Did you know Winnipeg is home to an island where ancient hunters roamed and Victorian-era citizens picnicked? Dave and I hiked Pollock Island this last week. It is located at the end of Rue St. Pierre in St. Norbert.
Donated to the city by the Pollock family in 2006 the island is a 16-acre woodland plot. The Red River flows on one side and the LaSalle River on the other. In spring when the waters rise, road access is often cut off by floods, making the forested acres an island. Hence the name Pollock Island.
I don’t think many people know about Pollock Island. The day we hiked it we were all alone.
But a plaque at the site letsyou know that in the past it’s been a busy place. 6000 years ago woodland hunters stalked deer here and in 780 traders came to broker deals with treasures from as far away as the Gulf of Mexico. The Assiniboin, Cree and Ojibwa did battle with the Dakota Sioux here from 1600 to 1800 and fur traders began regular visits in the late 1700s. Metis families farmed along the rivers and Selkirk Settlers rested nearby when they first arrived in 1812.
Buffalo hunters used to rendezvous on the island before a hunt and in the 1800s picnickers from Winnipeg came out to Pollock Island in their horse and buggies.
Learning about the rich history of the Pollock Island area made us feel like we were walking back through time as we did our hike.
An information board introduced us to the flora and fauna and wildlife on Pollock Island. Even in winter, the island has plenty of natural beauty for walkers to appreciate.
The trail on Pollock Island is only about a kilometre loop so you might choose to hike it twice or do what we did and visit a couple of other walking trails nearby. I’ll write about them in future posts.
A great cycle, walk and paddle we’ve had in Winnipeg …….
One of our walking adventures this week was exploring the Bois -de-esprits trail which begins at 650 Shorehill Drive in Winnipeg. The trail is named for the wooded area it winds through. Translated its name means Woods Where the Spirits Dwell. According to the Save our Seine website Bois-de-esprits is one of the largest pristine urban forests in Canada. I learned that two decades ago this forest was scheduled to become part of a housing development but concerned citizens stepped up to save 117 acres of it. The trails were created in a way that required as few trees as possible to be taken down. The woods are full of wildlife and we must have seen more than twenty deer during our 5-kilometre walk. The Bois de espirts trail is well known for this sculpture in a tree trunk. The tree had died from Dutch Elm disease. It was carved by Walter Mirosh and Robert Leclair from Les Gens de Bois Woodcarving Club. The sculpture was given its name Woody in English or Mhitik in Ojibway at a special Indigenous feast and ceremony in 2006.
There were carvings on both sides of the tree but unfortunately, arsonists have damaged the one side.
There are several lovely paths to follow, one that runs through the heart of the forest and another along the Seine River. We walked both. I just loved the colours of the golden grasses against the stark brown branches. Besides Woody, there are all kinds of other sculptures in tree trunks in the woods made by various artists. I don’t think we found them all but we discovered quite a few.
I’d love to go back sometime and find more carvings. We won’t be getting together with our grandchildren this year for Christmas but another year I think it would be lots of fun to go looking for the ‘spirits’ in the woods on this trail with them.
We went for a long hike in the Assiniboine Forest on Sunday afternoon. Dave as always was on the lookout for birds to photograph. He was shelling peanuts and eating them as we walked. A little chickadee kept landing on the trees along the trail right beside us.
“I think that bird is interested in my peanuts,” Dave said. “I bet it can smell them.”
Dave told me to crack a peanut and hold it in my hand. He figured the chickadee might land on my hand to eat the peanut. And it did!
I kept putting new peanuts on my glove and the chickadee kept flying in, landing on my hand and diligently pecking at the peanut bits until it had managed to pick one up. Then it flew away to eat its tasty treasure. Later I found out this is typical behaviour for chickadees. If they visit a bird feeder for example they will take a seed and then fly away to eat it. How delightful to feel the chickadee’s delicate little feet on my fingers and its sharp tiny bill tickling my palm. The bird was truly light as a feather. I was amazed that this little chickadee would trust a stranger and sit on my hand as if it were nothing more than another twig on a tree. Up close I could see the chickadee’s white cheeks and sporty black bib. Its black cap seemed to be pulled down over its eyes.
According to Jennifer Ackerman author of The Genius of Birds, “Chickadees are generally unfazed by people… they possess a deep-rooted self-confidence, and will investigate everything inside their home territory.”
Oh to have the confidence and curiosity of a chickadee.
This week we have been trying to drink in and enjoy what could be the last fleeting days of warm weather here in Manitoba.
On Tuesday we spent several hours on a lovely long bike ride down the Bunn’s Creek Trail, along the Peguis Trail and up Kildonan Drive with our friends Rudy and Naomi and yesterday we drove out to Pine Point in the Whiteshell to hike to a couple of waterfalls along a scenic trail.
Our friends Bruno and Caroline had planned the hike and we were happy to be invited along.
It was wonderful to wander through the forest and listen for bird sounds,
to scale rocks and check out scenic lookouts,
to observe the beauty of rivers and waterfalls and lakes
and to be able to visit with friends in a safe and socially distanced manner as we walked and explored.
Although weather forecasters had promised us warmth and brightness we didn’t see the sun once and it was chilly. But I thought the dark day had a distinct beauty all its own.
I liked the way the trees were reflected in the water and the way the ice and snow on the edges of the Whiteshell River reminded us that winter is on the way. I noted the way the hardy grasses still stuck their heads up through the snow.
At Pine Point Falls the white water contrasted starkly with the black water and dark rocks.
Even the bare birches and scruffy pines had a spare beauty all their own.
We ended our adventure with a warm fire and a wiener roast. We’d had such a good time that I didn’t even mind the fact that my jacket and hat and gloves left a rather smoky smell in our condo. It was a reminder of our nice day outdoors.
We spent a couple of days at Hecla Island last week and one of the hikes we did took us to a lighthouse on a spit of land sticking out into Lake Winnipeg. There are actually two lighthouses in the same location. The original one closest to the water, which has been beautifully restored, was built in 1898. The larger more modern one was constructed in 1926. At the time it featured a kerosene lamp, a giant hand-wound reflector, and a foghorn. A lighthouse keeper was on duty till 1970 when the Canadian Coast Guard took over responsibility for it. A lighthouse was necessary and important during the era when huge steamships regularly plied Lake Winnipeg carrying passengers, supplies, and cargos of timber and limestone. Dave collected some extra cargo as we hiked through the forest to the lighthouse. Can you see the trimming of burrs along the hood of his jacket? We were hiking with our friends and we stopped frequently to listen for birds since Dave was eager to get some good photos. He captured a waxwing a Swainson’s thrush a Yellow-rumped warbler a female Mallard a Black-billed magpieCanada geese and a pelican. We passed some marshland and the following day hiked through a marshy area where we spotted deer, frogs, a snake and a fox The scenery was gorgeous the weather was warm and sunny and our friends Bruno and Caroline were great company.
We live in Manitoba so fall weather can be unpredictable and this year we know once it gets cold much of our in-person socializing will have to end since we have committed to doing pretty much all of our get-togethers outdoors during the pandemic.
It was lovely to have this hike with friends on a beautiful day, something to savour during the isolation of the winter ahead.
There was a powerful storm in Winnipeg on the weekend and we had evidence of that right on our street. We looked out our window during the storm and saw that the branch of a tree had snapped and landed right on top of a truck parked on Bannatyne just down the street from our condo.
Apparently, the City of Winnipeg received more than a hundred calls about tree damage that happened during the storm.
When I went out later to take some photos I could see that the tree branch had cracked the truck’s windshield.
It almost looked like the tree had reached down to embrace the truck in a crushing hug. It was just a reminder that nature is a powerful force indeed
I visit on the phone with my ninety-one-year-old Dad every day and go to see him several times a week. Without fail our conversations include some talk about the stand of poplar trees outside the window of his apartment. He can judge the strength of the wind by looking at how much the trees are swaying. In spring he took careful note of the progress of the poplars’ leaves unfurling and talked often about how he watched the landscaping crew prune the trees. He notices birds in the poplars’ branches and squirrels and rabbits by their roots. Early one morning this week, before the day got too hot, Dad and I were sitting out on his balcony having coffee. Dad interrupted our conversation to ask me if I could hear the breeze rustling the leaves of the poplars. He actually got a little teary as we sat quietly listening to the wind create a song in the poplars and then he said, “Those trees are sacred to me.” Dad, who is struggling with dementia, seemed sort of surprised at his comment and asked me what sacred meant. I told him sacred meant something holy or respected, something connected to God. He nodded.
I’ve been thinking about why Dad would regard those poplars outside his window as sacred. I’m wondering if it is because during the height of the pandemic those trees became a kind of lifeline to the outside world for him, a connection to something beyond the almost solitary confinement in which he found himself because we couldn’t visit him at his assisted living seniors facility and he had to stay in his room and not have contact with any of the other residents of his building. Now, even though he is allowed more interaction with other people, the trees remain sacred to him.
My Dad grew up on a farm, so he was always very connected to nature and the outdoors. His family’s property was surrounded by Russian olive trees. The two homes he and my mother built had huge yards with plenty of trees. I think those half a dozen poplars outside his window remind Dad of those places.
I think I understand why he’d say, “Those trees are sacred to me.”
On our Sunday hike on Tunnel Island near Kenora, we came upon this Spirit Tree.
The sign nearby explained that spirit trees are planted by the creator as places to gather for healing and wisdom. The roots spread into Mother Earth and the branches reach up to Father Sky. The sign said if you place your hands on the tree and look heavenward the tree can heal you. The way the roots wrapped around the rock reminded Dave and me of the trees we had seen in Angkor Wat Cambodia that wrapped around the rock of ancient temples. My sister noticed there were coins and tobacco tucked into holes in the tree bark. They must have been left as an offering of sorts.
There was sap dripping from many of the twigs and branches on the tree. It looked like icicles and created a beautiful effect.
Part of the written text about the spirit tree reminds people that if humanity wants to continue to thrive we must remain close to the trees and protect them. Wise advice!
On Sunday morning my husband Dave and I did a six-kilometre hike on Tunnel Island near Kenora. My sister and brother-in-law and two other friends accompanied us on the adventure. Tunnel Island is located at the meeting point of Lake of the Woods and the Winnipeg River. It was the centre of indigenous trade for thousands of years and for most of the 20th century was home to the large Abitibi Paper Mill which closed in 2005.
The island was then recognized as a historical site and turned over as a gift to the City of Kenora and local First Nations groups.
Walking along a path lined with white birch
Today the island is most well-known for the traditional Anishinaabe ceremonies held there and as a place where many different species of trees can be found. The fact that we were walking on an island known for its many trees was evident along our path which was filled with tree roots and we had to tread carefully to be sure we didn’t trip. We were amazed that such tall trees could grow seemingly right out the rocks. How did their root systems find sustenance? There are several different kinds of pine trees on the island. Here my sister poses by white pine. This Jack Pine reminded us of the one in Tom Thompson’s famous painting The Jack Pine. Some of the trees had died but they had a natural beauty all their own, No matter what side you looked at them from. This tree along the trail had a pair of sunglasses perched on its trunk giving it an almost human appearance. Of course, we had David Driedger the nature photographer along with us and his artistic impulses did not allow him to limit himself to photos of trees.
Our hike was a great way to spend a Sunday morning. We marvelled at the beauty of creation and the wonder of trees. And we had plenty of fun too.