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A great day on the lake.
David McLennan

Village, pop 294, takes its name from its position at the elbow of the South Saskatchewan River, which was flooded with the creation of Lake Diefenbaker. The first known written use of the term “elbow” for the location was recorded in 1804 in the journal of John Macdonald of Garth, a trading partner with the North West Company. The first known settler in the area was James Middagh, who arrived via Moose Jaw in 1898 and engaged in Ranching just southeast of the present resort village of Mistusinne. Extensive settlement of the area, however, began about 1903, and by the end of the decade much of the land in the Elbow area was occupied. Those that came to the region were largely of English and Scottish origins, from eastern Canada or overseas; or were Norwegians, most of whom arrived from the United States. Some came to the district through Moose Jaw; many took the train as far as Davidson and disembarked there.

Elbow Harbour
David McLennan

The townsite of Elbow was established in 1908 as the CPR line from Moose Jaw to Outlook was being built, and the line was completed in 1909. Much of the village was built up that year: the area post office, known as River View, established 1906 a few kilometres to the north, relocated to the townsite and was renamed Elbow; stores moved in from the countryside; a townsite school district was organized; and many new businesses were started. A popular slogan of the day was, “Fifty years ago Palliser slept here, nobody is asleep here  now!” On April 6, 1909, the village was incorporated, and Elbow flourished through the first number of years and grew to have a population of about 300 by the outbreak of the Depression – during which the community’s numbers fell by half. From 1905 to 1926, there had been a ferry service across the river, connecting settlers on both sides; then the CNR’s Dunblane viaduct, a mammoth combination road and rail bridge, was opened and the ferry was no longer needed. As railroads were completed to Dunblane, Birsay, and Beechy, west of the river, and to Lawson, Riverhurst, and Grainland, south of Elbow, Elbow’s trade from these districts dwindled and the community’s development was stalled until the late 1950s. In 1958 the agreement between the federal and provincial governments to build the Gardiner Dam was signed, and in 1959 construction began. The South Saskatchewan River Project brought an influx of workers and their families to the region, and Elbow’s population almost doubled during the decade. From 281 residents in 1956, the community’s numbers skyrocketed to 470 by 1966. By the mid-1970s, however, Elbow’s population was back down to its pre-project level.

A landmark on Elbow's main street, the former Canadian Bank of Commerce building, built c. 1908, houses the village office.
David McLennan

The year 1967 was an exciting one for the community: Elbow’s Curling team of Doug Wankel, Art, Gay, and Elmer Knutson were the Saskatchewan Brier champions, and were narrowly defeated at the national competition in Ottawa that year; as well, both the Gardiner and the Qu’Appelle Valley Dams became operational – the latter constructed to prevent the rising waters of the emerging lake from flowing into the valley. The subsequent result of the South Saskatchewan River Project has been manifold, and was at first a mixed blessing: some farms and pasture lands were flooded; the Dunblane viaduct was dismantled and people who had lived across the river, who had been neighbours (and customers), suddenly became almost like strangers across the deep waters of Lake Diefenbaker; favourite picnic and camping areas disappeared. But in the Drought-prone region, communities, irrigators, and industrial users now had a stable supply of water; and with the creation of the lake, and then the establishment of Danielson and Douglas provincial parks, tourism and recreation slowly began to replace agriculture (largely wheat production and cattle ranching) as the dominant industries in the area. Due to this, Elbow has been undergoing a period of substantial growth in recent years. Two major attractions include an 18-hole championship golf course and county club with a spectacular view over the lake, and a deep-water marina. Retirees are moving to Elbow and new housing subdivisions have and are being built. As well, people are purchasing properties for seasonal use and during the summer months the village population is significantly higher than the number of year-round residents cited above. The village also hosts a number of annual events including a three-day rodeo, fishing derbies, a dinner Theatre, a car show and street Dance, and a craft fair and trade show, which draw many people. A local family creates an elaborate corn maze each year, and invites the public to their lakeside property. Another attraction is the Elbow Museum which includes a fully furnished replica of an early 20th century sod house.  Additionally, the community recently announced that its sole remaining grain elevator (no longer in use) will be saved and preserved. Elbow has a library, a fitness centre, a civic centre, an arena, three churches, and a wide range of clubs and organizations. Local businesses include a hotel, B&Bs, lakeshore condominium and suite rentals, an RV park and campgrounds, restaurants, a miniature Golf course, grocery stores and a liquor vendor, artists’ studios, an antique shop, and a range of specialty stores. Commutron Industries, located in the former school, is a locally-owned company which assembles electronic circuit boards and employs as many as 30 people during peak production. Area businesses include a seed cleaning and processing plant, and the Gardiner Dam Terminal grain elevator. Elbow has an RCMP detachment, a team of first responders, and a volunteer fire department. The nearest hospital is in Central Butte; schoolchildren are bussed to the neighbouring village of Loreburn, 13 kilometres to the north (Elbow School was closed in 1993). Elbow is situated in the RM of Loreburn No. 254, which benefits considerably from revenues generated by oil and gas pipelines running through the area.

David McLennan

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