Tuesday, July 6, 2021

A Short Hot day : Riel House to St. Norbert

Today was a short day of hiking to accommodate a virtual presentation to a nature group and a talk with a school classroom, but it was filled with exploration, unexpected moments, and heart warming meetings.  

We began the morning with a small detour to the Louis Riel House Parks Canada National Historic Site.  The small wooden house is located in the historic St. Vital parish, and since 1865 the residence belonged to Julie (Riel) Lagimodiere.  Louis lived in the house along with his brothers and their families from his return to the Red River Settlement in 1868 until his exile in 1870. After his sentencing and execution for murder and treason he lay in state at the house in 1885 for two days.  The house remained in the possession of the Riel family until 1968, when it became a National Historic Site. 


Today this historic building is nestled within a modern subdivision, near the banks of the Red River.  The house itself wasn't open when we visited it, but we enjoyed walking around the outside, learning about its history, and seeing the gardens.  It was interesting to imagine a time when so many people would have lived together in such a simple and beautiful wooden home. 

After visiting this historic landmark we threaded our way back through the subdivision to the paved bike trail which then lead us to a local park complete with a beautiful duck pond. 

In St. Vital Park we were fortunate to see White-breasted Nuthatches, Ring-necked Ducks, Mallards and Canadian Geese.  Our trek through this green space also brought us to a series of posters for 'A Walking Awareness Campaign' focused on raising awareness and educating residents about the mistreatment of Indigenous peoples across Canada following European settlement with the hope of taking effective steps for reconciliation in the future. 

After a very short stretch where the trail paralleled the highway we once again turned into a quiet neighborhood, walking along the edge of the Red River. 

The Red River is a Canadian Heritage River that is about 885 km long.  It begins at the confluence of the Bois de Sioux and Otter Tail Rivers between North Dakota and Minnesota, and it flows northward into Lake Winnipeg, ultimately continuing to Hudson's Bay as the Nelson River.  It was an important trade route for Indigenous communities before European settlement, and later was used by fur traders, including French and M├ętis people, working for the Hudson's Bay Company.  

As we were walking along the sidewalk, enjoying the warm, sunny morning we met Ian and Donna, who stopped to ask where we had hiked from.  It turned out they were avid birders who knew about our #hike4birds, and they had also randomly met Mel Vogel when she hiked through two years ago!  Also, it turns out Ian was a glass blower who made scientific equipment for the Chemistry department at the University of Manitoba, which is a rare skill. How cool is that? 

This lovely couple walked with us through the University of Manitoba campus, sharing interesting tidbits of local history, as well as stories and tips about the Crow Wing Trail and other trails we'll encounter along the way.   They had an in depth knowledge of the circuitous route of the Trans Canada Trail, which is unusual in our experience.  They also shared stories of local spots to go birding, and told us that climate change has recently brought nesting Bald Eagles, Northern Cardinals, and House Finches to southern Manitoba, which used to be extremely rare.  Chatting with these lovely people really made our morning! 

On the far side of the university campus, just past the building where canola oil was first discovered, we again wove through a quiet neighborhood of custom designed homes on deep, treed and landscaped properties.  A short walk down sidewalks brought us to Kings Park, a 37.4 ha park along the banks of the Red River.  

We skirted the edges of this beautiful park, following a band of natural vegetation next to the river.  As we walked the shady footpath we heard the familiar songs of Red-eyed and Warbling Vireos, watched White-breasted Nuthatches climbing tree trunks, listened to the drumming of a Hairy Woodpecker, admired the brilliant plumage of an Indigo Bunting, and searched flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds to see if there were any Yellow-headed Blackbirds among them (sadly there were not).  

Eventually we came to a garden with gravel paths forming a labyrinth at the edge of a dry 'pond.'  At the far side was a red lacquered Chinese pagoda, and we'd just learned from Ian and Donna that the red arched bridges that used to cross the waterways beside the pagoda were the same ones we'd crossed in the wilds of Whiteshell Provincial Park.  The arch of these fancy wooden bridges was too steep to be easily accessible, so they were relocated (by helicopter) to another section of Trans Canada Trail, and replaced with more accessible alternatives in Kings Park.  

(Whiteshell PP Bridges, 2019)

We enjoyed making our way through the large, landscaped, grassy park and we stopped to chat with a few more people along the way.  Since beginning our hike again this year we've realized how much our own altitude and energy levels affect our perception of a place.  When we arrived in Manitoba at the end of 2020 we were completely (and somewhat inexplicably) worn down, and we had the warped perception that Manitoba was an unwelcoming place for us, where everything was going wrong.  There wasn't any evidence to support this, but our own exhaustion and the endless online nastiness got the better of us.  Since returning we've been met with overwhelming kindness, and we've been blown away by how friendly everyone is here.  Today was just another reminder of how much better an experience is when you're able to take a break and recharge and see things with fresh eyes. 

At the far edge of King's Park we dove into the Fort Richmond subdivision once again, following a winding road that mirrored the contours of the river.  As we ducked under the highway once again we picked up the paved Sentier Cloutier Trail, which was a beautiful cycling trail bordered by trees and green spaces.  




When we reached St. Norbert we discovered another community which was rich in history.  We passed a large farmer's market (sadly closed) on the main street, before coming to the Place Saint-Norbert.  Located at the site of a former orphanage run by the Misericola Sisters, there now stands a wooden butcher shop, a log house, a Red River cart, and the La Barriere monument.  It was at this place where Louis Riel's followers erected a barrier to prevent Canada's governor from entering the Red River Colony.  


We sat for a few moments in the shade of the trees at the historical site, before continuing down the road.  We were surprised when another very nice lady came up to say hello and wish us well, and it turned out she has been following the progress of our hike. What are the odds of randomly meeting so many people who know of our journey? 


As we walked the main street into town we realized that the colourful town logo is a visual tribute to its history.  It appears to be a set of abstract coloured rectangles with a wavy line through the center, but the design actually reflects the original and changing land allotments that were made for settlers along the Red River.  

Since today's walk was pretty short we took another detour to visit the Trappist Monastery Provincial Park.  The sand coloured brick and stone remains of the Abbey of Our Lady of the Prairies are located in the park, it's Romanesque Revival style walls standing peacefully on the treed hills above the river. 

 It was established by five Cistercians of the Trappist Order from the Abbey of Bellefontaine, France in 1892.  The church and connecting wing were built in 1905, and the adjoining guest house was built in 1912.  The self-sufficient monastery included milking barns,  stables, a cheese house, apiary, sawmill, and cannery.   By 1978, the Trappists moved to a location near Holland, Manitoba to protect their quiet lifestyle from urban sprawl, and in 1983 the church burned down. 

We also took the opportunity to look for birds along the riverway were we saw Franklin's Gulls and Savannah Sparrows. 


As we walked the peaceful, shady grounds we could hear the seductive notes of a saxophone floating through the gardens.  When we went to investigate we discovered a free outdoor concert was in progress, courtesy of the St. Norbert Arts Center, which has an art gallery and snack bar on the grounds.  SNAC will be offering free concerts on Sunday afternoons throughout the summer.  We were welcomed by the small audience in the garden and thoroughly enjoyed an afternoon of music before heading back to town for our presentation.



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