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Meadow Lake

Town, pop 4,582, located 160 km N of North Battleford on Hwys 4 and 55. The history of Meadow Lake dates from the fur trade. In 1799, Peter Fidler, working for the Hudson’s Bay Company, travelled south along the Beaver River from Ile-à-la-Crosse, then entered the Meadow River and followed it to its source, a lake that would become known as Lac des Prairies, or “Meadow Lake.” He and his companions constructed a log building as a company post, naming it Bolsover House, after Fidler’s birthplace in England. Although the post did not flourish and shortly closed, Fidler was a master surveyor and Meadow Lake was now on the map. As the fur trade increased dramatically along the western Churchill River during the 1880s, a route was established from Ile-à-la-Crosse south through Green Lake and then southeast toward Fort Carlton. Small settlements sprang up along the way. Eventually, people migrated westward to the Meadow Lake area, and around 1879 Cyprien and Mary Morin from Ile-à-la-Crosse became the first to settle permanently at the site of the future community. Other Métis families followed in the coming years. Preliminary surveys were made in the district and soon reports of the agricultural possibilities of the area surfaced. In 1888, the area directly west of the lake was surveyed for a future townsite, and in 1889 Cree signatories to Treaty 6 assumed title to a reserve just north of the lake. They are now known as the Flying Dust First Nation. Cyprien Morin established a Hudson’s Bay Company Post at Meadow Lake, traded in furs, and raised horses and cattle. The first Roman Catholic Church was built on the Morin’s land. Although the Métis families who settled at Meadow Lake prospered, it was not until 1907–08 that subsequent settlers began to slowly arrive in the area. In 1919, a massive forest fire swept through the region and the waning fur trade in the Meadow Lake region was decimated. From Green Lake to Big River the earth was blackened, the lumber industry devastated. Land was, however, further opened up for homesteads and agriculture. The pace of settlement quickened and, by the end of the 1920s, most of the prime agricultural land was taken. The remaining marginal lands were taken up in the 1930s by Dust Bowl refugees from southern Saskatchewan. As the railroad approached at the beginning of the decade, an economic boom began, and Meadow Lake was incorporated as a village on August 24, 1931. By 1936, the population of the community was 800, and on February 1 that year, Meadow Lake attained town status. Ten years later, in 1946, the population was 1,456 and, in another decade, approaching twice that. Forestry, fishing, and farming dominated the economy, with the area’s agricultural output ever increasing. By the mid-1950s, more grain was shipped out of Meadow Lake than from any other point in rural Canada. Meadow Lake continues to grow; the 2001 Census population figure cited above is no longer accurate, as the town now estimates its population at over 6,000. As well, the community serves an additional trading area population of 15,000 people. The primary industries in the region continue to be forestry and agriculture and, increasingly, tourism.

David McLennan

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