Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Palliser Triangle.

On the Canadian prairie provinces the name John Palliser is well recognised for a recommendation he made in 1860 about the suitability of the area for agriculture. The Canadian government at that time wanted settlers to come to the prairies and begin agriculture. They had watched development further south in the United States and they wanted a piece of the action. They also wanted settlers so that the United States would not be tempted to take over the Canadian prairies. John Palliser was hired to do an exploration of the areas and make a recommendation.

        So a few days ago I was talking to a friend who is taking what is called a Palliser tour. Tours are made of the area and sites noted by Palliser are visited. This conversation reminded me of an excellent book I read a few years ago. Irene M. Spry wrote The John Palliser Expedition of Discovery. This was a great read.

      Spry researched very thoroughly and reported in great detail what these explorers did.
      John Palliser was an English  military officer. He put together a large group of experts to spend three years combing over every detail of the Canadian prairies. Botanists discovered and named as many plants as they could find. Most of the specimens were carefully preserved and shipped to England where they are to this day. Other scientists studied the weather so temperature, rainfall, and sunlight were recorded in detail. Extensive mapping of the area was done. The skies were observed on a regular basis. Animals were observed. They consulted with the aboriginals and used the aboriginals to help them in their observations and travel. They discovered a certain amount of coal.

     Most of Palliser's people were on the prairie for about three years. The story of their travel and survival is amazing. There were times when people were lost for weeks. In the dead of winter they travelled back and forth across the prairie. It took tremendous effort for them to obtain food supplies. They used pemmican
to their advantage.

      There are four areas which come together to make this story fascinating. First, I was raised on a farm so I am keenly interested in agriculture. Growing up I heard about Palliser on a regular basis. Second, I have backpacked for years and couldn't help but admire the success these people had as they lived outdoors most of the time. There were short times when they were at Ft. Edmonton or other places where they lived inside. Third, I have a great interest in western Canadian history so this is as good as it gets. Fourth, I am a naturalist so I was eager to find out what the prairie looked like before it was destroyed by the plow. I like stories that bring distant things together. This story brings together some very prominent interests of mine.

      I highly recommend Irene M. Spry's book and I hope you will take a look at it. If anybody has read this book I hope you would share your opinions with me on Hiawatha House.

       So what did John Palliser recommend? He recommended that a large portion of southern Saskatchewan and Alberta was not suitable for agriculture. The debate over the years rages on as to whether Palliser was right or wrong.


  1. One of my favorite classes during my BEd was a course on western Canadian history. Our prof, Bob Irwin, grew up in the Qu'Appelle Valley and had a real affinity for the flatlands surveyed by Palliser. Two years ago, our big family vacation was in Cypress Hills. As we drove home along the Buffalo Trail, I couldn't help but agree with many of Palliser's observations. Great post, Red!

  2. Always nice to get a comment from and expert. Many of the books I read are on western history. You gave me a super book on the history of the RCMP. I think there is a second book but I've forgotten the name.
    The Carelton Trail passed less than two miles from our farm and remenants of the trail were still visible. A quarter section I own had the trail cross the northeart corner. This land has been farmed so there's nothing left of the trail.

  3. I was just out that way last weekend. The normally dry and dusty land has more water than I have ever seen. I'll bet there is more water than there has been for a hundred years. A friend and I went for a drive one night just after dusk and we stopped and listened to the frogs and toads. The sound was amazing! All in all though I think Mr. Palliser had a point - most of this land is suitable for ranching, not intensive farming.

  4. Phil , it's amazing how much life there is in the grasslands. When there's water everything springs to life. However, they can have many years of drought and that's what Palliser saw and why he did not recommend oit for agriculture.
    The frogs are one amazingly loud noise in those areas.