Maps and Climate
Geomorphology
and Geology
Forest Ecology
Grassland Ecology
Wetland Ecology
Human History
Provincial Park

Human History

Native People
North West Mounted Police
Early Settlement

Native People
"For hundreds of years the Cypress Hills were a place of rich and varied flora and fauna that Aboriginal peoples of the prairies relied upon for their subsistence" (Hildebrandt and Hubner, 1994). The Cypress Hills provided shelter, food, and the long and narrowed lodgepole pine that were used as poles on their lodges and travois. "For some of the Aboriginal peoples, this land...was believed to be the place where the weather came from: 'The Thunder Breeding Hills'"(Hildebrandt and Hubner, 1994). So in addition to providing for the basic physical needs of people, the Hills were believed to be a great spiritual place.


Photograph by Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, Alberta

"Remnants of a campsite dating back some six thousand years have been discovered near Elkwater Lake on the Alberta side of the Cypress Hills, putting human presence in the Hills as early as the Fluted Point era" (Hildebrandt and Hubner, 1994). The Fluted Point era dates from 10,00 to 8,000 BC and is characterized by big game (mammoth, mastodon) hunting.

From 500 to 1700 AD, Native culture on the plains revolved around the bison (buffalo). The horse was brought to Mexico by Spanish explorers and, by the 1700s, could be found in the area that is now southern Alberta and Saskatchewan. After the horse, came the gun, then the trader.
(Hildebrandt and Hubner, 1994)

"The Metis, a people of mixed native and European ancestry, were born of the fur trade. With a mixture of native and French Catholic traditions, their society was based on farming, trapping, a strong community, and the annual buffalo hunt."
(Cyress Hills Interprovincial Park, Alberta)

The Metis followed the patterns of the bison; on to the grasslands in the summer and retreating to woodlands for the winter. As winter approached, the Metis would find a sheltered valley and each family would build a small one room cabin, made of logs and mud, with a roof of sod.
(Cyress Hills Interprovincial Park, Alberta) "Metis hiverants [Metis who have settled for the winter] may have arrived in the Cypress Hills as early as 1868 [from the Red River area of Manitoba], and throughout the 1870s wintering villages were common" (Hildebrandt and Hubner, 1994). "A number of early sites are known to have been occuped by Metis families, and it has been estimated that there were approximately fifteen major Metis settlements and campsites throughout the Cypress Hills" (Hildebrandt and Hubner, 1994).

In 1966, archaeologists found the remains of a Metis village, consisting of 19 cabins, which is known as the Kajewski Cabin Site. "Various artifacts were uncovered, including musket balls, cartridge cases, bison bones, fragments of china, brass buttons, beads, nails, metal tools, thimbles and pieces of a china doll. Analysis of the artifacts showed that they all originated before 1885, pre-dating the arrival of European settlers..."(Cyress Hills Interprovincial Park, Alberta).

The disappearance of the bison in the 1870s signalled the end of a way of life for both the Native people of the plains and the Metis.

The name "Cypress Hills" originates from an incorrect translation of the French "montagne aux cypres". The term "cypres" was used by French-Canadians and Metis to refer to the jack pine and the lodgepole pine. There are no cypress trees in the Cyprss Hills. (Cyress Hills Interprovincial Park, Alberta)

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump
Bison - Canadian Wildlife Service
Metis Links

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North West Mounted Police

Map of North West Mounted Police detachments in the Cypress Hills in 1872.

"On July 8, 1874, three hundred Mounted Police left Fort Dufferin, Manitoba, their temporary headquarters, and headed for the territories they were to patrol. The NWMP were dressed in scarlet, in the best British tradition, to distinquish themselves from the blue of the American calvary"(Hildebrandt and Hubner, 1994). This became known as The Great March West. "As is evident from the Mounties' own reports, the March was a disaster even by the standards of the day" (Hildebrandt and Hubner, 1994). Food and water were scarce, wagons were always breaking down, and floods, snowstorms, and the summer heat were obstacles to their progress. "During the winter of 1874-1875 the troops of the NWMP were spread across the West from Winnipeg to the Rockies. They had marched first to southern Alberta, where indiscriminate whisky trading had been taking place. The Mounties were still concerned about reports of whisky trading activities in the Cypress Hills and plans included construction of a substantial fort in the Hills under the direction of Supt. James Morrow Walsh"(Hildebrandt and Hubner, 1994).

Fort Walsh was built in 1875 and was used for 8 years. Located in Cypress Hills, Saskatchewan, "...the police extended law and order to the region, dealt with whisky traders, with local native tribes and with the thousands of Sioux warriors who sought refuge in Canada after confrontations with the calvary in the United States"(Fort Walsh, pamphlet). Fort Walsh was formally declared a National Historic Site in 1972.

Fort Walsh National Historic Site (Saskatchewan)
Forth Walsh National Historic Site

1918 Royal North West Mounted Police (photo gallery)
1919 Royal North West Mounted Police Barracks (photo gallery)
Brief RCMP History
History of the RCMP
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Early Settlement
"The cattle industry in the Cypress Hills began with the NWMP herds that were brought in to feed starving Indiancs between 1879 and 1883. The cattere were brough to Fort Walsh from the south through contracts for beef with the I.G. Baker Co.. Before the disappearache of the buffalo there had been no cattle to speak of because on the open range bulls were killed by the buffalo bulls and the cows would drift off with the buffalo herds"(Hildebrandt and Hubner, 1994).

"The first cattle ranchers in the Cypress Hills settled near the fort [Fort Walsh] in the years before the CPR [Canadian Pacific Railway] passed through Maple Creek [Saskatchewan] in 1883"(Hildebrandt and Hubner, 1994).

With the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885, the Great West was opened up for settlement. The promise of cheap land, a fresh start, and freedom attracted people from all over the world.

For $10, an individual would register with the Government of Canada for 160 acres of land. The individual then had three years to build a house, cultivate the land, and live on it for half of each year. If the individual completed this in three years time, they were granted the deed to the land. Many individuals and families were not successful. The "land of promise" was not the easy paradise many had imagined.

In the summer, prairie fires ravished the landscape. The lack of water for humans, livestock, and crop was a continual threat to survival. And the insects could be so intense that man and animal both went crazy. In the winter, a blizzard could easily cover the small sod buidlings families called home. It was not uncommon for a rope to be tied between the barn and the house in order to prevent individuals from loosing their way between the two. Such a rope was called a "lifeline".

Food was, for the most part, meagre. Many settlers had to rely on what was provided by the environment in which they lived. For some, rabbits, prairie dogs, and fowl were the only means of staying alive.

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