Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Heading west in Manitoba

So we continued our trip westward across Canada. We made two stops in Saskatchewan. One was in Moose Jaw which we thought must be a  a trail-marker from the British/Scottish explorers. However, we learned it was a Native Cree word for 'warm breezes', that is pronounced more like moo-segh- a -wah. However there is a huge statue of a moose to attract tourists in to the town and off of the Highway #1 of the Trans-Canada trail.

The English language wins again. I did learn that this little valley along the river was a favourite traditional spot for the local indigenous folk as it had good fishing/hunting and protected spots to hunker down in huts, during the winter. Warmer Chinook winds every once in a while helped them to get through the harsh Canadian winters.

Moose Jaw was a good spot to stop to camp for showers and to do laundry and see the old town's Underground Tunnels where

History Goes Underground. The tunnels are all under the streets in the old part of town under Main Street, down by the railway


Al Capone, Public Enemy Number One in the USA and his goons and his guns and his gals, had a secret world under the streets of Moose Jaw during Liquor Prohibition in the States. They did rum-running by trains here and over the border to Chicago. He died of syphillis and endured a long prison sentence mainly for tax evasion, but that is another story.

That was a good slice of history to experience but the poignant history for me personally, was of the Chinese immigrants.  It was the most amazing tour around the maze of underground spaces under the Main

Street businesses area. The racism above up on the streets kept them to themselves, basically slaves for the white supreme-owners that had bought their indentures from the 'coolie' traders, who asked thousands to even consider taking a "coolie" to North America. 

Those Chinese immigrants hid under the Main Street, enduring intolerable conditions, to finally realize their dreams after saving a few pennies a day. They suffered from major depression down in those tunnels, which led to opium abuse, which was cheap then but also drained the few pennies they earned.  It was really a form of slavery and oppression.  However, a few saved for years and eventually started their own businesses.  Their great-grandchildren are now our doctors and cancer research scientists.  We must honour that tenacity and our common human drive for justice. 

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled in their favor several times in the last 50 years but we still read in the newspapers about discrimination. The Passage to Fortune tour was the better tour with the wonderful actors making the history come to life. The Chinese history on the prairies of Canada is a blot on our history of Human Rights.

And then a few days ago, I heard on the news : 2 asian workers brought in to work in the northern parts of Canada, died because they could not understand our safety rules and posted signs. They were being paid $600 a month personally but their wages were going to the worker-broker (coolie-trader) and were closer to $5000 a month. It is so much like what happened to blot our Canadian Human Rights record during the building of the cross-Canada railway.  The 'Celestials" lives were considered to be expendable.

The other stop in Saskatchewan that we recorded was at the Pioneer Cemetery in Swift Current.

My Irish homesteader-ancestors have a plot there. So we pulled in to have lunch and so I could clean up my parents' area, while Old-Man-Watching had a nap.  Above is my paternal mother's headstone.  She died at 29 from spinal bone cancer. 

My parents' china urns, which had red roses painted on them by my artist sister, are under this plaque that needed a good cleaning.  The mud moves inward and the grass grows on the top of the slab of Audrey (Sutton) Fee and Roland Alonzo Burr Fee.  Sigh and double sigh....as I will probably never get to clean this site again or sit here to meditate on a trip across Canada.  Cemeteries are very peaceful places to have a prayer-time and or a nap.


  1. So nice that you had some private time in the cemetery with your ancestors. You are right about peaceful and prayerful. You paternal mother's spinal cancer must have been horrid and painful back then. She had to have suffered, and how sad to die at 29. Thanks for introducing us to her. Thanks for catching us up, and for such interesting history lessons! I would love to see that underground area of Moose Jaw! Wishing you continued safe and happy travels!

  2. Fascinating piece as ever, Karyn. How nice that you can follow history, both N American and personal, as you travel. Thanks for sharing with us.

  3. I just fixed a few repeats and errors on this blog. We are home now and I will catch up the last 2 legs to home tomorrow. I am tired from doctor visits in Vancouver (5 hours of travelling) and then over on a ferry to babysit granchildren which is another 4 hours.

  4. Once a teacher, always a teacher! I learned so much from this blog. Thank you! If you have not read it yet, you might enjoy Maggie Siggin's Revenge of the Land, about the Moose Jaw area in the time of Western settlement.