There are few creatures that capture the imagination of a prairie-loving heart better than the bison. They’re beautiful and massive, and tens of millions of them once roamed our paved city streets.
But free-roaming bison have vanished from Winnipeg, scarcely leaving a trace to remind us of what’s past.
Nevertheless, there is some trace — and preserving that little bit of history is close to the hearts of some Charleswood residents.
Nestled along the wetlands of Charleswood’s Harte Trail is a large, one-metre deep, perfectly round circle. It’s believed by some aboriginal groups to be a buffalo wallow, and it is similar to wallows found in other parts of the prairies.
That area of wetland is threatened to be overtaken by the planned Ridgewood South housing development.
For Len Van Roon, president of the Charleswood Historical Society, the preservation of a potential buffalo wallow and surrounding wetland — potentially dating back 6,000 years — has particular significance.
It’s a way of ensuring that new Charleswood residents, as well as old ones, are able to maintain a link to a special history that is easily forgotten.
"The preservation of historical space here is a tremendous opportunity for the new suburbs to have a sense of community, and not be just like any old suburb. I feel strongly the wetlands are a treasure, as both habitat and history," Van Roon says. "And once it’s gone, it’s gone forever."
When the Charleswood Historical Society first began exploring the possibility the circular dent in the prairie landscape might be of historical significance, they held a small tobacco smudge ceremony with members of a local aboriginal group.
That’s because the area is also potentially of significance to Métis and aboriginal groups. It connects to The Passage — a recognized Charleswood ancient historical site used as a ford by bison herds, fur traders and First Nations bands looking to cross the Assiniboine River at a shallow point.
Those interested in learning more about the historical importance of bison to Charleswood and its former aboriginal population are invited to an Oct. 28 meeting with David McLeod at the Charleswood Museum (5006 Roblin Blvd.).
McLeod is a senior archeologist with Stantec Consulting, and brings extensive experience with aboriginal archeology in Winnipeg, including recent excavations at the site of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
Amanda Thorsteinsson is a community correspondent for Charleswood.