The History Of Swift Current

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Indigenous History

Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the Indigenous, most notably the Cree and Blackfoot, lived in the area of Swift Current, a creek they knew well. The Indigenous would camp on the shores of the creek for centuries, and it is from the Indigenous that we get the name of the community. The Cree called the creek Kisiskaciwan, which means “it flows swiftly”

The Indigenous would travel along the cree in search of wild game, finding elk, moose, bison, deer, pronghorns, cougars and even bears in abundance. Fish and waterfowl were also found in high numbers along the creek. Thanks to the fact that building materials, firewood, root berries and wild game, the future area of Swift Current was a popular place to camp.

Today, Swift Current sits on Treaty 4 land.

As I will get to later in this episode, Indigenous habitation in the Swift Current area dates back as much as 6,000 years at least.

Founding Of The Community

In the early 1800s, fur traders began to move through the area and they would name the area riviere au courant, or river of the current. Henri Julien, who came west with the North West Mounted Police in 1874, called it Du Courant, while Commissioner George French named it Strong Current Creek in his diary.

As time went on, the name became Swift Current.

Swift Current the community was settled in 1883 when the Canadian Pacific Railway surveyed a line through and built the track.

The early economy of Swift Current was focused on the railroad for the most part, with workers working in the new railway buildings. There was also a growing ranching industry thanks to the nearby 76 Ranch, which eventually became 10 ranches that raised sheep and cattle and stretched from Calgary to Swift Current. At Swift Current, sheep were the most common livestock to be transported. On the present site of the Kinetic Grounds in Swift Current, there were once 20,000 sheep, who were herded by John Oman, a shepherd from Scotland.

In 1885, Swift Current became an important military base and troop mustering area for Canadian troops and North West Mounted Police during the North West Resistance.

The first business was opened by Fraser Tims, who operated a merchantile store. W.H. Field would be the first doctor for the area, arriving in 1903. The first hospital would not come along for another nine years though.

The community would slowly grow, becoming a village on Feb. 4, 1904, and then a town on March 15, 1907. That year, the community had a population of 550 people. Seven years later, on Jan. 15, 1914, Swift Current became a city.

Today, the community is a thriving centre and the biggest community between Medicine Hat and Moose Jaw. Agriculture and oil are the biggest industries, with 4,000 wells completed in the area. Swift Current sits on top of the Shaunavon Formation, which has yielded 500 million barrels in total production.

Today, Swift Current has a population of 17,000 people, making it the fifth largest city in Saskatchewan.

The Swift Current Creek Petroglyph Boulder

The value of petroglyphs can’t be understated. They serve as a reminder of the past and a message from the past. Swift Current is lucky enough to have petroglyphs nearby to it, offering an amazing opportunity to see something from the distant past.

Located on the upper slope of the Swift Current Creek valley east of Swift Current, the 16 hectare provincial site features a large limestone boulder that has petroglyphs from before contact with Europeans. The petroglyphs detail bison figures, hoof prints and geometric shapes. Around the site, precontact artifacts and other paintings of a mythological animal figure were also found. There were remains of bone and charcoal found at the site as well.

It is believed that the boulder’s petroglyphs date back at least 1,200 years and is one of the best preserved petroglyph sites in all of Saskatchewan. The petroglyphs also use a rarely seen black pigment, making this a very unique site in all of Canada.

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The site itself also has a significant cultural and spiritual value for the Indigenous of the area. The bison show the animals that once roamed throughout the area, and the boulder and its petroglyphs commemorate the sacred relationship that existed between bison and the Indigenous people. Many Indigenous view the boulder as a link to their past and a symbol of their cultural identity.

For archeologists, the site has a high scientific and educational value because it is a precontact Indigenous array of symbols, ceremonialism and artistic expression.

The valley and its natural grassland setting also give unobstructed views to the area and give a sense of what the site was like when the petroglyphs were first being carved.

Due to its historic and cultural importance, the site was listed as a Provincial Heritage Site on Aug. 27, 1990.

Swift Current Museum

The museum in Swift Current, located in the centre of the community, is excellent for a community the size of Swift Current. It is also one of the oldest, dating back to 1937 when the museum began to collect artifacts. The permanent gallery features historic and contemporary items that examine the relationship of humans and the environment in Southwest Saskatchewan. The gallery is self-guided but tours are available if requested.

The temporary exhibit gallery changes several times a year, featuring everything from dinosaur bones found in the area, to the history of the Indigenous, to the notable residents who have lived in the area over the course of the last 125 years in Swift Current. One of the favourite pieces for many residents at the museum is the 72 million-year-old Tylosaur that is on display.

Other items you can find in the museum include taxidermy of animals such as bison, burrowing animals and various birds. There are also recreations of portions of the history of the community.

Saskatchewan Hockey Hall of Fame

If you love hockey, and I do, then check out the Ted Knight Saskatchewan Hockey Hall of Fame, located at the Innovation Credit Union iPlex, where the WHL Swift Current Broncos play. As for Ted Knight, he was a member of the 1958-59 Memorial Cup winning team with the Winnipeg Braves, and would go on to found several car dealerships in Saskatchewan. Thanks to a $500,000 donation from the Knight family, the facility is named in his honour.

Within the Hockey Hall of Fame, you can find memorabilia from the players who have made their mark in the NHL, and were born in grew up in Saskatchewan. Players inducted into the Hall of Fame include Kelly Buchberger, Keith Magnuson, Hayley Wickenheiser, Bob Bourne, Wendel Clark, Tiger Williams, Emile Francis, Bernie Federko, Clark Gillies, Eddie Shore, Sid Abel, Johnny Bower, Glenn Hall, Bryan Trottier, Fred Sasakamoose and Gordie Howe.

Mennonite Heritage Village

Just like Steinbach, which I covered earlier this week, Swift Current also has a Mennonite Heritage Village, which depicts the lifestyles and customs of homestead settlers who helped to form the early history of the community. Within the village, you will find a church and garden, and an original homestead. The buildings contain authentic antiques and artifacts, and tours can be booked throughout the grounds. The village is classified as a living museum, which makes it an even better experience for anyone who loves history. The village was founded in 1992 and showcases the life of the Mennonites from the 1880s to the 1920s.

The homestead portion of the village features a house-barn that serves as a good example of a typical home in a rural village. The siding, shingles, shutters and windows have all been restored to be as original as possible. The house came from Rhineland near Swift Current, and was built in 1915. It was moved into Swift Current in 1992.

The Sommerfeld Church was built in 1914 and has gone through several renovations over the course of its life. It is similar to many European churches that date back to the 1500s.

The Lyric Theatre

Grand theatres are a thing of the past, but one still remains in Swift Current and it is still used for its original purpose. The Lyric Theatre was designed by local resident C.A. Bloom and construction was completed in 1912 at a cost of $50,000, or $1.5 million today. The theatre was influenced by the Neoclassical style, common for early theatres in the 20th century. Another great feature of the building is that there is ghost advertising signage on its side elevations, giving a glimpse to a long-gone past.

The theatre was built as a vaudeville theatre, with seating for 400 patrons. It would operate as that for a few years but from 1918 to 1981, it was a movie theatre. At the same time, it hosted lectures, balls, church services, pet shows, dance classes and more. It even served as isolation quarters during the Spanish Flu in 1918. In the basement, there was once a bowling alley and pool room, while the second floor served as apartments for employees. Today, the second story is still the location of apartments.

The theatre is one of the few buildings from the pre-First World War era of Swift Current to still survive in the downtown core.

In 1981, the theatre was converted into a nightclub and in 2005, it became a performing arts cultural centre.

On Jan. 22, 2007, the theatre was named a Municipal Heritage Property.

The CPR Dam

Built in 1888, the CPR Dam runs 139 metres to create an earth-filled wooden plank spillway. The dam had been built by the Canadian Pacific Railway to create a reservoir to provide water for the steam locomotives that travelled along the main line of the railroad. Using the power of the Swift Current Creek, water was pumped to the roundhouse and water tank near the station.

Eventually, the dam was rebuilt to have a concrete crest, wings and walls, along with the aforementioned wood plank spillway over the earth-filled construction.

Located in Riverside Park, it was made a Municipal Heritage Property on May 6, 1985.

The Swift Current Railway Station

As the end of the line for rail for several years, Swift Current was an important getting off point for soldiers, new settlers and just people looking to start a new life in the community. The point where many were first introduced to the area was the station and Swift Current still has its train station, something that tends to be rare these days.

Made up three buildings, the first building is a one-storey passenger ticket sales office and waiting room that was built in 1907, and extended in 1923. The second building is a two-room dining room and telegraph building that was built between 1908 and 1909, and then extended in 1957. The third building is a one-storey express building built in 1912.

Built of local red brick, the station’s continued expansion over the course of 1907 to 1912 showed the growing importance of Swift Current in southwest community, which continues to this day. All three buildings contain their original integrity internally and are on their original locations. The site also includes the railway tracks that are now used for freight rather than passenger service.

On Sept. 1, 1991, the federal government recognized the site as a Heritage Railway Station under the Heritage Railway Stations Protection Act.

The Gray Burial Site

Located on a farm north-west of Swift Current, there are numerous ancient human burial sites clustered in a small area on a hillside. This is a very rare example of an Indigenous burial ground on the Canadian Prairies and most estimates date it to about 3000 BC, making it one of the oldest of these sites ever found in Canada.

The site is associated with the hunter-gatherer group whose members hunted bison herds, as well as other mammals and birds in the area. The site was apparently used over an extended period, showing that the Indigenous returned to it on a regular basis over the years and possibly centuries. There are roughly 87 burials containing 154 individuals at least.

The burials also show a remarkable degree of variation in burial techniques.

On Nov. 15, 1973, the site was named a National Historic Site of Canada.

The Battleford Trail Ruts Heritage Site

Swift Current has one of the most unique historic sites I have ever seen. The Battleford Trail Wheel Rut Area consists of one city lot in the city, inside a fenced enclosure. This enclosure features cart and wagon ruts that are the remnants of this historic trail that ran towards Battleford, which for a time was the capital of the North West Territories.

The site serves as a relic of the link between the two communities that was so important during the late 19th century. The trail was likely first created by the Indigenous prior to the arrival of Europeans. The peak use of the trail was from 1883 to around 1890. During the North West Resistance, the trail was an important route taken by Colonel William Otter and his troops to travel from Swift Current to Battleford.

The trail was used heavily by people to move themselves, freight and more, but when the rail line was built through Saskatoon in 1890, the trail began to see its importance decline but there is evidence that it was still used for local travel as late as 1925.

On Oct. 18, 1982, the site was named a Municipal Heritage Property.

Notable Residents

Patrick Marleau was born in Swift Current on Sept. 15, 1979, Patrick Marleau is arguably the most famous person to come from the community. Raised in the nearby community of Aneroid, Marleau was drafted second overall in 1997 by the San Jose Sharks and at the time of this episode, 2021, was still playing in the NHL. On Jan. 11, 2020, he played his 1,700th game, one of only five to reach that mark.

While Marleau has won two gold medals with Canada in 2010 and 2014, and been nominated for the Lady Byng twice, he currently holds the record for playing the most NHL games without winning the Stanley Cup.

If he remains healthy for the rest of the season, Marleau will pass Gordie Howe for the most games all-time among NHL players and is likely going to make it into the Hockey Hall of Fame. As of 2019-20, he had 1,188 points in 1,723 games.

Brad Wall was born in Swift Current on Nov. 24, 1965 and was first elected to the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan for the Swift Current riding in 1999. He would be re-elected in 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2016. In 2004, he became the Leader of the Opposition when he was chosen as the leader of the Saskatchewan Party. In 2007, he led the party to a majority government, and then to another one in 2011 when his party claimed the largest popular vote share in Saskatchewan history, winning 49 of 58 seats. Often polled as the most popular premier in Canada, he is credited with raising the profile of Saskatchewan on the national stage, while also seeing the economy boom thanks to high oil prices. In 2014, when prices started to slide, Wall saw his popularity decline and he would resign as the premier of Saskatchewan in 2018. He is the fourth longest-tenured premier in the history of Saskatchewan. He is also the father of Colter Wall, who is a rising star in the country music world, reaching #8 on the US Country Charts with his album Western Swing and Waltzes and Other Punchy Songs in 2020.

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