The city of North Battleford: its origins and early history

North Battleford's first decade was characterized by phenomenal development, explosive growth and rapid progress on every front. Village status was conferred on the community on March 21, 1906. Four months later, the village became a town. North Battleford was recognized by the province as having qualified for city status a number of months before official city status was conferred on May 1, 1913 making it the fifth city in the province.

The rapidity and magnitude of the new community's growth was extraordinary -dizzying, in fact. In June, 1905, an agent for the Saskatchewan Land Company sold 200 lots in only a few hours. At about the same time, two hotels were being constructed, Hugh Maher was building a store, and the Battleford Trading Company and a great number of other businesses were under construction. This frenetic pace of development continued unabated for the next decade. For example, in 1912, the Saskatchewan Hospital, North Battleford Collegiate, Knox Presbyterian Church, Auditorium Hotel, Sallows and Boyd Building, and many large and expensive homes on both the west and east sides of the city were in various stages of construction at the same time.

article continues below

The first municipal government was formed in 1905 and provided a framework and organized approach to the community's extraordinary development. A local police force and fire department were established, work began on a water and sewer system in 1909, and electric power came on 1910. It was essential that standards and guidelines for infrastructure of both commercial and residential development were drafted.

The community's first mayor was R. F. Chisholm. The first town clerk was a Mr. Cookson. The first council meeting was Sept. 5, 1906. Town council meetings were frequent in those early days because there was so much to deal with. The main task of this inaugural council was to organize. A cemetery committee was established and a suitable location for burials was found east of the community.

A health committee was struck with instructions to notify all residents of the necessity to cover all slop pails and to ensure that outhouses were cleansed and disinfected.

A chief constable, John R. Morrison, was engaged. Council purchased two pairs of handcuffs, a pair of ankle bracelets, a baton and a uniform for the new constable. Fire protection was considered of first order importance. A fire brigade was organized. In 1910, a modern hook and ladder truck was purchased from the Watrous Engine Works for $950.00. A dog pound was set up.

More importantly, a Works Committee was established with the authority to hire an engineer to determine street levels and give estimates for constructing sidewalks and grading streets. Early during its tenure, council dealt with the problem of transient traders (traders without licenses). Power and water quickly became important topics. At one point, Turtle River, and also the Saskatchewan and Beaver rivers, were considered as potential sources of power for the community. But this was dropped in favour of the new North Battleford Power House which was built in 1910. Interestingly, the Clarendon Hotel already had a power generator in 1907 (in use until April 16, 1910), for its own needs and served a dozen surrounding businesses.

The first doctors in North Battleford were Dr. W. R. Sparling and Dr. W. H. Brown, who arrived in the community by Aug. 19, 1905. By 1913, the population of the community was 5000. Fortunately, Dr. Hamelin arrived to accommodate the public's medical needs. Other doctors also established their practices in the city shortly thereafter. The most memorable doctor from the early years was Dr. J. W. McNeil, first superintendent of the Saskatchewan Hospital. Dr. MacNeil built a reputation based on his realistic approach to medicine, care and concern for his patients, and competent administration.

Other community initiatives important to North Battleford included a skating rink, a band and various recreational facilities. Beautification of the community was not forgotten either. In 1910, Council authorized the IODE to plant trees on Victoria Street (99th Street). In addition, many service clubs and community agencies were organized during the early years of North Battleford. A few of these include the IODE (1909), the Red Cross (1914) and the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides.

The early residents of North Battleford participated in sports with great enthusiasm. In 1910, a four-sheet curling rink was constructed which provided countless hours of friendly competition and socializing. A hugely popular bowling alley was also built just North of the Mills Hotel. In addition, there is evidence citizens also enjoyed baseball, hockey, lacrosse, boxing, football, trap shooting, tennis, cricket and hunting and fishing. Over the years, North Battlefordians' love of sports was reflected in their support for the city's outstanding junior and senior teams, particularly in baseball and hockey.

The parents and residents of the new community of North Battleford had a strong desire to provide education for their children. The North Battleford School District was established Nov. 22, 1905. The trustees were a Mr. Sparling, Mr. Drew and Mr. Pettypiece. Mr. Drew was appointed as secretary. The first school opened Nov. 20, 1905 in the Presbyterian Church with M. Wakelin as the first teacher. A burgeoning student population required larger facilities. In 1908, the North Battleford High School was located at 1282, 100th St. (Main Street). King Street Elementary School opened Jan. 8, 1908. Work on the North Battleford Collegiate Institute began in 1912. The impressive new high school opened Nov. 12, 1913. The first principal was Mr. Galloway. Without question, the most unique administrator to lead NBCI was the legendary Harry Sharp who served as principal for a number of decades. Over the years, thousands of students received their high school education at NBCI.

As North Battleford's student population continued to expand, additional educational facilities were required. Connaught School (a notable "castle school" because of its impressive brick and stone construction) opened April 17, 1914. The other public school built and pressed into service that year included Riverview School, which opened Sept. 23. Sharon Children's Home and Schools opened in 1940. Alexander School opened in January of 1950.

Before 1912, Catholic students were educated in the public system with religious instruction given after school by a Catholic teacher or member of a religious order. However, the increasing Catholic student population justified the creation of a separate Catholic school - the Roman Catholic Separate School No. 16. At first, classes were held in rented space in King Street School. Over the next number of years, two high schools were built to accommodate Catholic students. With its long and colourful history, Saint Thomas College, an exclusive boys' educational institutional, lays claim as the most illustrious of the two schools. The other Catholic school was the Convent of the Child Jesus, a prestigious boarding school for girls.

Spiritual life was important to early North Battleford citizens. Within a few weeks of the establishment of the community of North Battleford, Anglican services were held in stores and various residences. The present Anglican Church was constructed in 1909. Rev. Fr. Bigonesse celebrated mass at the home of Charles Hick, a homesteader, in 1904. Father Laufer celebrated the first mass in North Battleford in 1906. After lengthy negotiations, a Roman Catholic Church was established on York Street. The Presbyterian Church (which became the Third Avenue United Church in 1925) was constructed in 1913.

Over the years and decades, the city has continued to grow at a steady pace, though not as it did in the frenzied decade prior to the First World War. From the outset, the citizens of North Battleford have met every obstacle and responded to every situation with vision and courage, resoluteness, skill and energy.

In our centennial year, it is fitting that we, the citizens of North Battleford, take pause to consider the genius of our forefathers, their commitment and determination. Indeed, they lived by the sage's words, "Make no little plans because they have no magic to stir men's blood Make big plans; aim high in hope and work." (Daniel H. Burnan).

The example of these great men and women of a century past, our city's history, and the lessons of the past should do much to prepare us for the challenges of the future.

- Hiebert and Cashmore are members of the City of North Battleford Centennial 2013 Historical Committee

© Copyright Battlefords News Optimist