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Roche Percée

Village, pop 162, located SE of Estevan in the Souris River Valley. It is situated just off Hwy 39, a short distance from the Canada-US border. The name of the community is derived from a unique landform, long known to First Nations peoples who camped in the area. Their name for a large, hollowed sandstone outcropping was translated by Métis travelling through the region as la Roche Percée. James Hector of the Palliser Expedition (see Palliser and Hind Expeditions), who visited the area in 1857, was the first to note Coal along the Souris. The North-West Mounted Police made their first major camp here, the Short Creek Camp, during their 1874 trek westward. The coal-mining industry, which gave life to the community, had its beginnings in the 1880s, when individual entrepreneurs and small-time operators began digging the coal, then transporting it by barge down the Souris River, into the Assiniboine, and then on to Winnipeg. The first viable coal mine in the area was established in 1891. The CPR’s SOO LINE came through in 1893 and within a few years, dozens of mines were in operation and many lived at the mining camps in the district. Local farmers used coal mining income to help them establish their farming operations. It was a few years before the village proper developed and, on January 12, 1909, Roche Percée was incorporated. Although agriculture, consisting of grain and cattle production, was important in this sandy region, the community’s fortunes have always been closely related to the coal mining industry. Underground operations began to give way to surface “strip” mining by electric shovels in the 1930s and, by the mid-1950s, the era of underground coal mining in the region had come to an end. Today, there are only two companies mining coal in the Estevan-Bienfait area. Their huge dragline operations, however, produce an annual production of approximately 12 million tonnes. Today, Roche Percée is essentially a residential community as businesses, services, and the school have long given way to those in the nearby city of Estevan.

David McLennan

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