In addition to the National Historic Sites listed below, visitors looking for a little healthful rejuvenation may want to consider a trip to Little Manitou Lake, near Watrous, about an hour's drive southeast of Saskatoon on Highway 16, then Highway 2. The lake is renowned for its mineral-rich waters, a composition found only here, in the Czech Republic, and in the Dead Sea. The water contains magnesium, carbonate, sulfate, potassium, mineral salts, sodium, calcium, iron, silica, and sulfur, all combining to give it a high specific gravity. This property offers increased buoyancy to swimmers so that they float in it effortlessly.
Fort Battleford National Historic Site
About 138km (86 miles), a 1 1/2-hour drive, northwest of Saskatoon on Highway 16, Fort Battleford (tel. 306/937-2621; www.pc.gc.ca) served as the headquarters for the Northwest Mounted Police from 1876 to 1924. Outside the interpretative gallery, a display relates the role of the mounted police from the fur-trading era to the events that led to the rebellion of 1885. You'll see a Red River cart, the type used to transport police supplies into the West; excerpts from the local Saskatchewan Herald; a typical settler's log-cabin home, which is amazingly tiny; articles of the fur trade; and an 1876 Gatling gun.
Inside the palisade, the Visitor Reception Centre shows two videos about the 1885 Uprising and the Cree People. From there, proceed to the Guardhouse (1887), containing a cell block and the sick-horse stable (1898), and the Officers Quarters (1886), with police documents, maps, and telegraph equipment.
Perhaps the most interesting building is the Commanding Officer's Residence (1877), which, even though it looks terribly comfortable today, was certainly not so in 1885 when nearly 100 women took shelter in it during the siege of Battleford. Admission is C$7.80 adults, C$6.55 seniors, C$3.90 students, and C$20 families. It's open Victoria Day through Labour Day daily from 9am to 5pm.
Batoche National Historic Site
In spring 1885, the Northwest Territories exploded in an armed uprising led by the Métis Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont. Trouble had been brewing along the frontier for several years. The Métis were demanding food, equipment, and farming assistance that had been promised to them in treaties. The settlers were angry about railway development and protective tariffs that meant higher prices for the equipment and services they needed.
The Métis were the offspring of the original French fur traders, who had intermarried with the Cree and Saulteaux women. Initially, the Métis had worked for the Hudson's Bay and North West companies, but when the two companies merged, many were left without work and returned to buffalo hunting or became independent traders with the Indians in the west. When Riel was unable to obtain guarantees for the Métis in Manitoba from 1869 to 1870, even when he established a provisional government, it became clear the Métis would have to adopt the agricultural ways of the whites to survive. In 1872, they moved westward and established the settlement at Batoche along the South Saskatchewan River; but they had a hard time acquiring legal titles and securing scrip, a certificate that could be exchanged for a land grant or money from the British authorities. The French-speaking Métis complained to the British government but received no satisfactory response. So they called on Riel to lead them in what became known as the Northwest Rebellion.
Of the rebellion's five significant engagements, the Battle of Batoche was the only one the British government forces decisively won. From May 9 to May 12, 1885, fewer than 300 Métis and Indians led by Riel and Dumont defended the village against the Northwest Field Force commanded by Gen. Frederick Middleton and numbering 800. On the third day, Middleton succeeded in breaking through the Métis lines and occupying the village. Dumont fled to the United States but returned and is buried at the site; Riel surrendered, stood trial, and was executed.
At the site, you can view four battlefield areas and a number of buildings dating back to the 1880s. For more information, contact Batoche National Historic Site (tel. 306/423-6227; www.pc.gc.ca). Admission is C$7.80 adults, C$6.55 seniors, C$3.90 students, and C$20 families; special events and presentations may cost extra. Mid-May to mid-September, Batoche is open daily 9am to 5pm. The site is about an hour from Saskatoon via Highway 11 to Highway 312 to Highway 225.