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Town, pop 3,820, located halfway between the cities of Saskatoon and Lloydminster on the Yellowhead Hwy (No. 16). The historic former capital of the North-West Territories, Battleford sits on a high plateau across from the city of North Battleford, on the south side of the North Saskatchewan River, near its confluence with the Battle River. Fur trading activity in the area dates to the later 1700s. Permanent settlement began in the mid-1870s, a few years after the route for the CPR was surveyed across the northern plains and along the south banks of the river. A station was established as the telegraph line was being built westward from Winnipeg to Edmonton, and the location was chosen to be the site of the capital of the North-West Territories. The name Battleford was selected after a nearby ford of the Battle River. In 1876, Fort Battleford was established as an NWMP post; in the same year, construction of Government House, the first permanent residence of the Lieutenant-Governor, began. The settlement developed rapidly. A post office and the Battleford Land Registry Office were opened in 1877, and in 1878 the first newspaper in what is now the province of Saskatchewan, the Saskatchewan Herald , was begun by Patrick Gammie Laurie. That same year, the first meeting of the Territorial Council, under Lieutenant-Governor David Laird, took place at Government House.

As the capital, Battleford appeared to have a bright future. But in 1881 the community’s destiny was altered with the federal government’s abrupt decision to alter the route of the trans-continental railway to cross the southern plains: as a consequence, the territorial capital was officially transferred to Regina in 1883. Battleford remained of strategic importance, however, for in 1885 it was the scene of significant events during the North-West Resistance. Approximately 500 people were sheltered within the fort’s stockade during the weeks of unrest. On November 27, 1885, the largest mass hanging in Canadian history took place within the fort’s walls as eight Aboriginal men were publicly hanged. Despite the destruction caused during the Resistance, and despite being by-passed by the railway, the community continued to grow. The CPR had reached Swift Current in 1883, 300 km due south of Battleford, and this opened up a new trading route which substantially cut down the cost of bringing in food and other supplies. But Battleford was to suffer yet another blow when in 1905 the Canadian Northern Railway built its line en route to Edmonton on the opposite side of the river. North Battleford quickly surpassed the older community in size and importance, and gained city status in 1913.

Battleford would be somewhat compensated, however: in 1907–08, a new Land Titles Building and the Court House (still in use) were constructed; and over the next few years, the Post Office, the Town Hall/Opera House, and a number of impressive homes were built. These structures, dating from the 1870s until about 1912, give Battleford one of the finest collections of period Architecture and heritage properties in the province. In 1907–08, rail and road links from North Battleford were also completed. The twin spans built across Finlayson Island in the NORTH SASKATCHEWAN RIVER in 1908 comprise the oldest existing highway bridge in the province, and the longest of its type. Despite population growth in the early decades of the century (from 609 in 1901 to nearly 1,500 by 1916), Battleford was in financial trouble owing to over-zealous municipal spending in anticipation of an expansion which never came. The population fell during the 1920s and the 1930s, and the community languished until after World War II. Battleford’s debts were finally cleared in 1959; the 1950s also brought improvements to water and sewer systems, as well as better highway connections.

Battleford’s population more than doubled in the years between 1961 and 1981, increasing from 1,627 to 3,565. Today, Battleford is an agricultural service centre with a dynamic manufacturing sector. Tourist attractions in the community include the Fort Battleford National Historic Site, which showcases the role of the NWMP in the development of the Canadian West. Additionally, the Fred Light Museum houses one of the most comprehensive collections of firearms in western Canada: flintlocks, matchlocks, muzzleloaders, as well as swords, bayonets, and military uniforms are on display. Battleford is also home to the Saskatchewan Baseball Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, Battleford’s Government House was burned to the ground on June 7, 2003.

David McLennan

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