Manitou Sandhills Heritage Tour

Photo: Courtesy of Government of SK Heritage Conservation Branch
Written by ECA Review

Photo: Courtesy of Government of SK Heritage Conservation BranchThe Manitou Sandhills Heritage subcommittee, initiated by Mary Ironbow in 2018, was re-established at the February 2023 meeting of the Manitou Sandhills Integrated Resource Management Plan (IRMP) Standing Committee.

The Manitou Sandhills comprise 105,000 acres of Crown grazing land next to the Alberta border south of Lloydminster and is one of the largest areas of its kind remaining in Saskatchewan.

The Heritage Subcommittee held a tour of the heritage and culturally significant sites within the Manitou Sandhills in northwest Saskatchewan on Sept. 5, 2023.

In attendance were Brett Vallee, Government of Saskatchewan, Ecological Management Specialist – Fish, Wildlife and Lands Branch, Ministry of Environment; Gail Carruthers, Government of Saskatchewan – Ministry of Agriculture; Grant Moncrieff, Southern Community Pastures – Montcrieff Ranches; Eliann Guinan and Heather Frary, Government of Saskatchewan – Heritage Conservation; Christine Pike, Conservation Representative of Waseca, Sask.; Myron and Irene Ganser of Provost, Alta. – Bodo Archaeological Society (BAS); and Clarence and Leila Grobel of Consort, Alta. – BAS/Suffern Lake Regional Park.

Unfortunately, Chief Duane Antoine of Poundmaker Cree Nation was unable to join us. He would have taken the tour to one or more sites that hold value to his nation and possibly areas of continued traditional use.
The Saskatchewan Archaeological Society has a listing of 89 artifact features within the Neutral Hills/Manitou Sand Hills, including finds or scatter; burials (European and Indigenous); campsite and ceremonial sites; homesteads; and Indigenous lithic reduction sites.

There are thought to be a number of sacred and ceremonial sites that have not been identified to date that require preservation and protection.

Eliann and Heather led the tour to the following sites of interest: Yonker Village, Eyehill Creek Community, and a Bison Kill/Pound Site. The Eyehill Creek which flows out of Sounding Lake, Alta. and empties into Manitou Lake, Sask. loops throughout the Manitou Sandhills, including the Eastern Manitou Community Pasture north of the Suffern Lake Regional Park and Community Pasture.

Yonker Village
Yonker existed as a railroad village, unincorporated locally in the Rural Municipality (RM) of Senlac No. 411 from 1908 – 1947, along what was originally the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway (GTPR), until 1923; now the Canadian National (CN) Railway.

It is located approximately 42 kms. east of Chauvin, Alta.

The community got its name from Mr. O. Winter, a contractor for the GTPR as the line was named alphabetically from the east; “Vera”, after his daughter, “Winter”, after himself, and to the west (skipping over X), “Yonker”, named after his mother’s family.

Adjacent to Yonker is Neilburg, Artland, then Yonker, Winter and Senlac.

Today a commemorative sign marks the site and remnants of the former post office, a few other dilapidated buildings and corrals are all that remain of what was likely a vibrant railway village with livestock holding/loading facilities and an Immigration Shed.

Chief Duane Antoine has acknowledged there are two gravesites in the Yonker area and he is concerned about access to ceremonial sites and access for collecting medicinal plants and herbs.

Facing Manitou Lake from the north ridge of the dune.

Eyehill Creek Community
The Saulteaux moved into Saskatchewan from Southern Manitoba in the late 1700s and early 1800s, some settling on reserve(s), while others, like those at Manitou Lake, simply lived on the land and hunted in the vicinity. The Saulteaux, especially those living at Manitou Lake were renowned for their horses.

“In 1914 Indian Agent J.A. Rowlands noted: ‘These people are possessed of quite a large number of horses, of good quality. They take excellent care of them and are keenly alive as to their value and the benefit to be derived from improving the breed.’ (Sessional Papers 1914:128).

Manitou Lake horses were, “known among the Indians, far and wide, as very superior animals, especially the Appaloosa and pinto ponies” (Kasokeo1981:1).

The Manitou Lake Saulteaux occupied a village located south of the lake along Eye Hill Creek, near the now-abandoned town of Yonker.

Some of their family names were: Opwam, French Eater, Whitford, Gopher, Night Traveller, Strawberry and Moccasin. (James and Philip Favel, personal communication, June 2002).

In the early part of the twentieth century, the people at Manitou Lake [were] removed to the various Battleford area reserves, while others went to Rocky Mountain House in Alberta.” (James and Philip Favel, personal communication, June 2002).”

(Courtesy of Wade Leslie Dargin–The 18th and 19th Century Cree Landscape of West Central Saskatchewan – Implications for Archaeology: A Thesis submitted to the College of Graduate Studies and Research in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts in the Department of Archaeology, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon; December 2004).

Now all that remains of the original Eyehill Creek Saulteaux Community Site are a few cellar depressions, where once stood a vibrant independent Indigenous settlement who eventually lived onsite in log structures.

Returning to the trail that meanders through the community pasture, the tour stopped to view a tanker car with the ends cut out that has served as a culvert for the Eyehill Creek for years.

Conversation turned to the adventures of young boys and the excitement of blowing out beaver dams.

Bison Kill/Pound Site
Lastly, the group toured a former bison kill/pound site located within the South Manitou Lake Community Grazing Lease.

The site is not a bison jump, but a pound site, similar to the hunting and processing site(s) located near Bodo, Alta.

A few artifacts were located on site during determination of a pipeline leak several years ago, but the site was never excavated.

Bison Pound sites amongst the sand dunes are thought to have provided ideal communal, group hunting and processing sites.

A bison pound was a hunting method used by the Indigenous peoples of the North American plains, both in the United States of America and Canada, to entrap and slaughter bison.

The pound often consisted of a circular corral at the end of a flared driving lane where bison were herded and eventually trapped.

Unfortunately, the group did not have time to visit a second historical town site, as mentioned previously, which is located approximately seven miles east of Yonker.

by Leila Grobel

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