that Icelanders have kept careful genealogical records with their North American relatives, whom they refer to as "Western Icelanders." After returning to Saskatchewan, I learned about the Vatnabyggd settlement. I spoke to Karen Olafson from the Vatnabyggd Icelandic Club, and she invited me to come and make a video during the Snorri West program in June,
Snorri West (named for Snorri Þorfinnsson, the first European known to have been born in North America in what is now Newfoundland in the 11th century) brings young Icelanders over to North America to connect with relatives and learn about Western Icelandic culture, and the places in which Western Icelanders have put down roots. I spent a couple days with the Vatnabyggd Icelandic Club and their five Icelandic visitors. I interviewed Eric Olafson, who thoughtfully articulated the sentiments of many Saskatchewanians who have family roots elsewhere in the world. This is home, but how our families came to be here is an important part of our identities.
After you have enjoyed the video above where we hear from Eric Olafson as well as the five Snorri West participants, please also watch this short interview with Stella Stephanson, a founding member of the Vatnabyggd Icelandic Club. She recalls the process of forming the club and erecting the beautiful Icelandic pioneer memorial in the community of Elfros. Watch that here.
Khedive's population has dwindled to only a handful of people in recent years. However, it still has a vibrant community, largely in part due to the efforts of the Khedive Rec Club, a small group of volunteers, many of them who live on farms in the Khedive area. The impressive brick school iat Khedive is a well-known architectural landmark in south central Saskatchewan. I'd been meaning to get out to Khedive for quite some time to chat with the quilting group that gathers every Monday afternoon in the school. When I finally made it, I discovered that the women were not only keeping the quilting tradition alive in the area, but that they were also helping to keep the building in good shape through the profits earned from their quilting.
I interviewed Gail Howse about the small but determined group who saved the school from the fate of so many heritage buildings in this province: decay and/or demolition. In the interview, Gail speaks of the decay of rural towns and villages, and the buildings that disappear as a result. This is a familiar story, and an all-too-common lament in the prairies as the depopulation of the rural countryside puts ever more pressure on its inhabitants. However, this video is not meant to strike a sombre note, but rather to act as an inspiration and perhaps even challenge other communities to take ownership of their heritage. As Gail said, if ten people in a tiny hamlet can save a building like this, why shouldn’t other places be able to do the same? Our built heritage is in our hands to maintain, protect, and preserve.
Recent cuts to the Heritage Foundation of Saskatchewan, which administered grants for designated heritage properties in the province, will force communities to rely on their own fundraising skills to maintain their properties. The Khedive Rec Club has devised creative fundraising events to aid in the ongoing restoration of the school, but they are always open to new ideas. Communities need to be innovative if they want to preserve built heritage. It's community champions like Gail and the other members of the Khedive Rec Club who do this important work in our province, and they deserve much kudos!
Extra: During the filming of this video, we had some wonderful conversations about quilting and other textile arts, local customs, and the importance of communities of women practising traditions. Please also enjoy this rough, unedited video of some of this conversation with the Khedive Heritage Quilters: Gail, Alvina, Freda, Marnie, and Bonnie.
I met Holly Toulejour at the Saskatchewan Indigenous Cultural Centre’s Language Keepers conference in November, 2016 in Saskatoon. Holly’s passionate presentation about the importance of language and culture to the wellbeing of northern youth was hugely inspiring, and I made sure to track her down and have a chat. One thing she said really stuck with me: “If there’s anything more powerful than language and culture, then I don’t know it.” In our conversation about cultural heritage, Holly who is a social worker at Dene High School, invited me to come to La Loche to learn more about northern culture and connect with some La Loche youth.
In June, 2017 I made the journey to La Loche, my first experience in Saskatchewan’s far north. La Loche has unfortunately been portrayed mostly negatively in the press, and while the community faces tremendous challenges that cannot be dismissed, there is much more to La Loche. I was fortunate to spend a week in the community and got to witness and experience the beauty of the community and its people. It was a privilege to hear Dene being spoken fluently almost everywhere, though there is concern that young people are often choosing to communicate in English these days. I was introduced to Dene traditions, many of which are intimately tied to the boreal landscape of the region. I was honoured to accompany Angele, a Dene elder, in the woods to pick muskeg tea (sometimes called Labrador tea). Ira, a Dene Studies teacher who appears in the video, generously shared much of her time with me to discuss her methods for fostering pride in Dene culture and language with her students, and also demonstrated how to make Lazy Bannock. I visited the new Friendship Centre, which has since been adorned with a brand new mural, and spent time with Holly getting to know the community and some of its residents.
The trip was hugely significant for me, both personally and professionally. Having never spent time in the North before, I marvelled at the resilience of indigenous communities in the face of colonial practices which not only traumatically forced a change of culture more than a century ago, but which policies and current attitudes continue to make life challenging in the north. I came away from La Loche with a deepened appreciation of the diversity of Saskatchewan’s cultural landscape and I eagerly anticipate my next opportunity to visit the North. This video, produced by Marcel Petit who joined us for half the week in La Loche, features moments from Dene High School’s Culture Day, including traditional drumming. The video participants spoke in particular about the importance of language. Contained within language is the collective and ancient wisdom of the cultural groups who speak it. Perhaps nothing is more emblematic of Living Heritage than language.
You would never know from meeting Ed Drachenberg that his early life was so tumultuous. Born in Poland during World War Two, Ed’s father had been killed before he was born by advancing Russian soldiers. His mother in a prisoner of war camp, Ed and his grandmother got out of Poland on the last train before they closed the Iron Curtain in 1949. They lived in Germany for three years before emigrating to Canada to live with his aunt and uncle on their farm near Watrous. In 1960, his mother and stepfather finally made it to Canada, and Ed moved to Regina with them, where he attended high school and found his calling – in his words, he “was smitten” by the machining trade.
After the harrowing circumstances of his early life, Ed has built a fulfilling and meaningful life, a large part of that being his continuing love for machine work. My interview with Ed resulted from a recommendation by Jennifer Fitzpatrick at the Humboldt Museum and Art Gallery. I was heading to Humboldt for a workshop and asked if she knew of any interesting stories in the community. Part of what made this Canada 150 series possible was planning interviews in places I was already visiting for my community engagement work. She suggested Ed Drachenberg, and I gave him a call. He told me that he was a retired machinist, but that he loved the trade so much he had set up a machine shop in his basement where he continued to work on projects.
Ed was involved in some groundbreaking projects throughout his career, including working on the very first cell phone. However, what I found most intriguing about Ed’s story from a Living Heritage perspective was how he was drawn to the trade at a young age, and how he has continued in it even after retirement. His story shows how the things we are interested in children sometimes lead us to our passions as adults, and if we can translate that into a career, we’re bound to live much more fulfilling and meaningful lives. In this way, it is our own Living Heritage that informs the choices we make and the paths we pursue.
During his early career, Ed worked on farm machinery, including at a company known at the time as Brandt Electric, which has now become the corporation Brandt Industries, well known throughout the province and beyond. In this way, Ed was part of the innovations in agricultural technology development that has been done in Saskatchewan and by Saskatchewan people throughout the past century, and continuing to this day. The need for innovation was often borne out of the unique challenges of farming in Saskatchewan. Humboldt, where Ed calls home, is a well-known centre for agriculture and equipment manufacture, part of the so-called “Iron Triangle,” named for the concentration of manufacturers in the area.
In the interview, Ed talked about the Industrial Revolution and how almost everything we equate with modern society came about due to the technological developments of that period - most of which had their beginnings in machine shops. The everyday technologies we take for granted have a long heritage, and it was machinists like Ed who were at the forefront of their development. Ed talked about how when he started out in the trade, he had to learn things by hand. This brings up an important theme which can be found across a variety of trades, arts, crafts, and even basic, everyday tasks: important skills and knowledge are being lost to globalization and modernization.
Ed related stories of how nurturing young folks interested in machine work led to a couple of kids finding their path in life. This highlights the importance of creating opportunities for youth to connect with older people, to discover interests they may not yet know they have. There’s a whole world of skills out there, and the school system can’t expose kids to all the many options. Ed’s interview ends with his reflections on the lessons he learned from the master he apprenticed with, a German machinist, whom he still thinks of often.
I first met Russell Fayant during Heritage Week in February, 2016 at the event Finding Home in Story: Métis Concepts of Home and Kinship at the Regina Public Library. Hosted by Trevor Herriot, author of Towards a Prairie Atonement, the event also featured Joe Welsh, a grandson of “the last buffalo hunter” Norbert Welsh, and Russell Fayant. Russell spoke eloquently and passionately about Métis cultural heritage as reflected in the art of Sherry Farrell Racette. His good humour and ability to articulate the history and contemporary issues of Métis people in western Canada impressed me immediately, and I elbowed my way through the crowd of adoring fans after the talk to introduce myself. I knew right away that Russell was the perfect person to talk about Métis cultural heritage in this video series. Russell can speak both as an academic and as a proud Métis person with strong family roots and a deep understanding of his people’s cultural heritage. We met first at his workplace, the Gabriel Dumont Institute at the Saskatchewan Urban Native Teacher Education Program (SUNTEP) at the University of Regina, and then he took me to his family’s road allowance homestead in the Qu’Appelle Valley. It was a hot, beautiful May day, and I felt deeply honoured that Russell brought me to this important place and shared with me his personal connection to that particular piece of land – emblemnatic of the deep ties many Métis people feel to the land, land which has often been taken away from or denied them throughout Canadian history.
After our conversation that day, I was certain that Russell’s video needed to be the one to launch this Canada 150 video series. We at Heritage Saskatchewan recognize that Canada 150 celebrations mark an important date in the history of Canada, but we also acknowledge that it is a divisive event, and we welcome the opportunity to provide a platform for differing perspectives. Russell’s challenge for indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians alike is to recognize that the history of Canada has been marked by inequalities and brutality, but he also urges us to realize the important contributions indigenous people have made to Canada, both before and since Confederation. In this way, Russell shows clearly how living heritage has shaped contemporary society.
Russell’s interview was so good it was very difficult to edit it down to the length I wanted to keep to for these videos. I want to make sure that the full context of his statements is available, so in addition to the Canada 150 video series above, I invite you to also take the time to watch the full, unedited interview with Russell. Enjoy here.