The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan


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Town, pop 2,009, located approximately 80 km NE of Yorkton at the confluence of the Whitesand and Assiniboine Rivers and the junction of Hwys 5 and 8. The region was traversed by fur traders as far back as the late 1700s; in the late 1800s, the name Kamsack was derived from that of a well-known First Nations man in the area. In the mid-to-late 1880s the first settlers arrived, and Doukhobors came to the district in large numbers in 1899. During the first years of the 20th century, with the approach of the railway, settlers poured into the area from eastern Canada, the United States, and Europe. The Canadian Northern Railway was at Kamsack in 1904, and the first businesses were springing up on the townsite. In 1905 Kamsack was incorporated as a village; it became one of the province’s fastest growing and most progressive communities. Kamsack attained town status in 1911, and in 1914 construction began on an electric light plant, the waterworks, and a sewage system. By the early 1920s, the population was over 2,000. The community suffered somewhat of a setback during the 1930s, but the establishment of a petroleum company in the town in 1936 proved somewhat of a boon. In 1937, Kamsack became one of only three communities in Saskatchewan with their own natural gas system, prior to SaskPower being given the authority in the 1950s to begin establishing a province-wide utility (Lloydminster had natural gas in 1934, and Unity’s system was in place in 1944). On August 9, 1944, a tornado tore through the town. Locally referred to as the “Kamsack Cyclone,” it damaged or destroyed 400 homes and 100 businesses, leaving three people dead and scores injured. The military was despatched to clean up the debris and help restore services. With the help of veterans returning from overseas, the biggest building boom in the community’s history ensued; with the provincial trend toward urbanization, Kamsack’s population was nudging 3,000 by the early 1960s. In 1962, however, it faced another setback. The CNR had employed approximately 200 people in its roundhouse and shops at Kamsack, but that year the railway abandoned the town as a divisional point; many railway company employees had to leave the community to find work, while those who remained had to seek new occupations. From that point on, the community’s population has slowly declined. Today, Kamsack serves primarily as an agricultural service centre for the surrounding district. The Kamsack Historical Museum is located in the town’s 1914 power plant, now a heritage property; the Kamsack Playhouse (also a heritage property) provides a venue for cinema, live theatre, and concerts. Kamsack has a 2,500-foot paved and lighted airstrip, and is one of a few communities on the Prairies that still has passenger rail service. The original 1915 water tower has been designated a heritage property and is one of only a handful of its kind in existence in Saskatchewan.

David McLennan

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