28 Aug

A Visit to Fort Smith

While I love to travel, and don’t do it often enough, I really hate flying. I haven’t travelled on my own in a long time so as I waited for my flight to Edmonton I was feeling nervous and anxious about the two flights I’d have to get through in one day before I reached Fort Smith. I shared a quick shoe shot on IG as I was boarding my flight, and expressed my fears to the universe and was touched to read all the lovely encouraging comments when I landed.

The flight to Edmonton was smooth, but the flight to Fort Smith was in a small twenty seat plane. Landing and take off were slightly terrifying but I made it through with a death grip on my seat. The photo below is the hot and sunny day that greeted me at the Fort Smith airport.

Fort Smith airport

Most of my trip was covered by the Northern Life Museum and Cultural Centre, and it was the museum’s director, Jeri Miltenberger, who showed me around the town. I was not expecting to be so looked after while I was there, but it’s a small town with not many places to eat. It’s also difficult to get around to some of the sites without a car. Jeri made sure I ate well, met people, and got to see wonderful things when I wasn’t teaching the workshop.

Slave River

Slave River

Slave River

Slave River

Fort Smith is located beside the Slave River, which is a huge body of water with a series of easy to dangerous rapids near the town. The northern most river pelican colony nests here during the summer, and I was able to see them from afar in the spot where they feed at Rapids of the Drowned. There’s also a small population of Whooping Cranes in the area but people aren’t permitted to visit them because they are endangered.

Pelican

Pelican on display at Northern Life Museum and Cultural Centre

Whooping Crane

Whooping Crane on display at Northern Life Museum and Cultural Centre

It rained on the two workshop teaching days, and sporadically on my final day in Fort Smith. Jeri took me for a drive out of town and into Wood Buffalo National Park, which is just over the border in Alberta. We made a few stops along the way to gather sweet grass, see and taste the Salt River, and drive past a massive Bison bull walking along the road (video here). He looked about six feet tall and eight feet long. It was an amazing site.

Salt River

Limestone Cliffs and Salt River

Bison bull

We drove into the Pine Lake campground and walked around the water. The level of the lake has become low enough over the past few years that it has transformed from one long lake to a series of three bodies of water barely connected by a trickle of water. Jeri mentioned the Slave River water level is also much lower than it used to be. It has been a very dry and hot summer for the area, much more than is usual.

Pine Lake in Wood Buffalo National Park

Pine Lake in Wood Buffalo National Park

I was impressed by the quality and craftsmanship of the beadwork and embroidery on display in the museum (pictured below), and available for sale in one of the shops. I wish I was as good as the examples here. I came home with a beaded needle case made from moose hide, and a birch bark basket as keepsakes from my trip.

Beading and embroidery

Beading and embroidery

On my final evening the weather cleared enough for us to see this spectacular sunset over the Slave River, and the next morning I did the long trip home. I was much more relaxed about the two flights home because I knew what to expect.

Sunset over Slave River

I am so grateful to Jeri and the Northern Life Museum for providing me with the opportunity to visit the North, and for being such generous hosts. I hope I can visit again someday.

© Rachael Ashe