Hometown history

Author of Tunnels of Moose Jaw series returns for more Friendly City stories

For many who don’t live here, Moose Jaw may seem like a sleepy kind of place, but for one woman who has built a career on telling its stories, it is anything but.
“Even before the books, Moose Jaw has always been a place close to my heart,” said author of the Tunnels of Moose Jaw series Mary Harelkin Bishop. “I travelled there a lot, almost like a getaway place before it became a getaway place with the spa.”
Bishop’s latest effort, Moose Jaw: A History in Words and Pictures, traces the city’s history from its beginning as a place where First Nations peoples came to meet and trade at the Turn to the arrival of settlers and the development of the community as a CPR hub. More than anything, Bishop said she remains enthralled with the history of the city and the province.
“As I was working on the tunnels books, I had to do research into the 1920s and what it would have been like,” she said. “History has always been a big thing for me. The more I researched the history of Moose Jaw, the more fascinated I got about Saskatchewan history and Moose Jaw history and just the wonderful stories there are to tell there.”
One woman in particular captured Bishop’s interest; Annie Smith Wallace was born on Dominion Day — July 1, 1867 — the same day as Canada. She came to Moose Jaw with her parents and became a central figure in the community.
She was also particularly interested in the Lakota peoples who lived in the area, and eventually her work with them led her to help create a Lakota-English dictionary.
“She wasn’t from a dominant culture trying to change them, she wanted to know about them,” Bishop said. “It would have been interesting to actually meet her.”
The author grew up in Saskatoon and has been writing since she was nine years old. Her first published works, fittingly, were the Tunnels of Moose Jaw books. Despite the broad range of time she covers, what keeps Bishop coming back are the similarities between the people she writes about and those who make up the community now.
“Moose Jaw has such a colourful and wonderful history,” she said. “People back then were no different than people today; they had spirit, they had adventure, in a lot of cases, the homesteaders and the settlers came because they were looking for a better life, and wanted the best for their family.”

Editor’s note: MJ Scene will be publishing excerpts of Bishop’s latest book for the six coming weeks. Watch this space for the next instalment, “Next stop: Moose Jaw.”

The following excerpt from the new book, Moose Jaw: A History in Words and Pictures by Mary Harelkin Bishop is reprinted with the permission of MacIntyre Purcell Publishing Inc.

A Rough Beginning
The city now called Moose Jaw began 10,000 years ago when the Indigenous peoples — the Plains Cree, Assiniboine, Lakota and Blackfoot in particular — visited and camped in the Wakamow Valley at the place where the Moose Jaw River and Thunder Creek meet in a tight curve.
The semi-arid, relatively flat treeless prairies stretched for hun- dreds of kilometres, and offered little in the way of drinking water, shelter and firewood. The river valleys and coulees like The Turn pro- vided plenty of water and shelter. Such places were ideal for hunting wildlife such as deer and rabbit and bison grazing just beyond the valley.
The Indigenous peoples made seasonal rounds of travel through- out what are now the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, and beyond. Each year, they stayed in the same camps, including The Turn, while they hunted bison, which was their main source for everything needed for survival, providing not only food—bison meat as well as pemmican, a long-lasting nutritious mixture of bison meat and berries—but clothing, tools, utensils and covering for their tipis.
Starting in the 1600s when the Hudson’s Bay Company established the first trading posts, the Cree travelled great distances to trade such things as bison and moose hides, beaver pelts, furs and pemmican, in exchange for metal cooking pots, beads to decorate clothing, and guns and ammunition for hunting.

Captain John Palliser
A British explorer, Captain John Palliser, visited The Turn in September 1857 as leader of a scientific expedition. Palliser and his team recorded the animals and vegetation they found as well as the geographical landmarks from Lake Superior to the Pacific Ocean. They recorded their encounters with the Indigenous groups.
On visiting The Turn, Palliser is recorded as remembering the friendly Indigenous women camped in the area. The women asked to visit the men’s wives and were surprised to learn that the Europeans had no women travelling with them. Palliser noted that there were many women and children about but that the men were out hunting bison. He also wrote that this area, and much of the southern prairies grasslands were too arid for cultivation and farming. This report was ignored when it came time to settle the west and hapless homesteaders were encouraged to attempt farming in the area.