The history of Fort Qu’Appelle dates back long before Europeans arrived in Canada, as most places in the country do. The land was primarily occupied by the Cree and the Saulteaux. They lived a nomadic life, following herds of bison, as well as other game. Moving with the seasons, they would often come through the lush and bountiful area of Fort Qu’Appelle.
The story of the name of the community comes from the Indigenous as well. Legend states that a young Indigenous man was canoeing home when he heard someone calling his name. He asked who was calling him, yelling “Qu’Appelle?”
A reply from the hills came, saying “Qu’Appelle” and he realized it was his echo. When he returned home, he found that the woman he was going to marry had died the previous evening and in her dying breath had said his name. From this, the Qu’Appelle Valley gets its name.
Now, whether that is a true legend or not it’s hard to say. It actually comes from The Legend of the Qu’Appelle Valley, which was written by the Indigenous woman Pauline Johnson. She made her legend around something reported by Daniel Harmon, a Metis trader from a century previous who said that when he was in the region at the turn of the 19th century, he would often hear a voice calling to him in the valley, and he would respond with Qu’Appelle.
It was at Qu’Appelle that Treaty 4 would be signed in 1874. The Cree and Saulteaux would sign over 75,000 sections of South Saskatchewan to Canada. In attendance at the signing was Lt. Governor Morris of Manitoba, David Laird, the Minister of the Interior, several Indigenous chiefs and W.J. Christie, the former chief factor of the Hudson’s Bay Company. The Canadian delegation was led to the signing from Fort Garry by 100 red-coated militia men. The Indigenous held a large pow-wow before the ceremony with 2,000 to 3,000 Indigenous gathered. The treaty would officially be signed on Sept. 15, 1874, after one week of delay due to objections the Indigenous had to the treaty.
Today, a monument is situated in Fort Qu’Appelle to honour the signing of this treaty. It was erected in its current spot in 1915.
In 1801, the North West Company built a trading post in the area, but it would only last for four years before it was abandoned. In 1813, a second fort closer to current Whitewood was built by the Hudson’s Bay Company, which would last from 1813 to 1819.
The area would again become more important in 1852 when another Hudson’s Bay Company post was established, along with an Anglican mission. That mission survives to this day as the St. John the Evangelist Anglican Parish Church. This HBC post would only last for two years until 1854.
The last of the posts would exist from 1864 to 1911, and it was here that Treaty 4 was signed, and the North West Mounted Police arrived. With this post, the future community of Fort Qu’Appelle would spring up. The fort would eventually close, but it is honored to this day in the community with a plaque. At the site of that plaque there is also one building that remains, which today houses a museum that highlights the history of the area and the importance of the fort that helped shape the Canadian west.
The legendary Chief Sitting Bull would visit the mission in the late 1870s as his people were being starved out of Canada by the federal government. He had heard a large shipment of flour was coming to the mission. Needing food for his people, the story goes that he took off his blanket and asked how much flour it would buy. He then traded blankets, ponies and more for flour to help his people.
By the 1880s, farming was becoming more important in the area and that brought farmers from the United States, eastern Canada and Europe to the area to pick up homesteads.
A post office would open in 1880, creating a new link to the outside world for residents who were starting to settle there.
One very interesting part of the history of that time is preserved to this day in the community. The Touchwood Hills Trail Provincial Historic Site is a preserved patch of prairie along the trail that settlers took to and through the area. Along this trail in 1882, a segment of the Dominion Telegraph was constructed, and it was along this trail that General Frederick Middleton and his militia travelled on their way to Batoche to fight in the North West Resistance of 1885 against Louis Riel. While most parts of the trail, including the grooves created by wagon wheels, are long gone, they are still preserved at this provincial historical site and even 125 years later, you can still walk the same path that settlers took so long ago and see the very wagon wheel ruts they created.
While the Canadian Pacific Railway was being completed through the area, General Frederick Middleton would arrive at Fort Qu’Appelle in 1885 with his soldiers, ready to take on Louis Riel at Batoche. At the time, Fort Qu’Appelle was the western most extreme of the railway and it was from this point that Middleton and his men would journey on foot. Middletown would have Captain French, a member of the North West Mounted Police, raise a mounted force at Fort Qu’Appelle and this mounted troop would join the 10th Royal Grenadiers from Toronto and the Winnipeg Field Battery to create the west-bank column that would march to Batoche to take part in fighting against the Metis.
Fort Qu’Appelle was important enough at this time that it was in the running to succeed Battleford as the territorial capital of the North West Territories, but in the end, it would lose out to Regina.
In 1884, the Qu’Appelle Indian Residential School was established and operated by the Roman Catholic Church and the Grey Nuns. In its first year, 15 students were enrolled at the school. It would remain a boy’s school until 1887 when accommodation for female students was built. By 1886, the school had 86 students and by 1914, there were 280. Indigenous students were put in classes for half the day, and then spent the rest of the day learning domestic and agricultural pursuits. English was the only language of instruction, and the Indigenous children were not allowed to celebrate their culture, or even speak their language at the school. Most reports stated that the education at the school was sub-par at best and chores and labour often took precedence to any education the students would have received. As with nearly all residential schools, the students suffered abuse at the school, both physical and sexual, which were highlighted in a 1999 lawsuit by several students who had survived the school but endured years of mental trauma for what they had experienced. The school would finally close in 1969.
In 1897, a Hudson’s Bay Company Store was built in the community. This two-storey brick and stone building was part of the central business district of the community and today it is the oldest surviving retail store building of the Hudson’s Bay Company in all of Canada. The building was designed by Chief Factor Archibald MacDonald, and it was touted as the finest store west of Winnipeg. Today, the store still stands to this day, and you can visit it and relieve a part of Canadian history when visiting Fort Qu’Appelle.
On Nov. 23, 1902, a man named Edward William Shore was born in the community. He would begin playing minor hockey in the area and eventually find his way to Edmonton to play with the Eskimos as a defenceman. Called the Edmonton Express, Shore quickly established himself as a highly skilled hockey player. In 1926, he would debut with the Boston Bruins in the NHL, where he scored 12 goals and six assists in his first season. This would begin a legendary career for Shore who would go on to play until 1943, winning four Hart Trophies as the MVP of the league. Only Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe won it more times. Known for being a bruiser on the ice, he would end the career of Ace Bailey with a hit from behind, which would result in the creation of the all-star game in order to raise money for Bailey and his family. Shore would win the Stanley Cup in 1929 and 1939 and was named an NHL First All-Star Team member in 1931, 1932, 1933, 1935, 1936, 1938 and 1939. After his retirement, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1947, the same year his #2 was retired by the Boston Bruins. In 1998, the Hockey News ranked him as the 10th greatest hockey player of all time and in 2017, he was named one of the 100 greatest NHL players of all-time. He would pass away in 1985 at the age of 82.
In 1909, the Fort Qu’Appelle Indian Hospital was created by the federal government to provide a 50-bed place for the treatment of tuberculosis. The hospital would operate until 2004 as a rural hospital until it was replaced with the modern and culturally significant All Nations Healing Hospital. Today, the hospital is a federal heritage property for its role in providing medical care to the Indigenous of the area for over a century.
In 1911, the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway Station was built in the community. This second-class station served the community for decades until it was discontinued as a train station in 1962 due to the decrease in passenger train traffic. The station by this point had become a landmark in the community and for that reason, it was not torn down. In fact, it stands to this very day and now serves as the community meeting centre and tourist information booth. In 1983, it was made a Municipal Heritage Property to ensure the structure would be enjoyed by generations of residents and tourists for years to come.
On Feb. 20, 1941, Buffy Sainte-Marie was born in the Qu’Appelle Valley on the Piapot 75 reserve. Raised in Wakefield in the United States, she returned back to Canada to attend a powwow at the Piapot Cree Reserve. She would go on to become one of the most prominent activists on Indigenous issues in North America. By the early 1960s, she was an emerging musician, joining Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen, who were becoming part of a new wave of Canadian musicians finding success. She would release her debut album It’s My Way in 1964.
From 1976 to 1981, she appeared on Sesame Street on a regular basis, helping to teach children about the Indigenous. In 1977, she would breastfeed her first child, Dakota Starblanket Wolfchild on an episode, which is believed to be the first time breastfeeding ever aired on television.
In 1983, she became the first Indigenous person to win an Oscar when her song Up Where We Belong won the Academy Award for Best Original Song. Her music has also been covered by Elvis Presley, Cher, Donovan, Barbara Streisand, Janis Joplin and Neil Diamond. She is a member of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, has received 11 honorary degrees, was awarded the Order of Canada in 2019, has won five Juno Awards, a Gemini Award, the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award and the Allan Waters Humanitarian Award.
Fort Qu’Appelle has been honoured not once, not twice, but three times with a visit from a member of the Royal Family, something many larger places can’t even say.
Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip arrived in the Fort Qu’Appelle area to see the railway station specially painted on one side to greet the Queen. Hundreds of people came out to see the Royal Couple during their whistle stop tour of the Canadian Prairies on their way to attend the Commonwealth Games in Edmonton. At one point, an old farmer was on his tractor, and he saw the Queen’s train approaching. He stopped his vehicle, stood on the seat and tipped his hat to her, and then went back to farming. In Fort Qu’Appelle, the Queen and Prince Philip were greeted by Indigenous dancers, while Mayor D.C. Cockwill wore a western suit and Stetson to greet the couple. The Royal Couple then exchanged pleasantries with members of the crowd, and the Queen was presented with a bouquet of flowers.
In 1987, the Queen and Prince Philip would come to Fort Qu’Appelle once again but this time they were only passing through and there was no formal ceremony for the arrival of the Royal Couple.
In August of 1994, Prince Edward, the youngest son of Queen Elizabeth, visited Fort Qu’Appelle. This was the second time that the prince came to the community, having arrived in 1978 with his parents where he took part in a trail ride. Prince Edward would watch a powwow and meet with local Indigenous leaders.