The Town of Whitewood
The Town of Whitewood (Section 7, Township 16, Range 2, West of the 2nd Meridian), is situated at the junction of the Trans-Canada Highway and #9 and is known through the region as the Crossroads Community. Whitewood is located within the R.M. of Willowdale close to the boundary with the R.M. of Silverwood. To the rest of the world, this locates the town 175 kilometres east of Regina on the # 1 Highway.
The Settlement Era
The town first came into being in what was known as the District of Assiniboia, N.W.T. The name Whitewood is thought to have come from a bluff of white poplars adjacent to the settlement. Although survey crews and some early settlers, anxious to obtain land, had inhabited the area earlier, most early family histories commenced about the year 1882 with the arrival of the railroad.
A Rich Heritage
Also about this time fourteen French Counts settled in the Pipestone Valley south of Whitewood hoping to establish an aristocratic Roman Catholic French Community. These glamourous settlers socialized with the English settlement at Cannington Manor. Even after the counts left the community, this community has continued to attract interest from across the country and Europe. The Church of St. Hubert became the focal point of the Colony and a Home for the aged and handicapped was eventually established by the Roman Catholic Nuns. Meanwhile the Counts and their families lived the high life in Whitewood with gala events such as balls and social gatherings. By 1914, having undertaken various enterprises with limited success the Counts left the area. Several other ethnic settlements sprang up around Whitewood – Hungarian to the north and south; Finnish to the northeast; Swedish to the west and German and Scottish to the east. The cosmopolitan flavour still exists.
Among the earliest settlers were the Mclntosh Family; Charles Davis Sr., and Joseph Callin and his son John. The first building is thought to be the C.P.R. section house. Fred Chamberlain and Mr. Limoges operated stores; T.J. Lyon, agent for the York Colonization Co., ran a stage-coach from Whitewood and T.J. Pearson built and operated a hotel. The first religious services were conducted in 1883 by Anglican lay reader Charles Marshallsay and the Rev. Canon W.H. Cooper. This was followed by the establishment of other congregations; Presbyterian (1884), Methodist (1893), Roman Catholic (1889), United (1925), Jehovas Witness (1940), Church of Christ (1944), Evangelical (1950), Pentacostal (1965).
Some taking up early residence were J.W. Taylor, James and John Knowler, James Grierson, John and Richard Street and Sam Wilson. The influx of settlers from many lands prompted the construction of the Gibson House, which became the immigration hall and stopping place for incoming immigrants. The area’s first veterinarian was Bill Gemmell. By 1885 Whitewood boasted of two hotels (Woodbine and Alhambra); a restaurant and boardinghouse; billiard parlor; two harness shops; a barber; a butcher; a tailor; jeweler; baker; liveryman; a carriage builder; an undertaker; a lawyer; a doctor and a school.
Incorporation as a Town
Whitewood had not as yet received official town status and from 1882 to 1892 was governed under laws regulating hamlets. Following application to the Legislative Assembly incorporation was granted in 1892 although the Town Seal says 1893. Hugh McDougall was appointed the first returning officer and John Hawkes the poll clerk. The first election on January 30th, 1893 saw James Grierson elected mayor with John Street Sr., Alexander McKenzie, Daniel Hunter and A.E. Hart as councilors. The Town was progressing rapidly with businesses of all descriptions contributing to its growth. In 1889 several residents enlisted to fight in the Boer War. A devastating fire saw a large section of the main street destroyed. In August 1900 a devastating cyclone caused extensive damage to the Town and surrounding area with some loss of life.
Early Law Enforcement
According to Glen Gordon, historical researcher for the R.C.M.P. the first police detachment was opened in 1885 with two constables whose names are not recorded. By 1902 this was reduced to one corporal and one horse (or saddle as it was called). In 1909 N.W.M.P. presence was discontinued and law enforcement became the responsibility of the Town. The subsequent duties of the Town Constable were diverse and in the name of austerity included truant officer, fire chief and Town foreman. By 1950 privately trained officers were hired under contract with a Winnipeg firm to uphold the law. Eventually policing was provided by contract with the R.C.M.P. and so it is today.
The Early 1900’s
Services of all description were now offered from millinery to skate sharpening. 1903 saw the erection of the North Star elevator; the Whitewood Butter and Cheese Manufacturing Co. was operating; 1906 the first baseball club was organized; 1910 the first skating and curling rink and telephone system were completed. Prior to 1910 there was no designated hospital so several women took nursing cases into their homes and cared for them. Doctors in the area would make home visits. The first cottage hospital opened in 1910 and functioned until 1920. In 1920 or 1921 the Munro Block on Lalonde Street became the new hospital with the upper floors containing patient wards and an operating room. Since there was no government support at that time, financing for the hospital auxiliary was provided by volunteers, contributors and monies from the R.M’s of Willowdale and Silverwood and the Town of Whitewood.
The Great War
During 1914-1918 all thoughts concerned the outbreak of World War I and the enlistment of many young folk. The influence of this conflict was felt strongly in this community. One of the original landmarks, the Woodbine Hotel was removed and replaced by an impressive Cenotaph in 1922, to commemorate those who served their country in this way.
The Influence of Agriculture
Agriculture was the main economic engine of the community and services such as hardware stores, implement dealers, blacksmiths, garages and a movie theatre were available. The Agriculture Society was formed in 1883. The first Agricultural Fair in 1884 was a resounding success. In 1888 paid membership was 103. Annual competitions were held showing cattle, horses, swine, sheep, poultry, handwork and school work. In later years seed grain, vegetables, canning, baking, adult crafts and school exhibits were added. The Society sponsored various entertainment and drama competitions which included surrounding rural schools. The organization remained active until 1974 when it held its last Fall Fair and was taken over by the 4H Club.
A Modern Community
WWI brought many changes to the community. The following years brought the first street lighting and the first Ford car. In 1926, Gerald Foster, a General Motors dealer, purchased the first snowmobile. 1928 saw the Town link up with neighboring towns in a 20 year franchise to supply power from the Northern Light and Power Co. In 1929 the original C.P.R. station was replaced with a new one and the jail and weigh scale moved and upgraded.
The Great Depression
Like other towns Whitewood suffered through the Dirty Thirties and depression. Adding to the trouble was a case of smallpox so all children were compelled to be vaccinated. Many families were obliged to seek Relief and the government conducted make-work programs such as highway construction on #9 and the building of a new Post Office. The 1937 Coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth called for a celebration with the presentation of medals to the school children and the planting of two commemorative evergreen trees at the school.
The Second World War
Alas, 1939 brought us World War II with the enlistment of many young men and women. Things such as coal, butter, sugar, steel and gasoline were rationed. The sale of War Bonds flourished. The newly established Red Cross and many other organizations laboured tirelessly for the war effort. Ingenuity played a large part in overcoming obstacles as was shown when the Legion Ladies canvassed the Town for a tablespoon of sugar per household in order to serve drinks at the Sports Day. The movie theatre flourished and regular Saturday dances were the place to be. Blood donor clinics were held regularly and many people got their first car, telephone or washing machine. May 8, 1945—the War (in Europe) is over! A day of celebration was in order with church bells, flags; a parade of WWI Veterans, children and representatives of all stripes. A huge bonfire was lit where an effigy of Hitler was burned. On May 13th special Peace day services were held in all local churches. The return of service personnel brought change. War had brought prosperity.
The Boom Years
The rains returned to the drought stricken prairies heralding a flurry of business activity. New businesses opened up, old ones were renewed or changed hands. Old landmarks such as the livery stable and blacksmith shops were torn down. In 1947 the Sports Day boomed with 6000 in attendance enjoying demonstrations by native people, a midway, horse races, ball games and a dance. 1950 saw the first diesel locomotive come through Town. In 1951 another landmark, the original Hudson’s Bay Store and living quarters, which had been used as a residence for many years, was torn down.
In 1957 Whitewood suffered another severe blow when five businesses on the main street were destroyed by fire. Ever resilient, a building boom followed which included a new hospital, post office, service station, motel and Town office. The 1960’s were a busy time when a ten-unit senior citizen’s lodge and the advent of a Town water and sewer system came into being. Two more firsts – the Mainline Hereford Show and Sale and the telephone system changed to dial. A marathon cattle sale at the Francis Auction Mart sold 2,610 animals in eighteen and a half hours. Fire struck again in 1969 when the Legion Hall burned to the ground. Insufficient insurance was carried but a year and a half later with much volunteer help a new and more practical one was built. It opened in July 1970.
The 1970’s – Growth and Change
Entering the 1970’s, Chicago BlackHawks hockey star Bobby Hull and his family made their home in Whitewood while he invested in the cattle business. Telephone service now became direct dial. Building permits were issued for a new Wheat Pool Elevator and Esso dealers office; renovations to the Car Wash and a ten-unit Senior Citizens complex. The Whitewood Community Park containing a swimming pool paddling pool, concession booths, golf course, camping facilities, ballpark and air strip opened in 1971. By 1975 the 22-unit Senior Citizens apartment building was ready.
Through the 1970’s and 1980’s businesses continued to open or expand. The Whitewood and District Nursing Home and the Whitewood Inn were completed.
The Town’s Centennial
Looking forward to 1992 plans were formulated for a year-long celebration to commemorate the Town’s Centennial (1892-1992). A two-volume history book, Crossroads Country-Whitewood -and Area, was compiled and published. The year was filled with feasting, parades, dances, games and social events of all description Nostalgia reigned with the renewal of old acquaintances. The HOMECOMING was a tremendous success.
Serving the Community
The 1990’s, like the previous ten decades, brought their own challenges. Health care and education have always played an integral part in Whitewood’s history since very early times. By 1936, the hospital in the Munroe Block, as previously mentioned, was strained to its limit so the J.G. Cuming residence was purchased. Following alterations to meet government regulations and qualify for grants, there was now provision for fifteen patient beds. By 1957 it became evident that a more modern one-level facility was required. The Town and two Municipalities became members of the Moosomin Union District and a $100,000 ten-bed hospital was opened in 1959. A major upgrading in 1974-1975 and again in 1988-1990 modernized the building. Until 1984, ambulance service was provided by private individuals. That year the Whitewood District Road Ambulance was formed and a fully equipped up to date ambulance purchased. In the beginning it was manned by trained volunteers. However after further extensive training in all aspects of emergency such as Trauma and disaster the staff is now paid on a per trip basis. In 1990 a new state of the art ambulance was purchased, staffed by professional personnel.
November 1984 saw the completion of the thirty-bed Whitewood and District Nursing Home. It employs 40-50 persons and provides level three and four care. Services are enhanced by the Whitewood and Percival Ladies Auxilaries and a dedicated group of volunteers who make life more enjoyable for the residents. Meals on Wheels are prepared at the Nursing Home and delivered by volunteers. In 1993 the Hospital was closed and a large Health Centre with improved laboratory and X-Ray facilities, an Alzeimers wing and ambulance housing was added to the Nursing Home.
Education Through the Years
Education also played a major part in the history of Whitewood. The first recorded classes were conducted unofficially by private persons. An official school was established in 1886 in an unpretentious structure that later became a police barracks and which was eventually destroyed by fire. The original school board consisting of B. Limoges, J.J. Westcott and Daniel Hunter held their first meeting in the waiting room of the railway station. J. Hewgill was appointed the first inspector of the new School Division #57 in the North West Territories With a rapid increase in attendance a new two-story stone structure was erected and opened in 1888. The upper story was later used as a Masonic Lodge room and then an army barracks for the 217th Battalion in WWI. A large bell was purchased which summoned future classes for many years. In 1896 two additional lots were added to the school grounds and in 1898 the Immigration Hall from the north side of Town was moved closer to provide another classroom. A fourth classroom was added in 1904. In 1909 an imposing new six-room edifice was opened. This contained regulation size classrooms with wardrobes, blackboards arranged on two walls of each, up to date ventilation, lighting, heating, toilets and urinals, two playrooms and a teachers room for library and Board meetings. It was required that an attendance officer be appointed who was vested with the powers of a peace officer in order to prevent truancy. In 1932 Whitewood School won acclaim as having the second-highest standard of achievement in the province.
During WWI and with the building of rural schools, attendance dropped considerably but the depression of the thirties hit particularly hard. Children dropped out to work at home or look for jobs. In 1947 control of the school passed from the local Board to the larger Broadview School Unit. 1947-1948 saw the publication of the first School Year Book entitled “The Green and Gold”.
A fire on December 9, 1951 demolished the school, destroying documents of lasting value to the community. Accommodation for the students was provided in various halls and church basements until a new modern eight-room structure was opened in 1953. The post-war baby boom and the closure of rural schools necessitated the bussing of students to Town and the addition of eight more classrooms, a laboratory, gymnasium and library. By 1965 six more classrooms were added to keep abreast of educational demands.
The first kindergarten was held in a private home until 1960 when the Home and School Association rented a little cottage for use as a kindergarten. This continued until kindergarten became an integral part of the school system. Enrollment reached an all-time high in 1970-1971 with 639 students. In recent years a school secretary has been hired and the use of computers for record keeping has eased the teacher’s workload. Special education classrooms became part of the system and teacher’s aides were hired to assist students with learning disabilities. The prestigious Governor General’s Medal has been won by several students and sports activities have produced high achievers in that field.
The Arts & Entertainment
Arts and entertainment were not lacking from the very beginning. Social gatherings brightened the existence of the community and surrounding country alike. There have been very few periods when Whitewood was without a band. One of the earliest documented bands was organized by school Principal W.H. Hudson in 1899, although there is a record of a Jack Connell as bandmaster in 1898.
The years 1901 and 1911 mention a band and an orchestra both of which show several French Counts as participants. Over the years family groups, individual performers such as violinists and singers as well as choirs and drama groups provided relief from the hard daily grind. In the early 1880’s the mouth organ played by Charles Davis is probably the earliest entertainment mentioned in Whitewood history followed by the renowned and talented Guerin Family who delighted the people with their presentations of classical music and plays. Aside from traveling road shows that came and went people depended on local talent for fancy dress balls, country dances, weddings and social gatherings.
Music has always played an important role. During 1960 band enrollment was at an all-time high when Robert Mossing was band-master and Ainsley Nicol marching instructor. Along with the majorettes this Band has won many awards. Glee clubs, choirs, soloists, dramas, concerts, musical revues, operettas. Remembrance Day Services and in recent years Dinner Theatre provided the community with entertainment.
The Whitewood Art Club was formed in 1974 when beginner classes were offered by the local Community College. Shows were and still are held on various occasions to display the artistic talent of the members. The well-known Saskatchewan Artist Yvonne Kydd nee Paquin was born and raised in Whitewood. We are proud to claim her as one of our own. Lately an enthusiastic group of volunteers has been bringing history to life with the creation of several large murals depicting life as it was during the early years.
The Heart of the Community
Through more than a century of its existence Whitewood has laboured to be an upcoming community. Today like many towns of approximately 1000 people we struggle to retain young people as well as the services that make it a viable and thriving town. Our community has paved streets, water and sewer, a well-organized fire department, garbage disposal and recycling, ample affordable housing for seniors accompanied by a Harmony Club hall where they can associate, two museums, a veterinary clinic, funeral home, a Bank and Credit Union, two motels, two groceries, five cafes, cattle auction, car dealer, a pharmacy and many other businesses and services. An active Economic Development Committee works for the enhancement of the Community. In 1892 the first issue of the Whitewood Herald came off the press and has been published continuously since that time. It is now owned by the Ashfield Family, well known in the weekly newspaper business.
At one time we were fortunate to have two Doctors, but now we have one. Where once we prided ourselves on having several elevators we now have only one Line Company, Paterson, plus a new high capacity cement structure built by Pioneer Grain. The Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, which was once a major player in the community, now has only storage and fertilizer distribution.
In 1999 the citizens were shocked when the Arena burned to the ground. By the end of another year a modern up-to-date Arena rose from the ashes of the old. Hockey, which has been a part of our history from the very early years, is still the major sport enjoyed by the community, accompanied by Figure Skating, Basketball, Baseball, Soccer and Golf.
No history would be complete without the mention of the contribution made by volunteers. From the very beginning the concept of working together, helping one’s neighbor and striving for the betterment of the community has always prevailed. Without the help of volunteers much less would have been accomplished.
Whitewood has been blessed with the contributions made by many organizations such as R.C. Legion and Ladies Auxiliary established in 1927 and 1933 respectively; Ashlar Masonic Lodge (1891); Eastern Star (1945); Red Cross (1939); Seniors Harmony Club (1972); Knights of Columbus (1972); B.P.O. Elks (1956); Royal Purple (1962); Kinsmen and Kinettes (1979); Agricultural Society-4H (1883, ongoing). Boy Scouts and Cubs (1911); Girl Guides (no record); Ladies Auxiliaries to various churches, the Arena and Nursing Home to name a few.
As we move forward into the next century we can look back with pride on the determination and accomplishments of our forebears. Thankfully the pioneer spirit and firmness of purpose of our predecessors remains alive and well in today’s citizens making Whitewood a great place to live.