by Ernie Neale
When on a RV trip, how many times have you driven through a small town and wondered about its origin and history. This story is about one such town located on the Yellowhead Highway between Edmonton and Saskatoon.
The town of Battleford was founded in 1875 and Incorporated in 1904. It is situated on the plateau above the fork where the Battle River and the North Saskatchewan River joins. The Saskatchewan River was the early highway that opened up the west in the mid 1700?s. Early traders including the Hudson Bay Company traded with the Indians until the settlers arrived taking up farming and ranching in the area. This led to the demise of the buffalo herds and fur trade. The first settlement that developed on the south bank of the Battle River was comprised of log buildings with sod roofs. This development was referred to as Telegraph Flat.
Battleford served as the Capital of the Northwest Territories from 1877 to 1883. The Government House was started in the fall of 1876 and completed in 1878. It was a very well constructed two story building located on the hill south of the Battle River above the old town settlement. When the Territorial Government was moved to Regina the building housed the Indian Industrial School plus many other uses. The building still stands today.
The North West Mounted Police Barracks were constructed in 1876 including a stockade in 1879. The barracks were located on a promontory overlooking the valley between the North Saskatchewan River and Battle Rivers. The construction was similar to that of the Government House. After the fort was closed in 1924, the buildings were ravished by time and vandals. The buildings that survived were repaired and re-opened in 1948 as a North West Mounted Police Memorial and Indian Museum. In 1951, it became Fort Battleford Historic Park.
The first newspaper west of Winnipeg and the first in the North West Territories was published in 1878. The Saskatchewan Herald was housed in a storage shed on Telegraph Flats. The shed was made of logs with a sod roof. The publishing of the newspaper brought in farmers, ranchers and businessmen leading to further development of the new townsite near the North West Mounted Police Fort. The telegraph from the east reached Battleford in 1876 and was later extended west to Edmonton. The St. Vital School District was established in 1886 and the Roman Catholic Church was established in 1878.
In 1884, trouble started when the Indian bands were being forced to live on Reserves which they found too restrictive after years of roaming between Canada and United States. The Rebellion outbreak, led by Louis Riel, occurred in the spring of 1885. Most of the fighting and resulting deaths occurred north east of Battleford. Battleford was attacked by Rebels who looted and burned farms, buildings in the old settlement on the south bank of the Battle River and the new townsite near the stockade. The farmers, ranchers and residents in the two townsites were forced to flee to the stockade for protection. Over 400 men, women and children took refuge in the Fort. Some killings took place in the Battleford area. Military troops were brought in to quell the uprising from Alberta but mostly from the east due to the rail line to Winnipeg. Louis Riel surrendered on May 15, 1885 bringing an end to the Rebellion. He was hanged in Regina in November and buried in Saint-Boniface, Manitoba.
On November 27, 1885, eight Indians who took part in the Rebellion were hanged in Fort Battleford. The eight bodies were buried in a common grave in a small gully north of the Fort. The grave was forgotten until 1985 and is now identified and lies just over the embankment from the Battleford campsite.
Located a short distance north of the Police Stockade is the Mounted Police Cemetery. Besides members of the police force the cemetery was used for the burial of military, home guard and government agents killed in the Indian Rebellion.
When visiting the Battlefords, the Elling Kramer Campsite is located adjacent to the Fort Battleford Historic Park. It contains sites with 15 amp electrical hookups and camping sites. Water taps are located throughout the sites. The washrooms contain toilets, wash basins and free showers with hot water. There is also a sani dump on site. On the north side of the campsite is the Fred Light Museum and the Police Cemetery. The museum, in the old St. Vitals School, contains many artifacts from the early history of the area including a large collection of firearms from the turn of the century.
The City of North Battleford was developed when the railway was established on the north side of the Saskatchewan River. The David Laird Campsite is located on the hill above the Western Development Museum?s Heritage Farm and Village. The Battleford?s Provincial Park at Jackfish Lake, 40 km. north of the Battlefords, is a very popular recreation area with camping facilities. You may wish to visit the Allen Sapp Gallery, that houses paintings depicting native life, by nationally known Cree artist Allen Sapp.
Do stop and explore.