The Prairies have been home to the people of the First Nations for countless centuries, with the appearance of Europeans being very recent indeed. It is only in 1905 that our province emerged politically from the vast expanse of the "Northwest Territories", and the villages and towns began to appear on the landscape as settlers came to create new lives for themselves.
This web page is the story of how Meadow Lake, beginning as a fur trading post, became a town.
As is the case of much of the European colonization of Canada, it was the fur trade that drove people into northern Saskatchewan. Peter Pond, a trader from Connecticut, arrived with his group of voyageurs at Fort Dauphin, Manitoba, in the autumn of 1775 where, from Indians, he heard about a great river in northern Saskatchewan where there was much fur and game.
Intrigued, Peter Pond's group set off, with their Indian guides, to travel up that great river, the Churchill, to Lac Ile a la Crosse, some 100 miles north of Meadow Lake, where they traded with the local Chipewyan Indians.
Setting off again with his Indian guides, Peter Pond canoed northwest to the headwaters of the Churchill River, crossed the Methye Portage to the Clearwater River which he then followed to Lake Athabasca where he built a trading post called Fort Chipewyan.
A few years later, Alexander MacKenzie was to set off from Fort Chipewyan on his explorations of another great river, now named after him, which flows for 2,500 miles to the western Arctic.
The 13-mile Methye Portage that Peter Pond "discovered", was the land link between the eastern flowing Churchill River and the western flowing MacKenzie River, and a key link in the canoe route that took traders from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific.
Although all of this activity was going on well north of Meadow Lake, Europe had arrived at Meadow Lake in the person of Peter Fidler, the Hudson's Bay Company's sole surveyor. In 1799, his group travelled along the Beaver River which extends from Ile-a-la-Crosse south to Green Lake then west all the way into Alberta. His group turned off the Beaver into the Meadow River, travelling south to its source which was called "Lac des Prairies", the original name for Meadow Lake. Here, his group built a 12 foot by 12 foot log building as a company post and called it Bolsover House, after Fidler's birthplace in England.
Peter Fidler soon continued on his journeys, with three other men, to Red Deer Lake in Alberta, leaving seven other men at the Meadow Lake post. But their post didn't flourish. It remained open for one season only.
To pay homage to Peter Fidler, a monument was erected in 1955 in Meadow Lake's Elk's Park by the Government of Canada. The monument's plaque reads "Peter Fidler (1769 - 1822) Surveyor and fur trader, born in Bolsover, England, Fidler came to Canada in the service of the Hudson's Bay Company in 1788. He established trading posts such as Bolsover and Greenwich (1799), Chesterfield House (1800), and Nottingham (1802), but it was as a surveyor that he made his great contribution to the exploration of the west. He made the initial survey of some 5,000 miles of waterways in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and surveyed the Selkirk settlement and the boundaries of the district of Assiniboia. His compiled maps and his journals are basic historical sources. He died at Fort Dauphin soon after his retirement."
The fur trade increased dramatically along the Churchill River during the 1800s, and Ile a la Crosse was the major trading centre. To provide another access route to the area, the Hudson's Bay Company cut a trail from Ile a la Crosse south to Green Lake (some 50 miles east of our area) then southeast to Fort Carlton on the Saskatchewan River. This land route sparked the creation of a number of settlements along its way.
Base-line surveys were made of northern Saskatchewan as early as 1877. These surveys set the reference lines from which future detailed surveys would be made. And just a few years later, surveyors were reporting about the agricultural possibilities of the Meadow Lake area.
Then in 1881, a sixteen-section area to the immediate north of Meadow Lake was surveyed as a future Indian Reserve. And in 1888, an area just to the west was surveyed for the future town site. In 1889, a group of Cree Indians in the area signed into Treaty #6, and assumed title to the Reserve, becoming known as the Meadow Lake Indian Band (and now known as the Flying Dust First Nation).
That same year (1889), several Metis families arrived to settle on the west end of Meadow Lake. But Cyprien Morin had been the first settler to arrive. Cyprien was born in the English River District in 1834. He remained in this area and worked for the Hudson's Bay Company primarily in Ile-a-la-Crosse where he had married Mary Cook.
Cyprien and Mary Morin moved their family to Meadow Lake in 1873, setting up home where the Meadow Lake Golf Course is located now. He opened a Hudson's Bay Company post, traded in fur, and raised cattle and horses. The first Roman Catholic church in Meadow Lake was built on his land. Cyprien Morin died in 1924 at the age of ninety five.
In 1919, the fur trade had been decimated by a massive forest fire that started near St. Paul in eastern Alberta, crossed into Saskatchewan, and raged through the forests in the western Churchill region. But while the forests suffered, the fires opened up our area for homesteads and agriculture. The fur trade period had given way, and the basis for settlement and an expanding population had been created.
Village and Town
Although the Morins and the Metis families had settled and prospered, other settlers were initially slow in coming. The earliest arrived in 1907-1908, but the pace quickened after the end of the First World War. By 1929, most of the best agricultural land in the area had been taken up.
The drought, and the Depression which struck the Prairies in 1929, forced many people to leave the southern farms in favour of more northern areas that weren't so dry. Many settled in the Meadow Lake area, but often ended up on marginal farm land since the best had already been taken.
However, the forests provided building material, there was plentiful game, fish and wild fruit. Pulling together, these early settlers survived, and created a community.
On August 29, 1931, Meadow Lake was incorporated as a village. In that same year, the railroad was extended to the town and an economic boom began. Within five years Meadow Lake would be elevated to a town, effective February 1, 1936. First Items of Village Business
The "Overseer" J.B. Clark and his two councilors, George Hill and William Evans, first met on September 23, 1931 and authorized the purchase of office stationery, voted to negotiate a line of credit at a local bank, and dealt with a petition to force stores to close earlier. Council also drafted a bylaw enfranchising the provision of power and lights (seven street lights were later erected).
In succeeding months, Robert English was hired as the first village constable at a salary of $100 per year. Dr. McCrimmon was appointed the Medical Health Officer for a $25 a year retainer. Dog licences went on sale, with a supply of 50 dog tags being ordered. And the speed limit was set at 25 miles an hour within town.
Rates of pay for Village work were set at $2 per man per day, and $1.50 for a team of two horses. The $2 may not sound like much, but a full-course restaurant meal (soup to pie) cost only 25 cents.
Being in the midst of the Great Depression, and the Village being responsible for relief payments, the cash-strapped Village tried to do its best for the poor. However, Council did put out a request to all property owners to remove squatters from their properties.
Even the railway company was requested to prevent squatters moving onto nearby railway property. Council also decreed that relief payments would not be given to anyone possessing such luxuries as a car or a radio.
Council was required to provide funds to the local school division and to the hospital, but found there just wasn't enough money. Council often had to borrow the money that they provided to the school division. Many meetings occurred with the school division and hospital to negotiate amounts and payment schedules. Council, point-blank, told the school division they were asking for too much, and refused to pay above what Council thought was reasonable.
In 1934, Council had some discussions over their police constable. The good gentleman, for a pay of $35 a month, was not only required to maintain the Village's bylaws, but also had to keep the sidewalks in good repair and the nuisance grounds in good shape. Then in August, he was also given the tasks of collecting overdue dog licences and of keeping the Village clear of tramps. In October, he was directed to also remove drunks and to do general Village work. In November, he was given the additional task of picking up stray cattle and goats. Two months later, Council was advertising for a new constable.
First Item of Town Business
At their first meeting, on March 3, 1936, Mayor William Evans and his six councilors decided that a Chief of Police was to be hired at a rate of $60 per month.
The new Chief was to be responsible for maintaining law and order within the town, taking care of the fire hall and equipment, and for prosecuting his own cases.
Councilors voted to pay themselves $2.50 per meeting, with the Mayor receiving $4.00. Various Council committees were also struck: finance, works, health, relief, fire and light, police, water and sewer, and bylaws.
It seems, though, that Council's deliberations may have been of little interest to the town's residents. The November 10, 1936 rate payers meeting had to be cancelled as only three rate payers showed up.
William Evans had moved to Meadow Lake in 1931. He first built a theatre further down the street, then tried his hand at dry goods and groceries, then with a cafe and at real estate. He was also busy with farming and ranching until his death in 1958. He served on the Village's first council, worked toward its incorporation as a town, and was the Town's first mayor.
Yes, we have since paved the streets (around 1982). Only a few of the original buildings shown in this photograph are still present, with many on the left being destroyed in a 1953 fire. The long building at the far end of the street was the railway station. It is now located in Green Lake.
In 1955, the Province of Saskatchewan celebrated its 50th birthday. In that year there was a special Golden Jubilee edition of the Saskatchewan Business Directory which, with its usual listing of businesses throughout the province, contained a history of the province and write-ups on many of the communities, including Meadow Lake. The following is the article on Meadow Lake. We extend our appreciation to Meadow Lake resident Gloria Rupert for allowing us to view her copy of the directory.
From the 1955 "Golden Jubilee edition of Saskatchewan Business Directory":
Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan's most northerly town, traces its name to the early French traders, who knew it as "Lac Des Prairies," the prairie land surrounded by forests.
It is the great diversity of the natural resources of the Meadow Lake area, with its estimated population of 9,000 that has contributed in such large measure in recent years, to the growth of the town.
What oil and gas discoveries achieved in promoting the success of towns in Saskatchewan's mid-central and southern belt, the natural resources of Saskatchewan's northern hinterland have achieved for Meadow Lake.
Fish, fur, pulpwood, railroad ties, grain, grass seed, livestock, dairy and poultry products are all exported from Meadow Lake. Their total export trade mounts to millions of dollars, annually.
Since its incorporation as a village in 1928 Meadow Lake business men have been alert to explore every avenue for the conservation of their natural resources; the promotion of new industries; and the extension of their highway and airway facilities.
It was the scope and vision of the brief that their community leaders laid before the Saskatchewan Reconstruction Council in the mid-forties, that led one of its members to describe it as "one of the most impressive" laid before it throughout the province.
Community leaders as far back as 1945 sought restoration of the fur trade, through protective measures for wild life; the establishment of a fur reserve north of the Waterhen River from the Alberta boundary to the Beaver River, and north to the south boundary of Township 71. They urged (a) soil survey to determine the limits of crop production. They made recommendations for the well-being of the fishing industry, and pleaded for highway development, north and south, and east and west of the community, to attract hunters, fishermen and tourists to the northland, and to provide settlers in the farm belt, easy access to their town.
Much of what these community leaders sought in those years, was implemented later, to pave the way for Meadow Lake's future progress.
Last year, in two large lumber mills, more than a million feet of lumber was cut, most of it for the export trade. Seven elevators with a combined capacity of 900,000 bushels, and a seed plant, handled more than three million bushels of grain. A fish filleting plant handled nearly two million pounds of fresh-caught fish. The Saskatchewan Co-operative Creameries branch, installed in 1945, exports butter, milk, eggs, and other dairy and poultry products amounting to over one hundred thousand dollars.
In addition to its two lumber mills, Meadow Lake's industries include a box factory, and a factory for making cinder blocks from clay discovered some time ago in the area, and since then proved to be an excellent medium for this purpose.
The town has an airport operated by the Meadow Lake Air Services which gives consistently good service to the community and to those requiring far northern flights to distant trading posts, outpost hospitals, missions, and mining camps.
In 1954 the Air Transport Board of Canada granted Balych Brothers a class three Irregular Specific Points license for air service from Meadow Lake to Buffalo Narrows, and to the fabulous mining fields centering on Uranium City. Those who claim to be in the know, say it is only a matter of time before a class two Charter is given this firm for its far northern mining air services.
Federal Government activities in Meadow Lake are represented in the Post Office, and in the office of the Indian Department. The provincial government has its offices for the Natural Resources Department, and the Timber Board.
Meadow Lake is served by the Saskatchewan Power Corporation. The Canadian Pacific Railway has a tri-weekly service, and the Saskatchewan Transportation Co. a daily bus service, except on Sundays.
The town, with a population of 2,453, has a public school and a high school, two public halls, and wide variety of Service clubs and organizations and observes all-day closing of its stores and business premises on Thursday to permit residents ample opportunity to indulge in their favorite sports which in season, include badminton, skating, curling, skiing, fishing, hunting, tennis and golf.
A huge area north of the town is now being completed as an RCAF testing and bombing ground.
Churches represented in Meadow Lake include Roman Catholic, United, Anglican, Christian Missionary Alliance, and Lutheran.
Summer resorts within easy access of Meadow Lake are (G)reig Lake, Green Lake, Flotten Lake, Waterhen Lake, and (Jeannette) Lake. Two tourist camps provide accommodation for vacationers.
The average value of farm land in the rural area of Meadow Lake is $75 an acre, and the average wheat yield 30 bushels. There are three pure bred Hereford herds in the district that is renowned for its extensive livestock production.
Meadow Lake is in Local Improvement District No. 980
(End of the 1955 Meadow Lake entry in the Saskatchewan Business Directory.)
Other notes of interest from 1955 include: Tommy Douglas was the Province's Premier; H.C. Dunfield was Meadow Lake's member of the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan; and J.H. Harrison of Medstead was the Meadow Lake constituency member in the Dominion House of Commons, Ottawa. The Mayor of Meadow Lake was J.F. Walsh, and the Town Clerk was F. Heartwell. The Saskatchewan Business Directory lists our 1955 population as 1,978 which differs from the 2,453 mentioned in the article above. But then, we are still plagued with widely varying population figures even to this day. It depends on who does the counting.
In 1928, the Business Directory states, Saskatchewan produced "the greatest Wheat crop produced in any state or province in the whole world" with 321 million bushels. In 1952, the wheat crop was 35% higher, amounting to 435 million bushels with an average yield of 26.5 bushels per acre. Saskatchewan was producing 60% of Canada's total wheat production. Saskatchewan's 1953 per capita income was 12 per cent above the national average. Meadow Lake's seven grain elevators were handling 3 million bushels, the largest output for any one community in Canada.
John Archer, secretary of the 1955 Golden Jubilee Committee, was quoted saying "A jubilee, then, is a time when we straighten our backs from the toil of the day, bend our heads in prayer and thanksgiving, kick up our heels in song and dance, and write down the achievements of the past -- so that people of the future may know why so much laughter and learning came out of Saskatchewan in 1955."
In 2009, Meadow Lake was granted city status by the Province of Saskatchewan and in 2011 Meadow Lake celebrated its 75th birthday. Time, once again, to look back at our achievements, celebrate, and continue to build for a better future.