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Cumberland House

Northcote canon, Cumberland House, August 20, 2004. The Northcote was permanently beached at Cumberland House in 1886.
David McLennan

Northern village, pop 632, located 163 km NE of Nipawin at the end of Hwy 123. Cumberland House is the oldest permanent settlement in Saskatchewan and western Canada. Although today the community is remote in terms of access by land, historically it had a central location in terms of water-based travel: during the fur trade era, it served as a key Transportation hub and supply depot as waterways led north and northwest to the fur-rich Churchill and Athabasca regions, east to Hudson Bay, and southwest onto the plains. Situated on an island which separates Cumberland Lake from the Saskatchewan River, Cumberland House was established in 1774 by Samuel Hearne for the Hudson’s Bay Company. Named for Prince Rupert, the Duke of Cumberland, who was the first governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company, it was the company’s first inland trading post. In 1840, an Anglican mission was established at Cumberland House by catechist Henry Budd, a Swampy Cree, who later became the first ordained minister of First Nations ancestry. Following the Red River insurrection in 1870, a number of Manitoba Métis came to the Cumberland district and a Roman Catholic mission was established to serve these newcomers. In 1876, the Cumberland House First Nation, whose reserve lands are located southeast of the village, signed an adhesion to Treaty 5. Between 1874 and 1925, Cumberland House was an important centre for the steamboat traffic on the Saskatchewan River systems. The remains of the S.S. Northcote , which was involved in the battle at Batoche in 1885, are today situated in a park at Cumberland House.

The 20th century progressively saw fewer people making their living off the land, and more settling in the community. Outlying settlements in the district disappeared as Cumberland House grew. In 1966, an all-weather road was built into the district, giving residents a new connection with the outside world; however, it stopped at the south shore of the Saskatchewan River, necessitating reliance on a seasonal ferry service. The construction of the Squaw Rapids (now E.B. Campbell) Dam in 1962 adversely affected the traditional livelihoods of many in the area. A lawsuit launched in 1976 resulted in the awarding of a compensation package worth an estimated $23 million for the community and the neighbouring Cumberland House First Nation. In 1996, a bridge was built across the Saskatchewan River; no longer were people reliant on the seasonal ferry service, and no longer were hazardous river crossings necessary when the ferry was unusable. Today, the combined population of the northern village and the adjacent reserve totals approximately 1,500 persons. Together they comprise one of Saskatchewan’s principal Métis communities. Unemployment is a problem for this remote community, and many rely on government assistance. Some income, as well as food, is still derived from trapping, hunting and fishing, and a number of outfitters and guides accommodate hunters from all over North America each fall. Logging, cattle raising, WILD RICE harvesting, and the production of maple syrup provide additional opportunities. Notable people from Cumberland House include Keith Goulet, Saskatchewan’s first Métis Cabinet Minister; Judge Gerald M. Morin of the Saskatchewan Provincial Court; and Solomon Carriere, a four-time world marathon Canoeing champion.

David McLennan

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