KOA: Red Coat Trail through “The Land of the Living Skies.”
The Red Coat Trail in Saskatchewan cuts across the southern section of the province following Highway 13 and provides a tribute to the “Land of the Living Skies.” The expansive horizons of the southern grain belt meld with glacier terrain. The Red Coat Trail crosses and skirts rugged terrain from the Big Muddy Badlands through the picturesque Frenchman River Valley along the southern part of Saskatchewan. Some of the landscape appears relatively unchanged, save for the highway markers along Highway 13. Along the way you will find living history, panoramic views, and friendly people and Saskatoon berry pie.
Visit “Red Coat” headquarters. Though almost two hours north of Highway 13, The Royal Canadian Mounted Police Academy, located in Regina, is a must for anyone interested in the Red Coats. In addition to being an active federal police training facility, on site is the regimental museum of the Mounted Police (RCMP) a storehouse of history about the organization and Red Coat Trail. Tour guides explain that in 1873 when the North-West Mounted Police was established, Queen Victoria was the reigning monarch; Mark Twain was writing Tom Sawyer; and Canadians were settling on the frontier. The academy is military-like in atmosphere and cadets may be seen running between buildings oblivious to visitors. During the week, the colorful Sergeant Major’s Parade is held mid-day in front of the Museum. Not to be missed: The RCMP Sunset Retreat Ceremony takes place every Tuesday evening at 6:45pm throughout July and August at the training academy. The ceremony features a parade with the RCMP Cadet Band and Cadet Troops. Also in attendance are uniformed members mounted on horses and carrying lances. (Regina. 1-777-RIDE (7433) or www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca)
Trespassers will be given a fair trial-then hung. Highway13 is a ribbon of visual drama with expansive skies capping ever changing landscape. Drive through the badlands, west of Weyburn. The terrain is desolate. Residents recount stories of outlaws and intrigue. Historically the Big Muddy Valley was a safe haven for outlaws like Dutch Henry, horse thief and cattle rustler and the Jones-Nelson gang the notorious stagecoach robbers. Visitors may tour the famous Sam Kelly Outlaw Caves. Discovery: It is believed that Chief Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse and 700 plus Indian braves camped on the buttes in the area. (Big Muddy Tours. Coronach, S0H 0Z0. 1(306) 267-3312)
Look into the past. Not far south of Highway 13 a dramatic window to the past signifies the timelessness of the prairie. Ancient Indian rock carvings may be viewed on top of a sandstone outcropping overlooking the adjacent valley. This location has one of only two petroglyphs in North America that depict humans with teeth. During certain nights in the summer flashlight tours are conducted. (St. Victor Petroglyphs Historic Park, 1(306) 694-3659 or 1-800-205-7070 (Saskatchewan only). The park is 5 miles south of Victor.)
Walk through a sea of grass. Along the U.S. Canadian border, Grasslands National Park preserves a wide expanse of the broad Frenchman River Valley. Along with weathered buttes and badlands, untouched native prairie, and grassland flora and fauna, the rolling terrain appears today much like it did when the Mounties passed heading west. The park is pristine and tranquil; the land is covered with tiny cactus flowers and sage; and grasses blowing in the wind caress prairie dog towns. Arrowheads, teepee rings, medicine wheels, and bison jumps indicate that the Plains Indians lived in the area for centuries. Guides at the Visitor Centre in Val Marie explain it was also a favorite bison hunting area for the nomadic Métis, during the early days of the Red River Settlement. Discovery: Sitting Bull took refuge in the area after the battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876. Subsequently The North West Mounted Police and European settlement followed. (Grasslands National Park of Canada, Val Marie, S0N 2T0. 1(306) 298-2257 or www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/sk/grasslands/index.aspx)
Go west to Eastend. The North West Mounted Police named the town site because it was their most eastern outpost location within the Cypress Hills. Today it is the site of a world-class museum of paleontology & T. rex Discovery Center. Carved out of the hillside on the north side of town overlooking the Frenchman River Valley, it provides an amazing window to 75 million years ago. Visitors may observe paleontologists working on fossils collected from southwest Saskatchewan and see Scotty”, the Tyrannosaurus rex discovered in the area. During the warmest months it is also possible to visit the active dig sites used by paleontologists and their crews. Discovery: There is an active Day Dig Program that allows novices to take part in the fun of discovering fossils. Not to be missed: Do not leave Eastend without eating at Jack’s Café known for internationally famous pizza. The pie is not bad either. (T. rex Discovery Centre, Eastend, S0N 0T0. 1(306) 295-4009 or www.dinocountry.com)
Visit the old fort. In the tranquil Cypress Hills that border Alberta, old Fort Walsh stands as a reminder of the treachery in the frontier. Living history programs depict the struggles and the victories the red-coated Mounties endured. Guided tours of the fort’s buildings, the Fort Walsh town site, two cemeteries and a reconstructed whiskey trading post are available during warm weather months. In 1875 Fort Walsh was once the largest and most heavily armed fort the North West Mounted Police garrisoned during their early years. The story of Fort Walsh is filled with legends and larger-than-life characters. Names include Sitting Bull; James Walsh; Big Bear; James Macleod; Sam Steele; John A. Macdonald; and George Armstrong Custer. Discovery: Costumed interpreters lead a variety of children’s activities that include making a pillbox hat, marching drills, establishing a NWMP day-camp on the original parade grounds, beading and frontier relay races. (Fort Walsh National Historic Site, South of Maple Creek, S0N 1N0. 1(306) 662-2645, 662-3590 or https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/lhn-nhs/sk/walsh)
Not to be missed. Red serge and black horses! Representing tradition and ceremony through the horse and the scarlet uniform, the RCMP Musical Ride is a tribute to history and a salute to peace keeping. Each year The RCMP Musical Ride tours throughout Canada, the United States and other international venues, performing at approximately forty to fifty locations between the months of May and October. (For details www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca)
References: Macleod, R.G. The North-West Mounted Police and Law Enforcement 1873-1905. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1976.
Baker, William. The Mounted Police and Prairie Society 1873-1919. Regina: Canadian Plains Research Center, 1998.
Beahen, William and Stan Horrall. Red Coats on the Prairies: The North-West Mounted Police, 1886-1900. Regina: Centax Books, 1998.© 2004 Content syndication services provided by Travel Communications, Inc.