It takes a special place to quiet our busy minds and help us pay attention to where we are. One of those special places is the Sanatorium Site at the end of Avenue K South, right here in Saskatoon.
The Sanatorium Site is alive with stories. On your left at the Avenue K park entrance is the picturesque Bowerman House, built in the early 1900s as the hunting lodge and summer retreat of an early Saskatoon postmaster. Even now, the house has a wild, away-from-it-all feeling to it, perched beside a ravine and surrounded by tangles of brush. Your presence will likely be announced by a chorus of chick-a-dee-dee’s and the high-pitched chittering of red squirrels. (As welcoming as the Bowerman House looks, it is a private home, managed as a heritage property by the Meewasin Valley Authority, and the residents ask not to be disturbed.)
Ahead and to your right, tracks made by boots, bikes and skis lead across an open field toward graceful stands of mature spruce trees. These grounds were once home to the massive Saskatoon Sanatorium, established in the 1920s in response to another pandemic disease, a killer called tuberculosis. When the Saskatchewan government conducted the world’s first TB survey in 1921, they were shocked to discover that 50% of school-age children were infected. Over a span of sixty years, thousands of people came to these grounds seeking free medical care, fresh air and good health. Incidentally, the Bowerman House did duty as the Sanatorium director’s home for many years, until effective antibiotics were finally introduced and the facility closed in the late 1970s.
But the best of the stories the Site has to tell are in the here and now. On the far side of the former lawns, winding trails lead this way and that through thickets of willows, chokecherries, caragana and more. Footprints impressed into the snow challenge us to figure out who went where and why. Middens of shucked spruce cones and mysterious snow tunnels speak to the activities of red squirrels and hares and, maybe, of predators. Weasels, perhaps? The ground is surprisingly hummocky, and low spots hold a nostril-curling scent: sharp, pissy, insistent. A fox? Is that what made these track lines, straight and single-footed?
It might have been helpful if we had brought along some of the excellent, free guides to tracking wildlife in the snow. But in the end, we struck it lucky. As we continued our walk onto the adjoining Holiday Park golf course–through wonderful, rolling terrain with views of the river to the east–a big, beautiful fox suddenly streaked across the trail just ahead of us, a blur of red fur and the bush of a tail, flagged with a white tip.
It was a great outing, and we can’t wait for our next NatureCity Adventure. Hope to see you on the trail!
Janet McVittie and Candace Savage