Fort Whyte

The Best of Fall – Of Geese and Other Creatures

What Next?

human rights museumLast week I spent a lovely fall afternoon with friends, chez sophiefirst at the restaurant Chez Sophie on the Provencher Bridgeat chez sophie having lunchT- 4's and checking out the river view dock fort whyteand then on a sun dappled stroll through Fort Whyte.  The current chilly temperatures make it hard to believe that it was so warm just a week ago. Canada geeseThe Canada geese had pretty much taken over Fort Whytecanada geeseThey were everywhere.
burrowing owlThe burrowing owls were fascinating to watch.burrowing owls fort whyteSo sad to realize they are on the brink of extinction on the Canadian prairies.prairie dogsThe prairie dogs entertained us for a long time with their antics.prairie dogsThey are such social animals and it’s fun to watch them interact with one another teasing and playing and fighting. prairie grasses fort whyte manitobaFort Whyte is the perfect place to connect with nature and enjoy the best of autumn. 

fall day fort whyteI’m glad I got to spend one of the last nice…

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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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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

 

Categories: Fort Whyte | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Categories: Fort Whyte | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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