I am Saskatchewan born and bred. Yet, for me, the land that had been home to my people since homestead days lay shrouded in mystery. Who had lived here before my great-grandparents arrived? What were their stories? Those questions haunted my growing-up years.
During the 1960s, I witnessed the frenzied optimism of dam-building, the flooding of farmland and coulees as Lake Diefenbaker filled. I saw how quickly a way of life – small farmer or bison hunter - could be obliterated. My desire to know the stories of this land morphed into a need to share those stories.
I learned that The Elbow of the South Saskatchewan River had been an important landmark to indigenous people long before Europeans arrived. I read Peter Fidler’s account of his first journey past here in 1800 and skimmed through antique books for references to the Peacemaker who guided Palliser. I discovered real people. I felt an affinity for them and their connection to the land and wanted to tell their stories.
The land itself provided the metaphor: two rivers, the mighty South Saskatchewan and the peaceful Qu’Appelle, joined by a strange little valley with a stream called the Aiktow, the river-that-flows- both-ways. Sometimes the Aiktow drained into the South Saskatchewan. In other seasons, the spring flood poured its waters into the Qu’Appelle. Like the people, who for thousands of years had eked out their daily living from this harsh land, the Aiktow achieved a precarious balance. Taking and giving back.
The Aiktow, like much of its history, has disappeared. But the waters of the Aiktow still flow through the lake, just as the current of events long past affects life in Saskatchewan today.
Looking for Aiktow: Stories Behind the History of the Elbow of the South Saskatchewan River is both a regional history and a personal journey. As I looked for answers, more questions popped up. Where do we go from here? How can we right past mistakes? The story, like the river, goes on.
Joan Soggie and her husband Dennis live in Elbow, Saskatchewan.
Looking for Aiktow is available in Saskatoon at McNally Robinson, the Saskatchewan Archaeological Society bookstore. In Moose Jaw, you may purchase it at the Yvette Moore Gallery, the MooseJaw Art Gallery, or at the Western Development Museum gift shop. Other local venuses include the Herbert Herald, Central Butte's Galloway Pharmacy, Outlook Printers, and Gardiner Dam Gift Shop.
You can also buy it from the author - Joan Soggie, Box 251, Elbow, SK S0H 1J0 for $20 plus $5 s&h