Spring may be in the air, but it’s still winter on the ground. Desperate to get outside in the fresh air, I passed up the muddy, slushy grid roads around town, and headed, instead, for the sidewalks of Battleford. This is where the Battle River joins the North Saskatchewan. The area has a rich fur trade history dating back to the 1770s, but that’s not what I’d be looking for in town.
Battleford became the capital of the North-West Territories in 1876 with a North-West Mounted Police post and an official town site. In 1883, the capital moved to Regina, as did the Canadian Pacific Railroad’s plans for its main line. In 1905, the Canadian Northern Railway also chose to bypass the town by building on the north bank of the North Saskatchewan River. Even so, Battleford remained a “government centre for land title registration, a judicial district and an Indian Affairs office“. It was a prosperous time, and the town’s heritage buildings still reflect this.
The downtown core is about 4 blocks square. It’s an easy walk on paved sidewalks, and a couple of small pocket parks offer shade on a sunny day. The Town of Battleford is proud of its past, and much information about its history and heritage is online for visitors. The key stops on a downtown walking tour would be the four red brick, ornately trimmed government buildings still in use today: the Court House & Land Titles (1907), Town Hall (1912), and Post Office (1911).
Although these beautiful old buildings are, without doubt the main attraction, it’s always fun to poke around to find the less obvious treasures. For example:
- The Queen’s Hotel (1883): From boarding house, to hotel, to student residence, then to rooming house and hotel. This building is over 130 years old; it’s the oldest operating hotel in the province. Question: How old is that narrow staircase leading to the second floor?
- The Windsor Hotel (1910): Outside, at street level, is a large iron cover embossed with the words “John East Iron Works.” In 1910, John East had just opened a foundry in Saskatoon and his primary product was manhole covers, which were used in water distribution and sewage systems. Question: Was this cover lifted to fill a cistern, or extract sewage?
- Former bank (1910): I was spotted taking photos of one particular brick-faced building along main street when the organization kindly invited me inside. They shared what they knew of the building’s history i.e. the date of construction but did not know who the first tenant might have been. However, they let me take a picture of the original door to the bank vault. Now how cool was that?
I finished my afternoon tour with a few photos of the false front buildings still in use on the main avenue. Then, I decided I’d have to come back in a couple of months when the ice cream stand was open. Many of Battleford’s historic sites are seasonal including the Fred Light Museum and Fort Battleford National Historic Site. The North West Mounted Police Cemetery is always accessible to the public except, of course, when it’s covered in snow.
All photos, except where noted, copyright D. MacLeod. All rights reserved.