Monthly Archives: June 2012

Eating Bannock Voyageur Style

Our recent trip to Fort Whyte ended with a canoe trip and bannock baking experience. We were on the The Bison and Its People tour. Not only the Plains Indians depended on the bison. We learned that the Metis voyageurs transported bison hides for trade by canoe. 

After practicing our paddling skills on land we headed out in the canoes just like the voyageurs. We sang songs like My Paddle Keen and Bright and Alouette as we glided over the water. We learned that voyageurs paddled up to eighteen hours a day while swatting away thousands of mosquitoes and despite muscle pulls and other injuries from lifting heavy bundles of hides and furs. 

Our guide Lisa showed us the voyageurs’ sash which not only held their warm bison coats closed but also provided back support while carrying heavy loads or on portages. The sash was also a place to hang a knife or a pouch. 

Does it look like my husband Dave and our friend Tad are praying? Actually they are rolling bannock dough. Bannock is made from flour, shortening, a little salt and some milk or water. The voyageurs considered flour a rare treat but when they had some they made bannock. 

Dave’s bannock is just about ready to wrap around his fire stick.  It was the Selkirk Settlers here in Manitoba who dubbed their unleavened flour/ water biscuits bannock. The voyageurs actually called it galette. 

The next step is winding your bannock around a stick for the fire. Bannock has many nicknames including bush bread, trail bread and grease bread. 

This is the step in the bannock making process that requires the most patience. Roasting it over the fire–not so close to the fire that it burns–not so far away that it doesn’t get baked properly. 

Mmmmmmmmmm! That’s delicious!

Our guide Lisa brewed us tea from the berries of the wild rose.

The tea made our bannock taste even better!

If you enjoyed this post you might also like……….

There Must Be 50 Ways to Use a Bison

Killing A Bison Is Hard

Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Bison

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Big Mother–An Unusual Sculpture

A mother baboon grieving after the death of her own baby abducts a human baby to nurture. The human child is quickly rescued unharmed.  That’s the story that inspired Big Mother by Patricia Piccinini, one of the sculptures in the Fairy Tales, Monsters and the Genetic Imagination exhibit currently at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. I was at the gallery preparing for my tours next week and I spent a fair bit of time at the Big Mother installation wondering about the best way to introduce it to children. 

Before I told the story of the human child abducted by a baboon to my tour groups  I wanted to be sure it was a true story. I found a couple of narratives on the web about baboons abducting human babies but they were fiction. One was a moving short story of a young mother on a picnic who goes to chase after her daughter’s pink bonnet when a gust of wind blows it away. She leaves her infant girl on the picnic blanket for just a minute and when she returns with the errant bonnet the baby is gone. The mother spots her darling daughter in the arms of a baboon high in a tree and only after a man distracts the baboon mother with dancing and loud noises does the baboon leave but not before depositing the precious cargo in her arms gently on the ground. 

The National Geographic website reported that one June morning in 2003, on a farm in South Africa, a young mother responding to the cries of her three-month old baby discovered the infant had been taken by a baboon. The website doesn’t tell us the outcome of the story. It is simply a teaser to get us interested in watching the program.  One intruiging thing about the sculpture Big Mother are the designer bags at the baboon mother’s feet. What are they for and what is inside them?  I think I’ll let my tour group participants use their imaginations to figure that out. 

The baboon in the Big Mother sculpture definitely looks sad and I will ask my tour participants to speculate on what might make her sad. If she could talk what would she say? The Big Mother piece is made from silicone, fibre glass, leather and human hair and sells for $250,000. 

I’ll probably avoid a view of Big Mother’s back side with my younger students. It is just a little too graphic but with older gallery visitors it might spark discussion. Sculptor Patricia Piccinini does not shy away from realistic and earthy renditions of her subjects.  She was born in Sierra Leone, perhaps that’s why she is familiar with baboons. Now Piccinini lives in Melboure Australia. 

There are two other works by Piccinini in the Fairy Tales, Monsters and the Genetic Imagination show. Both are equally thought-provoking. 

This one is called The Long Awaited and the one below Stem Cells

Each of these pieces could also spark some interesting conversations and questions during the tours I give. I’m looking forward to it. 

If you liked this blog post you might also like………..

Landscapes For the End of  Time

Norman Rockwell Exhibit- Winnipeg Art Gallery

The Dark Side of William Kurelek

Categories: Winnipeg Art Gallery | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

There Must Be 50 Ways To Use A Bison

On our recent tour The Bison and Its People at Fort Whyte Alive we went into a tipi with our guide to learn about the many different ways the First Nations people used bison. 

My friend Sandy from Hong Kong is entering the tipi after receiving instructions from the guide that to be polite and respectful we must always move to the right once we enter a tipi. 

Apparently it takes anywhere from 8 to 20 bison hides to make a tipi. Once we were seated inside our guide had many artifacts to show us that demonstrated all the ways the Plains Indians used the bison. 

Although my husband Dave tried to use a bison bone for a kind of harmonica our guide Lisa told us the Plains Indians used the bone to clean hides. The bones were also used as needles, awls, digging hoes and tent pegs. They were fashioned into scrapers, knives, spear handles, shovels, clubs and were used in the construction of winter sleds. 

The bison’s thick hide wasn’t just good for making tipis but also for drums, masks, snow shoes, shirts, moccasins, leggings, dresses, belts, bedding, mittens, caps, belts, bags and dolls. 

Dave is touching some bison hair that has been shed from its shaggy coat. The bison hair made a soft lining for blankets, pouches, cradles, coats and moccasins. It was used to make rope, ornaments, medicine balls and pillow stuffing. Bison sinew became thread and bow strings. 

Even the bison’s hooves were used to make glue, rattles and hatchets for butchering animals. 

Dave is reaching over to try and tickle our friend Tad with a bison tail.  The Plains Indians didn’t use the tail for tickling but rather as a fly swatter, lodge decoration and whip. 

Of course the main use of the bison was for meat. The organs, ribs, rump and tongue were delicacies and the rest of the meat was dried and mixed with berries, nuts or seeds to make pemmican and jerky. 

Dave is acting silly by putting the bison horn on his head but the bison horn wasn’t for fooling around. It was made into cups, ladles, powder horns, spoons, toys and head dresses. 

The bison dung or poop which we saw during our drive through the bison herd was used for fuel. 

The bison’s bladder, stomach and intestines were used to make water containers. 

The Plains Indians were ingenious when it came to recycling every single part of the bison. They had many more than 50 ways to use a bison. 

If you enjoyed this post you might also like…………..

Killing A Bison is Hard

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Bison

Eating Bannock- Voyageur Style


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Killing A Bison Is Hard

During our recent visit to the Fort Whyte Nature Centre where we took The Bison and It’s People tour we learned just how difficult it must have been to kill a bison before 1500 when the Plains Indians were introduced to bows and arrows and horses. Before that bison were killed with spears. Here’s my husband Dave trying out his spear throwing technique. 

The bison were herded into a corral made of fallen trees after being driven down a kind of funnel path created by branch markers. They were chased onto this path by hunters draped in buffalo skins. The bison hunt was very dangerous and many hunters were killed. Using the corral method minimized the number of deaths. 

Here our guide Lisa shows our Hong Kong friend Sandy how to attach the smaller launch spear to her long spear. 

I’m ready to launch my spear. It did go forward a short distance but those Plains Indians hunters must have been very skilled and very strong to throw their spears over a hundred yards and have them penetrate the bison’s thick skin. 

Our friend John is giving Dave some tips as he positions his atlatl. The atlatl was a launcher that gave the spear leverage to achieve greater velocity. 

Unfortunately bison were hunted almost to extinction once guns and horses were introduced. They were killed for sport and hunted as food for the workers building railroad lines. They were also targeted because they were seen as a menace to cattle farmers and because the government wanted to eliminate the Plains Indians’ source of food thus making it easier to send them to reservations. The infamous Buffalo Bill is said to have killed over 4,000 bison in one 17 month period. 

Although bison no longer roam completely free they are making a comeback.  There are some 300,000 bison in herds in national parks and on bison farms. 

I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have been a bison hunter but now that I’ve visited Fort Whyte and learned more about bison hunting I have new admiration and respect for the courageous Plains Indian hunters and the daring, strength and skill they must have needed in order to kill a bison.  Killing a bison is hard!

If you enjoyed this post you might also like………….

There Must Be 50 Ways To Use A Bison

Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Bison

Eating Bannock Voyageur Style


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Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Bison

Did you know you can sleep buck naked between two bison hides in minus 50 degree weather and stay toasty warm?  

Did you know an adult male bison that weighs 2000 pounds can maintain a running pace of 55km an hour for longer than a race horse and jump a barricade 2 meters high?  I learned all this and more when I visited the Fort Whyte Nature Centre and took their award-winning tour A Prairie Legacy:The Bison and It’s People.  Former teaching colleagues from Hong Kong are visiting us here in Winnipeg and wanted to learn more about some of our native animals. Although they were interested in seeing polar bears in the wild, we told them a trip to Churchill would be too expensive and time-consuming. We suggested that instead we’d introduce them to an animal synonymous with Manitoba–the bison. Someone recommended Fort Whyte as a good place to see bison. Here are Dave and our Hong Kong friend Tad in the foyer of the Fort Whyte Nature Center. Lisa was our knowledgeable guide. She has a degree in eco-tourism and knows everything there is to know about bison. Here she is showing us the Metis flag. The Metis people began hunting the bison in the 1820’s. We hopped into Lisa’s van and within minutes we were driving right into the middle of the Fort Whyte bison herd.  Lisa opened up the van doors and suddenly we were up close and personal with an animal that is larger than a polar bear or moose. The bison were in the process of shedding their winter coats and Lisa showed us the huge stones they have worn to a smooth sheen as they rubbed against them in order to help get rid of their fur. Our visitors John and Sandy check out a hank of bison hair that has fallen off of one of the animals. Bison hides are so warm that RCMP officers at work on the prairies used to wear coats made out of them all the time. The Fort Whyte herd are Plains Bison which have just a little larger heads than the Woodlands Bison.  Dave made me pose with a hank of bison hair for a beard. We learned that bison fur is very dense. For every one hair follicle an ordinary cow has, a bison has seven.  Lisa introduced us to a bison called Twisty Horn because one of his horns curls up and the other one down. Both male and female bison have horns. Those horns can grow to be 66 cm. long and are a powerful weapon for self-defense.

We met Charlie the bull of the herd. Young males are removed from the herd before they turn two years old because Charlie gets snarly when he has competition. Once he slammed and killed a young male because he was jealous.  Charlie’s big head has earned him the nick name of Mr. T. 

This year Charlie fathered seven babies. All the bison in the herd help to look after them. The babies are ready to keep up with the herd just thirty minutes after they are born. They nurse for the first five months. Adult bison are herbivores and sustain themselves on grasses.  

Lisa taught us how to read the bisons’ tails. If their tail is hanging down and swaying they are contented and relaxed.

If their tail is straight up it means they are angry or anxious. We also learned about the cow bird which perches on the bison’s back and eats parasites. 

Bison dung chips are odorless and colorless. We saw plenty of them in the meadow where the bison graze. First Nations people and early settlers sometimes used the chips for fuel. 

Bison live to be about 25 years old. They seem to know when the end of their life has come and go off alone away from the herd to die. 

A bookmark I picked up in the gift shop as we were leaving Fort Whyte, provided some final life lessons the bison.  Stand your ground. Have a tough hide. Keep moving on. Cherish wide open spaces. Have a strong spirit. Roam wild and free. Let the chips fall where they may.

If you enjoyed this post you might also want to read……….

Killing A Bison is Hard

There Must Be 50 Ways to Use A Bison

Eating Bannock Voyageur Style

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Two Diverse Members of the Group of Seven

One of the most popular school tours we give at the Winnipeg Art Gallery is about Canada’s famous Group of Seven painters. This is Poplars by Lionel Fitzgerald the only Winnipeg and western member of the Group of Seven. 

These artists formed a cooperative group in the 1920’s and 1930’s. They wanted to paint the Canadian landscape in a unique way, in a style that would be very different from the way European artists painted landscapes. The group wasn’t made up of exactly seven people all the time.

Members came and went, and some who were never officially members, like female artist Emily Carr, did work compatible with the mission and style of the group.  

Right in the middle of the long narrow room at the Winnipeg Art Gallery which displays Group of Seven works; are two very different paintings of Lake Superior by two very different Group of Seven artists. 

This one was done by Arthur Lismer, who was born in a British factory town to a family with a working class income. His family was very proud of him especially when he won a scholarship to an art high school. Lismer had to work very hard to keep up his grades while working at a part-time job to help pay his living expenses. After high school he won a scholarship to study art in Belgium. 

This painting of Lake Superior was done by another member of the Group of Seven, Lawren Harris. He was born in Ontario into a very wealthy family, who had amassed a fortune making and selling farm equipment. Lawren’s mother encouraged his creativity and sent him to an expensive boarding school where he didn’t study much because he preferred sports like swimming and tennis. When he graduated his family paid for him to study art in Berlin, Germany. 

Arthur Lismer came to Canada in 1911 because he couldn’t find a job in England and went to work for a design company in Toronto. He was an official war artist during World War I. He would have liked to paint more but had to squeeze in time to paint while working to support himself. A key member of the Group of Seven he is credited with coming up with their name.  He was passionate about art education and taught at art schools in Canada and abroad. He wrote books about teaching art to students and ran art education programs at several different Canadian art galleries. 

When Lawren Harris was tired of European living he came back to Canada in 1908.  He was only in the army for a short time in World War I and then had to leave for medical reasons. He is known as the leader and founder of The Group of Seven. He had lots of time to paint since he lived off his inheritance. Painting was a spiritual experience for him. He felt that through his art he became a better person.  

Lawren Harris and Arthur Lismer led very different lives and produced art work that is noticeably different; but they were both members of the Group of Seven and they both created unique Canadian landscapes that helped carve out a distinctive place in the international art world for  Canadian artists and art. 

North Shore Lake Superior- Lawren Harris


A September Gale -Arthur Lismer

If you enjoyed this post you might also like………..

The Dark Side of William Kurelek

Big Mother- An Unusual Sculpture

Norman Rockwell Exhibit Winnipeg Art Gallery

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North Watch

Is it an astronaut, a robot or a Canadian man?  This statue called North Watch by Manitoba artist Ivan Eyre was recently installed on the west side of the Richardson Plaza just two blocks from my condo. The sculpture was unveiled on May 7th and joins two other large sculptures by Manitoba artists in the plaza. 

The man in the sculpture has huge ears and hands and feet. He is sitting on a brick wall or a rock. What is he watching for? Is he watching for the coming of winter or spring? Is he sitting watch over the land and environment protecting it? Is he sitting watch over the city?  

The man has some kind of pack on his back. It almost looks like one of those flying rocket packs they used to wear on the television show The Jetsons.  The statue North Watch used 2,500 pounds of bronze and is made up of eighty pieces that took almost four months to assemble. 

You can see the pieces the dog is made up of.  The dog too has large ears. What is he listening for?  Although a husky would be a typical Canadian dog, it is hard to tell if this is a particular breed of dog. 

Ivan Eyre the sculptor who created North Watch was born in Saskatchewan and studied and taught at the University of Manitoba. The Richardson family has been collecting his work for more than 20 years so it is not surprising a piece of Eyre’s was chosen for the plaza around their building. There is a gallery in Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Park that is home to two hundred Ivan Eyre art pieces.

North Watch is an interesting piece of sculpture, but I will need to visit it more often and discuss it with others before I figure out what message Eyre was trying to send with it, what story he wanted to tell.  Right now it is my least favorite of the three sculptures in the Richardson Plaza, but I think North Watch is the kind of art piece that can grow on you. 

I have done blog posts about the other two pieces of sculpture in the Richardson Plaza……….

Crossing Seal River

Tree Children

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Ancient Objects- Seven Oaks Museum

This house is full of some “pretty cool old stuff”, said a child who happened to be visiting the Seven Oaks Museum at the same time as I was last weekend.  I agreed with her. I was taking a free guided tour of the site as part of Winnipeg’s Doors Open event. 

Bison hair was used for insulation and wooden nails for construction of the house in 1853. It was built by John and Mary Inkster who were prosperous farmers, traders and merchants. The house was called Seven Oaks because of the seven oak trees standing nearby which mark the site of the Battle of Seven Oaks in 1816 between the Hudson’s Bay Trading Company and their allies and the North West Trading Company and their allies. 

The Inksters had five daughters and they and their mother wore wire hoop skirts like this one under their dresses. It doesn’t look very comfortable. 

This artifact is just a little creepy. It is a memorial wreath made of human hair. No doubt the hair is from an Inkster family relative who had passed away.  The human hair of a deceased person has been twisted around a wire to create a floral  design.  Apparently some of these wreaths even had a photo or painting of the dead person in the middle. Apparently women’s magazines at the time often featured designs and patterns for making these hair wreaths. 

This is not a fancy tea-cup on a place mat. It is a chamber pot on a braided rug. Before the advent of indoor plumbing chamber pots were kept at the end of the bed for night-time toileting needs. The chamber pot’s more crass name was piss pot. 

Here is the tin tub the Inkster family of eleven used for their baths. The water was heated in the stove in the kitchen on the main floor and then hauled upstairs for bathing. 

John Inkster, a stone mason came to Canada from the Orkney Islands. So did Mary Sinclair’s father William.  However Mary’s mother, who was also called Mary, was Metis, the daughter of a Frenchman and a Cree woman. According to the The Encycolpedia of Saskatchewan, Metis girls were taught to sew and do beadwork already at a young age.  Mary Inkster made these beautiful gloves using the needlework skills she was taught by her Metis mother. 

The furniture in the house was all hand-made and some of it looked very comfortable, but this padded chair decorated with bison horns would not have been my first choice for seating. 

I would probably have also given this caribou footstool a pass. 

One of the bedrooms in the Seven Oaks house has a hammock instead of a bed. The room belonged to Colin Sinclair, Mary’s brother, who was a sea-captain. He retired to his sister’s house when his career was over. He was so used to sleeping in a hammock on the ship that he had one installed in his bedroom at Seven Oaks.

Next to the house is the store and post office run by Mary and John Inkster. John imported goods from England by way of Hudson Bay and brought them to the Red River Settlement by York boats. His American goods came from St. Paul by Red River carts. Mary worked in the store and her children said her ability to add up columns of figures and balance accounts was remarkable.

John Inkster was an active member of Winnipeg’s civic, church and business community. Inkster School and Inkster Boulevard in Winnipeg are named after him. 

Mary Inkster ran a household for her family of nine children and helped her husband with his business. 

It was interesting to get to know Mary and John better by visiting their home and seeing  the artifacts it contained.  It does hold some pretty “cool old stuff.”

If you enjoyed this post you might want to read…………

Could I Have Been A Grey Nun

Selkirk Settlers- The Exiles


Categories: Museums, North End | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Winnipeg’s Millenium Centre- Haunted By Ghosts

” At night a woman’s ghost walks back and forth between the five front windows”, said our guide as he led us on a tour of Winnipeg’s Millenium Centre, formerly the Canadian Bank of Commerce on Main Street.  The tour was part of Winnipeg’s Doors Open event last weekend.

 The ghost who supposedly floats by these five tall windows is that of a bank secretary who died in the building. Her story was just one of the interesting things I learned when I joined a tour of the Millenium Centre led by Mitch Rouire.  Mitch’s company Storm Catering is in charge of all the events that happen in this former bank building. 

I was interested in touring the Millenium Centre because many years ago there was an art installation there by artist Wanda Koop about a trip she and her mother made to her mother’s birthplace in Ukraine. I found the installation very moving and meaningful. The story of the exhibition was made into a movie In Her Eyes which I often showed to my high school students. 

The 14 foot high ceiling in the main part of the Millenium Centre features this impressive lit dome. 

The cavernous main lobby of the former bank has Corinthian columns and marble walls and floors. 

The day I visited, the main floor of the Millenium Centre also featured a display of historical wedding attire courtesy of the Costume Museum of Canada. The Millenium Centre has become a popular venue for Winnipeg weddings. The Costume Museum which is temporarily closed, houses many of its artifacts at the Millenium Centre. 

We got to peek into the vault. We learned that in the basement under this section of the building there was a stable for the horses and wagons that transported money to the bank from all across Western Canada. 

I went into the opulent bank manager’s office with its walnut woodwork and leather chairs. 

The manager even had his own sitting area and fireplace. 

We saw the office where the ghostly secretary probably met her demise. Women spent the night here bringing the bank’s  accounts up to date, recording the amounts of  every cheque cashed in individual ledger books for each banking patron. These ledgers were moved up and down from the vaults many floors below with a hydraulic elevator. 

The bank superintendent’s office had an ornately carved ceiling, a fireplace and a private bathroom all done in marble.  An X on the floor in the centre of the room marks the spot where the second last superintendent of the bank committed suicide. 

They say the superintendent’s ghost haunts the stairwells during social functions at the Millenium Centre. The story may just be a ploy to prevent guests from wandering around the dark corridors of the building on their own.  

Mitch took us up above the dome and we were surprised to find it was lit by flourescent and not natural light. The dome was very dusty and dirty. Mitch said they cleaned it once but then it was much too bright down on the main floor. 

We learned that many Hollywood movies have used the Millenium Centre for a set, including Shall We Dance, The Assassination of Jesse James, The Divide and The Arrow.

On either side of the lobby as I exited the Millenium Centre were these intricate engravings. This one is titled Banking and shows a banker receiving funds from two citizens. 

This one titled Commerce shows a banker accepting sheaves of wheat from merchants. This is very appropriate since Winnipeg’s Exchange District where the old bank building stands, was the site of the Winnipeg Grain Exchange. Grain drove the economy of Winnipeg for many decades. 

I was glad I had a chance to take a tour inside this magnificent building just two blocks away from my home. I am looking forward to going there again at the end of June when I am invited to a wedding reception at the Millenium Centre.  I wonder if I’ll see any ghosts? 



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