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Valley of Legend

by Dave Yanko

QU'APPELLE VALLEY - Legend tells of a young Indian brave canoeing home from a hunting trip one evening when he thought he heard someone calling his name. "Who calls?", he asked aloud.
A postcard illustration of a part of the old Hudson Bay Post
Stations of the Cross and Chapel, at Lebret.
There was no reply. "Qu'appelle?" he tried again, this time in French. Then came a reply from the hills on the other side of the placid, moonlit lake: "Qu'appelle?" It was his echo.

On his return home the following night he discovered the young maiden he was to marry died suddenly the previous evening. With her dying breath, she called out his name.

Thus, the beautiful Qu'Appelle Valley received its name.

Or rather, that's the essence of the poem The Legend of the Qu'Appelle Valley, by the late Mohawk-Canadian poet E. Pauline Johnson. Johnson's verse made a romantic legend out of an unusual phenomenon reported a century earlier by Metis trader Daniel Harmon. According to Saskatchewan place-name expert Bill Barry's People Places, Indians of the region in 1804 told Harmon they often heard what they believed to be a voice crying out to them as they travelled the valley. "K-tpwt?", "who calls?", or "qui appelle?" was their response, in Cree, English or French.

Today, this area (map) is one of southern Saskatchewan's most popular playgrounds. Katepwa, Mission, Echo and Pasqua are known as The Calling Lakes (they used to be known as The Fishing Lakes until someone realized there was a perfectly good legend going to waste). Fed by the meandering Qu'Appelle River and aquifers beneath them, the quartet of lakes makes this an exceptionally pretty section of the valley, which runs from the Manitoba boundary some 400 kilometres (250 miles) west into southern Saskatchewan.

Katepwa Beach
Katepwa: popular beach in a pretty setting.

It's recreation and cottage country for Reginans 45 minutes away. Fishing, boating, skiing and sailing are popular summer activities, and the valley is considered one of the best hang-gliding locales between Ontario and the Rockies. Most motorists on the TransCanada Highway speed right past this valley retreat, however, unaware that a mere 20 minutes north of the community of Qu'Appelle lies welcome respite from the seemingly endless plain.

Fort Qu'Appelle, not to be confused with Qu'Appelle, is a valley town of 2,000 situated smack dab in the middle of a sizeable recreational area that encompasses two provincial parks, at least a half-dozen beaches and all manner of shops and amenities. Snowmobiles bloom here in winter - the local club grooms more than 350 kilometres of trails - and Mission Hill ski resort offers nine runs, with two T-bars and two handle-tows, just south of town.

"The Fort" features a surprising number and variety of eating establishments, including the dining room at the Country Squire Inn that's recommended in Where to Eat in Canada. There's a host of hotel and motel rooms, bed-and-breakfast accommodations, as well as a 42-site campground right in town.

The acclaimed Hansen-Ross Pottery studio is open all year 'round, while the farmers market goes every Saturday morning from May to the end of September. The Fort Qu'Appelle Museum has plenty of material to work with due to a colourful recorded past dating back to the early days of the North West Mounted Police and the Hudson Bay Company, which established a fort here in 1864. But as a crossroads in an age-old trail system on the prairies, this was a popular spot well before The Bay sold blankets here.

"Every year the different bands would gather here to enjoy each other's fellowship, to get business out of the way, to trade, to hunt - it was an excellent place to hunt," says Shelley Fayant, of the File Hills Qu'Appelle Tribal Council. "It was an annual gathering."

That annual gathering has returned after a hiatus of more than 100 years. First Nations from across southern Saskatchewan and parts of Manitoba and Alberta renewed the tradition in 2000 with a celebration timed to mark the Sept. 15, 1874 signing of Treaty Four. The festivities take place in mid September on the grounds of the Treaty Four Governance Centre where First Nations groups camped before signing the treaty. A "keeping house", or museum, is expected to open there in 2002.

Hungry trout at the fish station
Hungry breeding stock trout at the fish station.

Ten minutes west of Fort Qu'Appelle on the B-Say-Tah Road, past the bulbous spire of the Romanian Orthodox church, is the Fort Qu'Appelle Fish Culture Station. Hundreds of thousands of the non-native rainbow, brook and brown trout each year are bred here and stocked in about 150 Saskatchewan lakes.

An annual walleye program tops up native populations of Saskatchewan's most popular game fish by releasing 50 million hatchlings into 100 lakes. A video illustrates the extraordinary process in which eggs are harvested and fertilized from fish trapped in the wild. The fish are released unharmed and the eggs are carefully transported to the station for hatching. Summer tours of the station are free. The kids will get a kick out of feeding the fingerlings and breeding stock.

Further west, beyond the cottage community and public beach at B-Say-Tah Point, is Echo Valley Provincial Park. Echo, with beaches on the west end of Echo Lake and the east end of nearby Pasqua Lake, is a recreational park. The focus is people and fun, rather than wildlife and wilderness. However, access to the beaches requires a park permit (we had one, but the entry booths were not staffed when we visited on a weekday in August), so many people opt for the free beach at Katepwa Point.

Echo features three campgrounds with more than 300 individual sites and eight, non-electric group camping areas. Due to its environment and proximity to Regina, it tends to be a quiet park during the week and a bustling little community on pleasant summer weekends. (Click here for the province's page on Echo, which includes contact information.)

Echo Beach
- courtesy Saskatchewan Environment
Echo Beach from the top of the valley.

Katepwa Point Provincial Park, adjacent to the Resort Village of Katepwa, is a park much smaller than Echo. But it's home to the most popular beach in the region and visitors would be hard pressed to find a prettier spot in the valley. Driving Highway 56 on the north side of Katepwa Lake is one of the most pleasant cruising experiences in Saskatchewan. A highway in name only, the old blacktop known locally as the "Katepwa Road" (there's no confusing it with The B-Say-Tah Road) winds around hills and dips through coulees, opening occasionally onto grand vistas of sparkling blue water with green velvet hills beyond.

The beach is located on the east side of the point, across the street from a hotel with a dining room and bar. A limited number of modern, four-season cabins go for about $100 (Cdn) to $250 per night (four bedrooms), and $500 to $1,000 per week - electrified campsites are available outside of the park. Two, nine-hole golf courses with grass greens are situated nearby. Echo Ridge Golf Course, at Fort Qu'Appelle, sits on the site of the old North West Mounted Police Post.

Perhaps 10 minutes northwest of Katepwa on Highway 56 lies the Village of Lebret, noteworthy for the stately, century-old, Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church anchoring the centre of the village, and the Stations of Cross and chapel on the hill above. Antiques, collectibles, aboriginal crafts and clothing, and a new café - all easily accessed from Highway 56 - await visitors.

Echo Valley Conference Centre
Echo Valley Conference Centre.

Continuing northwest along Highway 56, past Echo Ridge Golf Course, is Echo Valley Conference Centre, recognized as a Municipal Heritage Property in 2007. Nestled in a lovely and serene coulee off the main valley, the centre began its life around WWI as a tuberculosis treatment hospital. In more recent years, it served as a retreat and special occasions centre prior to its closure in 2004.

The Calling Lakes portion of the valley is a pretty small piece of the lengthy Qu'Appelle basin, and certainly not the only one with pretty lakes. But with roots as a crossroads, it has seen many good times by many different people over many summers. And there's every reason to believe it will continue to be a gathering place for many, many more.

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