The area that would be settled and named Humboldt was the territory of many different Indigenous nations long before Europeans arrived in the area. These nations included the Cree, the Blackfoot and the Anishinaabe. The area was used by the Indigenous for centuries thanks to the abundance of game, including the northern reaches of the territory of the bison.
As French fur traders started to migrate into the area looking for furs, they would help create a brand new culture that would have a major impact on the future area of Humboldt, the Metis.
The start of Humboldt began as nothing more than a telegraph station on the Carlton Trail, which was a wagon route used settlers and traders that ran between Fort Garry, which was future Winnipeg, and Fort Edmonton to the west.
In 1875, the name of Humboldt was applied to the repair station built just to the southwest of the present community. It was named for Alexander von Humboldt, a German explorer who lived from 1769 to 1859 and helped to lay the foundation for modern geomagnetic and meteorological monitoring. In 1878, the Humboldt Telegraph Station was an integral part of communication in the developing west.
Humboldt, despite being 100 kilometres away from the action during the 1885 North West Resistance, still played an important role. During the few months that the resistance was fought, Humboldt was the only communication link between the Canadian forces and Sir John A. Macdonald in Ottawa.
The Montreal Gazette would report quote:
“A mounted messenger left Prince Albert for Humboldt…he reports everything quiet and satisfactory.”
West of Humboldt, the telegraph line was routinely cut.
As a result of this, it was an important site of significance. To ensure that it did not fall into the hands of the Metis forces, General Frederick Middleton was placed at the station in April 1885 with 950 soldiers. He would use the station as his base for scouting. The following month, on May 1, 1885, Humboldt served as a supply depot under Major Lt.-Colonel G.T. Denison, who had a force of 460 men there.
Following the Battle of Batoche and the end of the resistance, the troops would leave the station in July of 1885.
Rumour has it, after the troops left, the area of Humboldt along the Carlton Trail would see the first stagecoach robbery in Canadian history, although there is little information related to this.
In 1903, St. Peter’s Abbey was established by seven Benedictine monks near Humboldt. In the area, there were over 700 homesteads of German Roman Catholic immigrants and this abbey would serve as an important place for their spiritual needs. From 1909 to 1910, St. Peter’s Cathedral was built and decorated in stunning detail by artist Berthold Imhoff in 1919. In 1921, the abbey became the Territorial Abbey of Saint Peter Muenster. In 2008, the abbey became a Canadian Registered Historic Place. The abbey continues to operate and is home to 18 Benedictine monk.
In 1904, the Canadian Northern Railway would be built through the area and with the railway coming through, Humboldt gained a new station and that station continues to sit in the community to this day. The station continues to have several railway buildings, warehouses and grain elevators clustered around the building. In 1992, the station was made a Heritage Railway Station.
Concerning the arrival of the railroad, the Ottawa Citizen would state quote:
Within a few months of September 1904, $18,000 worth of lots were sold on the opening day of selling, and $60,000 over the next 60 days. This amounts to about $450,000 and $1.5 million today.
The article continues quote:
“Despite the fact that Canada has only lately been discovered, the record of the Canadian National Railway is one of continuous progress.”
In 1907, Humboldt would become incorporated and this would fuel a great deal of development. New residents soon began to arise and the community started to expand.
In 1911, the Humboldt Post Office would be built featuring a large clock tower that helped to make the building a focal point in the community. This new building would include a customs house, a telegraph office and the post office, which showed the importance of the community in the eyes of the federal government. This two-and-a-half storey building features a double entrance and the windows are designed in a Romanesque style to give it a distinct look in the community. The building would also include the office for the commanding officer of the RCMP in the area and from 1935 to 1964, it also had the living quarters for the RCMP stationed in the community. The local Humboldt police force also kept an office there during the 1940s. The building stands to this day and in 1977, it was made a National Historic Site of Canada.
In 1914, Humboldt needed to deal with its water issues and it did that by building the Humboldt Water Tower, which would serve as a surface water supply for the community for decades. The water tower is similar to those built in Kerrobert and Weyburn around the same time. Its look is similar to that of a coastal lighthouse and it is built of wood and steel. Today, it is one of just four similar types of water towers to remain in Saskatchewan and in 2002, it was made a Municipal Heritage Property.
In 1914, construction began on the new Humboldt Provincial Courthouse. Unfortunately, the First World War soon broke out and that put a pause on construction. It would not be until 1920 that the courthouse would be finished. Built in an Edwardian Classical style, it is one of only two provincial buildings in Saskatchewan to be a combined courthouse and land titles building. It remains an important building in the community to this day and in 1984 it was made a Municipal Heritage Property. The total construction of the new water and sewage system in the community would cost $150,000, or $3.5 million today.
Located near Humboldt, there is the beautiful Mount Carmel Shrine, built in 1922 on land donated to the St. Peter’s Abbey by John Bunko the year previous. The land was dedicated by the Abbot of St. Peter’s and was called Our Lady of Mount Carmel, which became the patroness and protectress of St. Peter’s Colony. In 1922, the first pilgrimage was held to the shrine, and from 1922 to 1954, upwards of 6,000 people would take part in the pilgrimage each year. In 1948, during the Family Rosary Crusade, 12,000 people took the pilgrimage. In 2002, during the Catholic World Youth Day in Toronto when Pope John Paul II visited, 1,500 people took part in the pilgrimage. In 2012, the 90th pilgrimage would be held and 450 people took part. You can visit this stunning site to this day.
In 1928, a 14-foot high foundation was built and the eight foot high and an eight-foot tall white marble statue of Mary holding Jesus, which was made in Italy, was placed on top. A chapel would be built in 1938 and in 1939 the fourteen stations of the Cross were built leading up to the shrine.
No mention of Humboldt can be complete without talking about Glenn Hall, also known as Mr. Goalie. Hall had been born in Humboldt on Oct. 3, 1931.
After playing for the Humboldt Indians and the Windsor Spitfires, he would be signed by the Detroit Red Wings in 1949. He would spend his first few years of professional hockey playing in the minor league system of Detroit. In 1952, he was called up during the playoffs to serve as a backup during the Stanley Cup Final. He would not play a single NHL game but he still got his name on the Stanley Cup when the Red Wings won.
Hall would finally crack the line-up in 1955-56 and would go on to win the Calder Memorial Trophy that season. After a second season playing every game for the Red Wings, Hall was traded to the Chicago Black Hawks with Ted Lindsay in what was seen as retaliation for forming a players’ union. It was with Chicago that Hall would have his greatest success. He would play for the Black Hawks until 1966-67 when he was claimed by the St. Louis Blues in the Expansion Draft. He would then play for St. Louis until 1970-71 when he retired.
After his Stanley Cup win in 1961, he returned to Humboldt for a big celebration in his honour. He would say at the event, which his parents also attended, quote:
“Each year when the hockey season ends, I look forward to returning home. After all, I had my start in hockey here, coached by Humboldt men such as Ronnie Ward and Leo Parker when I was learning the game. This will always be home to me.”
During his career, Hall would play in 13 NHL All-Star Games, win the Vezina Trophy three times, the Conn Smythe Trophy once, and the Stanley Cup in 1952, 1961 and 1989, the last time as a goalie coach with the Calgary Flames. He holds the NHL record for most consecutive games started by a goaltender with 502 games and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1975. IN 1998, he ranked 16th on The Hockey News list of the 100 Greatest Hockey Players and in 2017, he was named one of the 100 Greatest NHL Players ever.
In Humboldt, there is a permanent monument to Hall in the form of Glenn Hall Park along Glenn Hall Drive.
In 1956, the McNab Flour Mill would be destroyed in a terrible fire. Built in 1913, the structure was an important part of the community and helped to fuel its growth throughout the early part of the 20th century. The fire was discovered at 1 p.m. on Jan. 31, when a worker opened the door to the mill and saw a wall of flames. The fire department responded immediately but were unable to save the building from being destroyed. The 22,000 bushel capacity elevator at the mill was also destroyed in the fire, despite firefighters best efforts to save the structure. The fire caused roughly $150,000 in damages, or about $1.5 million today.
The Humboldt Journal would report quote:
The new Humboldt Flour Mill would be rebuilt the following year.
Unfortunately, we can’t talk of Humboldt without talking of the terrible Humboldt Broncos bus crash that happened on April 6, 2018 when 16 people were killed and 13 injured after the team coach bus was struck by a westbound semi-trailer truck. Most of the dead and injured were players from the Humboldt Broncos hockey team. The crash would make news across Canada and a GoFundMe campaign would raise $15 million, setting a national record. Both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe attended the memorial service at the arena on April 8.
If you would like to learn more about Humboldt, you can visit the Humboldt Museum. The museum features several exhibits including one that is devoted to the culinary history of the community, the religious history of Humboldt and the St. Peter’s Colony, as well as exhibits devoted to the businesses of the community dating back to its earliest years. You can also visit the kitchen and parlour of a pioneer home, which includes a cream separator, butter bowl, wood burning stove and more. There is also a natural history section that features several animals on display including a bald eagle. Another big part of the museum is the Humboldt and District Sports Hall of Fame, which features exhibits devoted to the athletes who helped put Humboldt on the map, including the aforementioned Glenn Hall.
You can also visit Original Humboldt, which is a self-guided site complete with art installation, interpretive storyboards and grass trails. The entire sits on 80 acres of land and features a replica of the 1878 telegraph station that served such an important role during the 1885 Red River Resistance. There is also a red river cart, like the ones that moved along the Carlton Trail, two tipis and the story of Chief Whitecap, a replica of the telegraph line that used to run through the area. This is the only site in Canada that commemorates the Dominion Telegraph Line, as well as a site dedicated to military tents and the soldiers who were stationed in the Humboldt area during the North West Resistance.