Lac du Bois Grasslands Protected Area climbs extends north to Lac du Bois, then the land immediately north is part of the Lac du Bois Grasslands Nature Conservancy of Canada. This is the upper extent of the grasslands along the Lac du Bois Road. With increasing elevation, the open areas give way to Douglas fir forests near the McQueen Lake fenceline. One of our favorite hikes is a loop that follows old tracks used by homesteaders through the upper grasslands past Clay Lake then along the west flank of Clapperton Hill, looping back near Stony Lake, a 6 km loop.
We followed a grassy grown-over double track through aspen groves, then turned onto a faint single track that wound over to the end of Clay Lake. This trail is a good one, but it is hard to spot. It continues along the south shore of the lake.
On the other side of Clay Lake was the Gillow homestead (1913 – 1918) who later sold to the Wawns (1918 – 1923). The Gillows were Americans who wanted their own piece of farmland, but struggled with crops.They relied on cutting cord wood and transporting it to town by cart. The Wawns worked at the Clapperton Sawmill at Lac du Bois and herded a few cattle. About 30 families lived in the area at that time.
Clay Lake is a picturesque spot for a visit at any time of the year.
We hiked across the flank of Clapperton Hill through the open grasslands. Stony Lake lies to the west. There was a homestead building still there until about 15 years ago when snowmobilers used the cabins remaining logs for a backcountry bonfire. Some remnants of the M.Scott homestead (1914 – 1919) can still be seen with some careful searching.
Just below the treeline on Clapperton Ridge, hikers (or snowshoers) can wind around to the south side to get a view down the grasslands to Long Lake and beyond to Hadley Ridge. This is a good spot for lunch.
At the final pond, we went down to the shoreline to see if we could find any remnants of the Nesbitt Homestead (1912 – 1919). When the Nesbitts arrived in summer, they stayed in two large tents along with their chickens and furniture, including a piano. They harvested hay, raised cattle and chickens, and hunted for game. They cut wood for the Clapperton sawmill and cooked for the sawmill workers. Mr. Nesbitt went overseas in 1917 and they were able to get a soldier’s grant for land on return. The Nesbitts moved to the City in 1919. All that is left is a few logs and some stove parts now.
The homesteading era near Lac du Bois is now over for about 100 years, but we can still see some of the cleared tracks, pastures, tree stumps (horse logging), lumber mill artifacts, field markers (cairns), fence sections, and so on, but nature is returning the heritage of homesteading and ranching back to grasslands and forests.