Moose Jaw was originally settled as a traditional Indian fur traders camp. A narrow crossing of the river, with plenty of water and game for food made this an ideal place for settlement. It was a winter encampment for both Cree and Assiniboine Nations, and there is said to be burial grounds in the vicinity. The natural protection of the Coteau Range, provided the valley with many a “warm breeze”. The Cree word Moosegaw with a “g” meaning “Warm Breezes” is translated to our city’s name Moose Jaw .
The first homestead was established by James Hamilton Ross, Hector Sutherland and three others arrived at the dead of winter on January.2, 1882. Ross established a homestead four days later to become the first permanent resident of the city.
These gentlemen were o
n a scouting tour, in search of the most likely spot for the Canadian Pacific Rail lines (CPR) divisional point. The Canadian Pacific Railway chose the tow site adjacent to the Moose Jaw River to ensure water supply for their steam engines. Both industry and commercial trade expanded with agricultural settlement, and Moose Jaw, because it was a CPR divisional point, was the chosen location for major processing.
The construction of the CPR with 7,600 men and 1,700 teams of horses proceeded west from the Manitoba border in 1882. They reached the settlement site of Moose Jaw in July of 1882. Once the end of the line was through Moose Jaw, population grew rapidly, and by the fall of 1882 there was a vibrant community with stores and saloons and dozens of shacks and canvass tents. By May of 1883 the population of Moose Jaw fluctuated between 2,000 and 3,000.
A major fire in 1891 destroyed the first block of Main Street however, this failed to dampen the zeal of the early pioneers. By 1903, Moose Jaw possessed all the basic essentials of a city and was incorporated as such November 20,1903.
The rapid settlement after the turn of the century brought Moose Jaw to prominence in Western Canada andushered in a commercial and industrial boom period. The Town Council sought and gained City status in November, 1903. As the homesteads spread south and west, Moose Jaw became the wholesale distribution centre for a large trading area and began processing of agricultural products. The railway connections east, west and south drew numerous manufacturing industries and identified Moose Jaw as the leading industrial centre of the province.
Moose Jaw, which is located in the heart of the continents great wheat belt, was soon recognized as an important business educational and cultur
al center in 1903, In fact, it paved the way for a 10 year population explosion. By 1913 the population rose from 2,500 to 14,000.
Bootlegging, gambling and prostitution were thriving, yet literally underground during the period , emanating from a network of tunnels linking many of the city’s hotels and restaurants.
According to fact or fiction, tunnels were built from the former CP Rail station on Manitoba Street to the Cornerstone Inn across the street. A secret above-ground entrance behind the Cornerstone Inn was the hub of a network of tunnels that included one directly across Main Street to the former Exchange Cafe, once one of Saskatchewan’s finest dining establishments. Other tunnel links went north up Main Street and west along River Street to the Royal and Brunswick Hotels.
By 1914, Moose Jaw was realizing an unpredictable boom, the city boasted electricity, paved streets, and a street railway. Moose Javia
ns view their history with a mixture of pride, amusement and ambivalence. The Roaring Twenties brought a measure of notoriety to the city, with “celebrities” like Al Capone rumored to have stayed in downtown hotels. Getaway tunnels are said to exist under many of the downtown buildings. While the tunnels, of which only a few have been found, are generally associated with those heady days, they were actually built decades earlier for the Chinese railroad workers avoiding the “head tax” of the time
Moose Jaw is an urban center with historic charm in the heart of hard wheat country. This gateway to the Southwest Region of Saskatchewan has a colorful past and a wealth of heritage and culture.