Heritage Trail: The Legend of Ghostpine

Ghostpine Creek flows from Pine Lake into the Red Deer River.

According to historian Merrily Aubrey, the name is rooted in an aboriginal legend, but the English translation is somewhat confusing.

Well first of all it’s a bit of a misnamer, there aren’t any pines around Pine Lake. It’s spruce. It has been suggested it was mistranslation of a Cree word, Minihik, and sometimes you see a forest full of trees, and you’re asked what kind of trees are those, well they’re pine trees, them’s pine trees, but in fact there are many different kinds, and in this case it was probably a spruce. The story takes place in autumn sometime around 1820. A band of Cree had camped on the east side of the lake. They’d been hunting buffalo and after dancing and feasting, they were ready to journey to their winter encampment.

Their healer had been told in a vision that the coming winter would be harsh, and the group should move to the place of the warm winds for the winter. And after preparing their journey for the next day, the camp went to sleep after the evening meal.

The night grew quite cold, and although there was no snow yet on the ground, all day the smell of it was in the air.

All day long the wind had spoken to the prairie grasses and tree with rumours of another group of humans coming from the south, those known to some as the Blackfoot.

At one time, the Cree and Blackfoot had been allies but that changed when the Cree began helping the fur traders. And the two peoples they were at war.

On this cold autumn night, the Blackfoot crept up on the camp of their enemies.

With no sound, all in the sleeping camp were killed …(pause) and the Blackfoot took the Crees provisions and horses and slipped away in the night. Because of its youth and vigour, the soul of the most respected elder was bestowed on the pine tree to remember, and to keep alive the memory of all the peoples who wandered the plains so long ago.

The Cree point to a twisted old evergreen as Minihik, what later became know as the Ghost Pine. And the legend says, when the wind howls among the trees you can hear the cries of the murdered Cree who still haunt the lake.

On the heritage trail, I'm Cheryl Croucher.