chief poundmaker grave
Our Stories

Different Cultures, Prairie Neighbours

Cultures, political systems, religious persuasions and individual personalities have influenced the degree of peace that existed, here, between neighbours. Our museum would like to understand these events so that we may learn from the mistakes, celebrate the successes and promote understanding and acceptance. Just north of the Cut Knife town site, two historic battles took place:

BATTLE AT BROKEN KNIFE’S LOOKOUT

This battle was fought at the highest hill in the area, in the 1840s, between the Cree and the Tsuut’ina (formerly known as the Sarcee) from the Blackfoot Confederacy. The invading Tsuut’ina chief, Broken Knife (later loosely translated to Cut Knife), was defeated. But, the Cree had greatly appreciated his fighting ability and so named the hill after him to honour his skill. One of the Sarcee warriors escaped and returned to his home to tell the story.

chief poundmaker grave
Chief Poundmaker Historic Site

When the town forefathers were looking to name the settlement, they decided to use the name of the hill as it was a significant landmark to the north.

In 2016, a monument was erected on Broken Knife’s Lookout to commemorate the event and to relate the story from both the Cree and the Tsuut’ina perspective. Broken Knife’s Lookout – Nation to Nation Reconciliation

BATTLE AT CUT KNIFE CREEK HILL

The 1885 Battle at Cut Knife Creek was one of a series of violent outbreaks which came to be known as the Northwest Resistance. Federal troops, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Otter, marched west from Fort Battleford to attack Pîhtokahanapiwiyin’s (Chief Poundmaker’s) camp at Cut Knife Creek. The militia was defeated by the Cree’s guerrilla tactics under the leadership of war chief Fine Day. The troops withdrew and were only saved from slaughter due to the intervention of Pîhtokahanapiwiyin.

This was the last defeat of government forces in the 1885 Resistance.

Shifting Riel-ity: The 1885 North-West Rebellion: Was it a bang-up job or a bungle? A fresh look at the response to the 1885 North-West Rebellion.

2010 Re-enactment of the Battle of Cut Knife Creek

POST-REBELLION RESIDENTS

In the early 1900s, life on the prairies was harsh for all who lived here.

European settlers often came to their homesteads with very little material goods. Neighbours would band together to help one another with large projects, to socialize with each other to make life less lonely, and to work together to establish a community. Immigrants came from all across Europe, the United States and eastern Canada and many chose to settle near people of their own culture, such as the Italians who put down roots in the Baldwinton area.

The Cree, trying to adapt to reserve life in the post-1885 years, were also having a very difficult time. Restrictions placed upon reserve residents were harsh. Travel off the reserves and between the reserves was controlled by a government representative. Ensuring that everyone had enough to eat was a constant struggle. But, in this community, as well, neighbours helped one another, socialized together, and worked together to build their community.

Cultural differences, language barriers and government rules were felt by everyone living in the Cut Knife area.

2019 reconciliation celebration
Our Stories

2020 MAS Award of Merit

Recipients of the 2020 Museums Association of Saskatchewan Award of Merit for ‘Institution projects over $50,000’ were Clayton McClain Memorial Museum, Little Pine First Nation & Lucky Man Cree Nation for Moving Forward with Reconciliation.

award of merit for cmmm, little pine first nation, lucky man cree nation for moving forward with reconciliation project
Moving Forward with Reconciliation event, 2020

~ from the Nomination:

“The Clayton McLain Memorial Museum is a small-town museum located in Cut Knife Saskatchewan. The Museum is located on Treaty 6 Territory and has a rich history of partnership with surrounding Indigenous communities.

The summer of 2019 was a very busy summer for the Clayton McClain Museum. Thanks to a generous grant from the National Indian Brotherhood Trust Fund the museum was able to partner with Little Pine First Nation and Lucky Man Cree Nation on a three-part project called “Moving Forward with Reconciliation” that was initiated by Chief Wayne Semagnuis and councilor Richard Checkiosis of Little Pine First Nation.     

The first event was held on July 2, 2019 in Fort Walsh SK to recognize 140 years since Chief Minahequosis (Little Pine) and Chief Papaway (Lucky Man) were coerced into signing an adhesion to Treaty 6 because their people were suffering from forced starvation. This memorial event and was attended by over 550 people. It connected the attending members of Little Pine First Nation and Lucky Man Cree Nation to their ancestors and traditional territories by offering a feast and a mini pow wow in their honour. Jimmy O’Chiese of the Yellowhead Tribal College in Edmonton Alberta spoke and told the Cree Creation Story and how it is intimately linked to the Cypress Hills, as well as introducing the concept of land-based education for those in attendance.

The second part of the celebration took place in Cut Knife on July 5, 2019 and was attended by over 350 people. This event connected the local Indigenous people to the sacred artifacts that are held in trust in the collection of the Clayton McClain Memorial Museum. These items are normally kept separate from the rest of the collection in a secure area and are cared for by Elders through ceremony and protocol, but were brought out to be displayed for the day after the blessings and a smudging ceremony. This event also included a traditional feast and a much larger mini pow wow with dancers from Little Pine, Lucky Man, Sweetgrass and Saddle Lake. The feast and pow wow were used to honour the sacred items and the ancestors who used them in ceremonies. Another important part of the purpose of having the event in Cut Knife was also to educate people about the events that occurred 140 years ago.        

The third part of the event took place on September 9, 2019 at Fort Pitt and was attended by approximately 150 people. This conclusion to the celebrations connected the Indigenous people in attendance to Treaty 6 territory and the lands they ultimately came to reside upon.

This three-part celebration heralded many firsts for many of the people involved. Overall, it was an event that should be remembered as a step towards ongoing reconciliation – a journey where there is still much more work to be done.”

cut knife cemetery gates
Our Stories

Cemeteries & Family Histories

The Cut Knife Cemetery, like so many others in Saskatchewan, is over one hundred years old and, meandering through on a Sunday afternoon, it is easy to recognize the older graves. Lettering has eroded on many of the softer marble stones and names and dates on others have filled with mosses and lichens, both of which make the inscriptions difficult to read and the graves to identify. A few headstones have broken, a few plots have remained unmarked for reasons unknown. Perhaps, there are records that can fill in the gaps, perhaps not.

lichen covered grave marker

Cemetery records everywhere, especially the older ones, are notorious for being lost, or damaged, or destroyed in fire and flood. This makes it especially difficult for families who are searching, at a distance, for an ancestor. A grave connects a person to a place and provides a context; a grave marker records vital statistics. Sometimes, a marker can also shed light on a personality through the choice of epitaph, the presence of religious or association symbols, nicknames, etc. When both records are no longer accessible, a vital piece of family history is lost.

wooden cross

Many rural cemeteries are cared for by volunteers and are just not in a position, financially, to undertake large restoration projects. In addition, the volunteer hours required to clean, photograph and annotate a whole cemetery of headstones is probably not realistic, either. Maybe, a simpler approach would work . . . providing online accessibility to researchers. . . 24/7?

CanadianHeadstones.com is a volunteer-driven, not-for-profit organization that archives photos and text of cemetery grave markers submitted by individuals or cemetery committees. The CMMM has listed it on our Family Histories page as a genealogy resource. The Cut Knife Cemetery and the Carruthers Cemetery are already represented online with a number of photos to view for each.

The next time you’re wandering through your local cemetery with your phone or digital camera, consider digitizing your family’s headstones and sharing them online with those who may be searching for them. In all probability, if any part of the headstone is illegible, you or a family member would have the knowledge needed to record the correct information.

~ Debbie M.

archives files
Archives, Our Stories

Acquisitions: To Accept a Donation . . . or Not?

On March 17, 2015, the Cut Knife Chamber of Commerce dissolved. The organization had been a part of the Town since, at least, the 1970s and had hosted some well loved community traditions including the May Long Weekend Garage Sale, Oktoberfest and the Canada Day Pancake Breakfast at the Museum. However, now that it had disbanded, the question arose: What was to become of its records?

The first box of materials – with signed Transfer of Ownership, to the right. The items will be organized along timelines, described, filed in archival boxes and stored.

The Clayton McLain Memorial Museum and Archives has established a set of guidelines that helps us to determine whether, or not, a potential donation fits our mandate. These criteria were designed to keep us on track. Our display space, our storage space and our volunteer resources are limited. By following our Significance Worksheet,we eliminate duplication and we maintain the museum’s focus on the stories directly relevant to the area.

Honestly, if it were up to the individuals of the Acquisitions Committee and the Board of Trustees, we’d probably take in everything that was offered to the Museum. Most of us have a weakness for collections, for antiques, for documents and books or for items of a sentimental nature but that approach is unworkable. So, we’ve set up a procedural based upon what other museums are doing and we work at creating a unique, manageable collection reflective of the people, events and history of the Cut Knife area.

The Archives is a climate and light controlled, dust and pest free area.

The records of the Cut Knife Chamber of Commerce will be accepted into the Archives because they fit – to a tee – the requirement for historical significance: “. . . collection [that] contributes to changing the course of local history or [has] an impact on development of community.” The boxes of materials will be processed and, in time, will be available to the public for viewing or research.

~ Debbie M.

prairie winter view
Our Stories

Bert Martin’s Cabin

Homesteading in the early 20th century, on the wind-whipped stretches of prairie was no easy task for new immigrants. Often, they knew little about farming and, even if they had experience working the land, surviving a Saskatchewan winter would still be a bitter struggle. Much of their success would depend upon how well they were able to make preparations before the cold weather hit.

First shelters were often considered temporary, constructed quickly with whatever materials a settler could afford or could find on the land. Tents and caves, sod or tar paper shacks were common, replaced by log, frame or stone houses as the homesteader’s fortunes improved. Severe weather events like droughts, floods and cyclones were widespread as were their consequences – fire, insects, mud, and hailstones.

Bert Martin’s Cabin, circa 1920

Winter would be the worst. Blizzards with extreme temperatures and wind chills, little visibility and drifting snow could shut down an entire area. A settler needed a supply of food and firewood to survive until the roads were passable, again. He would need wool blankets and quilts, lamp fuel and something to occupy the long days of solitude and isolation.

bert martin's cabin, rear wall

Imagine living in a shelter like Bert Martin’s: A log cabin, plastered with mud to keep out the wind, a small wood stove for heat and a few small, windows to let in the weak winter sun. There’s a dirt floor, a single bed, a table and chair, a few pictures to decorate the walls but it’s a simple dwelling. Could you imagine living like that for a year or two? It’s humbling to think about how many homesteaders did.

~ Debbie M.