The land of Melville, Saskatchewan has only been settled for a little over a century. Before that, it was the land of the Indigenous who followed the bison through the region over the centuries. The Indigenous groups were primarily the Blackfoot and the Cree, along with the western edge of the Anishinaabe.
Eventually, the bison started to disappear due to overhunting by Canadians and Americans. Nearing starvation, the Indigenous of the area would sign Treaty 4 and move to a series of reserves in what would be eastern Saskatchewan.
Today, Melville sits on Treaty 4 land.
The settlement era of Melville begins, as with so many other prairie communities, with the arrival of the railroad. In the early 1900s, the Grand Trunk Railway was approaching the area. In 1906, the first parcel of land in what would be Melville was sold to a Mr. Pope. He was sure that the land he had bought would one day be part of a city, and he was right. Today, Melville is the smallest city in Saskatchewan. Melville officially became a city on Aug. 1, 1960.
In 1908, the railroad was finished in the area and Melville was officially born. It could be natural to assume that Melville was named for Herman Melville, the writer of Moby Dick, but that would not be the case. Melville was named for Charles Melville Hayes, who was the president of the Grand Trunk Railway. Unfortunately, Hayes would only live four more years. In April 1912, he was on a voyage from the Britain to North America on the RMS Titanic. He would not make it off the ship.
The future of Melville was assured when it was decided that the community would be the second divisional point on the railway west of Winnipeg. With the construction of its railyard, people began to flood into the area.
By this point, 30 blocks had been surveyed and staked. Lots began to sell for $60 to $400, which would be about $1,600 to $11,000 today. The population of Melville began to explode. In 1907, the population was 66, which rose to 625 in 1908. By 1909, Melville had over 1,000 people.
In 1910, the Montreal Gazette reported quote:
Coming out of the community, there were 20 different rail lines that spread across the country and even into the United States.
In 1911, the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway built a new Third Class Railway Station in the community. This type of station was designed to handle small traffic volumes. For decades, this station was the focal point of activity in Melville as the railroad was one of the largest employers in the community. In 1977, the station was relocated, and the restoration of the building began. Today, it is the Melville Railway Museum and if you love trains, this is a great place to visit. Inside the museum, you will find antique communication equipment including telegraphs and vintage telephones. On the property that includes the original station, now a Municipal Heritage Property, there is also a steam engine, a coal tender, a flat car and an original caboose. The locomotive was built in 1919 in Montreal and was used to pull passenger cars for decades, as well as some freight. The caboose was built in 1895 by the Grand Trunk Railway. In 1925, it was transferred to the Canadian National Railway. This caboose would serve as the bunk house for the train crews. After its use was over in the 1980s, it was completely restored. It was then used as the Tourism Melville Office until 2006 when a new tourism office was built in the community.
With Melville expanding quickly, the town leaders decided that the community needed a new city hall. Built of brick and stone, this two-storey building was constructed from 1912 to 1913 and features a large central dome that helped it become a landmark in the community. With optimism for the future, Melville, along with other communities in Saskatchewan, built buildings that may have been too large for their time. In all, 19 such buildings were erected in Saskatchewan and the Melville City Hall is the only one that remains intact in its original form. It is also only one of two to have a central dome over the auditorium. Standing today, it is a beautiful building to visit. In 1991, it was made a Provincial Heritage Property of Saskatchewan.
In 1913, the Luther Academy was built in Melville. This large gothic style building became one of the most noticeable structures in the entire community and it would remain the home of the Academy until 1926 when it moved to Regina. At that point, the building became the St. Paul’s Home for the Aged and the Orphans. The organization would stay in the building until 1973 when it closed. For the next 10 years it sat empty but in 1983, the building was turned into the Melville Heritage Museum, more on that later. Today, the building is a recognized Municipal Heritage Property.
The Melville Millionaires have existed since 1908 and are one of the oldest teams in Saskatchewan. Since 1970, the team has been a member of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League and while it has never won a championship, the team has had several notable players take to the ice for them. These players include Ron Hextall, Brian Propp and Chris Kunitz. Another player who wore the Millionaires jersey was Eddie Shore, one of the greatest players in NHL history, who played for them in the 1923-24 season.
The reason I bring up the current team is because the original team, which played senior hockey in the Southern Saskatchewan Hockey League, was one of the best teams to ever play in the province.
In 1915, the Millionaires became not only the best team in Saskatchewan, but the best amateur team in the entire country.
By winning the Southern Saskatchewan Hockey League, they were given possession of the Allan Cup, having defeated the previous holders, Regina Victorias. Once the Millionaires had the Cup, they then had to defend it and they would do so in two challenges during 1915 against some of the best teams in the league.
In the first Allan Cup challenge that the Millionaires faced, the Prince Albert Mintos played them in a two-game series. In those two games, the Millionaires won both games, scoring 15 goals to the 13 scored by the Mintos. With that challenge win, the Millionaires were able to keep the Allan Cup.
The Edmonton Bulletin would state quote:
“Perhaps the most pleasing part of the game from a Melville standpoint was the performance of Moyness. It was his second game this season and he showed all the ear marks of a star, which was the case last year.”
The challenges in 1915 didn’t stop there. The Toronto Victorias then challenged Melville. Once again, Melville won the series but this one was a bit closer. In the first game, the Millionaires and Victorias both scored eight goals for a tie game. In the second game, the Millionaires won 7-3. By outscoring Toronto 15-11, Melville once again held onto the Allan Cup.
In the third challenge of 1915, the Winnipeg Monarchs took on Melville in another two games. In the first game, Melville won 4-3, but the second game was won by the Monarchs by a score of 4-2. By outscoring Melville 7-6, Winnipeg took possession of the Allan Cup.
The Edmonton Bulletin reported quote:
Thus ended the Allan Cup championship run for the Melville Millionaires.
Unfortunately for Melville, their name was removed from the Allan Cup 18 years later by the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association because they did not hold the trophy at the end of the year.
In 1979, the Melville Millionaires were inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame.
So, why was the team called The Millionaires? One story, which isn’t true, says the name came from the fact that Charles Melville Hayes was on the Titanic with a group of millionaires.
That isn’t the true story though.
In truth, when the Millionaires were assembled to win the Allan Cup by Goldie Smith, several well-known players for the time went to the team. Several critics grumbled that Melville would have to be a town of Millionaires to attract such talent. Smith liked the idea of this, and the name Millionaires stuck to the team.
Melville has had a fascinating history with NHL players coming from the community. In all, 14 people from Melville have gone on to play in the NHL to various levels of success. No player has had the success of Sid Abel though, one of the greatest NHL players ever.
Abel was born in Melville on Feb. 22, 1918. As a young man, he gained the nickname of Old Bootnose. In 1938, he would go on to play for the Flin Flon Bombers and then spent two years playing for the Detroit Red Wings and its minor league affiliates. In 1940, he went full-time for the Red Wings, and he would become the team captain in 1942 and won the Stanley Cup in 1943 with the team. After serving in the Second World War with the Royal Canadian Air Force, he would be joined in the Red Wings by Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay. As part of the Production Line, he would win the Stanley Cup in 1950 and 1952, and the Hart Memorial Trophy in 1949. Upon his retirement in 1953-54, Abel had 283 points in 612 games. In 1969, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and in 1996, his number 12 was retired by the Detroit Red Wings. In 2017, he was named one of the 100 Greatest NHL players ever. He would pass away on Feb. 8, 2000.
By 1938, Melville was gaining notice for its success as the largest divisional point between Winnipeg and Saskatoon. At the time, it had a population of 4,000 people. The community had also recently built a new arena at the cost of $65,000 which was no small amount during The Great Depression.
In June 1939, Melville briefly became the largest community in the entire province. It was all thanks to the arrival of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth who were travelling Canada on their famous Royal Tour of Canada. I actually looked at this Royal Tour in January, so check it out on the podcast.
The Royal Couple arrived in Melville at 10 p.m. on the day of their visit and 60,000 people were waiting for them. The community typically had a population of only 3,000. With such a huge influx of people into the community, the Royal Couple decided to spend several hours in Melville, rather than the originally planned 10 minutes. In the crowd were 600 First World War veterans, 10,000 school children and a 200-piece orchestra.
R.J. Carnegie would say of the stop in Melville, quote:
“Never throughout the tour did I see such unbridled enthusiasm as then.”
The community is in the Central Time Zone but for the Royal Visit and to keep everything on the same day, the community temporarily switched to the Mountain Time Zone.
King would write quote:
With its population swelling to 60,000 people, Melville became the largest city in Saskatchewan for a few hours.
On July 28, 1978, Queen Elizabeth would follow in the footsteps of her father when she too came to Melville for a visit. She arrived at 2 p.m. in the community where hundreds of people lined the streets to see her train arrive. She then took a car to Melville School to honour it on its 70th anniversary. She would watch a performance by Ukrainian dancers, and she met with the local Indigenous leader Noel Williams. A large crowd also gave the Queen, who was accompanied by Prince Philip, a rousing send-off.
If you would like to learn more about the history of Melville, then the best place to visit is the Melville Heritage Museum, located in the aforementioned Luther Academy Building. In the building, the museum has over 10,000 artifacts from the town’s history, as well as 1,000 books including textbooks written in German, English, Ukrainian, Latin and Greek. Across three floors and the basement, there are 20 rooms that look at the history of the area. These include recreations of a chapel, Grand Trunk Pacific/CNR room, sports history room and a military room. There are over 100 original black and white framed photographs, and murals that depict the first quarter century of Melville.
If you visit Melville, you will notice that throughout the community there are a series of silhouettes dotting the community. Depicting a person on a bike, a locomotive and conductor, a farmer, a hockey player and figure skater, an RCMP officer, a cowboy, a bison and more. In all, there are 30 figures depicted. These displays were made by local welders and every figure depicts something from the local life and things to do in Melville.