Old Bone Trail

He’s fifteen miles from a neighbour And a hundred miles from a town

1925 Railway Map with Old Bone Trail - Goose Lake overlay
1925 Railway Map with Old Bone Trail (Goose Lake Trail) overlay

The Old Bone Trail, or Goose Lake Trail, was a vital connection in the late 1800s and early 1900s for bone collectors freighting their cargo and homestead settlers moving their effects south west of Saskatoon.  A rough estimate places about 10,000 settlers traveling along the Bone Trail in the early settlement years of Saskatoon 1904-1905. Saskatoon became a city on September in 1906 with a population of 4,500, by amalgamating Saskatoon, Riversdale and Nutana.

1924 Map with Goose Lake Trail or Old Bone Trail overlain

According to C. Howard Shillington, author of “Historic Land Trails of Saskatchewan”, the old Bone Trail passed west of Rosetown, proceeding along the northern edge of Eagle Creek until passing by the settlement of Harris. Crossing Eagle Creek, the Old Bone Trail passed near Tessier, Laura, and then traversed south east of Delisle. To the north east of Vanscoy, the trail veered off to reach the South Saskatchewan River shore line, following along the western shoreline of the river until it reached the Village of Saskatoon, currently the Central Business District of the city.

There are accounts of travelers in the North West Territories using the Old Bone Trail to access points just west of the Provisional District of Saskatchewan NWT to enter the Provisional District of Alberta NWT, but there is not at this time a recording of that specific routing.  The province of Saskatchewan was created in 1905, and before this time, the area the Old Bone Trail traversed was part of Rupert’s Land 1774 – 1870 and the North West Territories 1870 – 1905. For more information and maps

Early pioneers made use of the Old Bone Trail transporting buffalo bones to Saskatoon and “Pile o’Bones” (Regina) enroute to Minnesota. It was in the United States where the bones were ground down for fertilizer and used in the production of sugar. This thoroughfare was used in the late 1800s right up to the late 1880s when the decline of the bison brought the trade in bone for fertilizer came to an end. The “Métis hunters who once sought the living animals, went out to scavenge for their skeletons for shipment freighting them from Saskatoon to Minnesota. The hunters would haul them back by the cartload to the rail head at Saskatoon….it’s estimated that 3,000 carloads of bones went south from Saskatoon alone.”[Weber. 136]

After this time, the Old Bone Trail was used to transport settler’s effects between central Saskatchewan and points across the Alberta border. Describing the scene of 1906, “think of the Old Bone Trail, over which so many eager homesteaders poured that one newspaper reporter wrote it was ‘not an uncommon sight to see an almost unbroken line of wagons and vehicles of all kinds and degrees of richness strung out in a long, snakelike caravan many miles in length. At night around every slough, campfires blazed…'”[Weber. 131-136] Between 1908 and 1919, the Old Bone Trail was still used by those with horse and cart or driving their Model T fords, even though the rail line had come through.

The trails coming in to Saskatoon differed from the trails going out. R.C. Russell explains that early freighter trails saw heavily loaded carts with one man leading several units. The next animal was tied to the leading cart at the corner so that it would traverse in the ruts made by the wheels of the lead cart. The next animals in the freighter train, was likewise attached to the rear corner, and so on. The carts did not travel single file bit rather could make as many as sixteen ruts. In this way, ruts did not become too deep, catching the wheels on the hubs, or creating deep wet puddles during inclement weather. The trails made by wagons and buggies with settlers effects were different. These trails usually had the two wheel marks created by the buckboards, and the center path where the horse strode along.

“Away to the West! Westward Ho! Westward Ho!
Where over the prairies the summer winds blow.

The West for you Boys! where God has made room
For field and for city, for plough and for loom.
The West for you Girls! for our Canada deems
Love’s home better luck than a gold-seeker’s dreams.
Away! and your children shall bless you, for they
Shall rule o’er land fairer than Cahay.
~Marquis of Lorne, Governor-General. [Francis.85]

“Building on the romantic image of an Edenic West and the expansionist image of the West as the embodiment of national greatness and imperial grandeur, enthusiasts now created the image of the utopian West-the “promised land,” “the last best West” where the possibility still existed for immigrants to create a perfect society.”[Francis.86]

Rosetown received its name from the earliest settlers, James and Ann Rose. The Old Bone Trail extended south west out of Saskatoon to Rosetown, and further west there is less documentation. Rosetown was a bustling community in the early settlement era, as the Battleford Trail intersected The Old Bone Trail just west of town. Settlers arrived in 1905, the village of Rosetown incorporated August 29, 1909 when there was a population of 500 residents, and the 2011 census showed a population of 2,317. Rosetown locates 116.4 kilometers (72.3 miles)from Saskatoon

Pym set up as a rail siding along the rail between Rosetown and Zealandia. Pym is currently noted as an incorporated area located at latitude, longitude 51°35′ North and 107°52′ West or legal land location 23-30-14-W3 situated 9 km (5.6 mi) from Rosetown and 9 km from Zealandia. 107.4 kilometers (66.7 miles) from Saskatoon via Sk Hwy 7.

Traveling the Old Bone Trail, settlers arrived in Zealandia about 1904-1905. Though the trail was set north of Eagle Creek, the settlement became established to the south of the creek, and similarly the CNR rail set up south of Eagle Creek according to the 1925 Waghorn’s Guide Post Offices in Man. Sask. Alta. and West Ontario. This site was not named after a pioneer, but rather after the old country, as an early settler arrived from New Zealand. David McLennan, reports, that at its height, Zealandia reached 264 residents in 1911, and reported a population of 111 in 2006. 97.6 kilometers (60.6 miles) to reach Zealandia from Saskatoon on SK Hwy 7.

Brisbin, was a CN siding located at NE section 20 township 31 range 12 west of the third meridian. Located 8 kilometers (4.9 miles) from Zealandia, and 89.6 kilometers (55.7 miles) from Saskatoon via SK Hwy 7.

Crystal Beach, a regional park of former name Devil’s Lake was next along the rail. A popular resort until the lake dried up in the dirty thirties. Crystal Beach located at 33-32-11-W3 2 kilometers from Harris 84 kilometers (52 miles) from Saskatoon using SK Hwy 7.

As the Old Bone Trail still ambled along north of Eagle Creek, the settlement of Harris also had to cross the creek to use the trail for shipping bones, or picking up supplies. Once again, Harris was named after one of the original homesteaders, Richard Elford Harris who arrived in to stake a claim in 1904. The Canadian Northern Rail came through south of Eagle Creek and also south of the established post office and hamlet. The residents of Harris moved their settlement to be on the rail, and with an increase in population, incorporated as a village on August 10, 1909. In 1914 a media report of quartz near Harris, swamped the village with over 3,000 new comers trying their luck to locate rubies which turned out to be garnets. The 2006 census reported 187 residents still in Harris. 82 kilometers (51 miles) between Harris and Saskatoon on SK Hwy 7.

After Harris, Kinhop was a railway point or CN siding 3.7 kilometers (6 miles) out of Tessier and 72.5  kilometers (45 miles) from Saskatoon.

Winding your way north east on the Old Bone Trail, and south of the trail is Tessier. Tessier is a small hamlet on the rail line. 66.5 kilometers (41.3 miles) from Tessier to Saskatoon via SK Hwy 7.

Though Laura is the next stop on the rail, the Old Bone Trail, still traveling north of Eagle Creek is quite a distance now from Laura, as Eagle Creek veers on a more northerly route. It would be somewhere in this vicinity that the Old Bone Trail would have crossed Eagle Creek, as Eagle Creek winds its way towards Asquith, and went west of Kinley, and east of Rhyl and Juniata. Laura is still a hamlet located on SK Hwy 7, and was on the CNoR rail. 55 km (34 miles) via Sk Hwy 7 Laura to Saskatoon.

Delisle residents made use of the old Bone Trail making their way from Saskatoon out to their claims to start up their homestead in the “Last Best West.” The first settlers to the area near Delisle were the namesake, Mrs. Lenora DeLisle and her family arriving from North Dakota in 1903. The CNR came through in 1908, and the established businesses actually re-located onto the rail line as the settlement was south of the tracks. “The railways played an active role in promoting settlement of land”[Archer 140] Delisle incorporated as a village October 23, 1908, as a town November 1, 1913, and the 2011 census reported 975 residents. “On May 16, 1963, the last Saskatoon-Calgary passenger train went through Delisle after 54 years of operation.” [WDM] Delisle is about 45 kilometers (28 mi) southwest of the city of Saskatoon driving along SK Hwy 7.

Vanscoy, located on the CNoR marked where the Old Bone Trail began its routing to the South Saskatchewan River. The village enumerated 377 residents on the 2011 census. One of the early homesteaders reported by Bill Barry was Clinton Verne van Scoy. Barry goes on to record the post office location of Cubitt, SW of Vanscoy, and Quincy (formerly named Medona) to the north east. With the establishment of the post office in the larger settlement of Vanscoy, Quincy and Cubitt closed. 27.6 kilometers (17 miles) from Saskatoon.
Following the Old Bone Trail, the pioneer populated the various communities settling the homesteaders as can be seen from the dates provided above. “Transportation and communication have always been of special importance in Canada with its great distances and widely dispersed population.”Kerr
“On the distant lonely prairie,
In a little lonely shack,
New life the homesteader faces;
On the world he’s turned his back.

He’s fifteen miles from a neighbour
And a hundred miles from a town
There are rolling plains between them;
It is there he’s settled down.

In the midst of God’s great freedom,
Under skies of fairest blue,
He is building broad foundations
And a manhood strong and true.

With age-old wisdom behind him,
And spurred by his own great need,
Thus he builds his broad foundations
Free from custom and from creed.
~Margaret A. McLeod
[Francis 119]

Near highway 60 and the old provincial highway 7, is a marker commemorating the Old Bone Trail. At this site, rut marks from the Red River Carts can still be seen. The first provincial highway 7 was built on the square following the township and range lines created by the survey parties. It was not until around 1960 that the highway was straightened and became Saskatchewan Highway 7.

Following the trails created by the bison traversing the plains migrating with the seasons, the Red River Cart trails arose. “Buffalo trails, and therefore the trails of the people, connected hills to plains to river valleys within a shifting web of borders aligned with and expressing the limits of local economy.” [Herriot. 30] As was the custom, the Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR) followed the old trail ways. By 1919, the CNoR was merged into the government railway; the Canadian National Railways (CN). The CN rails, train station, and Chappell yards are just to the north of the Richard St. Barbe Baker Afforestation area, defining the northern perimeter of the urban regional park. Highway often ran parallel to the rail, following the grade created. The Old Bone Trail came east towards the South Saskatchewan River, and soon the CNoR ran parallel to the trail.

1924 Rand McNally Map close up of Tsp 36 Rge 6 W3
1924 Rand McNally Map close up of Tsp 36 Rge 6 W3 shewing afforestation areas overlay

To the west of Saskatoon, and Nutana were Cory, Farley and Eaton. Farley, a siding at NE 20-36-6-W3 situated on the Grand Trunk Pacific Line (GTP) line. As with the CNoR, the GTP soon came under the banner of the CNR by 1923. Cory was a Canadian Pacific Rail (CPR) siding at NW 29-36-6-W3. The name change of Eaton to Hawker CN siding NE 8-36-6-W3 was indeed confirmed by Bill Barry in Geographic Name sof Saskatchewan. In perspective, the afforestation areas are located at parts of SE 22 and 23 36-6-W3 and NE 21-36-6-W3 placing them directly west of Farley siding.

1925 Railway Map Close up TSP 36 RGE 6 W3 with sections overlay

Though the City of Saskatoon has grown to encompass a large portion of land in the South West; in the early twentieth century, the Old Bone Trail travelers still had a few miles yet to go from Tsp 36 6 W3 to reach the village of Saskatoon as can be seen in the close up maps. The population of Saskatoon in 2011 was 222,189, and by 2023, the city is preparing for a quarter of a million residents a far cry from the 4,500 residents of the newly formed city of Saskatoon in 1906. Hearken to the words from the Saskatoon Board of Trade in 1911, “Admitting the general development of a city and its district to be in proportion to the demonstrated value of the latter’s natural resources; admitting also that the greater these resources, the swifter such development; ` and further, agreeing that development involves population which in turn means business, does it not follow that any centre of supply ` such as Saskatoon – should recommend itself for the establishment of wholesalers and manufacturers merely in proportion to the swiftness of its growth?”[Francis, 146]

Reaching the banks of the South Saskatchewan, the traveler on the Old Bone Trail turns north, (ie following Avenue H) to arrive at the ferry crossing.  By about 1889 the Qu’Appelle Long Lake and Saskatchewan (QLLS) Bridge was built (where the Senator Sid Buckwold Idylwyld Bridge now stands).  By 1890, the rail station stood where the Midtown Plaza has been erected in contemporary times. Constructed in the image of the old train station.  And in 1907, the Victoria Bridge (Traffic Bridge) opened for traffic.  Using one of these routes the freight of bones would continue onwards to Regina, and thence to Minnesota in the United States.

According to Saskatoon’s Historic Building and Sites, the “railroad lines which dominated the landscape of downtown Saskatoon since 1890 were moved by the Canadian National Railways in 1966 to Chappell Siding west of the city. On a 285-acre site, the CN operates the most modern container, express and passenger services over 40 miles of track.” Clubb. 1973. Note 124

To realize that the Old Bone Trail, at its peak carried 10,000 travelers before the rail arrived is evidence that it was, indeed, quite well used in its day. The Old Bone Trail was instrumental in establishing the “bedroom” communities outside of Saskatoon.

“The trails, like the names, are falling out of use… This network of trails over the valley slopes, is an artifact of a culture that was never quite in residence, never quite got around to naming the winds. I walk the hill paths now and feel the peculiar ache of having lost something I never really had. Though I am related to many of the path-makers, I am not one of them, nor will my children be. I do not know the bends in these paths, nor do I know where the straightest oaks are or where the cranberries grow any more than I know how to set my grandfather’s mink traps or how to run his honey separator….We just got started making the trails of a new culture here, naming the land, and turning space into place, when our civilizing ways moved us to a scale of commerce and trade that could only pull it all apart, undoing what had been built.”[Herriot. 332]

1917 Scarborough Map of Saskatchewan segment showing Rosetown to Saskatoon with Old Bone Trail (Goose Lake Trail ) overlay

“In keeping with this movement to record our history, …through interested citizens…This consciousness of our history – both on a community and on a provincial level- surely justifies the observances …for out of it will grow a perspective about our small inner circles and ever-widening circles of world citizenship” ~Golden Jubilee News If you have further information on the “Old Bone Trail” ~ “The Goose Lake Trail” please e-mail, thank you.


1924 Rand McNally Pocket Map Tourists and Shippers Guide Railroads, Districts, Cities, Towns Villages, Post Offices, Lakes Rivers, Etc. Date accessed October 17, 2016 Online Historical Map Digitization Project. 2005.

1925 Waghorn’s Guide: Map of Western Canada: Post Offices and RR in Man. Sask. Alta and West Ontario Date accessed October 17, 2016 Date accessed October 17, 2016 Online Historical Map Digitization Project. 2005.

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Barry, Bill. Geographic Names of Saskatchewan. People Places Publishing Ltd. Regina, Saskatchewan. 2005. ISBN 1-897020-19-2. page 435

Bone Trail Date accessed October 17, 2016 Canada’s Historic Places. Corman Park 344, Saskatoon, SK.

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Clubb, Sally Potter and William Antony S. Sarjeant. (1973) Saskatoon’s Historic Buildings and Sites. A survey and proposals. Saskatoon, Past, Present and Potential No. 1. Saskatoon Environmental Society.

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Laura, Saskatchewan Date accessed October 17, 2016 Wikipedia.

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Saskatchewan Golden Jubilee Committee, P.O. Box 1955, Regina. Golden Jubilee
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Saskatoon, Saskatchewan Date accessed October 17, 2016 Wikipedia.

Senator Sid Buckwold Bridge . Wikipedia. Date accessed October 19, 2016.

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Winkel, James. Old Bone Trail Date accessed October 17, 2016 Saskatchewan Encyclopedia.

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Weber, Bob. Saskatchewan History Along the Highway. A traveler’s guide to the fascinating facts, intriguing incidents and lively legends in Saskatchewan’s past. Red Deer College Press. Calgary, AB. ISBN 0-88995-176-4. 1998. Page 131.

Author: stbarbebaker

This website is about the Richard St. Barbe Baker Afforestation Area - an urban regional park of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. The hosts are the stewards of the afforestation area. The afforestation area received its name in honour of the great humanitarian, Richard St. Barbe Baker. Richard St. Barbe Baker (9 October 1889 – 9 June 1982) was an English forester, environmental activist and author, who contributed greatly to worldwide reforestation efforts. As a leader, he founded an organization, Men of the Trees, still active today, whose many chapters carry out reforestation internationally. {Wikipedia} Email is StBarbeBaker AT yahoo.com to reach the Stewards of the Richard St. Barbe Baker Afforestation Area

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