History of Swift Current

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wheat field - scThe Swift Current Creek meanders through the prairie from the Cypress Hills to the South Saskatchewan River. The First Nations People knew this creek well. They camped along its banks for centuries. Later, when the fur traders found and forded the creek on their westward treks, they named it “Riviere Au Courant”, or Swift Current.

In 1882, the C.P.R. bridged the creek, and decided to build a depot. Furthermore, Swift Current became the freight terminus for goods hauled north and south on overland trails, and emerged as an integral part of The Battleford Trail that cut the deep wagon ruts we still see today.

At the turn of the century, settlers began arriving from the United States, Europe, and eastern Canada. Swift Current and district became a new home where they could live and prosper. With an economy founded on ranching and farming, the City was incorporated on January 15, 1914. In later years, oil and natural gas discoveries in the area helped to diversify the economy.

100 years later, Swift Current is still a thriving community. It offers a vibrant quality of life, and a strong local economy based on agriculture, oil and gas, and a growing manufacturing sector. 

Origins of the Name
The creek was “Riviere au Courant” to Metis bison hunters.  This name was adopted by the North West Mounted Police during their expedition in 1874.

Undoubtedly, the First Nations People had their own name for it.  Possibly, it was the same Cree word used for the Saskatchewan River that translates to “fast flowing”. John Macoun, the Canadian Naturalist who examined the area for the Department of the Interior in 1880, referred to it as “Strong Current Creek”. Official maps published by that Department as early as 1883 are consistently labelled, "Swift Current Creek".

In 1881, the surveyed line for the CPR went as far west as Swift Current Creek. Early the following year, the townsite of Swift Current was reserved, and development commenced with the arrival of the grader and track layers between September and December 1882. The settlement of Swift Current began the following spring.

In 1898, a Local Improvement District was established. On September 21, 1903, the Hamlet of Swift Current became a village under the Village Ordinance Act; and on March 15, 1907, Swift Current became a town when the population reached 550 people. With the influx of settlers into the district, and business development in the community, Swift Current became a city on January 15, 1914.

The Swift Current
The name, Swift Current, comes from the creek that winds across one hundred miles of prairie from the Cypress Hills to the South Saskatchewan River. This name originated with the early fur traders who called it “Rivière au Courant” (Swift Current Creek). Historically, this creek is responsible for sustaining the life and community of the region.

Before the permanent local settlement, First Nations People travelled the reaches of the creek in search of wild game. Bison, moose, elk, deer, antelope, bear, cougar, wolf, and smaller furbearing animals were found in abundance. Fish and waterfowl were also integral living parts of the Cypress Hills-Swift Current Creek landscape. First Nations camped along the banks of the creek because building materials, firewood, roots, berries, and wild game were readily available.

North West Mounted Police
In 1874, the North West Mounted Police (NWMP) travelled to Rivière au Courant (Swift Current Creek) to prepare the area for the coming railway. Treaty Number Four had been signed with the Cree and Assiniboine to allow surveyors to mark the way for an expanding nation. The NWMP came to establish law and order, and prepare the region for permanent settlement.

In the early 1880s, Louis Riel protested the Crown in the Battleford region. The NWMP patrolled the trail from Swift Current to the Battlefords to ensure supplies used to restrain the Riel Rebellions arrived at their destination. Swift Current became strategically important because it was the main military, supply, and communications centre for the Crown during this conflict. Swift Current was the closest railway shipping point for the Battleford region between 1882 until 1891. The myriad of trade, especially the buffalo bone trade, created heavy ox-cart traffic between the two regions. Because of the large volume of ox-cart traffic, the ruts created during this period are still visible today. The historical significance of this resulted in The Battleford Trail becoming a Heritage Site on October 18, 1982.

Canadian Pacific Railway
The Swift Current settlement continued to emerge. The community became a divisional point for the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), because the creek provided a reliable water supply for their steam rail engines. In 1888, an approximately 400-foot stone and plank dam was erected. Water was drawn from the reservoir, and then pumped to the roundhouse and water tank of the railway station. With the steady water supply and employment brought by the CPR, the lasting settlement of Swift Current was born: Swift Current became a village in 1903, a town in 1907, and incorporated as a city in 1914.

Fraser Tims opened the first business, a general mercantile store, in Swift Current. The first doctor, W.H. Field, arrived in 1903; and the construction of the first hospital began in 1912. The H.C. Powley residence was constructed in the 1912 at 233 Lorne St. E. This shining example of Queen Anne Architecture is still a fixed feature in Swift Current today. Other notable properties include: the example of Gothic Architecture built in 1912, Knox Presbyterian Church, on the corner of 3rd Ave. N.E. and Chaplin St. E.; the present day Court House, constructed in a Classical Architectural style in 1912, on 121 Lorne St. W.; and the example of Western Canadian Classic Revival Architecture, Central School on 121 Dufferin St. W., built in 1914.

Number 39 Service Flying Training School
In 1941, the Number 39 Service Flying Training School was constructed east of Swift Current to train pilots for combat during World War II. This facility was one of the training schools in the Commonwealth Air Training Plan.

Over one thousand servicemen were at the base at all times. These people included instructors, trainees, and support staff. In addition, local people were employed as mechanics, carpenters, cooks, etc. Swift Current’s businesses reaped many benefits by providing goods and services to the base. On their days off, the airmen kept Swift Current restaurants, bars, and taxi companies busy.

Many families welcomed the young trainees. A number of women married officers, and their families rented houses or suites from people in town. Dances, church services, variety shows, Frontier Days, and sporting events, brought the servicemen and community together. Number 39 SFTS closed in March 1944.

Health Region Number One
In 1946, Swift Current became home to Health Region Number One. Health Region Number One had the first universal hospital and medical care program in North America. This model was adopted because the “Dirty Thirties” did not end in Saskatchewan until after World War II, and infant mortality was appallingly high because of the cost of medicine and medical care. This system eventually lead the region to have the lowest infant mortality rate, and it became a functioning model of universal health care for the provincial government when they established the provincial medicare system in 1962. This health region continued to be a model for publicly-funded health care across Canada and the world.

Oil & Gas
Oil and gas were discovered in the region in the 1950s, and brought wildcatters and drillers to the area. The first successful oil find was the Fosterton Well. This well, located thirty miles northwest of Swift Current, was drilled in 1952. The Fosterton Well continued to pump oil for over 40 years, and is now the site of the Fosterton Oilfield Museum. This museum contains displays, artifacts, and an oil rig. The discovery of oil brought growth and prosperity, and this growth and prosperity continues with further oil exploration and development in the region.

Today & Tomorrow
The Swift Current Creek and the railway are still important aspects of the community. Both provide a historic link to our past. The creek demonstrates nature’s role in the development of our community, while the railroad ties the city to distant markets.

Today, Swift Current is located at the junction of Highway #4 and the TransCanada Highway #1. The city is home to over 17 000 residents, and serves the vast South-West Region of Saskatchewan. The community has grown and prospered since its inception. Many individuals and organizations have contributed to, and continue to contribute to, Swift Current’s success.

The previous 100 years have shown the resilience, hard work, and growth of our city. The people of Swift Current will continue to adapt to the needs of the future, and will ensure Swift Current’s long term success and expansion. Much like the Swift Current Creek that carves through the region, the City of Swift Current will continue to “Grow with the Flow” for many years to come.