The area around Kindersley was occupied by the Blackfoot for thousands of years, as they followed the bison herds that once moved through the area. Several early settlers described seeing whitened bison bones on their land when they first arrived, symbols of a long gone species from the prairie.
As Europeans and Canadians began to settle in eastern Canada, the Cree and Metis began to move out into the Kindersley area as the 1800s moved towards the 20th century.
In regards to the bison the Indigenous followed, they would leave their mark in another way, which I will get to later in this episode.
Founding of the Community
The first settler to the area was W.R. Tindall, who arrived in 1907 and built a sod house, and then began to break the land using his oxen.
As the Canadian Northern Railway came through the area, the community that would be Kindersley would spring up. As people heard that the railroad was coming through, people began to buy up land on the hope that they would own valuable property along the railroad. Eventually, word came that a section of land had been purchased by the railroad, which sent many to the spot, where a grocery store, bank and hardware store would all operate out of tents.
The site would be staked out by surveyors on Oct. 5, 1909 and named for Sir Robert Kindersley, a major shareholder in the Canadian Northern Railway, lots were being sold on the townsite in 1909 by the company to create the core of the future community. By the end of 1909, the community had a hotel, pool hall, five lumber yards, several restaurants, two doctors, a butcher and many houses. Water for the early town was drawn from Ramsay Spring, and coal was brought in from Edmonton.
In 1910, Kindersley was incorporated as a town and quickly grew from there. One of the first tasks of this new town was the organization of a volunteer fire brigade, which helped ensure that Kindersley was not a victim of frequent terrible fires, as many other communities of the time were. In 1912, the Mackenzie School was built, which became a regional school soon after and in 1924, a high school was built. By this point, the community boasted 1,000 people. In 1912, telephone service arrived from Saskatoon, followed by an electric and water system. The first private hospital in the community was also established in 1912, which was taken over by the community in 1915, becoming one of the first municipal hospitals in Saskatchewan. Another building built in 1912 was the covered skating and curling rink. That building would last until 1934, when it was destroyed in a fire. A new facility would soon be built. In 1914, the Motherwell Dam was built to provide water to the community, as well as from the South Saskatchewan River.
As with many other places in the area during The Great Depression, times were tough but the Canadian National Railway provided the payroll for many in the community. Despite the tough times, a swimming pool was built in the community to give residents something to do during the hot summer days, making Kindersley one of the few smaller communities to have a public pool. In 1936, the first oil refinery was built but it would close the following year. That was a sign of things to come and today, the oil industry is one of the major employers in Kindersley.
The most destructive fire in the history of Kindersley would occur on Feb. 8, 1934 when the skating rink and curling rink were destroyed by a terrible fire. Prior to the fire, Arvis Martin had held a skating party for the grade 5 students of the school.
By the 1940s, Kindersley was thriving, with several stores and entertainment venues lining the Main Street. In the 1960s, pavement was put down in the community and by the 1970s, the community had grown enough that it needed a new subdivision, which was named Rosedale. By 2016, the town had a population approaching 5,000 people.
Addison Sod House National Historic Site
There was a time when a sod house could be found nearly anywhere on the Saskatchewan prairie. These houses were often the first place that a new arrival to Canada lived. They kept the heat out in the summer and kept the heat in during the winter. For many, it was vital to their survival during the early years breaking the land before a proper house could be built. Most sod houses are long gone as they were typically torn down once a proper house was built.
Near to Kindersley, in the RM of Oakdale, you will find the Addison Sod House National Historic Site of Canada. Originally built by James Addison between 1909 and 1911, this modest farmhouse is one of the best preserved examples of early sod construction. The Addison house, which was originally covered in vines for weatherproofing, and now has exterior cladding, survives as an early example of sod houses.
Located on the open and flat prairie, this house is a one-and-a-half storey building with inward sloping exterior walls and a low, hipped roof to give the house a pyramid shape that is incredibly unique. The care by which Addison built the house and put down the sod bricks has helped the house survive longer than others of its kind.
The house was made into a National Historic Site, due to its representation of how early settlers lived, in July of 2003.
Ukrainian Catholic Parish of St. John The Baptist
Located 20 kilometres southwest of Kindersley, you will find a small wood-frame church that was built in 1944, along with a one room schoolhouse that was moved to the property in 1961 for use as a parish hall.
The church, known as the Ukrainian Catholic Parish of St. John the Baptist was built by the local Ukrainian Catholic community that settled as part of a wave of Ukrainian immigrants to Canada after the First World War. The church was built on land donated, using donated funds to finance the project and volunteer labour among the parishioners to build the church building. At the time, wartime scarcity made it hard to find building materials, but the local residents persevered and worked hard to find what they needed.
For over 40 years, the church served as the local place of worship and many would come from long distances to attend services. It was also an important cultural and social centre for the area.
By 1986, the rural area’s population was beginning to decline and the church closed its doors. The church stands to this day, as a testament to the hard work and determination of the early Ukrainian settlers to the area. On April 11, 2000, it was named a Municipal Heritage Property by the Saskatchewan government.
Buffalo Rubbing Stone Provincial Historic Site
Throughout the Canadian Prairies, the bison once roamed in massive numbers. They would dominate the landscape, a giant carpet of life moving over the prairies. Of course, they are mostly long gone except for in enclosed areas and in national parks, but remnants of those herds can still be found if you know where to look.
Kindersley is one such place, and you just need to go 30 kilometres west of town to find the Buffalo Rubbing Stone Provincial Historic Site. This site, which runs for half a hectare, features a large polished boulder sitting on a patch of native prairie. The boulder is unique because of a deep rut worn around the perimeter. The polished surface of this boulder and the encircling rut was the result of generations of bison rubbing against the boulder to alleviate itching and to remove winter coats. This boulder serves as a reminder of the animal that once dominated the landscape.
Another aspect that makes this site unique is the fact that these boulders, often left by glaciers retreating, were mostly removed to clear the prairies for planting of crops.
Due to the historic nature of this site, it was recognized as a Provincial Historic Site on Aug. 21, 1986.
When you head over to Kindersley, be sure to stop at the Kindersley and District Plains Museum. The museum celebrates the city’s beginnings in 1909 and includes many artifacts through the years from the community’s history. There are also several exhibits including a general store, hospital and barber shop. If you are looking to research you can check out the catalogue of the area homesteads, and you can also see the firehall, a furnished Eaton’s house, the Anglican Church, a furnished school house and even a furnished CN station.
Also included in the museum is a wall of pictures from Kindersley’s history, a salt and pepper shaker collection and more.
The Great Wall of Saskatchewan
Saskatchewan is not known for its stone walls, and while it is not The Great Wall of China, if you drive 15 minutes northeast of Kindersley you will come to the Great Wall of Saskatchewan. This wall was the project of a man by the name of Albert Johnson. It all began in 1962 when Johnson, aged 52, began to arrange stones to form a wall after he had cleared them off the surrounding farmland on his property. Johnson would not stop there though, spending the next 29 years building this wall. Over the decades, he would transport stone to the area, and the stones were placed so that the wall would support itself without the need for cement or mortar. On the outer layer of the wall, the stones were placed so that they tapered inward using specially shaped stones, to prevent the wall from moving. The interior of the wall was filled with small and odd-shaped stones. Spruce trees were also planted along the wall to provide protection from the wind.
A sod house, built in 1986, was also completed and is located next to the stone wall.
By the time of its completion, the stone wall had a six foot base, stretching for nearly 2,000 feet, with an average height of six to 12 feet in places. Johnson would pass away at the age of 92 in 2001.
The Great Sandhills
If you want to walk on dunes of the type you would see in the Sahara Desert, you only need to go a short distance south of Kindersley. It is there you will find The Great Sandhills. These huge sand dunes are completely out of place on the prairies but they are a very unique place to visit.
Covering an area of 1,900 square kilometres, the Great Sandhills are one of the largest set of active sand dunes in all of Canada. These dunes rise far above the landscape, as high as 15 to 20 metres, and cover several hectares of land each. They make for not only a unique experience, but some great opportunities for pictures.
As for why these sandhills are here, that can be explained by the last ice age. It was during the retreat of the glaciers and the giant ice sheet that covered Saskatchewan when massive amounts of sand were deposited by the glaciers. As the glaciers melted, they formed immense lakes that existed for hundreds of years in some cases before disappearing forever. Once the lakes disappeared, the sand was all that remained.
One of the most notable individuals to come from Kindersley is Bill Baker, also known as The Undertaker. Born in Manitoba, but growing up in Kindersley, he would play junior football for the Regina Rams in 1963 before making the jump to the Canadian Football League, where he played 174 games over 11 seasons for the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the B.C. Lions. During his career, he was a Division All-Star five times and won the Most Outstanding Defensive Player Award in 1976. Following his retirement from playing in 1978, he would serve as the general manager of the team from 1987 to 1988. In 1994, he was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame and in 2006, was ranked #43 on the list of the Top 50 CFL Players in history. He would play the game on the philosophy of, quote:
“Your opponents are only as tough as you let them be.”
Bob Bourne was born in Kindersley on June 21, 1954 and excelled in both baseball and hockey. He would sign with the Houston Astros and played one season in the Appalachian League with the Covington Astros, where he was on a team with Clark Gillies, who would be a future teammate in the NHL. In 1974, Bourne was drafted by the Kansas City Scouts but lucky for him, he was traded to the New York Islanders before ever playing for the expansion team that lasted only two years. With the Islanders, he would join a growing nucleus of players that would become some of the best the NHL had ever seen. Between 1977 and 1981, he would top 30 goals three times and reach a career high in points with 76 in 1981. Along the way, he would win four Stanley Cups in a row with the team from 1980 to 1983, leading the team in playoff scoring in 1983.
He would find himself on the Los Angeles Kings in 1986 and played two seasons with the team. In 1988, he was awarded the Bill Masterton Trophy for perseverance and was honoured as one of several “Athletes Who Care” by Sports Illustrated for his work with disabled children. Upon his retirement, he would coach various teams and on Nov. 25, 2006, he was inducted into the New York Islanders Hall of Fame.