Honouring the Past: A History of Swift Current by Decade

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Centennial Extravaganza Online Exhibit

This exhibit was displayed at the Credit Union I-plex arena during the opening Centennial Extravaganza event held on January 15, 2014.  Each decade was represented with images and objects from the museum collection and generous loans from members of the community.  Videos showing the historical highlights of each decade were produced in partnership with the local television network. 

Pre-1900: The Early Years

DSCF0055Swift Current came into existence in 1882 when the Canadian Pacific Railway reached the water of the Swift Current creek.  Most of the early residents worked directly or indirectly for the railway, and a steady trade and freight business had been established with the territorial capital of Battleford via the Battleford Trail.  Large tracts of surrounding land were obtained by foreign-owned ranching operations, and for nearly 20 years the southwest region of Saskatchewan was dominated by the ranching industry and Swift Current remained a hamlet.


piapot imageBy the mid-1800s, Southwest Saskatchewan was one of the few remaining prairie hunting grounds for First Nations communities. In 1874, Treaty no. 4 was signed and nearly all First Nations people were moved onto reserves east of Regina.  

Chief Piapot was the last Chief to sign the Treaty, allowing the land to be opened for settlement.

 Image:  Chief Piapot






tims and curryIn the Spring of 1883 a small business district emerged with a dining hall and boarding house, a few shops and other services provided to service the railway workers.  By 1885 there were 207 residents of the hamlet of Swift Current, mostly single men.

Image: Early merchant stores along Railway Street



Ranchhands at 76 RanchIn 1888, men from England and Scotland arrived to establish one of Sir John Lister-Kaye’s "76" Ranches south of Swift Current.  By the mid-1890s, the Swift Current 76 Ranch had become a well-established and successful sheep operation.  Disaster struck in 1901 when an anthrax epidemic caused huge losses among the sheep. Further pressure was placed on the Ranch as land value for grain farming increased and wool prices plunged. By 1905 the local ranch was closed down and the land was opened to homestead settlement.  A severe winter with huge losses in livestock in 1906 dealt the final blow to the ranching era in the region.

Image: "76" Ranch Manager H.P. Clinton and foreman James L. Smart at the Swift Current Ranch


1900s: Establishing a Community

1907 - Town of SC businessesSettlement by homesteaders began in 1903.  Word of Swift Current's bumper crops and prosperous potential reach the east. By 1904 the hamlet obtained village status, and by 1907 Swift Current was a town.  Hotels, restaurants and retail businesses were established, and the first sidewalks were laid.  The population grew steadily every year.






The southwest corner of Saskatchewan opened for homesteading later than the rest of the Province because the land was considered too arid for agriculture. Early homesteaders to the region come mainly from other parts of Canada, Britain and the United States.  Mennonites from Manitoba settled in clusters southeast of Swift Current beginning in 1905.

Image: Unloading settlers' belongings at the railway, c.1907

Imperial Hotel 1906

The Imperial Hotel opened in December 1903.  It quickly became a social centre for settlers coming in to town for supplies, and the first stop for new arrivals off the train before heading out to their claimed section of land. Still in operation, the Imperial is Swift Current's longest running business and one of the oldest buildings in the city.

Image: Imperial Hotel c. 1906



old schoolSwift Current's first school was a converted box car that accommodated the few children of C.P.R. workers and ranchers in the area.  As the number of residents grew and families with children increased, so too did the demand for classes and teachers.  A two-room school building was built in 1904, but was quickly filled, and a large two-storey brick school building opened in 1907. This school, combined with the two other buildings still in use, was still inadequate, and the new school building was doubled in size in 1910. 

 Image:  Students in front of the first Central School





1910s: Building a City

DSCF0058The 1910s began with the Town's first building boom. The countryside filled up with homesteaders.  City electricity and water utilities were provided. Tradesmen and businessmen hung their shingles in the growing community.   Schools were overcrowded and real estate was booming.  By 1914 Swift Current had the requisite 5000 people to attain the status of a city, becoming the 7th in Saskatchewan. Unfortunately, the first challenge that this new city had to meet was the First World War.  This would occupy the city's resources and attention for the remainder of the decade.



Prof BuildingMany prominent buildings were erected during this time period, including several luxury hotels, two large churches, commercial and business blocks, the Court House, the Powley Residence (Swift Current Funeral Home), the Lyric Theatre, a Hospital and the Firehall.

Image: Healy-Booker Block (now Professional Building) on Central Avenue




Proclamation in 1914Swift Current obtained city status in the middle of winter, so celebrations were postponed until July when the natal day festivities could be combined with the annual summer fair. Two large schools opened in this year, Central School and Elmwood School, replacing the old school that was bursting at the seams.  City Hall moved into the vacated former school building and remained there until a fire gutted the building in 1921.

Image: Proclamation published in the Swift Current Sun




209th 2Swift Current sent their reservists, the 27th Light Horse, and two detachments of men overseas to fight in WWI before forming the 209th Battalion, comprised of men from southwest Saskatchewan.  Swift Current's contribution to the war effort demonstrated how mobilized and motivated the community could be.

Image:  209th Battalion training at Camp Hughes in 1916


1920s: Decade of Unrest

1920s exhibit croppedAfter World War I, local residents embraced the return of luxury merchandise at local stores like the W.W. Cooper Departmental Store and Jack Wood.  Local dance halls and theatres like the Lyric and the Eagle Theatre were popular. Unions like the United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters, increased in number and size in the 1920s, and issues like prohibition and increasing municipal debt dominated the papers.  Farming methods and techniques improved dramatically with the establishment of the Dominion Experimental Farm and hopes remained high for a bright future.  




Feb 1, 1918 - Sask Prov Police come to Swift Current 2

From 1918 to 1928, the Provincial Police Force had headquarters in Swift Current to enforce Provincial laws including prohibition and the prosecution of bootleggers.  Although prohibition ended in Saskatchewan in 1925, due to the proximity to the American border, the police were busy with investigating and apprehending those attempting to smuggle alcohol to the United States well into the next decade.

Image:  The Provincial Police Force stationed in Swift Current



1920 - Dominion Experimental FarmThe Government of Canada opened an Experimental Farm in 1920 (now the Semi-Arid Prairie Agricultural Research Centre) outside Swift Current to study and experiment with methods of farming most suitable for the unique, dry prairie region known as the Palliser Triangle. Over the decades, researchers contributed a great deal to the development of successful crop varieties and agricultural practices. Over 90% of the durum wheat and close to 50% of the spring wheat grown in western Canada was developed at this Centre.

Image:  Swift Current Research Station in the 1930s


Lyric TheatreThroughout the 1920s, the Lyric Theatre hosted a variety of political, educational and religious events, as well as the latest in motion pictures, concerts and minstrel shows.  “Talkies,” or movies with sound, premiered at the Lyric in 1929 with “The Desert Song”.  

Image: Lyric Theatre c. 1923


1930s: The Dirty Thirties

On-to-Ottawa TrekThe Stock Market crash crippled the economy in 1929. Thousands of unemployed men passed through the city looking for work.  The years of the Great Depression also included the better part of a decade of drought that was most severe in the Palliser Triangle, including Swift Current.  Local businesses depended upon the surrounding agricultural region for their livelihood, so the city was also hard hit.  

Cooper store 




In the 1930s, bartering was not uncommon; the Swift Current Sun accepted meat and poultry as payment for subscriptions, and traded advertising for groceries from the W.W. Cooper Store.  

Image: The W.W. Cooper Store. For decades it was the largest retail outlet in the Southwest



1931 - Great Depression dry creek bed1937 was the driest year, with only 8 inches of rain in the entire year.  Along with the drought and resulting soil erosion, grasshoppers, cutworms and wheat rust plagued the region.  Many residents packed up and left.

Image:  Swift Current Creek completely dried up in September 1937





A group of young men formed the Kinetic Club in 1937 to lift community spirits. The first Frontier Days was held in 1938.  Residents dressed in frontier-style, decorated the downtown, and even held a beard-growing contest. The excitement attracted 25,000 visitors.  Those without accommodation  slept in cars. Food became scarce. But the celebration put Swift Current on the map and was the beginning of an annual event that continues to this day.

Image:  Bearded members of the Kinetic Club in 1938


1940s:  Modernization and Change

1940s exhibit croppedAs in many communities, the beginning of the Second World War helped Swift Current to recover from the Depression of the 1930s.  Swift Current excelled at Victory Bond sales, participated in salvage drives and hosted recruiting rallies. Postwar years inspired new industry and innovation in the city.  In 1946 the province's first Health Region was established in the Swift Current district as the first publicly-funded healthcare program in Canada. It was later implemented across Saskatchewan and would become the model for the rest of Canada.


SFTS signSwift Current’s airport was chosen as the site of a British Commonwealth Air Training Plan pilot training base.  R.A.F. No. 39 Service Flying Training School opened December 15, 1941.  Approximately 1,500 airmen passed through the training school, earning their military flying wings.  Many friendships were forged between the airmen and city residents, who attended each other’s dances and theatrical performances.  The S.F.T.S. closed in 1944.

Image:  Trainees in front of the entrance sign to No. 39 Service Flying Training School at the airport

horseplant staff 1After the war, Swift Current opened a horse meat processing plant. Horses that had been rendered superfluous by farm mechanization were slaughtered and their meat was pickled and shipped to the starving population of postwar Europe. The plant provided much needed employment for both men and women during the postwar period. With fewer horses available and declining demand, the operation ceased to be viable and the plant closed in 1961.
Image:  Canning room staff at Horse Processing Plant


G8 - Blowtorch in parade c. 1955Blowtorch was a life-sized mechanical horse invented and fabricated by local inventor WC McIntyre around 1947. The fully automated mechanical horse was made from sheet metal, had a 9 horse power gasoline engine, and legs that rolled back and forth in a galloping motion on wheels concealed by the hooves. Blowtorch was ridden in parades in Swift Current and travelled to Calgary and Toronto. 

Image: Blowtorch in the Frontier Days parade in 1955



1950s: A Thriving City

G3 - W.W. Cooper Co. LtdOil and gas were discovered in the area in the 1950s, bringing many exploration and drilling companies to the region.  The post-war baby boom and the discovery of oil created a surge in the population that resulted in a jump in construction and infrastructure projects, increased activity and achievement by community organizations, and downtown development.  New schools and a modern hospital were built. Swift Current entered the broadcasting age as local radio and television stations were founded.  

1952 - Discovery of Oil at FostertonOil was first discovered near Fosterton in January, 1952.  The well was located about 30 miles northwest of Swift Current and was the first commercial oil well in Southern Saskatchewan.  The discovery set off a major boom in economic development of the area as exploration, drilling service and supply companies moved into the area.

The Trans-Canada pipeline, which ran just north of Swift Current and connected the region's oil fields to markets in the east, was completed in 1958.  It was the longest pipeline in the world for two decades and provided natural gas to the city in 1957.

Image: Oil well at Fosterton, 1952




July 10 - Boys Band wins at Calgary StampedeThe Swift Current Boys’ Band travelled to Calgary to compete in the Calgary Stampede parade six times from 1950 to 1956.  Accompanied by rope twirlers and majorettes, the Band captured first prize four times and 2nd place twice. Originally formed with boys from the local Army Cadet Corps in the 1940s, the Band flourished in the city. In 1958, the Band accepted female musicians and the name was changed to the Swift Current Junior Band.  

Image:  Swift Current Boys' Band at the Calgary Stampede, 1950



1956 - cjfb tv stationOn December 23, 1957, Bill and Julie Forst begin broadcasting CJFB – TV (Channel 5), located north of the City on Highway #4.  It was the third station in Saskatchewan and brought television into the homes of people in Swift Current and Southwest Saskatchewan for the first time, featuring both local and network programming. 

Image: CJFB-TV station



1960s: A Time of Transition

DSCF0056The opening of the Trans-Canada Highway spurred the development of new motels, fast food franchises and gas stations which catered to motorists.  More services were located outside the downtown core as Swift Current began the transition from a city built around a railway to an economy reliant on the highway.  Many new homes and public buildings were erected. A great deal of excitement surrounded the Canadian Centennial in 1967 including a trip by the Swift Current Junior Band to Montreal to perform at Expo '67.



The city built a concrete overpass for pedestrian and vehicle railway crossing at 2nd Avenue East in 1960.  A proper railway crossing had been needed in Swift Current from as early as 1912, and a pedestrian bridge built in 1931 was too steep for many and too far from downtown to be popular. The new overpass successfully joined the north and south ends of the city. 

Image:  Ribbon cutting of the new overpass, 1960



PalliserThe increasing number of seniors in the city initiated a push for more facilities for Swift Current's aging population.  A Provincial Geriatric Centre is built in 1963 (later renamed Palliser Hospital) which provided two levels of care for chronically ill patients and the aged.  In 1967, Swift Current’s first Nursing Home opened with a capacity to accommodate 66 residents.

Image: Palliser Hospital



civic centre

The Centennial Civic Centre officially opened in January, 1967.  The facility contained a full-sized indoor arena with spectator seating, and became the home of the city's brand new WHL team, The Swift Current Broncos. The building was expanded and renamed the Credit Union I-plex in 2007.

Image: Centennial Civic Centre


1970s: Embracing Culture

1970s exhibit croppedArts, culture and music thrived in Swift Current throughout the 1970s.  The newly formed Allied Arts Council launched its Stars for Saskatchewan series. Local artists created work and taught at the new gallery.  Multicultural folk festivals were held to celebrate the local ethnic diversity.  The sports community hosted the 1976 Saskatchewan Summer Games, bringing athletes from across the province to the city.




1974 - R.C. Dahl Centre opensThe R.C. Dahl building, constructed in October of 1974, became a centre for the growing arts community of Swift Current. The building, designed by Saskatchewan architect Clifford Wiens, was modern and innovative for its time.  The Swift Current Public Library became the largest in the region and the Art Gallery of Swift Current (initially named the "National Exhibition Centre") featured nationally touring visual arts and science exhibitions.

Image: RC Dahl Centre


folkorama 1979The Swift Current Multicultural Council (SCMC) organized a showcase of cultural heritage in Swift Current and region which they called “Folkorama”.  The event included a variety of food, handicrafts, music and performances by many cultural groups from the city and surrounding region.  Folkorama was a popular annual event in the city for several years.

Image: Ukrainian Dancers performing at Folkorama 1979

summer games 2 


Swift Current was the site of the '76 Saskatchewan Summer Games from August 10th to 15th, 1976. Events included track and field, aquatics, cycling, archery, boating and more. The city hosted 1,500 athletes from across the province. The team from Southwest Saskatchewan placed third in overall standings.

Image: Hurdles event at the 1976 Saskatchewan Summer Games.



1980s: Memorable Moments

DSCF0057The 1980s was a memorable decade for Swift Current with both triumphs and tragedies.  Cultural heritage was celebrated and the Swift Current Old Time Fiddlers travelled extensively around the prairie provinces and recorded several albums. Swift Current's oldest radio station, CKSW, became a popular country music station with stimulating programs and well-known radio hosts. With the help of municipal tax incentives, the newly created McIntyre Industrial Park was filling up with manufacturing companies and industries that were bringing new life and opportunities to the city.



Karen McBean

14 year old Swift Current resident, Karen MacBean, won the 1984 Miss Teen Canada competition. MacBean was the youngest contestant in the nationally televised pageant held in Toronto, and competed against 35 other contestants from across Canada.

Image: Karen MacBean speaking at a meeting of the Quota Club.






1989 - broncos memorial winOn May 13, 1989, the Swift Current Broncos won the Canadian Hockey League Memorial Cup. The win was particularly significant as it came on the heels of a tragic team bus accident only two and a half years earlier in which four Bronco players lost their lives.  Heralded as one of the greatest comeback stories in sports history, the team was among the inaugural inductees into the Saskatchewan Hockey Hall of Fame in 2012.

Image: 1989 Memorial Cup Championship team photo


Art WallmanIn the late '70s, Swift Current's CKSW radio station secured the 570 frequency on the dial and produced programming that catered to the rural life of the region. The station grew in popularity throughout the next decade.  Art Wallman, CKSW's Country music disc jockey, became one of the most popular disc jockeys in the country. The mixture of music and announcing on his daily "The Tractor Line" show became an important part of many Southwest Saskatchewan residents' lives.

  Image: Art Wallman at the CKSW radio station





1990s: Building Community Spirit

The 1990s saw a decline in local businesses and a number of downtown shops appeared vacant.  The desire for community morale boosting and increased tourism to the city prompted innovative and creative campaigns.  An Entrepreneurial Centre was created to stimulate and encourage new business ventures.  Local pride was bolstered as the Swift Current Indians baseball team won the Western Major League Baseball Championship five times, and the local high school band and choral groups were highly successful in national and international festivals.

vision3The Chamber of Commerce spearheaded a campaign called Vision '90s to energize the people of Swift Current in an effort to draw new customers to the city and encourage local shopping.  In 1990 they sold hot pink bandanas as a promotion.  Regional MLAs wore them in the Provincial Legislature and the stands were filled with pink at the annual rodeo.  A pink Cadillac was donated by the local car dealerships.  The campaign continued for two more years with additional activities and promotions.

Image:  Pink cadillac promoting Vision '90s


sparMcIntyre Industrial Park was developed on the east side of the city in late 1979 to provide amenities for manufacturing and processing industries. The more than 40 fully serviced industrial lots were filling up with many large manufacturing companies through the 1990s, corresponding with the region's general growth due to a new boom in oil production.  By 2006 the park was completely full and another 47 lot Industrial Park area had to be opened.

Image:  Spar Group Manufacturing in McIntyre Industrial Park


little theatre 2Swift Current's Little Theatre moved into its permanent home in the city's Regional College in 1992.  The popular community theatre group has performed hundreds of plays since its beginning in 1933, and is completely run by volunteers.

Image:  Swift Current Little Theatre performance of Harvey in 1992.

2000s: A New Millenium

DSCF0051Swift Current has remained the "hub of the great southwest," providing goods and services to farmers and industries in the region.  It has grown as a centre of arts and culture with the building of a casino with an attached performing arts venue, the development of an internationally recognized Windscape Kite Festival and Long Days Night Music festival, and the theatrical and musical events hosted at the newly renovated historic Lyric Theatre.  Ongoing development of the downtown and city services only enhances the growing city.


hospital construction picA number of large-scale building projects were completed in the 2000s including multi-level corporate businesses downtown and a new, state-of-the-art regional hospital. City services were also relocated into renovated spaces including City Hall and the Swift Current Museum.

Image:  Construction of the Cypress Regional Hospital in 2007.
August 27 - Kiwanis sk8 park

The Swift Current Skateboarding Association raised money for years until they had accumulated half of the cost of building a park. The Swift Current Kiwanis Club matched that, and the city provided the property. The Kiwanis Sk8 Park opened in 2005. The 10,000 square foot park was built with features to suit all levels of ability for skateboarding, BMXing, rollerblading and long boarding.

Image: Kiwanis Sk8 Park in 2013



September 1 - Newcomer Wecome CentreOne of the first “gateway” immigration support centres in the province opened in the community’s regional college campus in 2007.  The Southwest Newcomer Welcome Centre addressed a growing need from new immigrants and temporary foreign workers arriving in the city to fill labour gaps in the manufacturing, hospitality and service industries.  In 2010, the Centre moved to its current downtown location.  It continues to be a valuable resource for newcomers to Swift Current and its surrounding region.

Image: The Southwest Newcomer Welcome Centre






The Swift Current Museum would like to acknowledge the contributions of the following staff and community members toward the design, construction and presentation of this exhibition:

Hugh Henry
Shann and Ray Gowan
Stephanie Kaduck
Kim Houghtaling and staff of Art Gallery of Swift Current
Cindy Hoskin
Rachel Wormsbecher
Lloyd Begley
Overtime Communications
Centennial Event Volunteers

Volunteer Interpreters:
Chris Harrow
Mel Friesen
Kathy Hopfner
Sue Stepphun
Bob Jamieson
Eric Uglem
Carol Stewart
George Bowditch