The history of the Indigenous in the Lumsden area goes back at least 9,500 years. Through carbon dating of artifacts, it is believed it was that long ago that the first Indigenous settled in the area.
Nearby to Lumsden, you can also find a stone medicine wheel and tee pee ring, along the Arm River.
The Indigenous of the area were the Cree, Assiniboine and Blackfoot, who often fought for territory in order to capitalize on the bison herds that moved in the area.
As settlers started to arrive in the area in the late-1870s and early-1880s, the area of Lumsden was known as Happy Hollow.
The name Happy Hollow wouldn’t stick. In 1889 when the Canadian Pacific Railway decided to build the railroad through the area. At that point, Happy Hollow was renamed as Lumsden in honour of the CPR chief engineer, Hugh Lumsden.
Originally, the plan was for Lumsden to be located three kilometres to the east but negotiations between the CPR and the landowner caused prices to go too high and the company chose to have Lumsden built at a different location.
From this point, the community would slowly begin to grow and on Jan. 10, 1889, it would become a village. Three years later in 1892, Thomas Hill opened a general store in the community and started operating a post office. Soon after, a blacksmith shop, grain elevators and an implements agency were established.
Also in 1892, the area would receive something that would become common for the next century, a flood. In fact, throughout this episode, I will speak several times of floods, some worse than others. As the community only had a few residents at the time, damage was minimal.
In 1897, the first doctor opened up a practice in the community and Lumsden was well on its way to becoming an important community in the future province of Saskatchewan.
For the next decade, Lumsden would go through a thriving boom period with several stately brick homes and businesses being built.
In 1903, the Lumsden Plaza was built in the commercial centre of town. For decades, it served as the core of the business district and housed a bank, several stores and professional offices. The Balfour and Brothers General Store operated out of the building from 1903 to 1970. The building still stands to this day and was made a Municipal Heritage Property in 2004.
In 1904, the next major flood hit the community. This is often considered to be the first major flood to hit Lumsden.
The Edmonton Bulletin reported quote:
“This village is experiencing a flood such as the oldest residents have never before seen. At about 5 p.m., the Wascana Creek broke away and the waters combining with the already overflowing Qu’Appelle River, caused the trouble.”
The water rose gradually in the flood and it gave ample warning for residents to get to safety. Soon after, the water rose by one foot over the course of only a couple hours. Throughout the days that the water was rising, residents were getting livestock and belongings out of the area of the flood zone. Eventually, the track was washed out and all that was visible were the telegraph poles with the town completely flooded and only one store and the train station escaping the flood waters. In some places, the water was six feet deep. It would not be until May 19, two weeks after the flood reached its highest point, that trains were once again moving through the area.
A year after the flood hit, on March 15, 1905, Lumsden became a town.
In 1906, the Foxleigh Anglican Church was built near to Lumsden. The congregation had existed since 1902, and services were held in a variety of locations until the church was finally built. The church became a central place in the area for social gatherings, as well as church services and still operates as a church to this day. Built in the Gothic Revival Style, it was made a Municipal Heritage Property in 1983.
Another church, the Kennell Anglican Church, was also built in the area around this same time. Originally named the St. Nicholas Anglican Church, it was actually located at a different site when it was built in 1900. That church was then dismantled and rebuilt at its new site in 1910. Today, the church is one of the most photographed historic churches in all of Saskatchewan and has been featured in film tourism promotions, calendars and books about historic sites in Western Canada. It is often used as a backdrop for wedding photos as well. The church was made a Municipal Heritage Property in 1983.
In 1916, the specter of flooding once again came to Lumsden when waters rose, pushing dozens of families out of their homes to escape the rising water. The flood hit nearly all the cellars in the community, and reached the business section but it was 25 inches below the level hit in 1904 during that epic flood. The Winnipeg Free Press Prairie Farmer reported quote:
The same year of that flood, the Emmanuel Lutheran Church was built just outside of Lumsden. This church, built with a fieldstone foundation and brick, was constructed to serve the local congregation of Lutherans. The church was described as one of the finest rural church buildings in Western Canada, and it would be used for decades by residents of the area. While it is no longer used for church services, the church is open on special occasions. In 1983, the church was made a Municipal Heritage Property.
In 1948, another flood hit the area when the waters of the Qu’Appelle River burst the banks and moved over the landscape. Men from all over Lumsden and the surrounding area came out to begin putting up barriers to stop the flooding water. The river had risen to the point where there was only a few inches left from the top of the dikes. Thousands of sandbags were used, including 21,000 brought in by an RCAF aircraft. The central part of the community was deserted as most of the town was out trying to fill as many sandbags as they could.
From late April to early May, the town battled for 10 days to fight the flood and the seeping waters that were heading towards the town. Leaks were reported at several dikes but all were repaired.
The flood could have been much worse, and it was all because of a muskrat. The animal had gnawed a hole in a dam near Buffalo Pound Lake, which was holding back 19.5 million gallons of water, double its capacity. The break was spotted thankfully and reinforced. If it was not discovered, then Lumsden would have found itself under eight feet of water.
In 1966, Lumsden became the first community in Saskatchewan with a population between 500 and 1,500 to be policed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Prior to this, RCMP services were only available in communities where the population was over 1,500. Under the agreement, the RCMP constable in the community would not be responsible for collection of licence fees or licence inspections. He would not collect taxes, or any money except in fines. He would also have nothing to do with the impounding of animals. Many in town were happy about this as Lumsden had been dealing with transient people moving through, who would break into businesses. The closeness of Lumsden to Regina also brought in rowdy individuals and having the RCMP would help to curb that in the community.
In April 1969, word came over the radio that the community of Lumsden was to be evacuated due to another flood threatening the community. This flood, one of the worst to date, resulted in 90 Canadian Forces troops arriving from Calgary and another 70 from Moose Jaw to help the 1,100 people who were filling sandbags to protect the community. The flood was bad enough that Saskatchewan Premier Thatcher was on hand to help the community.
In the community, teenagers were joining the Army, the elderly and other adults to help save the community. Children who were on school holiday also came out to help save the school, which was in one of the lowest spots in the entire community.
On top of that, four aircraft delivered 250,000 sandbags from Regina, Montreal, Calgary and Edmonton.
In April 1974, the worst flood in the history of Lumsden would hit as the water started to rise over the dikes. The community got to work to construct what was called The Great Wall of Lumsden. This 20-foot-tall wall, which was made of crushed car bodies and tons of rock, was used to protect various parts of the community as the water continued to rise. The dyke near the James Street Bridge would collapse and had to be rebuilt. That dike had been built in 1904 and could not withstand the pressure of the water.
At one point, enough water was funneling through Lumsden to spread a full foot of water over a 36-square mile area.
Across Canada, images of the flood and the residents fighting it were broadcast. Within the community, meals were provided for free 24-hours a day for those fighting the flood. The women of Lumsden also maintained a canteen in the basement of the United Church.
To fight the flood, a total of 116 trucks, 30 front end loaders, 13 bulldozers, 15 scrapers, three graders and 275 men were used.
Working around the clock, the residents and army built dikes that were eight to 30 feet in height.
At the peak of the flood, 14,900 cubic feet of water a second was moving, which began to overwhelm the natural banks that could handle 3,000 cubic feet per second.
The total cost to fight the flood was $70,000 per day, which the province paid for.
Through the hard work of the community to protect the town, no one lost any personal property but the decision was made to build a flood way.
The flood way would be a finished in 1975, with Lumsden paying 10 per cent of the total cost. The project deepened and straightened portions of the river to prevent flooding where it would bend. Five houses had to be removed from the community to also construct the channel that would divert flood waters in the future.
One year after the flood, a parade and sandbagging competition was held and the ribbon was cut on a new bridge and channel which would protect the community in the future from floods such as the one that hit the community in 1974.
In 1988, Lumsden decided it needed a way to raise money for a new skating rink. The idea they hit on would become an annual tradition and one of the most successful annual fundraisers in the entire province. It is the Lumsden Duck Race and each year, it raises thousands for projects and charities in the area.
Gerry Tomkins, one of the founders, would say quote:
“I get calls all the time from people looking for fundraising ideas. I’ve had calls from all over North America. It has been good for the community and it has helped put us on the map.”
The Duck Derby consists of rubber duckies being bought for $5. The ducks are then dropped in the Qu’Appelle River and they travel down to the finish line. The people who bought the first 10 ducks that finish the race are awarded a variety of prizes, including new vehicles.
The entire derby begins with a parade, which itself has grown from a small endeavor to include bands, vintage cars and many floats.
Everything around the event also continues to evolve. Tomkins would say quote:
“You can’t contrive these things, you just have to let them happen. Once, we went out and painted duck prints on the street late at night. Now they do that every year. Things just keep happening and that is the real fun of it.”
In all, 13,500 ducks are hoisted up in the air in a metal cage and then dropped 20 metres into the water. Typically, the race takes about 30 minutes to finish but some times high winds can cause the race to go for hours.
The derby has been so successful that in 1998, only 10 years after the derby was launched, the $1.5 million arena was completely paid off.
On May 18, 2005, Lumsden received a very important visitor when Queen Elizabeth II visited the community as part of her tour of Saskatchewan during its 100th Anniversary.
Erin Gerock would say quote:
“It is kind of thrilling to see the Queen in your hometown and you can say that she’s come to see you. My mom’s a hairdresser in town and this has been the talk of all the ladies when she does their hair.”
The Queen arrived at 1 p.m. in her motorcade and with Prince Phillip, had a luncheon at the ice rink that had been decorated for their arrival. A total of 500 guests came out for the event, including the premier of Saskatchewan. Students in the community were let out early for the visit so they could see the Queen visit their town.
Arne Unseth, who owned property across from the arena where the Queen had lunch, would say quote:
“This puts Lumsden on the map a little bit more and recognizes that Lumsden’s a nice town. It is good for Lumsden as a whole, it brings some focus to it.”
If you would like to learn more about the history of Lumsden, then you should check out the Lumsden Historical Museum. Not only does the museum itself feature a variety of artifacts dating to the pre-colonial era all the way to the 20th century, but the grounds have some very old buildings that you can explore. There is the Tregarva Community Hall, which was built in 1890 and served as the rural school until 1907. From 1914 to 1925, it was used as the Presbyterian and Methodist Church, and then as the United Church until 1952. The building was also home to the curling club and it would hold its last community dance in 1980. In the early-1990s, it was moved to Lumsden.
The Forest Church was built in 1897 and served the community’s church needs until 1956 when the members joined the Lumsden United Church. The building was completely dismantled in 1993 and rebuilt at the museum site in 1996. It was then rededicated On Sept. 20, 1997, exactly 100 years after it opened.
The Kedleston School was built in 1912 and served as a school for the community of Kedleston until 1963 when it became a community centre. It would be moved to the museum grounds in 1988.
The Hunter House was built in 1910 in Lumsden and was home to the local blacksmith before it was bought by the hunter family in 1918, remaining in the family until 1990. It was moved to the museum site in 1993.
Lastly, there is the Edwards Log House, which was built in 1902 by the Edwards family. The logs had been obtained south of Prince Albert and hauled to the homestead, and it stayed in the family until 2003 when the last son of Jack and Bessie Edwards died. It was moved to the museum site in 2009.