The Battlefords is a town and a city, split by the North Saskatchewan River. In the town of Battleford, south of the river, things remain small and quiet, compared to the industry and burger-joint-strip-mall pall dominating the city of North Battleford.
It was at Fort Battleford—formerly the capital of what was then the Northwest Territory—that Poundmaker was arrested on charges of treason and sent to the prison that would prematurely end his life. Eight Cree and Stoney men were also hanged there in 1885, six of whom were arrested following the Frog Lake “Massacre.” This is the largest mass hanging to occur “in” Canada. In a lot of ways, it was this hanging that brought “Canada” into existence as an east-to-west entity.
What’s most remarkable about this site is what’s outside of it. Down in the river valley, to the west of the fort, overlooking the ball diamonds, is the mass grave in which the men were buried, and which for many decades remained unmarked save for a concrete slab. You have to sneak through a campground to get to the site, which is fenced and now contains a monument to the eight: Kah-paypamhchukwao (Wandering Spirit), Pahpah-me-kee-sick (Round the Sky), Manchoose (Bad Arrow), Kit-ahwah-ke-ni (Miserable Man), Nahpase (Iron Body), A-pis-chas-koos (Little Bear), Itka (Crooked Leg), and Waywahnitch (Man Without Blood).
Raspberries were growing all over. The poplars coming up thick. This place was like nothing I’ve ever seen or experienced, ever.