The area around Maple Creek has been an important spot for the Indigenous for thousands of years. The nearby Cypress Hills provided a landscape unique to the entire area, and with it an abundance of game. When the glaciers occupied the landscape, the Cypress Hills were untouched, giving them the same flora and fauna found at the Rocky Mountains.
For the Indigenous, the area was a frequent place to pass through and settle, especially with the immense herds of bison moving through the entire area.
For centuries, the land was occupied by the Blackfoot people, and as time went on other Indigenous nations would come in including the Metis and the Sioux.
Nearby the Maple Creek, the federal government would establish the Indian Farm in 1879, with the purpose of teaching the Indigenous to farm and ranch. This would only last briefly before the federal government chose to move the Indigenous of the area east of Regina, to make way for the coming transcontinental railway.
One Indigenous man fondly remembered by early settlers was Tea Coffee John, who was known for his love and tea and coffee with the settlers of the area. Described as very polite, he was known for his generous nature. One story tells of Tea Coffee John camping near the ranch of Charlie Smith. Smith gave John a blue-roan cow, which John killed and then tanned the hide of. He then gave the hide to Smith as a gift.
Nearby to Maple Creek is the Nekaneet First Nation and today, Maple Creek sits on Treaty 4 land.
The name comes from Chief Nekaneet. Following the removal of the Indigenous in the area to places farther from the United States border, Chief Nekaneet and his people refused to leave. They instead stayed, became friends with the settlers, traded, learned to rodeo and worked on each other’s farms. With the help of ranchers who lobbied the Canadian government, the descendants of Chief Nekaneet and his people were granted a reserve in the Cypress Hills.
Cypress Hills Massacre National Historic Site
One of the darkest chapters in Canadian history occurred nearby to Maple Creek, but it would lead to the creation of an iconic symbol of Canada. In the spring of 1873, a group of Canadian and American wolf hunters camped near the Teton River and over the course of one night, their horses disappeared. They believed that the horses had been stolen by the Indigenous in the area and they went to Fort Benton, Montana to ask for help in finding the Indigenous. Their request was turned down so Thomas Hardwick and John Evans, the leaders of the wolf hunters, organized their own expedition. A group of 13 men set out into Canada to find the horses. They would reach a small trading post in the Cypress Hills and there they encountered George Hammond, who had been illegally selling whiskey to the Indigenous, and he joined the expedition. They also met Abe Farwell, who had a trading post and he told them that the nearby Assiniboine had no horses with them. The men did a brief search and found no horses with Little Soldier, the leader of the group of Assiniboine in the region. The next day, Hammond stated that the men of Little Soldier had stolen his horse and he walked to the Indigenous camp and told the rest of the men to follow him.
Abe Farwell, knowing that Hammond was looking for violence, tried to stop him. Hammond then reached the tent of Little Soldier and asked for his horse. Little Soldier stated he did not have the horse but said that it was grazing on a nearby hill.
Little Soldier offered two horses as hostages until Hammond’s horse could be found. Seeing the women and children leaving the camp and the men taking their garments off, the wolf hunters believed Little Soldier and his men were going to attack. The wolf hunters lined up on a river bank near the Assiniboine camp while Abe Farwell pleaded with them to no resort to violence.
The wolf hunters then began to fire their guns at the Assiniboine, leading to as many as 13 Indigenous deaths. The wolf hunters suffered one death.
In August of 1873, news of the massacre reached Ottawa and the Canadian government took steps to have those who killed the Indigenous tried for murder, but the United States would not allow this. Eventually, it would lead to the arrival of the North West Mounted Police in the west. The massacre served as a major catalyst for the creation of the force.
Today, the site is a National Historic Site of Canada and Artifacts from the massacre can be found at the Fort Walsh National Historic Site.
Learn more about this terrible chapter in Canada’s history on my episode about it here: https://canadaehx.com/2021/07/10/the-cypress-hills-massacre/
With the arrival of the North West Mounted Police came a new fort in the Cypress Hills, and one of the most important forts for the early police force.
Built on the site of the Cypress Hills Massacre in June of 1875, it was named for its builder, Inspector James Morrow Walsh. The purpose of the fort was to stop the illegal whiskey trade and protect the border from the Americans who were often moving into the area to hunt and trade.
The Fort would serve as an important place for the next decade, with traders, settlers and Indigenous often visiting it. On Sept. 25, 1877, the Assiniboine chiefs Man Who Takes The Coat, Long Lodge and Lean Man all signed Treaty 4 at the fort in the presence of the NWMP and James Walsh.
Fort Walsh would actually serve as the headquarters for the North West Mounted Police from 1878 to 1882 but in 1883 it was officially closed and dismantled.
The original site of the fort was made a National Historic Site of Canada in 1924, and in the 1940s the entire fort was reconstructed and used to breed horses for the RCMP Musical Ride.
Today, the fort still stands and the buildings, townsite and cemeteries can all be toured. On Sept. 28, 2004, the fort was made part of the Cypress Hills dark-sky preserve.
Founding of the Community
As Fort Walsh grew in importance, various settlers would come to the area and begin to settle. As well, the retiring members of the force found they loved the area and they too started to buy up land around where Maple Creek would be one day.
As the Canadian Pacific Railway was being built across the country, it would reach the Prairies in 1882 and begin to make a lot of progress as a result. With that change Regina became the new headquarters of the North West Mounted Police, ending Fort Walsh’s importance.
At the same time as the railroad was coming through, various individuals started to see opportunity for the land. A contracting firm, Langdon and Shepard, built a storage shed to house its railroad equipment through the winter, and a log house was built to board the workers. This marks the beginning of Maple Creek, which during the winter of 1882-83, had a grand population of 12 people.
The following year, as the winter transitioned into spring, new settlers arrived and John and Chester Dixon would start up a store, which for several years was ranked among the best in the west.
The livestock industry was incredibly important to Maple Creek and it would help to shape the economy of the district for years. The first train load of cattle to be shipped out of Western Canada would be loaded in Maple Creek in 1884, heading to Chicago. That same year, the first car of wheat was shipped out of Maple Creek by F.W. Peecock, and the Listern Kay Company out of England would establish a farm in the district.
From this point, Maple Creek began to grow and in 1896, it would incorporate as a village. On Jan. 10, 1901, the Merchants Bank of Canada opened the first bank in the community, when the community had 300 people and the bank employed a staff of two.
On April 30, 1903, it became a town. The first mayor of the community would be John Dixon, who served from 1903 to 1904. A.A. Menley would serve as the first police officer for the new community.
SW Sask Oldtimers Museum
Located in a small log cabin along Jasper Street, you will find the Southwest Saskatchewan Oldtimers Museum. The museum itself actually predates the cabin. The cabin was built in 1935, but the museum was established in 1926, making it what is believed to be the oldest purpose built museum building in Saskatchewan. The museum also operates out of the nearby C.M. Glascock building, which served as an auto dealership from 1909 to 2009.
The museum commemorates the 1870 to 1918 period of development in the Cypress Hills.
One of the most unique parts of Saskatchewan can be found in the Cypress Hills, which the Blackfoot called I-kim-e-kooy, which translates as striped earth or earth over earth. The Cree called the area manatakaw, which means beautiful upland or an area to be respected and protected.
The Cypress Hills actually rise to 4,810 feet, making it the highest location in Saskatchewan and one of the highest locations east of the Rockies and west of Quebec. It is also a place that has shown an abundance of fossils and is a regular stopping place for fossil hunters.
During the Ice Age, the area was not covered by the ice sheets, and this helped create the unique landscape and ecosystem I spoke about earlier.
For centuries, the Indigenous would often meet at the Cypress Hills, including the Cree, Assiniboine, Atsina, Blackfoot, Saulteaux, Sioux and Crow.
Recognizing the importance of preserving the area, the Cypress Hills Provincial Park was created in 1931 and it was extended into Alberta in 1951. The two sides of the park were turned into an interprovincial park in 1989.
Today, the park offers many tourism opportunities including skiing, hiking, canoeing, camping and much more.
Jasper Cultural and Historical Centre
Located in the Jasper Street School, which was built in 1910 and would serve as the centre for schooling in the district until 1986, the Jasper Cultural and Historical Centre is one of the best rural Saskatchewan museums around.
Each former classroom of the museum is dedicated to the recreation of something from the past of the community. From the recreation of a Victorian bedroom and kitchen, to the Western Gallery that highlights the history of ranches and ranchers in the community, there is a huge amount of history to discover in the building. In addition to those rooms, and several others, you can explore a railway station with a complete recreation of the railway station platform and ticket office. There is also a fantastic recreation of a one-room school house, complete with desks, blackboard and much more, just as it would have looked decades ago when the room actually served as a classroom.
The building also houses a small auditorium and the Prairie Skies Art Gallery.
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St Mary’s Anglican Church
Built in 1909, the St. Mary’s Anglican Church has a long association with the surrounding community of Maple Creek. In 1883, when Maple Creek first came into existence, Anglican residents would hold church services in businesses and homes. Four years later in 1887, the congregation built its first church, which was a wood-frame structure. As the community grew, that structure was no longer serving its purpose and on July 27, 1909, the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Saskatchewan Masons put down the cornerstone on a new brick building.
The building would be dedicated on Jan. 9, 1910. An impressive structure, it reflected the growing importance of Maple Creek in the community. Today, the building still stands and serves the Anglican residents of the community.
The stain glass windows memorialize the early members of the congregation, and the orange brick exterior with its tall spire make it one of the most valued community landmarks in Maple Creek.
As a result of its importance to the heritage of Maple Creek, it was made a Municipal Heritage Property in 2004.
Orr Law Office
Dating back to 1910, the Orr Law Office has served the community in a variety of ways over the course of its history. It begins with its establishment as a bank in the community, operating as such out of the building for over four decades. From 1910 to 1925, it was home to the Union Bank of Canada, followed by the Royal Bank of Canada from 1925 to 1932, and then the Bank of Montreal from 1932 to 1952.
In 1917, on the second floor, law offices were established by J.W. Thompson, making it the second law office in the community. In 1949, those offices were taken over by W.R. Orr, who was a partner with Arthur Burnett, one of the first lawyers to practice in the region.
In 1952, when the Bank of Montreal left, the bottom floor was bought by Burnett and Orr and they moved their offices to the ground floor. The building would operate as a law office until 2005 when Orr passed away. Since the building had served as a law office in varying capacities from 1917 to 2005, it made it one of the oldest continuously operating law practices in rural Saskatchewan.
Due to the historic nature of the building in the community, it was made a Municipal Heritage Property in 2006.
The Battle of Little Big Puck
If you happen to visit Maple Creek in the winter, around the middle of February, you can enjoy a truly unique event. It is the Battle of Little Big Puck and it has been going on for 40 years and it puts the ranchers in the area against the local Nekaneet First nation in a battle on the ice.
According to legend, the hockey game dates back to a hot day in July in the 1970s when a couple of local cowboys and local members of the Nekaneet First Nation were in the Commercial Hotel having a beer together. They began to joke to each other as to who could ride the toughest horses, rope the quickest and more. Finally, the conversation turned to hockey and who would win on the ice. From there, the Battle of Little Big Puck was born.
Naturally, the name comes from the Battle of Little Big Horn. Following the defeat of General Custer, Sitting Bull and 5,000 Lakotas came into Canada to find refuge. They would remain for several years until they were starved into returning to the United States by the Canadian government.
One interesting aspect of the game is that for the third period, the players dress in cowboy gear and Indigenous outfits, including cowboy hats, chaps, feathers, face paint and beads. A local constable with the RCMP will referee the game, and will change into his red coat and Stetson for the third period as well.
The game is played for charity, raising thousands of dollars every year for worthy causes in the community.