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June 14th, 2017 ~ Vol. 87 No. 24
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Looking Back - John Kinnear
Kananaskis?? – Good Question!
Looking Back
John Kinnear photo
Kananaskis sign on 22 ave. Coleman
I grew up on a street in Coleman that one used to have to travel up to get to the south end of the infamous Kananaskis Road. These days the main access is further east but in the 1960’s mufferless mine buses coming down the Kananaskis Road roared around the corner by our old house on 22nd avenue, bringing tired black-eyed coal miners back home off shift. They were coming from Vicary Mine which was about 14 miles up the Kananaskis. Those who rode those mine buses can recall many close calls on that dusty stretch of Kananaskis gravel road when loaded and unloaded coal trucks would suddenly appear out of a dust cloud.

These days many refer to this road as Highway 940, a section of the forestry trunk road, but most prefer the name Kananaskis. So where did that name come from? According to the book Place Names of Alberta (P-NofA) published in 2006, John Palliser of the Palliser Expedition refers in his 1858 memoirs to the Kananaskis River, a river that the James Sinclair Party had labeled ten years earlier as the “Strong Current River.’ He went on to talk about travelling across a pass that he called Kananaskis which he named: “after the name of an Indian, of whom there is a legend, giving an account of his most wonderful recovery from the blow of an axe, which had stunned but failed to kill him”. P-NofA, the official provincial gazette, states his name was Kin-e-ah-kis. The conflict was referred to in another historical account as: “the fight -- near the confluence of the Kananaskis and Bow Rivers -- was over a woman.” Really?

Historical names can get pretty screwed up sometimes and our former Prime Minister Jean Chretien really put his foot in it at the G8 Summit up the Kananaskis in 2002. He said in his message to the attendees there that Kananaskis was: "a Cree word meaning meeting of the waters”. So Alberta Cree were pretty nonplussed by this statement as their word for the above is "sakita-waw”.” Kananaskis definitely does not mean “meeting of the waters” says Darren Howe, a linguist at the University of Calgary. Howe goes on to say that Kin-e-ah-kis translates from Cree as "one who is grateful," and added: "If he survived this axe blow, I guess he could be grateful."
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With this gaff the government also managed to offend the nearby Stoney First Nation who are not Cree but descendants of a branch of the Yanktonai Dakota Sioux , originally from Minnesota. In the Stoney language, ozada means "where rivers meet”. The Stoney reserve, closest to where the G8 met, is located at the junction of the Kananaskis and Bow Rivers where Kin-e-ah-kis fought and where Palliser camped. And just to make it a little more interesting, the Cree word for “meeting place” is Nakiska (like the ski resort). Confused yet?

As a sidelight to all this gobbledygook I should tell you, if you don’t know that Ozada exists as an actual place or should I say existed. Ozada is about half way between Morley and Seebee, about 80 km west of Calgary. The first remarkable aspect of the story of “where rivers meet” is that Ozada was at one time a temporary internment camp that existed from May until early December of 1942. It was setup to accommodate thousands of German POW’s brought to the temporary tent camp erected to hold them until more permanent camps at Lethbridge and Medicine Hat were ready. Ozada must have been a pretty scary place to behold with 28 guard towers and double barbwire fences surrounding 3400 tents that held over ten thousand prisoners. Many were POW’s from the North African campaign of World War 2 where German and Italian forces were finally forced to surrender in Northern Tunisia in May of 1943.
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In the book Silent Victory, a history of “The Canadian Fusiliers in the Japanese War” there is a fascinating first-hand account that connects to Ozada. It comes from Douglas Hogg, a bugler who was part of their First Battalion when it formed up in 1940. While in training there in 1942 some of them were told to board a 21 car troop train in London, Ontario but were not told where they were going. They noticed that their battalion was only occupying three cars in the middle of the train as they travelled. Eventually it was revealed that they were headed to New York to the harbour to pick up POW’s to transport to Ozada. For Hogg and the others it was a seven day and seven night ordeal that must have been nerve wracking for all concerned, especially to the German POW’s being transported further and further inland.

Hogg recounted the following memory: “As we took up our assigned positions outside the train, the German prisoners of war emerged from the ship in a very orderly manner. They were a proud, disciplined group of men, smartly clad in their tropical uniforms, showing well tanned faces, arms and legs. They all appeared to be the same height, rather short and stocky. I later questioned this and was told they were specially selected for greater maneuverability inside the tanks. They were members of Field Marshall Rommel’s elite Afrika Corps. As they moved to the troop train they broke into chorus, singing in harmony their patriotic songs.” Does that not paint a fascinating picture?

The Fusiliers eventually left Ozada after it was secured by the Veteran’s Guard to begin training in Vernon for what would eventually be their part in the war to free the Aleutians. They were later moved to Vancouver for final training but while there an entire regiment of 800 Fusiliers, in full battle gear, were called back to Ozada in November of 1942 for a bizarre task. It seems that the Government of Canada had been informed that Canadians taken prisoner in Dieppe were going to be shackled in German prison camps. A reciprocal movement was ordered for all Germans in Ozada.
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On hearing this the German POW’s threatened to riot and the whole thing could have turned into a really nasty affair with 10,000 or so prisoners against a 1,000 armed guards. Mercifully the German Government gave assurances that Canadians would be unshackled and the whole ugly business was called off. So off the Fusiliers went to eventually help Allied forces drive the Japanese from the islands of Attu and Kiska in the Aleutians. But that is another story and is it a dandy.

The second interesting aspect of Ozada is that at one time it was a small mining outlet with a tipple, two briquetting units and a camp of about fifty people. It was fed coal from the Mount Allan area up the Kananaskis. Coal was first discovered there by renowned geologist Donald Dowling in 1909. The seams were mined from 1947 to 1952 by strip and underground operations until economics finally shut it down. A fleet of 40 trucks with trailers hauled the coal 35 kilometers from the mine at Ribbon Creek to Ozada and it was then shipped down east as anthracite briquettes to markets there. The village of Ribbon Creek or Kovach as it was also known had about 150 people in tar paper shacks with no running water or sewer. Today only a few abandoned buildings and foundations exist of the CPR coal mine siding of Ozada.

So to wrap up all this confusing musing about “meeting of the waters” I will leave you, the readers, with this tongue in cheek clip I lifted from the July 5, 1919 issue of the Banff Cragg Newspaper. It reads as follows”
“Kananaskis? Sometimes!
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“They were motoring up from the city to spend the weekend in the mountains. She was a winsome, soulful lassie of some nineteen sun-kissed summers and hot-house winters, with heart-strings keyed in responsive echo to the June song nature was singing, while her eyes photographed on the book of memory the scenic grandeur along the trail. He was a callow youth with brain capable of but one idea, and that was centered upon the newly-acquired car he was driving.

Yearning for a little loving sympathy with her keen enjoyment of the journey she sought for some means of awakening the youth at her side to a sense of the vanishing opportunities when the sign Kananaskis caught her attention.

“Kan-an-as-kis?” she gurgled interrogatively (lingering over the syllables), and pressing her shoulder against his, “Do you really think so?”

“Oh Yes,” said the young man, giving the wheel a wrench to avoid a rock in the road

Waiting patiently and expectantly for half a hour, while the engine sang the song of the road, the maiden broke the silence with “I believe that sign is a wicked lie,” and gazed meditatively, with tear-dimmed eyes, at the distant hills all gowned in the twilight haze. “
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June 14th, 2017 ~ Vol. 87 No. 24
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