Sunday, 22 June 2014

Victoria Settlement Tour

We had barely began our tour from Sherwood Park when: "Ah, they're so cute!" Fay cried as we popped over a rise to see a cow moose with twins straddling the yellow line. We stopped in plenty of time hoping not to panic them  while giving Mom time to make a decision which direction to go. Once she made up her mind and headed down through the ditch toward the bush, the gangly calves followed. They seemed to walk on tip toes or goose stepping on the unfamiliar paved highway surface. Once they hit the soft grassy ditch their normal gait resumed, or as normal as a long legged, wobbly kneed calf can be. It pays to leave early and take roads less travelled. We were headed east and north of Sherwood Park toward the historic fur trading Victoria Settlement along the North Saskatchewan River. As we drove along scenic side roads I spotted a brilliant flash of yellow flitting over a pasture dotted by bright yellow dandelions. As I reversed I spotted the yellow flash again settled in a willow tree along the ditch. I managed a couple of photos for future identification confirmation of what I assumed to be a warbler of some sort. It ended up to be an American Goldfinch.
American Goldfinch
There were three of them, a first time sighting for us. Also spotted at this stop were a pair of mountain bluebirds which were hauling food into a birdhouse attached to the barbed wire fence. A bit further down this meandering country road we spotted and American Coot with prickly, red feather headed youngsters. 
American Coot with Young
They paused in an opening long enough to get a couple of quick pictures and a cute smile.
We always enjoy our Sunday morning drives through this scenic countryside to the accompaniment of classic country music on 790 CFCW. I don't think our car radio can get any other station. Even if the drive extends beyond the noon hour, they continue playing awesome requests from listeners with the same great taste in music as we have.
We even found and stopped for a while at a Red Fox den where a few fox pups posed while the more shy ones hid in the safe confines of the roadside burrow.
Itchy Red Fox Pup
Once we arrived at Victoria Settlement and paid our 3.00 entry fee we enjoyed an introductory film showing archived photos and drawing from the mid 1800s as this region was explored and settled. Fur traders soon brought settlers who began clearing land in strips off the river. Each settler or farmer had access to the river, good flat land for his crops and exposed hillsides for grazing cows and other livestock. Father Lacombe arrived here to bring Christianity and schooling to the Cree natives and taught them how to farm and grow crops and vegetables.
 Helping us to Understand
 This outpost only lasted for a few years but had a lasting effect upon the land and the people. Relatives of these early explorers and pioneers still live and farm in the area. We were lucky enough to have the great great grandson and his family of one of the early traders on the tour with us this day.
We drove home along the Victoria Trail, a road that parallels the river for many miles. The village of Smoky Lake is just north of the river settlement. The Settlement itself is more than just the museum, it has the Metis ferry crossing as well as a monument to RCMP who struggled along the early road to bring law and order to this wild region. It was not an easy trek for them and their supplies trying to get upstream to Fort Edmonton. There is a decrepit cemetery dating back to the 1800s as well as several sign posts showing the boundaries of old strip homesteads.
What a change we see in this land over the past 150 years or so. So much has changed, so much speed. Communication that took days or weeks of tough travel is now almost instantaneous. We were out of cell phone signal a couple times today, oh no!
We did see quirky Alberta on this trip as well. A very colourful lineup of threshing machines from many different manufacturers and vintages are painted in varied colours, unrelated to any corporate paint scheme. Why? we ask, well why not?
Threshing Machines Under Alberta Skies
We were almost home when we spotted a small cafe set up in a couple of train cars. Kattie's Crossing offered burgers and fish and chips so we enjoyed 3/4 hour of railroad nostalgia inside the refurbished rail car restaurant. Old photos and stories lined the walls, the food was good and reasonably priced. Katie's Crossing is only a few miles east of Sherwood Park, just south of Ardrossan. A nice way to top off another fine Alberta tour. What a diverse and colourful province we live in!

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