The land that Canora sits on today has long been the home of Indigenous nations such as the Anishinaabe and the Sioux. Later, as Europeans began to arrive in the east, a new Indigenous nation would come to the area of future Canora, the Metis.
Today, Canora sits on Treaty 6 land.
By the late-19th century, the land around Canora would be settled by various European groups including the Doukhobors, Romanians and Ukrainians.
The first ranches started to appear in 1884 and within two years the land was being surveyed for homesteading by the Canadian government.
The first group to come out were the Ukrainians and they have left a long mark through history on Canora. In fact, the first Ukrainian block settlement in Saskatchewan history, predating the province itself, was established when 150 families came out in 1897 to the Canora District from Western Ukraine.
Settlement would progress relatively slowly, but the Canadian Northern Railway arrived in 1904 and settlement quickly increased.
A post office soon opened, and a school district established. A town site was then surveyed along the tracks and one year later, Canora was incorporated as a hamlet. The name Canora, would come from the Canadian Northern Railway itself, quite literally. The first two letters of each word of the railway name would spell out Canora.
The train station was built in 1904 and served as the major link for the community to the outside world for decades. Unlike many other communities, Canora never got rid of its train station and it is actually stilled served by VIA Rail’s passenger service. As well, the station is now the oldest Class II railway station still in operation in Saskatchewan. You can discover the history of the community by visiting the station, which now houses the Canora Station House Museum. I have been to this museum, and it is a wonderful place to discover the history of Canora. There are several exhibits that show the rail and pioneer history of the community. Several artifacts, local art, souvenirs and tourist information signs are on display in the museum.
In 1904, the community only had a population of 28, but by 1906 it had increased to 84.
The Free Press Prairie Farmer reported on the growth of Canora, quote:
“Our town is situated on the CNR main line, is growing fast and bids fair to become a good prosperous community.”
At the time, Canora had four general stores, two stables, a hotel, blacksmith, two restaurants, four machine agencies, a lumber yard, a hardware store and a butcher shop.”
In 1910 the population reached 500 people.
The Regina Leader-Post would report quote:
“The village of Canora is taking steps to secure the status of a town. A census recently taken shows this community to have considerably more than the population of 500. Canora is rapidly becoming one of the most important points on the present main line of the Canadian Railway system.”
For students in the community, 14 in all, their school was held above a store in 1904. The next year, a school was built for the community, but it burned down before it could be used. A new school was built and opened in 1908.
In 1907, the Doukhobors in the community would establish the Doukhobor Trading Company, which was highly beneficial to the economic development of the town. The company took part in a building program in the community, creating several communally run enterprises. This company would exist until 1918.
The Brantford Weekly Expositor reported quote:
“The business is conducted by what is called the Doukhobor Trading Company of which Peter Veregrin is the head, as he is in fact, the benevolent autocrat of the whole community. If 50 or 100 men are engaged to work on railway construction, they are working for the community, just as they would be if they were at work on the farm.”
In 1908, Canora became a village and by 1910 it had a population of 400 people that allowed it to reach town status.
In 1912, the first Canora Chamber of Commerce was established.
On Dec. 7, 1912, the Vancouver Daily World would say of Canora, quote:
At the time, Canora had six grain elevators and a flour mill and had put out 1.2 million bushels of grain the previous fall. In the fall of 1912, 2.5 million bushels was shipped out from the area.
The same year that Canora was becoming organized in its business affairs, a small Ukrainian church was built 14 kilometres northeast of Canora.
The Mohela Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church was built in 1912 and served the spiritual needs of the early Ukrainian settlers in the area. The church was built by the congregation itself and it would serve its members until 1968 when it closed. The building still stands to this day and is one of the oldest buildings in the entire area around Canora. Due to its heritage, it was made a Municipal Heritage Property in 2006.
In 1913, the Hugh Waddell Memorial Hospital was built in the community, becoming the first hospital in Canora. Mary Waddell of Peterborough, Ontario donated $25,000, about $600,000 today, in honour of her husband who had passed away. The land was donated by Christian R. Graham and the building was erected by the Presbyterian Home Mission Society, making it one of only two mission hospitals in Saskatchewan.
The hospital officially opened on June 18, 1914, with 60 beds. In all, the hospital cost $50,000 to build.
The Edmonton Bulletin reported quote:
“The hospital has a thoroughly up-to-date operating room with every modern appliance.”
Rates for patients raged from $1 to $4 per day, amounting to $24 to $95 per day in 2022 funds.
It would serve the community as a mission hospital until 1944 when it was bought by the Canora Union Hospital Board. In 1950, a new wing was added, and the capacity was increased to 82 beds. The hospital would continue to operate until July 4, 1968, when it closed. On the spot where the hospital was once located, a commemorative cairn was erected in 2000.
In 1927, Sylvia Olga Fedoruk was born in Canora to Ukrainian immigrants Annie and Theodore. She would attend a one room school house where her father was the teacher. Fedoruk would eventually go on to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in physics from the University of Saskatchewan and she would eventually become the chief medical physicist at the Saskatoon Cancer Clinic. Eventually becoming a professor of oncology, she was involved in developing the first cobalt-60 unit and one of the first nuclear medicine scanning machines. This machine would become known known as the cobalt bomb and was the first of its kind to use targeted radiation to treat cancer in a person. She would become the first female member of the Atomic Energy Control Board of Canada and from 1986 to 1989, she was the first woman to hold the position of Chancellor of the University of Saskatchewan. Also, a member of the Canadian Curling Hall of Fame, and an Order of Canada recipient, she would serve as the first female Lt. Governor of Saskatchewan from 1988 to 1994.
She would be inducted to the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame in 2009 and would pass away in Saskatoon on Sept. 26, 2012.
One of the most prominent, and beautiful, structures that can be found in Canora is without a doubt the Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The parish had started in 1919 and it would be nearly a decade before the members had a new church to worship in. In 1928, construction began on the church and once finished, it would be used for nearly 40 years. The interior is decorated in the Byzantine tradition, and it truly is beautiful. I had the chance to go into the church during a restoration and it is stunning. In 1963, a larger church was built but this this church is still used and remains a landmark in the community. In 1984, it was made a Municipal Heritage Property.
In 1960, Canora celebrated its Golden Jubilee, which was one of the biggest events in the community’s history to that point. Senator John Hnatyshyn attended the banquet. He had grown up in Canora and his son would go on to become the 24th Governor General of Canada. He would state he was glad to be back in Canora and pleased that his mother could be present for the occasion. Drummond Clancy, the MP for the area brought congratulations from the federal government and he read a personal message from Prime Minister John Diefenbaker.
In 1979, a statue was created that is now the symbol of the community and the first thing you notice when you drive in from the south. The statue is the Lesia Statue, and it was built by two Canora residents over the course of one year. It features a woman dressed in traditional Ukrainian costume, who is offering a loaf of braided bread with salt called Kolach. The bread is highly respected by the Ukrainian people and the salt is a symbol of long friendship. The statue was unveiled by Governor General Edward Schreyer on Sept. 3, 1980, as part of Saskatchewan’s 75 anniversary. It stands at 25 feet tall and weighs in at 4,000 pounds. On the plaque that is attached to the statue, it says quote:
“Welcome – Veetayemo. This traditional welcome with the bread and salt to all visitors is a universal custom and practice among Ukrainians and most Easter European people, whose descendants settled throughout Canada.”
In 1987, Canora would receive a very important visitor when Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip arrived in the community as part of a tour of Saskatchewan. Arriving at noon on Oct. 19, the Queen watched a performance of a Ukrainian dance as part of her hour-and-a-half visit to the community with Prince Philip. The weather was cold but that didn’t stop many coming out in the community to see the Royal Couple. One resident, who stood outside with a Union Jack, Mary Machnee, would say quote:
One woman drove thousands of kilometres from Los Angeles to see the Queen. The Queen and Prince Philip would have lunch in the community, made up of traditional Ukrainian dishes. They would also attend an event at the curling rink where they were presented with a symbolic offering of bread and salt. The Queen also received an embroidered towel as a memento of her visit.
One very interesting museum that you can find in Canora is the Toy and Autograph Museum. This museum features over 700 autographs from a vast array of celebrities, from Laurel and Hardy to President George W. Bush. The toy museum also features over 1,000 toys that date back to the earliest years of the 20th century.
To learn more about Canora and its history, you can visit the Ukrainian Heritage Museum. This museum depicts all aspects of Ukrainian culture through artifacts, memorabilia and folklore resources that you can explore through a tour by the volunteers who help to run the museum. With the Ukrainian people being such an important part to the history and heritage of Canora, this is an excellent place to visit to learn the history of the area.