Town Office

Brief History of Fort Qu'Appelle and Lebret

The Valley of Fort Qu'Appelle

Ages ago, the geologists say, there was a great inland sea covering what now are the prairies. Much later a glacial ice cap pushed down from the north levelling the terrain and as the glacier melted it formed a great lake. When the water receded the mighty rivers were born and it is said in time the height of land below diverted the flow of the southern river at Elbow to join the northern river, leaving the Qu'Appelle to continue to develop on its own. We see the results today in the beautiful chain of lakes which grace the one hundred and sixty mile course of the Valley to its junction with the Assiniboine at St. Lazare.

The Cree and the Saulteaux, nomads of the prairies, no doubt knew the valley well in pre-history time in their search of the buffalo, which found shelter in these wooded coulees during winter. de Ia Verendrye is the first white man in authentic record to have seen the western plains in 1738. Whether or not he viewed the valley is not recorded.

The first to refer to the Qu'Appelle Valley were the fur traders. Daniel Harmon of the North-West Company made mention of the valley in his journal in 1804. John McDonald, another employee of the Company, visited the area about the same time. The great explorer, David Thompson, mapped the valley showing the location of the trading posts of the North-West Company at the then turn of the century. North-West Traders were active in the area long before the Hudson's Bay Company had moved beyond the Red River.

It is recorded that Abbe Provencher from the Red River visited the valley in 1819. The Abbe a few years later was named the first Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church in the West. Records also show that the Anglican missionary Rev. John West visited the lower valley in 1822. In 1823 Abbe Picard from Pembina visited this area and stayed for a while with John McDonald of the North-West Company. Palliser and Hind spent some time in the Valley in 1857 and 1858.

There are many interesting legends surrounding the naming of the valley. Pauline Johnson in her hauntingly beautiful poem "The Legend of the Qu'Appelle" tells the Indian Legend of how the valley got its name. The name likely derived from the Cree name "Kahtapwao" which in that language means 'What is calling?" The Indians gave the name to the last in the chain of four lakes (now known as Lake Katepwa) for tradition had it that spirits inhabited the shores of the lake and old time Indians heard voices while paddling their canoes - the only other sound being the dip of the paddles. French was the language of the North-West Company and the translation of 'Kahtapwao'' to "Qu'Appelle'' was quite natural.

Fort Qu'Appelle

Explorer Thompson, North-Westers Harmon and McDonald, Missionaries Provencher and West were the earliest known whites to have been in the area at the turn of the nineteenth century The Hudson's Bay Company records mention trade with the Indians of the Qu'Appelle Lakes about 1855 and it is likely in that year a post was built at or near Troy (now Qu'Appelle) chiefly as a supply point for pemmican and fur gathering.

In 1864 the Hudson's Bay Company built a post on the site of the present Fort Qu'Appelle under the direction of Peter Hourie, who was responsible for transferring the Company's Qu'Appelle Lakes Post at Troy to the new location. He was named Postmaster and was in charge of the post until Mr. Archibald McDonald was placed in charge in 1866 - 1871. Isaac Cowie was given charge of the Fort in 1872 followed by W. J. McLean 1874-1882.

Early maps show Fort Qu'Appelle at the centre of the hub trails. Trails to the east led to Fort Ellice (St. Lazare, Manitoba); to the west to Chesterfield House on the South Saskatchewan River near the Alberta border; trails to the north through the Touchwood Hills Post to Fort Carlton and branching from Fort Carlton to the Green Lake trail to Ile a Ia Crosse, to the Old Fort (Battleford) and Fort Pitt to the west and Fort a la Come and Cuumberland House to the east. Trails also led from Fort Qu'Appelle to Wood Mountarn and Fort Walsh in the Cypress Hills. Trails and commerce of the day all passed through Fort Qu'Appelle in serving the southern half of the territory.

One can imagine the adventure, hustle and bustle, and excitement in the Fort on the arrival of the Red River Cart brigade with its supplies or loads of meat and furs, or the occasion of visits from hunters, traders, missionaries and company oflicials. These were welcorne interruptions in the normal pattern of life at the Fort and the work of processing supplies, packing, storing and shipping.

The first mission in the area was established after surveys conducted by Rev. C. Hillyer of the Church of England in 1852 and 1854. Mr. Charles Pratt, an Indian catechist and teacher, established a mission on the present townsite, building a combination log church, school and home in 1854. Dr. James Hector of the Palliser Expedition visited Pratt's Mission in 1857. Professor H. Y. Hind and his expedition used the Church of England Mission as a base for mapping the Qu'Appelle from its source to its junction with the Assiniboine. Palliser in his reports recognized and praised Pratt's efforts to raise stock and grow agricultural crops. Pratt was succeeded by Rev. James Settee in 1858. The mission was abandoned the following year due to opposition from the Indians who felt a settlement at this point would affect the movement of buffalo into the area. In later years the Anglican Church held their first service in Fort Qu'Appelle on July 3, 1883 and the next year a rectory was built and in 1885 a stone church was built which is still in use today.

Presbyterian missionaries began visiting Fort Qu'Appelle in 1871, and a congregation was formed in 1881 with Mr. Brown in charge. A stone church was built in 1883-1884, which was demolished in 1920 and the present St. Andrew's United Church was built on the same site in 1921. A Methodist Church was built in Fort Qu'Appelle and served a congregation from 1885 to 1894.

Archibald McDonald returned to Fort Qu'Appelle as Chief Factor of the Hudson's Bay Company when the Fort became the Bay District Hieadquarters in 1882 - he remained in this post until he retired in 1911. He was the last of the Chief Factors of the Company and on retiring had given a half century of outstanding service to his Company, his District and this province.

With the arrival of settlers and the passing of the buffalo from the scene, the Hudson Bay Company changed its direction from the supply and fur trade to real estate and stores, and in 1897 went outside the fort to build a general store in Fort Qu'Appelle. This stone building still stands at the corner of Broadway Street and Company Avenue.

Treaty No. 4

The fourth, and the most important of the ten Indian treaties, was signed at Fort Qu'Appelle in 1874 when the Cree and Saulteaux signed away their right to 75,000 sections of South Saskatchewan. Lieutenant Governor Morris of Manitoba and the North West Territories, assisted by Hon. David Laird, Minister of the Interior, and Hon. W. J. Christie, a former Chief Factor of the Hudson Bay Company, were the officials representing the government, escorted by a hundred red-coated militiamen from Fort Garry. Days before the parlaying, the Cree, Assiniboine and Saulteaux were setting up their camps in the flats and coulees. They pow-wow'd for days before the ceremony. Between two and three thousand Indians had gathered for the occasion. Serious objections were raised by the Indians on several occasions during the parlaying and the treaty, which was to be signed on September 8, was finally signed September 15.

Treaty Four Signatories
Chief First Nation
Ka-kii-shi-way Ochapowace
Pis-qua Pasqua
Ka-wez-ance Cowessess
Ka-kee-na-wup Muskowekwan
Kus-kee-tew-mus-coo-musqua Little Black Bear
Ka-ne-on-us-ka-tew Gordon
Can-ah-ha-cha-pew Peepeekisis
Kii-si-caw-chuck Day Star
Ka-ra-ca-toose Kawacatoose
Ka-kii-nis-ta-haw Kahkewistehaw
Cha-ca-chas Ochapowace
Wa-pii-moose-too-sus Starblanket
Meemay Cote

In 1915 the Saskatchewan Branch of the Western Art Association erected a monument in the old school ground, it is now known as Treaty Park. The names of many of the signatories to the treaty appear on the monument.

North West Mounted Police

The North West Mounted Police established a small outpost in Fort Qu'Appelle on the site of the present golf course in 1876, in a small log cabin, with five men under sub-Inspector French. In 1879 the decision was made by Comm. James McLeod to enlarge the post. In July, 1880 "B" Division and headquarters under Sup't. Walsh and Inspector J. S. Steele were transferred to the post, and by the end of that year the post was manned by four sergeants, five corporals and twenty-seven constables under the command of a superintendent, an inspector and two staff sergeants. There was a strength of forty-six horses and two foals. All the lumber for the post was hauled by enlisted men from Swan River and the logs from some distance from the post. From this post the Mounted Police rode out on patrols along the trails to call on settlers and keep the peace over this vast territory.

After the defeat of General Custer at Little Big Horn Montana, in 1876, Chief Sitting Bull and his Sioux took refuge in Canada arriving at Wood Mountain in the spring of 1877. He parlayed with Assistant Commissioner Walsh to be recognized as Canadian Indians arguing their ancient allegiance to the Crown had never been broken. The Sioux were granted sanctuary but little else. The buffalo numbers were declining and there was enmity among the Indians of the area who resented the presence of such a large group of hunters in their hunting grounds which were rapidly being depleted of buffalo. During the winter of 1880-1881 many of the Sioux were starving and in early summer, 1881. Chief Sitting Bull and a band of his warriors came to Fort Qu'Appelle, where the Hudson Bay Post and Indian Department officials were situated, in the hope of obtaining supplies. The post had barely sufficient provisions for its own purposes, and the Indian agent was having problems feeding the Indians under his jurisdiction. Sitting Bull met with Inspector Steele and Commissioner Dewdney again making a strong plea for recognition as Canadian Indians and the granting of a Reserve for his Sioux. The government official refused the request, offering only a minimum amount of food to stave off starvation. Following a visit to the Roman Catholic Mission at Lebret, Sitting Bull returned to Wood Mountain and that summer in the company of Jean Louis Legare, the famous Wood Mountain free trader, he returned to the United States accepting the amnesty offered by the American government.

In July, 1882, the headquarters of the NWMP was transferred from Fort Qu'Appelle to Regina. In 1955 a cairn was erected to mark the site where the NWMP barracks stood. In 1976 an interpretive shelter was officially opened at the same site. Two large plaques designed by the Museum of Natural History outline some of the history of the NWMP.

Rebellion of 1885

Fort Qu'Appelle was chosen by General Middleton as temporary headquarters and base of operations for his troops on their way to Batoche in 1885. The General had brought his troops from Winnipeg by rail to Troy, which he considered to be the nearest spot on the CPR from which a trail led to Batoche, Riel's headquarters in the Indian and Metis uprising. On April 6, 1885, General Middleton and his force of 402 (including scouts) and 120 wagons left Fort Qu'Appelle on their trip north to Batoche up telegraph hill on the Carlton Trail.

The building which General Middleton used for an oflice is said to have been one of the original Hudson Bay fort buildings, having been used as a school for the children of the fort at one time. This is probably the oldest building in southern Saskatchewan and certainly the oldest Hudson Bay building in the Province. It now forms part of the Fort Qu'Appelle Historical Museum and is situated on the site of the original fort. The construction is of logs reinforced by willows and filled in with clay.

Site of the New Capital

Battleford was designated as the seat of government of the North West Territories Act in 1875. With the speeding up of the building of the railway in 1878 and the choosing of a more southerly route along the Qu'Appelle Valley, the capital would have been a long distance from the railway, so a new site for the capital was thought necessary. Lieutenant Governor E. Dewdney was given pretty much a free hand in choosing the site for the new capital in 1882.

There were many advocates for Fort Qu'Appelle for the capital. The year before, however, a group who thought it a foregone conclusion that Fort Qu'Appelle would be chosen bought up most of the property suitable for a townsite and were holding it for an expected windfall. This fact, together with engineering problems, probably were large factors in Dewdney not selecting Fort Qu'Appelle and choosing instead Regina as the new capital. In retrospect, the valley no doubt remains more beautiful now as a result of this decision long ago.


Abbe Provencher visited this area in 1819. In 1823 Abbe Picard from Pembina visited the area and wintered with John McDonald, exbourgois of the North-West Company. The next recorded visit of a missionary was Abbe Belcourt in 1841. There were only three Roman Catholic missionaries from the Red River serving the west during this period and no further record is available until 1864, when Bishop Tache passed through the valley on his way to Ile a la Crosse. There is a tale told of how Bishop Tache and his party came into the valley on this trip at a point on the north side overlooking the place where the Mission was later established. In October of the following year Bishop Tache came back to the valley and stayed at Fort Qu'Appelle with Peter Hourie for a four-week period conducting services and ministering the people. He chose the site for the Mission, later to become the village of Lebret.

In the spring of 1866 Abbe Ritchot of St. Norbert, Manitoba, was sent to open the Mission, building a house-chapel of logs with thatched roof. Father Jules Decorby, Oblate Missionary, came to Lebret in the summer of 1868 as resident priest for 500 families in the area. Records show he erected a cross on the hill in 1871 to commemorate the place where Bishop Tache entered the valley, and today a cross can be seen on the north hill overlooking Lebret.

Father J. M. Lestanc joined Father Decorby two years later to visit far-off posts, wintering often at Machoire d'Original (now Moose Jaw), Wood Mountain, Cypress Hills and Riviere au Lait (Milk River) where he found groups of hundreds of lodges of all tribes, Nez Perce, Assiniboine, Cree, Saulteaux, Sioux. and Metis as well. In 1874 Father Hugonard came to assist Father Decorby, who then moved out along the trails. In 1878 missionary Father St. Germain joined the group. Records show the famous Father Lacombe visited Lebret in 1879 and again in 1894.

The Mission became the centre from which the early missionaries travelled to serve and visit thirty-two posts in this far flung unsettled land from St. Lazare, Manitoba, to Milk River in Alberta. Lebret was the Roman Catholic centre for Metis and Indians of southern Saskatchewan in the early days of the West. An interesting record is that Tom Kavanagh seeded a bushel of wheat which yielded forty bushels in 1875.

The little log church was destroyed by fire in 1869, and rebuilt in 1870 of wood construction, later modified and enlarged. It was used for church services until 1927 and was demolished in 1941. The present church was built in 1925. Bro. de Byle, Oblate lay brother was the architect and builder. (He also built the Seminary across the lake from the Mission in 1927).

Father J. Hugonard was placed in charge of the Mission in 1880, succeeding Father Decorby. About the same time he opened a mission school in the rectory, with he and Mr. Brunet as teachers. In that year Father Hugonard visited Chief Sitting Bull and the Sioux who had taken refuge at Wood Mountain.

In 1884 Father Hugonard built the first residential school in the West, financed by the Dominion Government of the day, for the training of Indian boys and girls. (Father Lacombe established a school in Alberta about this time as well). The first year fifteen children enrolled; in 1893 the school was enlarged to house 225 students. The school and its program became famous under the guidance and the principalship of Father Hugonard. Few missionaries have gained the stature and respect he had. Indian and white alike acclaimed his achievemnents as missionary, conciliator and educator.

Chief Sitting Bull on his visit to Fort Qu'Appelle learned of a large shipment of flour coming to the Mission and they depended on it for food, but he suggested that if they could arrive at a price, he would sell flour to him and give the proceeds to his people. The story is told that Sitting Bull remained silent for a time then took his blanket and asked how much flour it would buy. Trading of blankets, ponies, etc. for flour followed. Father Hugonard acted as conciliator among the Indian and Metis of the area in the 1885 uprising. and was instrumental in dissuading Star Blanket from taking part in the rebellion.

Father Hugonard remained as principal of the school until his death in 1917. In 1924 there was a celebration and Indian pageant at the Mission to observe the 50th Anniversary of Father Hugonard's coming to the valley. A monument was dedicated to his memory in 1927 and it stands today in a beautiful park at the entrance to the school. The Sisters of Notre Dame des Missions of Lyons, France, founded a convent boarding school in Lebret in 1899.