Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Hudson's Bay Company Research Trip

by Anita Mae Draper

This past weekend was the 3rd time I’ve attended the Saskatchewan Romance Writer’s (SRW) annual retreat at St. Peter’s Abbey in Muenster, Saskatchewan. It’s a 3.5 hr drive up to the Abbey and I usually plot while driving. This year however, I wanted to make a research trip and ended up stopping to take pics so often I never did get into plotting mode. I enjoyed my research so much I arrived 4 hrs later than I'd planned.

For my story, the characters take an adventurous journey together. I’ve taken the same road many times myself, enthralled with the scenery and history. It only seemed natural to write about it. The part of the story that crosses paths with mine happens on the 2nd day of my characters’ journey  when they travel into a wide, deep valley to a place called Fort Qu’Appelle. Although there is a replica fort on site, my goal wasn't to visit it but to check out the old Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) store downtown. Good thing, too because when I was there, the overflowing Qu'Appelle River flooded the fort's southwest bastion and you couldn't get inside.

1897 Hudson's Bay Company store, downtown Fort Qu'Appelle, SK

Now my characters wouldn't have seen this HBC store since they went through the area in 1888 and the HBC store would've still been in use at the fort. But, it gives me the feel of the place. Currently, the building houses a coffee cafe.

What would have been around at that time was this church built in 1885 which is still in use today:

1885 St. Andrews Anglican Church

I saw this old stone building behind the HBC store. I don't know anything about it (yet) but it looks like it could've (or should've) been around back then.

After taking my photos, I headed north out of the valley following the Carlton Trail. About 7 miles out of town I passed a marker designating the Touchwood Hills cairn and old ox cart trails and took this photo:
Carlton Trail Red River Ox Cart Tracks

Although spring isn't the optimum time to view these tracks, you can see the faint outline left from the passing of hundreds of settlers and transporters with their Red River ox carts. For a better view and more info, check out the Wayfarer site for geocaching or Historic Places Canada.

Back in my van, I headed north and then west keeping an eye out for the Touchwood Hills Provincial Park. This park contains the remains of an HBC post in the Touchwood Hills. I walked up to the cairn, read it, and stood there a bit disappointed. Where were the remains of the buildings I'd read about? I tramped around the clearing and saw these iron frames - like H's, sticking out of the ground between 2 cornerstones. Depressions showed where the cellars had once been since every building had one for storage and escape from the Indians. Also, some have mounds where the walls once stood. 

Here's what they looked like...

But here's what was actually there...

Here's another one...

Which used to have a building like this...

And one final photo...

Which actually looked something like this...

I made a 2 min video of the experience. If you take time to watch it, imagine yourself where I stood which was in the middle of one of these building remains. I filmed while turning in a circle. And as I did so, something struck me other than the sense of history - that I was standing on what was probably a cellar which could cave in at any moment. And I was all alone 1/4 mile off the highway and hidden by trees.

They're developing this park as a campground. There are supposedly more ox cart tracks. I didn't see any, but then the ground was covered by last year's toppled growth. I'd love to see it later in the year after the site's been cleaned up. And I'd really like to get my metal dectector out there and do some exploring. But of course I can't in a park.

The ox cart tracks reminded me of 2009 en route the ACFW conference in Denver when I stood between in the wheel ruts of the Oregon Trail. The visual reminder of the Carlton Trail is piddly compared to the magnificent depth into limestone of the Oregon Trail. But the proof of human perseverance to build a better life remains to this day in both cases.

Are there any historic places near your home which are ruins and crumbles? Have you explored them with or without a metal detector?

Anita Mae Draper is retired from the Canadian Armed Forces and lives on the prairie of southeast Saskatchewan, Canada with her hubby of 30 plus years and 2 of their 4 kids. In 2005, Anita Mae decided to return to writing and make it a priority in her life. She writes old west stories set on the prairies of Saskatchewan, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. Her characters are strong because the land demands it. Anita Mae likes to write characters who sit up and notice when that special person God’s chosen just for them walks by. The story is all about the courtship between the two main characters. But it won’t be an easy path. And if they don’t know about God at the beginning of the book, they will by the end. Anita Mae has semi-finaled in the Historical Romance category of the ACFW's 2011 Genesis contest and finaled in the Inspirational category of the 2011 Daphne du Maurier, the 2011 Fool for Love, the 2011 Duel on the Delta and 2009 Linda Howard Award of Excellence contests. She’s currently waiting to hear the phone ring and have someone say they want to buy Emma’s Outlaw. Meanwhile, she’s working on another story and trying to keep her imagination in check. A pathological picture taker, she usually has a photo or two of the quirky world she lives in on her blog at http://anitamaedraper.blogspot.com/


  1. How exciting Anita! Research trips are the best! I think you should put Hudson Bay Company right in the title. I was clueless about the HBC acronym.

    There is nothing like the feeling of standing where your characters stand or should I say stood to pull in that special depth of setting.

    Congratulations on a great trip (retreat and research). And so that everyone knows ... Another Final in a prestigious writing contest. I've lost count. Five for five?

    So take note, readers. You may very well see this research in the details of a published book.

  2. It makes a tingle go up my spine to know that the wheel ruts are still there. I had never really thought that history of that kind would still be so tangible even now. When in New Mexico we visited some of the ancient Native American villages, even though they'd been abandoned for several hundred years, when I looked out over the desert I could still see the old trade routes they used, though I'd have been hard pressed to know what it was if I was on that "road". I thought that was so cool.

    Thanks for sharing your research trip with us Anita. I always learn so much from you!

  3. This is so awesomely cool, Anita! I'm so glad you shared this.

  4. Deb, thanks for the suggestion. I've changed the title, oh wise one. :)

    And thanks for the promotion for my contest win, too. Actually, it's only 4 for 5 and I'm not holding my breath on the TBL results.

    And as my critique partner my dear, you played a big part in my results so I'm handing the accolades back to you. :D

    Thanks for your support, Deb. I treasure it.

    Anita Mae.

  5. You're welcome, Lisa and thank you.

    You bring up a good point... so much of our history is lost when people don't promote it.

    Take this trip... I'm travelling the 19th century Carlton Trail which parallels the old Telegraph line.

    However, I was very disappointed to learn this isn't called the Carlton Trail, but the CanAm Hwy. I've driven on this hwy in North Dakota. Wikipedia states:
    The CanAm Highway passes through these states in the United States; Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota, as well as the province of Saskatchewan, Canada.

    It came about as a NAFTA super corridor for transportation, just like the Metis transporters used it for hauling back in the 19th century.

    However, I think calling it the Carlton Trail is so much more aesthetically pleasing and historically satisfying than the CanAm hwy. Don't you?

    Anita Mae.

  6. Thank you, Suzie. And you're welcome.

    I hope you'll write a post about your trip when you get home, huh?

    Anita Mae.

  7. Anita, I meant to add that I really would love to attend that retreat at the Abbey. How incredibly very restful that must of been.

  8. Usually, it's very restful. And usually I get a volume of work written. This year I was too emotional and excited about the contest circuit and my research trip. Instead of working on my wip, I delved into writing this blog and seeped in the history while looking at all the photos I'd taken on the way there.

    One thing I still have to learn as a writer is how to corral my emotions so they don't interfere with my work. I'm working on that.

    As for the participants, most of us drove from 4 hrs away to attend, but one lady came from Winnipeg, Manitoba in the province to the east of us. It took her a day of travel. And I'm so glad she was there.

    Anita Mae.

  9. I'd love to go back to Britain for a research trip! My contemporary series is set in my local area, so research trips for that were quick little afternoon outings.

  10. Cool post, Anita! How exciting to see / imagine what used to be where. It's so much fun to imagine our characters as part of these buildings and events.

    You know me; I'd have loved to have gone into the church!

    And yes, Carlton Trail sounds much more pleasant to me.

    Maybe Dina can take me to England with her!

  11. Sure, let's make it a group trip :)

  12. Dina, I'd love to go with you. I have cousins in Britain. :)

    Considering you live in one of the older states, you've got twice as much history to wade through than I have. Lucky you.:D

    Anita Mae.

  13. LOL Susie, the three of us will go. We'll crash Barry's flat and twist his arm until he takes us where Dina needs to research. Should be fun. :D

    Anita Mae.

  14. Haha - the only thing wrong with being on the toad all day is playing catch up with the comments. Anthe the email.

    Actually, the motel I'm staying in tonight doesn't have Internet service. What a bummer! And it's the only motel in the area. :( Tomorrow, I still have to drive 30 mins or so to get to the next museum.

    I got a sunburn on my arms today after spending over 3 hours walking the streets of the little town. But it was so much fun!

    Anita Mae.

  15. This is fascinating, Anita. You sound like me stopping to take all the pics. I blogged last week about a research trip I took at some ruins in Maine. I enjoyed hearing about someone further north than I!

  16. Anita!!

    I haven't had a chance to congratulate you on your latest contest final. You've racked up so many of them I'm losing count!

    And great pics. To my shame, I can't say I've explored many local ruins (and my area is rich with them--forts, the underground railroad, even a presidential assassination). But every time I pass the Erie Canal, I keep thinking there's a story there. It's like the ghosts of history are gathering to tell their stories--not that I believe in literal ghosts. But you writers will know what I mean.

  17. I'm chuckling, Anita, at the picture of the ox cart tracks. A few years ago we were doing a unit study (homeschooling) on the American pioneers. Part of our study included a trip to an authentic mountain man rendezvous in Fort Bridger, Wyoming (about 4 hours north). I wanted to take a detour on the way home to view the old wagon trail tracks, which are still visible. Hubby and children GROANED.
    Next time I want to go look at wheel ruts in the grass, Anita, guess who I'll be calling?
    BTW, those rendezvous would be wonderful for historical research!

  18. Carla, I finally had a chance to look at your blog for the photos of the Maine ruins, but what caught my eye is the 1881 Minnesota snowstorm photo.

    The reason this stood out was because on my trip, I came across the same type of photos the from Humboldt, SK region taken in the 1940's. But they showed men digging the train out of the snowbank and travelling along an open tunnel to the next stop.

    Loved looking at the photos of your Maine ruins. But sad, too.

    Thank you for stopping by and pointing me there.

    Anita Mae.

  19. Hey Barb, sorry to get back to you so late... thanks on the congrats. I entered 5 contests during a one month period and semi-finaled or finaled in 4 of them. I have to admit that's my best results to date. Thanks for mentioning it here.

    You remind me of me... wherever we lived while in the military, we didn't bother playing tourist until the day or 2 before we moved away. Then it was a mad rush to visit all the local ruins, sites and attractions in one day. Not a good idea. But I didn't realize until lately that hubby has the 'leave it until tomorrow' mentality when it comes to things like this. And if I wait for him, I'll miss everything! That's why I make these trips alone. At least I get out there now.

    There is one disadvantage, however... when I popped over to Carla Gade's blog, I noticed one huge difference between her pics and mine... she's in hers. They add a depth to her photos which mine don't.

    So if you ever do get out exploring, Barb, make sure you take someone along so you can be in the pics, too.

    Anita Mae.

  20. Hey Niki, yup, I'm your gal. There's just something stirring about the tangible evidence of history. People say they want to leave their mark behind... well, sometimes one person doesn't cut it... it takes many people to make a mark which stands for a century or two. And it's the combined effort of all those people that makes the stories so dear.

    Yes, attending a re-enactment of a rendevouz would be wonderful research. Talk about bringing history alive. :)

    I was too early for the re-enactments this time around as they don't start until Victoria Day (this Monday). However, JJ and I will be heading down to Fort Walsh (north of Fort Benton, MT) this summer. We hope to get some good pics and insight there.

    Thanks, Niki.

  21. It's amazing the hardships people have endured through the years. The fortitude! That train photo was an example of such.


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