Round Prairie Cemetery

It was a warm day, temperatures hovering near zero, and the sun shining brightly. It would not be a good place to visit on a cold windy day, but offers a plethora of historical and natural experiences at any other time: spring, summer, fall, winter. We had the best weather!

The natural areas to visit include: The slough that is at the intersection of the highway and access road. Search here for wetland plants and animals. Look for such things as the boreal chorus frog and the northern leopard frog, as well as garter snakes and several species of wetland birds. The upland or prairie surrounding the church and cemetery. There were some attempts to farm this land, so the natural prairie has been disturbed. However, mainly, the land surrounding the church and cemetery has been used for grazing, with cattle there currently, and bison farmed nearby as well. Native plants are creeping back in to this area. The river bank and riparian area. We did not head down to the river bank, since the ice is currently unstable. However, the riverbank forest is filled with aspen, cottonwoods, chokecherries, saskatoons, etc. The forest is also old, so bird life would be plentiful. On this day in early winter, we heard a few woodpeckers. We saw common goldeneye on the open water, and heard the squeak of their wings as they flew farther upstream. This would be a wonderful spot for anyone interested in birding or berry picking (honourable harvest, please, since the birds also enjoy saskatoons and chokecherries). If we had explored the river bank, we might have found sign of porcupines.

Because there was a thin crust of snow, we were able to find tracks of larger mammals on the uplands – both moose and deer tracks. I am ready to visit Round Prairie again, with a picnic lunch and plenty of time to wait quietly to listen for birds and watch for mammals.  

Métis flag, Round Prairie church steeple in background photo by Janet McVittie

Although I (Sandra) am not a descendant of Round Prairie, I’m fortunate to have several friends who are and they have shared their families’ fascinating history in helping shape our unique province. They have also shown me the undulating, largely native landscape of Round Prairie – a wild and truly incredible place close to Saskatoon. I feel lucky to be able to walk in such a place that feels just a few steps back in time. There is a deep and personal history of this place that is alluring, and at the same time, instructive. Without this history, it would be lost to most of us, as there are few remnants to indicate the richness of the heritage and experience of Round Prairie. For sharing their landscape and moving past, I give thanks to the descendants of Round Prairie.

Round Prairie, located south of the present-day Chief Whitecap Reserve, was settled in 1850 by about 50 Michif families who were mostly bison hunters and tradespeople. Initially, Round Prairie was a wintering site where circular dwellings were built into the ground. During the summer the people would follow the bison down into North Dakota. During the 1885 North-West Rebellion conflict, several families fled to Montana, not returning to Round Prairie until 1903 to homestead. On return, their previous known way of life had vanished along with the bison. The land of Round Prairie consisted of sandy soils not suitable for agriculture. Most families left Round Prairie for the city.

-Sandra Walker and Janet McVittie

Angel in the Round Prairie Cemetery photo by Janet McVittie

Honourable Harvest.
I (Janet) first came across this name for a familiar concept in Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass. The concept addresses ensuring the ongoing viability of that particular species and other species in that place. In other words, when you take something, ensure there are many individuals and offspring left for all the entities there – humans, all other species, the ecosystem, as well as the weather, topography, geography, climate. Simplified: take only small amounts, or, if the species there is endangered, none! I ask that humans go beyond thinking of harvesting of living things, to add in how we use soil, water, how we disrupt water flow, cover land with impermeable surfaces, and change topography. Before you dig (or harvest), look up, down, around, and anticipate the future.

    Wolf spider in the summer. For size, the roseate leafed plant by the left back leg was the size of a loonie. Photo by Sandra Walker. NB: if you don’t look for these spiders, you won’t see them, so don’t worry about them at all.

    How to get there

    Access: Round Prairie can be reached by traveling south of Saskatoon along Highway 219, past the Chief Whitecap Reserve, continuing south for approximately 17 kilometres. On the west side of the highway, there is a small sign and further off the highway a very small church with steeple with a cemetery and a gorgeous view of the South Saskatchewan River.

    More Info: An excellent and practical book to read is Sandra Walker’s book Path to Wild Foods (available through Turning the Tide and McNally Robinson bookstores). The book has recipes for plants that one can find in natural areas – or better, if you have a yard, that you can grow in your yard. But, whenever you harvest from the wild, be sure to get permission from the land owner (and do not harvest food on a First Nation, unless you are a member and know the traditions), and always practice an honourable harvest.