What the Devil?
Photograph (c) National Archives of Canada used here under Fair Dealing (education)
Interview with Ric Driedeger, by Tom Wolfe
Every morning I sit down for a cup of coffee with Ric and talk about something. Last newsletter I wrote about our conversation on obscure Saskatchewan rivers (a.k.a. “Saskatchewan’s Best River”!). Yesterday the topic of Little Devil Rapids and Devil Lake came up.
“About 50 or 60 years ago there was a local family coming down Little Devil Rapids and their boat upset. The whole family had to swim for their lives. Tragically their young daughter drowned. They recovered her body and considered where to bury her remains.
“They decided on a beautiful viewpoint above the rapids. They cleared the area out so that it would have a commanding view of the river below, and buried their little daughter in a standing position where she would be able to see all future paddlers coming down the river and in that way provide protection for those on the river.
“To this day, the family makes regular visits to the burial site and keeps the area clear of trees and bushes. And to this day there has not been another paddler lost in Little Devil Rapids.”
One of the boys asked about the origin of the name “Devil Lake”. Ric has a story about this too.
"Have you ever heard of Franklin’s expeditions? Franklin made three major expeditions trying to locate the NW Passage. They were all disasters, the worst being the last and most infamous one on the Erebus and Terror sailing vessels where everyone died. But the first two expeditions were inland and came right through here, along the Churchill River.
“Back in that time there were no photographers, but there were excellent artists who could draw images of landscape that were just as good as photographs. One member of Franklin's team, George Back, was really an exceptional artist and his sketches and paintings of his voyages with Frnaklin are really amazing. One was an image of Devil Lake and in the background you can see an island that looks very inviting. Remember that.
“Now, the mythology of native North Americans includes something called the “little people”. Little people are mysterious and magical. It’s interesting that other cultures have similar stories: just think of leprechauns, or gnomes, fairies, and so on. Little people inhabit areas close to the water. Well the local people here on the Churchill River have always talked about an island in Devil’s Lake that is very inviting and beautiful to camp on; but the little people live there so you shouldn’t camp there. You should stay clear of it.
“I’ve always wondered where they could be talking about. There’s just no island today that looks like it would fit that description on Devil Lake. The only evidence that such an island might have existed is found in the image painted over 160 years ago.
“One day I was paddling around on Devil Lake trying to figure out where the painter must have been standing. I found a spot that seemed about right, but in the background there was no beautiful island, just a pile of rocks in the river.
“So taking all of this evidence into consideration, what do you come up with? It seems obvious doesn’t it? The little people, tired of travelers camping on their beautiful island, decided one day to disguise it using their magical powers and have made it seem like a rocky, uncomfortable place to be. And so, today, nobody is ever tempted to camp on this island of boulders!”