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As with most places in southern Saskatchewan, it all started in Shaunavon with a few settlers coming to the area, leading to more and more and eventually, the railroad would come through. Shaunavon itself began not just as a town along the railway, but as a boomtown, one of the biggest boomtowns in the province’s history in fact.
In 1913, as settlers came in, the government allowed land to be purchased throughout the province at a cost of $10 per quarter section, as long as a homestead was built on a quarter. Thanks to this deal, Shaunavon quickly sprang up. In the space of only eight hours of selling in the Shaunavon area, 370 lots were sold, worth $210,000.
Water was the big reason so many wanted to homestead in the Shaunavon area. The water in the area was considered to be the purest and most plentiful around. As a result, in the space of one year, Shaunavon grew from an empty field to a town of 700 people, giving it the nickname of Boomtown. Due to this rapid growth, Shaunavon became the first community in Canada to grow from being just a village, to a town, in under one year.
One year after the town was founded, the CPR came through the area, with the town serving as a station for locomotives to get water.
As for the name Shaunavon, it is believed that it is a combination of the names Lord Shaughnessy and William Cornelius Van Horne, two of the founding members of the CPR. There is some dispute as to whether or not this is actually true. F.G. Horsey, the CPR townsite representative, stated in 1913 that he was in the Calgary office when a wire came through from Lord Shaughnessy declining the honour of having the town named after him. Instead, he suggested the name Shaunavon, in honor of the area near his home in the old country. This also may not be true as Shaughnessy was born of Irish descent, and dirt poor, to parents in Wisconsin. As well, no reference to Shaunavon shows up in Irish place name references. How did Shaunavon get its name? We may never know.
Shaunavon continued to grow in the next two decades, and in 1939 when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth came to Canada, the water they were supplied with came from Shaunavon. This helped to earn the town the title “Water Capital of Canada”.