Trip Date: December 2013
A couple of days after my visit to Condie we decided to rent some cross-country skis and spend another afternoon outside. Our original plan was to head out to Last Mountain House, ski through the coulee, and explore the site. There are only two shops in Regina that rent skis and, unfortunately, both of them were entirely rented out, so we would need to revert to Plan B. Our new plan would be to still head out to Last Mountain House and do a little exploring at the old site, but instead of skiing, we'd be doing some snowmobiling. My brother Kyle has his own sled and our cousin lent us hers so we ended up with two, which worked out perfectly. It had been a year since I was last on a sled, but I had so much fun that time, I was looking forward to doing it again. After the initial disappointment of not being able to ski, things were shaping up to be a fun day outside after all. Last Mountain House is located approximately 45km northwest of Regina along Highway 20. Over the summer they offer interpretive programs and a chance to go inside the buildings. Unfortunately everything was closed while we were there, but that didn't stop us from just looking around.
|Last Mountain House Historic Park|
Last Mountain House was built by the Hudson's Bay Company in 1869 as a winter outpost for it's Fort Qu'Appelle operation. The post almost feels like an afterthought, since the fur trade had been operating for almost a century in western Canada by the time Last Mountain House was constructed. The Hudson's Bay Company deemed the post necessary because its competition was moving in on its territory and the Bison herds were moving southwest.
|Last Mountain House as it appears today|
Situated on a high plateau above Last Mountain Lake, the location provided all the necessities needed to sustain it. Wood collected from the nearby coulee was used for building material and firewood, fish and waterfowl from the lake provided a source of sustenance, natural springs from the ravines provided drinking water, and grasses fed the livestock.
|A map of the Last Mountain House area|
The outpost housed a clerk, a Postmaster, various servants and their families. The first year the post was operational (1869) was a very prosperous one. The post was used as a base to hunt Bison and trade for dried meat, grease, and pemmican; the staples of the fur trade. Its primary role was to send these provisions, or food, to the Hudson's Bay Company's more northerly outposts. Unfortunately, one good year was all this outpost would see and it was abandoned sometime in the early 1870's. The Bison herds continued moving westward, the sale of HBC lands to the Canadian government, and the Red River Rebellion all played major roles in the closure of this outpost. At some point in the 1870's the post eventually burnt to the ground and was never rebuilt. The buildings that make up the site today were built on their original locations sometime in the late 1960's or early 1970's and have been used to interpret the fur trade ever since.
|The Men's House|
The Men's House was divided into two sections; the Single Men's Quarters and the Married Men's Quarters. The Single Men's Quarters resembled a bunkhouse. Walls were covered with everything from winter clothing to kitchen utensils. The furniture was simple, usually just bunks and a table. The number of men living there varied. Temporary servants and men helping on trading trips were constantly coming and going, lending an air of transience to the place.
Married servants and their families probably occupied two of the three apartments in the Men's House. As many as two couples and their children squeezed into this 4 x 5 metre (12 x 15 foot) room. Even though the men often worked away from home, privacy and solitude must have been unheard-of luxuries.
|The Master's House|
Issac Cowie, clerk-in-charge, shared the Master's House with Postmaster Joseph McKay and his family. Here Cowie worked on the accounts and directed daily activities. McKay, however, was often away on trading trips.
The relatively large building with its separate kitchen clearly shows the wide gap that existed between officers and men in fur trade society.
|The Privy was located outside the Master's House|
The exact use of this building is not known. The daily journal states that a barn was built at Last Mountain House, however, Issac Cowie's memoirs indicate that the warehouse and trade shop were located here, on the south side of the post. It is possible that this building may have served both purposes.
|The foundation of the Trade Shop|
Cold hard credit best describes the trade for pelts and pemmican. Cash was not used. Written accounts of credit and debt were kept through the winter and balanced each spring. It was cold work because the building was never heated. The barrels of gunpowder stored here made using a stove or fireplace way too dangerous.
|The Fur Press|
For efficient transportation, bulky items like buffalo robes had to be tightly packed. To operate the Fur Press the men lifted the long boom pole and placed folded buffalo robes in the space below. Then they "lowered the boom" and pressed it down to squeeze the robes into a compact bale.
The last structure at Last Mountain House is the Ice Cellar. It was used to store perishable items so they would last longer. The cellar was completely buried under deep snow so we weren't able to see it.
|The nearby coulee that we wanted to ski through. You can see Last Mountain Lake in the background.|
|Christine spotted this Coyote running along the hillside on the opposite side of the coulee|
After thoroughly exploring the historic site and viewing the coulee it was time to go sledding! We unloaded the snowmobiles and headed north, riding in the ditches beside the highway. We rode through the beach-side community of Kannata Valley and gained access to frozen Last Mountain Lake. Here we discovered a snowmobile highway that traveled as far as the eye could see in both directions.
Last Mountain Lake, also known as Long Lake, is the largest naturally occurring body of water in southern Saskatchewan. It is approximately 93km in length, but only 3km across at its widest point. I have spent countless hours swimming, fishing, and boating on this lake, but this would mark the first time actually snowmobiling on top of it!
|A very frozen Last Mountain Lake and the snowmobile highway that stretches along it|
|Kyle riding along the lake|
|Just relaxing in my cozy La-Z-Boy recliner!|
|Kyle playing in the snow on the banks of the creek|
|Back on the lake|
|Me, enjoying every minute of it!|