Home Town or Home Community:
- WHAT’S IN A NAME?
The Cree-English Dictionary, published by the Canadian Plains Research Center, University of Regina in 2001, gives two meanings of Nipawin – as nipawiwinihk – “at the standing place”, in reference to looking out over the valley, and nipawin – “sleeping, sleep”. Differences in meaning may occur because there are several Cree dialects – Plains, Swampy and Woods.
In the book entitled “What’s In A Name?” published by Western Producer Prairie Books, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan 1968, it states that “Nipawin takes its name from a height on the Saskatchewan River four miles upstream from the present town site. The name means where one stands. Commanding a wide view of plain and river, the Indians used to stand there and watch for people coming. The place was also important because it was at a bend of the river where trail and canoe routes met and the Indians could be sure of meeting friends there no matter how they travelled.”
In Bill Barry’s book People Places – What’s in a Name The Dictionary of Saskatchewan Place Names 1998 – reference is made to Nipawin as an Indian phrase meaning “a place to stand” or Nipawiwin meaning “standing place”. Other historical spellings include Nepewewin, Nippeweens, Nepawin Rapids, Fort Neepoin and Lower Nepowewin. These names were applied to at least three different locations on the Saskatchewan River between Tobin Rapids and Fort a la Corne, where Henry Budd established the Nepowewin Mission across the river in 1851.
There are two different Cree words involved here – nîpawiwin meaning “standing place” and nipâwin, “sleeping, a place to sleep”. Thus, the modem name of Nipawin comes from the latter and refers to the resting places on the river flats down in the valley, not to lookouts on the valley wall. These flats, commonly known as Bushfield Flats, a former peninsula in the Saskatchewan River just southwest of Nipawin, are now flooded by the Francois-Finlay dam.
The flats, named after William Bushfield who farmed nearby, were an important archaeological site that was investigated before it was flooded in 1986. The West site revealed a pre-historic Cree encampment. The East site was also rewarding, indicating that the area had been an important Indian stopover for centuries.
Perhaps we can conclude that whichever meaning of Nipawin we use – “standing place” or “sleeping place” – the area was an ancient Indian rendezvous – a place where people gathered.
- HISTORICAL PROFILE:
THE FIRST INHABITANTS
Archaeologists, through their extensive research of the Saskatchewan River valley prior to inundation by the Nipawin Hydro-electric project, have been able to conclude that various cultural complexes occupied the Nipawin, Codette and Pontrilas areas as far back as 10,000 years ago.
Artifacts of European origin found on the Bushfield Flats were dated to the 1500s and early 1600s. These were the earliest European artifacts found in Saskatchewan.
This area was apparently an important lookout and camping place in the spring and early summer as proven by the frequent occurrence of thick eggshells, possibly of geese or crane, found in archaeological excavations.
Several reasons could be probable for this area being an important gathering place. Besides being a lookout point, it was possibly a hub from which a number of trails radiated, the Fort a la Come – Cumberland, for example. It was a source area for prehistoric peoples to obtain abundant quantities of stone material for the manufacture of their tools – quartz and chert (a dense, hard rock composed mainly of silica) found in gravel bars.
Gathering occurred in the spring and autumn to take advantage of migrating fish, waterfowl, elk and moose and the substantial yield of berries and nuts. Historic writings indicate that the Indians did not live along the Saskatchewan River during the winter.
Early First Nations people in this area included the Cree and the Rapid or the Fall Indians who were also known as the Gros Ventres or the Big Bellies, not because of their large size, but because their tribal sign was a gesture over the belly.
The first mention of the Cree was by Jesuit priests in 1640. The Cree had resided further east but moved west to trap after the Hudson’s Bay Company began trading furs with the Indians. They acquired horses sometime after 1750, and were the first in this area to acquire guns.
EXPLORERS AND FUR TRADERS
This area of Canada, west of the Hudson Bay, was travelled by European traders and explorers as early as 1670. This was the year that King Charles II granted a charter that established trading posts on the shores of Hudson Bay, having been convinced by fur traders Pierre Radisson and Sieur de Groseillers to do so.
In order to induce Indians from farther inland to carry furs to Fort York, a lad named Henry Kelsey was dispatched in 1691 to travel far to the west. He arrived at what is now The Pas, Manitoba, abandoned his canoe south of the present day Cumberland House and proceeded on foot overland to the prairies. On his return trip he paddled the Saskatchewan River past the future town site of Nipawin with a large flotilla of priceless furs.
Trading posts were soon established by both the Montreal and Hudson’s Bay Company fur traders, touching off a rivalry that would last nearly two hundred years.
The mighty Saskatchewan River provided a great highway for numerous fur traders and explorers – such men as Chevalier de la Verendrye, Chevalier de la Corne, Anthony Henday, Joseph Smith, William Pink, Matthew Cocking, Francois Ie Blanc, James Finlay, David Thompson, Peter Fidler, to name a few – in search of furs, fame, fortune, adventure and/or exploration.
In 1768 Francois Ie Blanc, veteran trader of the French regime, built a trading post in the area known as Bushfield Flats. The next year he was joined by his partner James Finlay, a Scotsman. They carried on a brisk trade with the Indians of the area. By 1773 the region had been depleted of furs and the site was abandoned for another upstream. The Francois-Finlay Forts were among the first to be established within the boundaries of the province of Saskatchewan, The ruins of the trading posts were first discovered by William Bushfield in about 1912. Mr. Bushfield deserves much credit for recognizing the archaeological and historical potential of this part of his farm and for not disturbing it.
Though fashions changed and the European hunger for furs declined, the importance of Nipawin – as transportation centre, trading centre and gateway to virgin land and virgin timber – never waned.
THE HOMESTEADERS, FORESTERS AND FARMERS
Permanent settlement in the form of agricultural development began in the years 1906-07 with the arrival of the first homesteaders. Lumber mills dotted the forests and great spring river runs of logs glided down the Carrot and Saskatchewan Rivers to The Pas for processing. By 1911 the population was about 300, thinly scattered throughout the bushland.
Soon a settlement was growing in townships 49 and 50, Range 14, which was known as Nipawin, today referred to as Old Nipawin. The old town was approximately a quarter of a mile in length, located on both east and west sides of the Tisdale Road on NW 1/4 16-50-14-2 and NE 1/4 17-50-14- 2, three miles southeast of the present site of Nipawin. This location is near a trail which was used for years as an overland route from Fort a la Corne to Cumberland House, by the Indians, trappers, traders, explorers, and in later years by the pioneer settlers moving into the area.
As the community grew, it became filled with a variety of stores and businesses ranging from groceries and hardware, clothing, bakery and butcher shops, drug stores, shoe and harness repair, restaurants, garages, barber shops, a livery stable and dray service, the Bank of Commerce, law, medical, dental, nursing home and maternity home facilities, post office, school, telephone office, poolrooms and a community hall where silent movies, dances, meetings and other events were held.
MILESTONES AND MEMORIES
When the Canadian Pacific Railway came to the area in the summer of 1924, it bypassed the settlement. The rail line was laid closer to the river and was terminated four miles to the northwest. During the fall and winter of 1924-25, the old town was moved – lock, stock and barrel – to the present site of Nipawin to take advantage of the convenience of the railway. Through a feat of incredible resourcefulness and endurance, men such as Charles and Norman Scott, with the help of Milt Scott, Harold DeLance and others, moved every building with teams of horses and tractors to the new site in the jackpines adjacent to the station which bore the name NIPAWIN.
Today a wooden sign erected on NW 1/4 16-50-14-W2nd at the south end of what was known as Main Street is now the only reminder of those pioneer years. (Old Nipawin Townsite 1912-1924).
In 1924, the Canadian Pacific Railway Company purchased the land that became the new town site from Mr. Henry Collison. The CPR surveyed the area into lots and sold them to the comers. At the conclusion of the survey of the new town site in 1924, the rush to purchase lots caused a great deal of excitement. Squatters started to build on their lots as soon as possible, though the actual buying transaction was delayed until March 24,1925.
By June of that year Nipawin had achieved village status. It soon became a bustling community and grew to be one of the major trading centres in the northeast. Diversification in lumber, agriculture, trapping, business and recreation enabled the economy to grow by leaps and bounds.
In those days, people crossed the Saskatchewan River by ferry or in a basket. The basket permitted crossings in the fall and spring when neither ferry crossing nor ice crossing were safe. The basket hung from a cable which was pulled back and forth with a Model T Ford engine. The gadget inspired a marvelous mix of humour and terror.
In August, 1928, twenty surveyors and a work gang of twenty-five men arrived and set about building a structure to span the river with high banks and swift flowing water. It was estimated that the job would take a year and a half to two years to complete. It took three, with completion in 1931.
This was a great benefit to the settlers on the northwest side of the river and stimulated further settlement in the area. The bridge is still used for rail traffic by the CPR and the lower level is used for vehicle traffic. A trip across the steel bridge is something that has to be experienced to be truly appreciated!
Nipawin’s first agricultural exhibition was held in August 1928 with fine weather and good entries in livestock and indoor exhibits. Swine, sheep, horses, poultry, baking, canning, sewing, grains and grasses were featured.
Parades, exhibits, horse races, baseball games, midway amusements and rides have given the people of Nipawin and district a highlight of the summer ever since.
Nipawin is one of Saskatchewan’s most sporting towns and over the years it has made its own sports history. During the 1920s and 1930s, dog derbies drew large crowds to town. Dog races over forty-mile courses were held. Winter festivals which featured snow plane races became popular in the 1930s and 1940s.
History was really made in 1947 when Nipawin turned the curling world upside down. Headlines filled the newspapers…. “World Series of Curling – Nipawin’s Autospiel – The First Ever.” Invitations were extended to curlers to participate in a bonspiel, which offered as top prize, four new automobiles. The autospiels, which ran from 1947 to 1954, did more to put the small Town of Nipawin on the map than any other single event. (Population less than 3,000)
In 1984, the spiel was revived as the Nipawin Auto Labatt Classic. As in 1947, a new curling facility precipitated the idea to hold a big spiel to help pay for it. Once again, cars were given as prizes until 1994 when the Autospiel became the Nipawin Evergreen Curling Classic offering cash prizes to run men’s and women’s events.
The Nipawin Regional Park, formed in 1964 one mile from town, boasts a lush golf course with grass greens, camping facilities, playgrounds, washrooms, ramp and boat dock and a fish filleting service.
The 18-hole golf course, rated as one of the top five in the province and one of the top 100 in Canada, features a challenging course, engulfed by majestic spruce and pine, seclusion and peacefulness.
The focus of much of our community activity is the Evergreen Centre, where curling ice and the golf course are combined with meeting rooms for any size of gathering. A complete catering service is available for meetings, banquets, weddings, dances and reunions, while individual meals are offered in the coffee shop or lounge. During summer months the curling ice can be converted for trade shows, exhibitions or badminton and tennis matches.
Two hydro projects have left Nipawin situated between two man-made lakes, Tobin and Codette, which offer 170 miles of shoreline plus abundant fish, wildlife and waterfowl. Tobin Lake has become famous throughout North America for the Northern Pike Festival, which was organized in 1969 to promote the excellent fishing.
Another event, the Premier’s Walleye Cup, now draws teams of two anglers from across Canada and the USA to try for big walleye and a chance at big prizes.
The Vanity Cup Tournament, held in late September, is billed as the richest walleye tournament in Canada. It was started as a fundraiser to build a new four-diamond ballpark for the town.
The Nipawin Pike Festival and the Vanity Cup have been named as two of the top fishing festival hot spots in the country.
In December 1990 Nipawin staged its first Parade of Lights. This unique annual event draws crowds of people who line the streets and wait with eager anticipation to view more than thirty colorful floats drive by. The 2002 Parade of Lights and magnificent home displays helped Nipawin achieve high praise and a national award.
In 2003 Nipawin received recognition once again when the town was awarded the Communities in Bloom provincial championship.
Today important aspects of the history of Nipawin are being maintained through the medium of attractive murals.
FACTS ON NIPAWIN
Nipawin, elevation 1190 feet, is located in northeastern Saskatchewan at the junction of highways 35 and 55, on the Woods and Water Route, 141 kilometres (85 miles) east of Prince Albert. It is in the center of beautiful flat farmland, where prairie and woodland meet.
It is built on the banks of the Saskatchewan River, once the scene of sternwheelers and canoes laden with furs for fur companies. Nipawin is the only town in the province located on the mighty Saskatchewan. The river has served as a highway for countless voyageurs, whether they were canoemen, fur traders, explorers, surveyors, missionaries, sternwheeler pilots, or other travellers. The river has provided food, transportation, beauty and recreation for generations.
Since the construction of the E.B. Campbell hydro-electric station and dam, located 75 kilometres northeast of Nipawin and the Nipawin hydro-electric station and Francois-Finlay dam, 5 kilometres upstream from the town, the once swift-flowing Saskatchewan River has been largely tamed. There was a time when the ice moving down the river during spring break-up caused the splendid steel bridge to shake. Viewers rushed to the river to watch this spectacle with awe and amazement.
Today, as in the past, Nipawin thrives on trade. The town’s original commodities of fur and forest products are still important. Technological advancements of hydro-electric power, canola crushing and seed processing have been added to the economy.
Surrounded by rich and fertile soils, Nipawin remains primarily an agricultural centre. Farming has expanded to include grain, cattle, hogs, dairy, fruit, honey, bison, game and fish.
Nipawin, which obtained town status on May 1,1937, now has a population of 5,000 (2002 figures). It offers many excellent amenities for a community of its size. In addition to pre-school, elementary and secondary schools, the town boasts a community college and Bible Institute as well as a library, art centre and museum.
A modem hospital, nursing home, seniors’ dwellings and day care centre provide fine facilities. The community also offers medical, dental, optometrical, pharmaceutical, legal, accounting and banking services. Local churches minister to most denominations, and service clubs, lodges and athletic organizations encourage community spirit.
An RCMP detachment and volunteer fire department meet the needs of the community. An airport, daily bus service and fine highways connect Nipawin to the rest of the country.
A newspaper, the Nipawin Journal, provides weekly news and an FM radio station, The Storm, fills the airwaves with music and local highlights.
More information may be obtained from our website at www.nipawin.com.
Visitors to Nipawin are impressed with the wide streets, parklike atmosphere and excellent drinking water which comes from wells. The Nipawin region has been blessed with natural beauty due mainly to the stately stands of pine and spruce, poplar and tamarack, willow and wild fruit trees, sparkling lakes and the majestic Saskatchewan River. It is no wonder that Nipawin has been called the “Pearl of the Pines” and “A Great Place to Grow”. Much credit is due to the founders, builders and early pioneers whose wisdom, planning and dreams paved the way for following generations.
Those who have called Nipawin home for the past eighty years have many memories of bygone days……
– the flu epidemic of 1919-20 that took the lives of many of the pioneers
– the move from the old town site to the new picnics at the Ravine Bank picnic grounds
-crossing the river in a basket or by ferry
-the building of the CPR bridge
-the arrival of electric lighting in 1930
-the fire of 1933 when an entire block of businesses went up in flames
-the Nipawin Chautauqua, an annual event of theatre, comedy, lectures, music and
-the carnivals to raise funds for the Red Cross Hospital
-snowplane races and dog derbies
-the first autospiel
-the building of cement sidewalks in the 1940s
-the old two-operator telephone office
-the building of the water tower in 1949
-the paving of town streets in the 1960s
-Saturday afternoon matinees at the Roxy and Orpheum Theatres
-Saturday nights in town, a time for shopping, entertainment and fellowship
-the building of a new traffic bridge in 1975
-the construction of two large dams on the Saskatchewan River nearby
-the moving of the giant Pool elevator to its new location three miles south of town in 1981
-the hot day Prince Andrew and Lady Sarah attended the Nipawin Exhibition in 1989
-the great swamp fire of 2002 which threatened the safety of the town
The big waves of settlers in the Nipawin district came just after the First World War and in the 1930s when the prairie people moved north to the trees and out of the drought.
The daily activities of the pioneers and homesteaders were full of practical tasks, necessary work about the home as a result of wood stoves, outside plumbing, homes without running water, and fewer conveniences and appliances.
And yet it can be argued that life sixty or seventy years ago was fuller and richer than today. The pioneers shared a common bond that was born of years of helping one another, sharing tasks, sharing hopes and joys, hardships and sorrow.
Old-timers remember that the age that has passed was rich in human relationships and an evening of conversation was commonplace.
Throughout the years, many Nipawinners have come and gone. Those who have stayed strive to maintain a vibrant community. Many who return for visits and reunions still call Nipawin “home”.
SOURCES OF INFORMATION – THE NIPAWIN STORY
Cree-English Dictionary compiled by Arok Wolvengrey 2001 Canadian Plains Research Center
University of Regina, Regina, Sask.
Discover Saskatchewan A Guide to Historic Sites Canadian Plains Research Centre 1998 University of Regina
What’s in a Name? Western Producer Prairie Books 196 Saskatoon, Sask.
People Places The Dictionary of Saskatchewan Place Names Bill Barry 1998 People Places Publishing Ltd. Regina, Sask.
Nipawin on the Saskatchewan River and its Historic Sites Andrew S. Morton 1944 Royal Society of Canada Ottawa, Ontario
The Golden Jubilee of the Nipawin Rural Municipality -Billie Lamb Allan 1963 Nipawin Journal Printers
The Canadian Encyclopedia– Hurtig Publishers Ltd. 1985 Edmonton, Alberta
Under Northern Lights – Codette and District Historical Society 1987 Codette, Sask.
Bridging the Years History of Nipawin and District Nipawin Historical Society 1988 History Book Committee
The Nipawin Journal Special Editions – May 7, 1975 and July 16, 1980
Nipawin Visitor’s Guides and Information Pamphlets Nipawin District Chamber of Commerce