Storytelling with Dan Darnell
Article written by Brooklyn Neubeker; Photos by Natasha Rogers
This September SEAWA staff had the opportunity to experience the power of storytelling. Storytelling is an amazing method for connecting to and learning more about a community. It allows people to share their connection to the land and teach others about its history. Storytelling can preserve knowledge that may not have been recorded or documented. On September 19th SEAWA staff joined storytelling expert Dan Darnell for a walk in Saratoga Park. He has lived in the area for over 30 years, accumulating numerous stories over time. Dan started off by showing SEAWA staff some of the nearby buildings and their original uses, such as an old Candy Factory where people still gather to share treats on Halloween and Christmas. Another building was the site where the first tractor was built in Alberta, along with ammunition during the Second World War.
He also showed sites where buildings no longer exist. A brass foundry once stood near the Ogilvie Flour Mill, and part of the concrete structure where they drew water from the Seven Persons Creek is still visible. After the brass foundry was gone the spot was used as a garden to grow vegetables, and one of the pipes they used still sticks out of the ground near the railroad tracks.
Dan shared knowledge about the history of the creek itself. He told SEAWA staff how one part of the cliffs had fallen and plugged a portion of the creek, and how the city relocated that part of the creek further from the cliff edge. He shared an area where springs run from the hill side down to the creek. Running water isn’t visible, but it can be heard, and there are cattails and bulrushes growing on the hillside. In the winter, this spot builds up ice several feet thick due to the water running from the hill.
Dan owns photos of the creek taken decades in the past, which demonstrate how the creek banks are much higher than in the past. They have been built up partially from use as a garbage dump spot, and to prevent flooding. At one spot an old truck’s fender is visible sticking out of the dirt. Dan’s knowledge of the creek and the area has allowed him to keep his house safe from numerous floods which have occurred since his arrival.
Dan shared information about past Métis residents of this area, primarily John Akker. He pointed out the spot where John Akker’s house once stood, and shared stories of his accomplishments in various sports such as Chuckwagon Racing. Dan explained how the Saratoga area was used by Métis as a spot to collect sage for ceremonial use.
Saratoga Park is a very special location for Dan. Years ago Dan was involved in a work accident and was told he wouldn’t walk again. Fortunately, this wasn’t the case, and he was able to build up strength and mobility by going on walks with his dogs. Dan still walks the trail daily with Murphy Brown, his chocolate lab. Dan enjoys sharing stories with people he meets on the trails, and spends time removing sharp objects such as barbed wire to prevent injuries to pets. Due to his expertise in knowledge in the area, he consulted with city officials and gave strategies for better ways to pump out water when the next big flood hits.
When asked what he thought of his neighbourhood, Dan replied, “It’s a very good neighbourhood and a beautiful spot for raising kids and a family. Being close to the water is so nice, I’ve seen herds of deer walking down the streets. My neighbour had a doe give birth in his backyard. One doe has returned for seven years in a row and had a set of triplets. Where do you get that anywhere else?”