Twice now we have been privileged to stay at the sites of fur trade posts and utilize some of their original purpose.
Fort Pitt, near Frenchman's Butte, Sk,was once the halfway point between Fort Carleton and Fort Edmonton, is now a small park in the corner of a farmers field. There are some picnic tables and grills for day camping and some self guided interpretative signs detailing everyday life at the fort and highlighting the fort's role in the events surrounding Treaty Six and the resistance of 1885. Nothing is left of the two forts, but timbers have been laid down to help the visitor imagine where buildings stood.
Next we camped at Fort Carlton, further down the river near the present day town of Carlton. Here we found a full size reconstruction of the Hudson's Bay fort that stood for 75 years. There's a visitors centre and educational programs, highlighting Fort Carlton's regional role in the fur trade, development of the west, and specific attention to the Carlton Trail. The overland route from Fort Garry (Winnipeg) to Fort Edmonton got its name from the midway point and re-distribution centre at Fort Carlton. Exploring the grounds you can still see the deep wheel ruts carved by heavy Red River carts over the years. The seed of another long distance trip across Canada has been planted.
Spending time at the forts is a great way to connect yourself to the past. Particularly meaningful for us as we came upon the fort sites as people would have when they were active, by canoe. Though the river has receded and the brush grown back, approaching the forts still brings a sense of anticipation and the expectation of rest and recooperation.
Coincidentally for us, each of the forts presented a time for canoe maintenance. A small patch was applied at Fort Pitt, and full on surgery took place at Fort Carlton. The latter a more thorough job aided with the expert advice and materials from a fellow cross Canada paddler named Ross Phillips. Ross and crew paddled their Cross-Canada Canoe Odessy in 2011. Living in nearby Saskatoon, Ross and his fiancee Kirby met us on the river upstream of the fort, and brought the kind of fresh snacks canoeists dream of - veggies, fruit, chips. Ross also had many tips for the upcoming portions of the trip, and filled us in on how his team got by.
He returned the next morning with extra canoe repair essentials and gave a brief tutorial. Apoxies, putties, and fiberglass resin, we are now well versed in methods of repairing fiberglass keels.
We were able to use the sites of the forts as they were intended for - rest and repair time for passing canoeists. And of course to hear a tale or two about the ups and downs of previous voyages.