Willow Bunch, Saskatchewan

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Willow Bunch

Hart-Rouge and Talle-de-Saules
Willow Bunch
Willow Bunch
Home of the Giant
Willow Bunch is located in Saskatchewan
Willow Bunch
Willow Bunch
Willow Bunch in Saskatchewan
Coordinates: 49°23′28″N 105°38′02″W / 49.391°N 105.634°W / 49.391; -105.634Coordinates: 49°23′28″N 105°38′02″W / 49.391°N 105.634°W / 49.391; -105.634
Rural MunicipalityWillow Bunch No. 42
Post office FoundedApril 1, 1895
Incorporated (Village)Nov. 15, 1929
Incorporated (Town)Oct. 1, 1960
 • MayorWayne Joyal
 • Town ManagerLeanne Totton
 • Governing bodyTown Council
 • MLA Weyburn-Big MuddyDustin Duncan, Sask Party
 • MP Cypress Hills—GrasslandsDavid Anderson, Cons.
 • Total0.84 km2 (0.32 sq mi)
 • Total286
 • Density340/km2 (880/sq mi)
Time zoneCST
Postal code
S0H 4K0
Area code(s)306
WaterwaysWillow Bunch Lake (headwaters for the Missouri River)

Willow Bunch is a small community located in south central Saskatchewan, Canada, 190 kilometres (120 mi) southwest of the provincial capital of Regina. The population was 286 at the 2011 census.

Previous names for Willow Bunch have been Hart-Rouge and Talle-de-Saules. The area has seen influences from Métis and Fransaskois.




About 19 kilometres north-west of Willow Bunch is one of Saskatchewan's biggest archaeological mysteries. The St. Victors Petroglyph site is a provincial park that is host to over 300 rock carvings.[4] The carvings are located on a sandstone cliff that is elevated at 950m.[5] The uniqueness of the plateau is characterized by being only one of five sites in Canada where petroglyphs are on a horizontal structure of a rock.[4]

The view of the sandstone cliff at St. Victors Petroglyph Provincial Park.

The petroglyphs are dominated by images of the plains grizzly bear,[6] but there are also carvings of footprints of other animals such as bison, elk, deer, birds and pictures of human figures. There is no group given credit for making these carvings, but it is estimated they were made between 500−1,700 AD.[6] The best time to see the petroglyphs, according to the Friends of the Petroglyphs, is later in the day or very early in the morning, so that the sun casts shadows making them more visible to view.[6]

The sandstone also has plant fossils trapped in it. These fossils date to before the time of the Ice Age (Pleistocene Epoch).[7] Many mammals from before the Ice Age can also be found on higher plateaus of the park. The bone and teeth remains of woolly rhinoceros and three-toed horses are just some examples of prehistoric life in the area.[6]

During the Ice Age, mammoths, horses, camels and saber-toothed cats would have roamed as well. Mammoth remains have been found as close as two hours away in Mortlach, Saskatchewan.[7] These were mostly gone by time humans arrived.[8] Once the Wisconsin Ice Sheet, which covered most of North America, had retreated, the area became habitable for humans.[8] When humans could inhabit the area, the land would have been "open woodland and aspen parkland",[8] while the northern part of the province would have remained under glacial ice.

People of the area would have gone through three "cultural periods" common for the area: the "Early years", the "Middle years", and the "Late years".[8]

The early years span between 12,000-8,000 years ago. The middle years are from 8,000-2,200 years ago, which also brought a warmer climate.[9] These eras are often characterized by projectile points used, such as spear points. The major change between the early years and middle years for this was size, with projectile points becoming smaller, with side-notches on the point.[9] The bison was a primary resource for people in southern Saskatchewan.[8]

Points found in Willow Bunch, kept at the Willow Bunch Museum

The late years range was from 2,200 years ago to 1690 AD, when the climate became similar to what it is today.[9] Arrowheads used with bows started to be used during this time in hunting. The bison also remained a large resource for people during this time.

Many bison kill sites are located near the St. Victor Petroglyphs Provincial Park, though many have been buried by the hills over time.[6]

First people[edit]

The land in Saskatchewan was believed to have been first populated by Paleo-Indians around 9,500 BCE. These were hunter-gatherer societies who mainly hunted big game, such as bison.

Eventually Saskatchewan became populated with Great Plains Indian peoples.

The records of the first people near Willow Bunch are few, but they left behind a piece of themselves at the St. Victor petroglyphs. St. Victor is 19 km west of Willow Bunch. The petroglyphs are carvings of many Great Plains Indian symbols. Carvings include several variations of human faces, many types of hooves, turtles, grizzly bear paws, and human handprints. These were carved into the rock faces approximately AD 500-1700. Since there are no carvings of horses or horse hooves, researchers assume the carvings were created before 1750, the approximate year horses arrived in the northern part of the plains. The carvings' use may have been for records or as a way of communication, but researchers are unsure.[10]

View at St. Victor Petroglyphs

The petroglyphs are located on a hill with a grand view of the surrounding area. This may have been a resting spot for nomadic peoples at the time. These peoples could have been Assiniboine, Cree, Cree-Assiniboine or Siouan. From the style of the carvings it is believed that they may have been carved by Siouan speakers. Sioux-speaking cultures include the Dakota, Nakota and Lakota.[11]

The Assiniboine inhabited the area near southeast Saskatchewan.[12] They were an offshoot of Yanktonais in the south;[13] it is believed this split occurred around 1550. They were also called asini-pwat, Stoney Sioux, Stoneys or opwa-si-mu.[14] The Assiniboine referred to themselves as Nakota, which meant they were Siouan speakers.[13] They became close allies with the Cree, who came as "invaders" from areas north and east of the prairies.[15] The Assiniboine were referred to as "cultural godfathers to the Plains Cree in introducing them into many of the ways of the Plains life"[14]

The Cree spoke a variety of Algonquian languages and are said to have taken over areas that had formerly been that of the Assiniboine or Gros Ventre. They were also a nomadic band, which explains their movement into the territory now known as Saskatchewan.

The Gros Ventre were Algonquian-speaking. They had originally been allies with Blackfoot, also Algonquian-speaking. However, the Gros Ventre later allied with the Assiniboines until the Cree invaded the area. The two struggled to get along and the Gros Ventres began to relocate.[16]

Cree and Assiniboines eventually became great allies around 1730–1775. Their alliance became so strong that they began to intermarry into a band known as the Cree-Assiniboine or nehiopwat.[17] This band, Cree-Assiniboine, inhabited areas by Wood Mountain, 105 km west of Willow Bunch. However, they eventually moved to the Piapot area, which is 346 km west of Willow Bunch.[18]

Around 1679 that Cree-Assiniboine created an alliance with the Sioux, who traded almost exclusively with the French.[19]

The Canadian Sioux had traveled north from America.[20] Those around Wood Mountain were known as Titunwan or Tetons; members of the Hunkpapa sub-band. Tetons is another term for a Lakota Sioux. The Lakota Sioux would eventually settle in the Wood Mountain area.[21]

Lifestyle of original peoples[edit]

Bird's eye view of Willow Bunch, Saskatchewan

In southern Saskatchewan there was one main group of plains Indians who were called Assiniboine.[22] They moved around the area that is modern day Willow Bunch. This band is thought to have arrived 11,000 years ago, just after the last glacier retreated.[23] Like most bands at the time, this group moved where their food went. They depended on the bison for almost everything. They used the bison to make clothing, build their shelter and to make tools.[24] Since they moved around a lot they made a very smart way of transporting their tipis. The poles of the tipis would make a sled of sort that was called a travois and would be pulled by dogs.[25] This carried all that they needed and transported their home at the same time.

The Assiniboine had a system of a Sioux Kinship.[26] In this kinship everyone who was born belonged to it, but outsiders could become part of the kinship through relationships.[26] In terms of spiritual beliefs, the band had strong ties to the spiritual world. Their religious ideas and practices formed the basis of their life.[25] They had powerful connections with animals and natural phenomena. They believe that animals and natural phenomena had spiritual power that could be acquired for personal advantage through a vision quest.[25] In this quest they would go to a secluded area of the forest where they would fast and pray until a spiritual guardian came to them in a dream.[25]

When it comes to food and other necessities of life the band worked together. The men would hunt the buffalo by driving them into pounds or corrals to be killed or they would be stampeded off cliffs.[25] The women would collect edible roots and berries but they would also preserve the food and build tools for everyday life.[25] The band worked together so everyone would have enough food. If there were shortages on food the band would split into smaller bands so they had a better chance to survive.[25]

As for the political structure of the bands, they had a chief but their way of dealing with issues was like a democracy. Any decisions that needed to be made were reached by finding a consensus between all the families of the band.[23] Although the chief was the advisor of the band there was no guarantee that he would stay at the top. The only way the chief stayed in his position was if people were being fed and the band staved off attacks from enemy bands.[27]

When it came to punishment there were straightforward rules. If you did not aid the community then you were seen as an enemy to the band.[28] The way that they disciplined people was also straight forward. If you did something wrong your punishment would be public shame and ridicule.[27] When the band depends so much on each other, this kind of punishment would have been one that was hard to deal with.

Mural of a Bison in Willow Bunch

In general the other bands in the area and the Assiniboine moved independently of each other. However, during midsummer when there was a lot of bison, all the bands came together for a few weeks in one tribal encampment.[27] During this time they would have celebrations and possibly a tribal buffalo drive.[27] After this time the bands would separate again and go to the river valleys or foothills and get ready for the winter months.[27]

The Métis of Willow Bunch[edit]

Albert Legaré, Xavier Larocque, Ouile Létourneau, Alex Gosselin, Gédéon Légare, Fred Beaupré. Saskatchewan Archives Board (No. R-A 3433).

At the end of the 1860s, many Métis settlers started their move towards the Wood Mountain region, soon to be known as Willow Bunch, from Red River, Pembina, and other communities in the North West. Following the footsteps of the hunters and traders before them, they came in search of bison.[29] Soon after the arrival of the Métis, Jean-Louis Legaré set up a trading post in Willow Bunch, aiding the Métis as a trader of bison goods.[30]

Nearing the mid-1880s, there was a decline of bison in the Wood Mountain region. This was a result of the United States government's attempt to starve out Sitting Bull.[31] With the end of the Bison Hunt, the Métis began life as ranchers: "We brought our stock and expertise to Willow Bunch. No one knew more about horsemanship and training horses than we did".[32] The Métis population in Willow Bunch became known as a "hub of the first tentative ranching operations in southwestern Saskatchewan."[32]

"Talle de Saule"[edit]

Medicine person Angelique Bottineau and her husband Joseph. Saskatchewan Archives Board (No. R-A 3443).

The Métis originally referred to the town and its surrounding area as "Talle de Saule" which means "Clump of Willow." This nickname soon gave rise to the town's name of Willow Bunch.

The red willows found around Willow Bunch were an important factor in the everyday lives of the Métis. The multifaceted willow played a large role in their wellbeing:

In spring, our women harvested the supple, young shoots to make baskets. Our men fashioned the wood into pipe stems, emergency snowshoes, snares, wooden nails, whistles for the children, beading looms, and frames for stretching hides. Rotted willow wood was used to smoke hides. Green willow branches were burned to smoke meat. We twisted the inner bark fibers into temporary rope, twine and fish nets. We weather proofed rawhide by wrapping it in willow bark. We used willow branches as lathing for our houses. Our men scraped off the inner cambium layer and added other ingredients, such as bearberry, to make a smoking mixture, 'Kinnikinick'. We repaired our carts, made a shelter when we were caught in a storm, burned for fuel and had a variety of other practical uses for the wood of the willow.[33]

The Métis found use for the willows in a variety of ways. It was even used as an ingredient for medicinal purposes. Thus, the places where the willows grew were considered a healing place.[31] This is why "the people would settle near clumps of willow and name their community accordingly."[34]

The first Métis settlers[edit]

Métis Pioneers - Willow Bunch Museum

According to Métis oral historians, the Métis peoples' long history as Hivernants helped with their travels through the Canadian Prairies. Their vast understanding of the Great Plains was an advantage; this knowledge "proved to be invaluable guides as settlement inched [their] way from east to west."[35] Their navigation skills were also an asset to the Northwest Mounted Police. With help from the Métis, the Mounties could get through uncharted territory.[35]

Around 1824, the Métis began to move towards Southern Saskatchewan: "As they ventured farther out, they began to set up winter camps and stay year-round. One of the first settlements was at Wood Mountain, which was settled in about 1868-69. But in 1879, fires forced the Métis to move to the eastern slope of the hills to a place known as 'Talle de Saule.'"[34] The Métis settlement in Willow Bunch is one of the first in Saskatchewan. They initially arrived in groups consisting of large extended families; no one journeyed individually. As a result of travelling between communities regularly, the Métis began to intermingle, creating relationships with the different groups of settlers. This gave rise to the growth of the settlement in Willow Bunch.[36]

The majority of the Métis settlers that came to Willow Bunch were partially of First Nations and of French or Scottish descent. These are some of the family names belonging to the first Métis settlers: Bottineau, Bruyere, Caplette, Chartrand, Delorme, Faillant, Gaudry, Gosselin, Klyne, La Fournaise, Lacerte, Langer, Larocque, McGillis, Morin, Ouellette, Pelletier, Piché, Short, and Whitford.[36]

Randy Gaudry in front of the Métis hamlet, 2013
NHS Profile, Willow Bunch, T, Saskatchewan, 2011
Métis Hamlet in Willow Bunch, 2013

The Métis today[edit]

The town of Willow Bunch is occupied with Francophone and Métis people who settled upon these lands. The history in this small town is very interesting to Saskatchewan. The Métis played an important role in Saskatchewan history. Yet the Métis had fewer advantages in the Francophone town and they had very passive voices. Even today, the Métis are still trying to regain their rights and to educate about the history of the Métis and the roles they played. Just like First Nations peoples, Métis face the same inequality and misconceptions from non-Métis peoples.

Willow Bunch is the Rural Municipality #42 in southern Saskatchewan. In 2006, the total Aboriginal population for the RM #42 was 407.[37] The Métis in Willow Bunch "played a key role in maintaining the peace during the time that the Sioux and the other American tribes were forced from the United States into the area of Wood Mountain.[38] " The Métis had a strong relationship with the Sioux, especially with Chief Sitting Bull. "The fires of 1880 on Wood Mountain resulted in the movement of our people to other communities. It was at this time that the Métis pioneers moved to Willow Bunch at the suggestion of Andre Gaudry."[38] The Métis were already settled in Willow Bunch when the North West Resistance, led by Louis Riel, battled the Canadian government over land rights. It was in 1885, "the Resistance had an impact on the Métis of Willow Bunch...marked the end of the influence of the Métis on the development of Western Canada.[38] "

Within the Métis Nation of Saskatchewan, there are different numbered locals for each area in the province. Willow Bunch is Local #17 with Randy Gaudry as the president. Gaudry has instilled pride in being a Métis within the town of Willow Bunch. Gaudry has been actively involved in fighting for Métis rights for his Local 17. His activism may have stemmed from his late grandfather, Andre Gaudry, one of the eight guiders that took Sioux Chief Sitting Bull back to America due to bad living conditions and starvation. "[They] were the guides, scouts, interpreters and security for these trips.[39] " After living away from WIllow Bunch for a time, Gaudry worked hard when he returned to reactivate the Métis Local 17. This meant working between two communities that disconnected years before his return, the Francophone and the Métis. The Local 17 president gathered the two estranged communities to create a dialogue to improve living conditions. "The Francophone community and the Métis community have butted heads for a number of years and there are still problems that have to be ironed out, (noted an article in the Eagle Feather News)[40] " A discussion panel was organized to help build a community connection.

Attempts made to improve the lives of the Métis community in Willow Bunch, and to protect cultural artifacts. "SaskPower hired a contractor to construct...[and] left a right of way to gain access to the construction site and inadvertently drove through one of the teepee rings, damaging it slightly," according to a report in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix[41] " This left the Métis community to act quickly to recover what was left of the damaged site.

This action shows the inequality the Métis people faced, which is similar to many First Nations situations when it comes to land reconstruction. Following the 1885 Resistance, many changes occurred for the Métis nation of Willow Bunch. "[They] were told that the land property that [they] settled on didn't belong to [them]. It became an issue ... as new immigrants arrived [they] found their identity and culture continually being eroded.[42] " The Métis of Willow Bunch still feel the indifference within this small town due to lack of the historical Métis knowledge to the newcomers. "That feeling of inferiority that many of [them] were taught to feel ... That practice of one group being denigrated at the expense of another is still evident today.[42] " The Métis of Willow Bunch will hopefully coexist with the non-Métis community without the idea of superiority over another. Alike to most First Nations situations, the Métis will continue to fight for their rights not only in Willow Bunch but across this nation.

The Willow Bunch Métis Local #17[edit]

Willow Bunch

The Métis Local #17 in Willow Bunch is one of the first Locals established within the Métis Nation of Saskatchewan: "Its mandate is to serve and represent the needs and interests of the Métis people of Willow Bunch and surrounding area, and to coordinate programs and services for the Métis people of this region."[43]

Historical background to 1880[edit]

For Saskatchewan, Willow Bunch has the title as one of the oldest settlements established. Founded in 1870 by variety of groups of Métis hunters and settlers, Willow Bunch has strong historical connections with Red River Métis.[44] Later on, Jean-Louis Légaré would migrate from Manitoba to Willow bunch, where he played a lead role in early Willow Bunch history.

In the mid-1800s, those who were living in Manitoba's Red River area were succumbing to the harsh climate and living conditions. Bison were becoming scarce due to over hunting in their area. Work was more difficult to find since the merging of the Hudson's Bay Company and the Northwest Company in 1821.[45] Along with pests, frosts and droughts which led to lower crop harvests, over-population of the Metis people were a part of the uneasy living conditions. This led to the Métis migrating somewhere else to settle.[45]

The Métis had to stay close to the bison, which meant they were to move west of Red River. Places like Saint Joseph's in North Dakota became established winter places that the Métis would go to.[45] Later, declining buffalo herds led to the Métis migrating farther and farther away. In the 1860s, living conditions, including crop conditions, were so severe that the Hudson's Bay Company had to step in to help avoid starvation.[46]

Later, the Red River Métis moved towards what is now southern Saskatchewan after the Red River Uprising in 1869.[47] This led to the first Metis settlement established, called La Coulee Chapelle, which is St. Victor today (located about 19 km west of Willow Bunch). Before this uprising, areas like Wood Mountain, Eastend and Cypress Hills were places that Métis would migrate to.[46]

After this settlement, George Fisher, who was commissioned by the Métis in Manitoba, set out to explore the land around the area.[47] He was to report back on the conditions of the land. Fisher found that this new land was abundant with other animals besides buffalo to hunt, like mule and white tail deer, pronghorn antelope and elk.[48] He also noted that there were more than just animals to hunt. Other food like wild saskatoons, chokecherries and strawberries were in the area.[48] There were also protection from the rolling hills, springs and creeks that other lands did not have. This exploration led to the development of a new settlement, La Montagne de Bois, or Wood Mountain.[47]

It is said that Andre Gaudry was one of the first settlers in the area. Willow Bunch was part of a district known as Montagne de Bois, or Wood Mountain.[49]



After a devastating prairie fire destroyed much of the grass and timber in the area around Wood Mountain, Saskatchewan, many First Nations and Métis people were driven by a bison shortage and an increasing population to seek out new settlements.[50][51] Many settled along the Milk River, south of the 49th parallel, and the Frenchman River, one of its tributaries in Saskatchewan.[51] A number of them settled in the area known by the Métis as Talle de Saules (clump of willows) and Hart Rouge, now known as Willow Bunch.

In 1881, Jean-Louis Légaré, a French-Canadian trader and one of the founding members of the Willow Bunch community, settled in what is part of the present-day Jean Louis Légaré Regional Park.[52] Légaré, who married into the Métis community,[53] opened a trading post/store there, and often traded various necessities to the local Métis for bison goods. In the spring of 1881, it was estimated he had around $3,000 worth of bison products in his store.[30]

A boy named Édouard Beaupré, better known as the Willow Bunch Giant, was the first child born and baptized in the area in 1881.[54]

The forerunner settlement of Willow Bunch was established in 1883, around two miles east of Légaré's store and one-and-a-half miles east of the present town.[54][55] A small village grew around a spot where Reverend Pierre St. Germain, the head of the local parish at the time, chose to build a Catholic church.[54] The chapel and residence were completed in 1884, and the settlement became known as Bonneauville with the arrival of Pascal Bonneau, Sr. and his family in 1886.

The North West Mounted Police (NWMP) soon built a barracks in Bonneauville in 1886 as part of "B" Division, with 12 men and 13 horses,[56] following the Riel Rebellion in Batoche in 1885. By fall of that year, however, only two constables were left.

Ranching: early years[edit]

Ranching soon became one of the mainstays of the local economy. Légaré brought in 45 head of cattle from Manitoba in 1884, and petitioned Government of Canada to do a land survey in 1886.[57] Eight townships were surveyed, including Bonneauville.[58] By 1893, the NWMP reported there were 300 people in the Willow Bunch area.[59]

Sheep were introduced to the area in 1894, of which the Métis tended small herds.[58][60] Growth, however, was slow for ranchers. Limited markets and a lack of transportation infrastructure in southwestern Saskatchewan forced ranchers to start out small.[57] Bonneau, Sr. and his three sons began ranching in 1886 with only four horses and four cattle,[57] but by 1900, Bonneau, Sr. had a herd of 400 head of cattle and 400 head of horses.[61] After opening a cheese factory in 1888, Jean-Louis Légaré maintained the largest ranching operation in the area for a time.[58][59] The ranching operation of Bonneau, Sr.'s son, Pascal Bonneau, Jr., became even bigger. By 1900 Bonneau, Jr. had a herd of 5,000 to 6,000 head.[61]

Weather and prairie fires took their toll on ranchers in the area. A combination of drought and harsh winter weather between 1886 and 1887 devastated herds in southwestern Saskatchewan.[62][63] Légaré himself lost 350 head of cattle in 1893-1894, forcing the closure of the cheese factory.[64] Prairie fires in 1885 were also responsible for the destruction of the willows that the town and area were named for.[58]

Ranchers gave little thought about where their cattle roamed, and often did not grow hay for the winter.[65] Légaré was among those who rejected the use of hay.[66] In 1903–04, a severe winter, recounted by Reverend Claude J. Passaplan as the worst in recorded history at the time,[58] followed prairie fires and an early frost, leaving cattle with nothing to eat.[65] The Métis around Willow Bunch lost all of their cattle as a result. An even worse winter in 1906–07 caused a loss of an estimated 60 to 70 per cent of all cattle in southwestern Saskatchewan.[65]

Beginnings of Willow Bunch[edit]

Slowly, farming began to overtake ranching, and thoughts of moving the settlement into a more suitable site for growing the community began in 1898.[58] The Catholic Bishop of the area made a request for 160 acres of land, but received only 80 from Jean-Louis Légaré, which became the present site of Willow Bunch.[58] Several delays from a number of changes to the headship of the local parish delayed action until 1905, the year of Saskatchewan's confederation, when Reverend Alphonse Lemieux was assigned to the parish. He arrived in Bonneauville to find the church in a dilapidated state.[58] That year, a new rectory was built at the present site of Willow Bunch, followed by a new church in 1906.[58]

The town that would become Willow Bunch started to grow. A hospital was built in 1909, headed by Dr. Arsene Godin, called the Red Cross Hospital.[67] The first official act of the Rural Municipality of Willow Bunch #42 was a meeting, chaired by Pascal Bonneau, Jr., on January 4, 1910.[67]


The years 1911–1930 could arguably be called the Golden Age of Willow Bunch. At the end of 1927, according to the Willow Bunch Parish Bulletin, there were "77 baptisms, 11 marriages and six burials for a population of 1,348 distributed over 227 families of which 219 are French-speaking."[68] During this time period there was also several notable buildings that were constructed, the residents celebrated their 50-year Golden Jubilee and they enjoyed an active political culture. But by the end of 1929, over 200 people had left Willow Bunch due to the intense drought and the effects of the Great Depression.[69]

Notable buildings[edit]

The Convent of the Sisters of the Cross was built in April–May 1914 using a $3,000 grant from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Regina.[70] The stones and sand for the foundation and all building materials were hauled for free by parishioners of the Willow Bunch Catholic Church.[70] Construction was halted after World War I broke out because of a lack of funding and the loss of many skilled workers who joined the army.[70] Construction resumed and was completed in 1921.[70]

In 1920 the Statue of Sacred Heart of Jesus was erected using donations of $4,000 from the community.[71] The Statue was then consecrated on July 13, 1922 at the Golden Jubilee.[71] In November 1922, T.W. Sr. and Kate Bennett's house served as the United Church of Willow Bunch until December 1926 when the United Church was opened and dedicated to the service and worship of God.[72] Although the budget for the project was set at $1500 the town operated well below as the lot was bought for $175 and the carpenters were contracted for $850.[72]

In 1924, The Canadian Red Cross decided to install a nursing outpost at the Willow Bunch hospital, also known as the "Pasteur Hospital."[73][74] The hospital was then expanded to more than twice its length in 1925.[74] On September 14, 1927, the Sisters of Charity of St. Louis took over general operations but the Sisters left in 1929 due to the Depression.[74]

The first home to be built in Willow Bunch with running water and flush toilets was the home of Treffle and Marie Louise Bonneau's which was built in 1916/1917.[75] In 1922, the Willow Bunch Rural Telephone Company was founded and a building was erected.[76] The company was operated by Kate (Jeffries) Bennet and as of 1922, there were 12 subscribers.[76] In 1926 the railroad came to Willow Bunch and by November the first passenger train steamed through town.[77]

Golden Jubilee[edit]

On July 12 and 13, 1922, Willow Bunch celebrated its 50th Anniversary in a Golden Jubilee Celebration.[78] On the first day, a mass was attended by 800 people.[79] Following the mass, a large outdoor dinner was served after which the amusement program began: children's races, three-legged races, high jumping, hammering contests and more.[79] The festivities concluded with an evening program which included musical and oratorical entertainment from local artists and guest speakers.[80] On the second day, a mass was again held in the morning after which a young vs. old baseball game took place.[80] The Statue of Sacred Heart of Jesus was then consecrated in a special ceremony and then the Catholic parish hosted a banquet attended by 600 people.[81]

Political culture[edit]

William W. Davidson was elected as the Conservative Party Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) in the provincial Willow Bunch electoral district in 1912.[82] Abel James Hindle was elected the Liberal Party MLA from 1917 to 1925 at which time he stepped down and passed the nomination to James Albert Cross.[82][83] Cross was MLA until 1929 when another Liberal, Charles William Johnson was elected.[82] At the Federal level, the Federal riding of Willow Bunch was established in 1924, and Thomas Donnelly was elected and remained in power until the riding was abolished in 1933.[84]

On November 8, 1922, Donnelly attempted to introduce a motion that "the federal government of the Dominion of Canada should no longer assist immigrants to this country in any financial way except so far as financial assistance is at present being extended to female domestics."[85]

When the Willow Bunch Municipal Council heard Austria-Hungary, Germany and Turkey wanted to negotiate for peace with the Allies at the close of World War I, they offered this reply:

"This municipality is overjoyed at even the prospect of a possibly peace, but not the peace evolved by terms. One does not make peace with a mad dog or a venomous reptile. There can be but one condition and one only under which hostilities will cease- imperialism strangled beyond resuscitation and militarism banished for ever. Peace on these conditions may be possible but on no other."[86]

According to the Willow Bunch Legion, there were seven recorded Willow Bunch casualties during World War I.[87]


This period was not without tragedies. On a stormy night in 1912 a resident of Willow Bunch, H.B. Hodge, drowned in Willow Bunch Lake.[88] Hodge, who was heavily intoxicated at the time, was taking a ride on the Willow Bunch Lake Ferry and fell off and, due to the stormy weather, no one heard him calling for help until it was too late.[88] On August 15, 1913, Willow Bunch and other villages in the southwest of Saskatchewan were hit by a large thunderstorm.[89] This storm brought lightning, hail and very strong winds that caused $4,000 worth of damage to buildings, killed local livestock and destroyed crops.[89] On August 5, 1922, the population of Willow Bunch was rocked by a mumps epidemic; there were no fatalities but many children became gravely ill.[90]


The drought and aftermath[edit]

Throughout the 1930s, Willow Bunch and the rest of southern Saskatchewan was hit with numerous dust storms. The dust storms were the outcome of a devastating drought, and the agricultural damage ended up costing the Saskatchewan provincial government more than $20 million.[91] The drought also spawned a swarm of grasshoppers.[92] In 1933, the government created a campaign to teach farmers to combat the grasshopper plague. The campaign taught farmers to create an insect poison using sawdust and sodium arsenate.

Willow Bunch lost one of its schools during the drought. The Sitkala school, which had only two classrooms, was destroyed by fire. The fire was caused by a dust storm in 1937.[93]

Southern Saskatchewan Coal Operators' Association[edit]

Despite the poor agriculture, the production of coal was on the rise. On Sept. 19, 1932, Willow Bunch hosted the first annual meeting of the Southern Saskatchewan Coal Operators' Association at the R.M.'s municipal hall.[94] At the meeting, association president Robert Campkin discussed how the unity of local mines would help increase the retrieval of lignite coal. The price of lignite was set at $2 per ton in the 1930s.[94]

Wheat resurgence[edit]

Once the weather stabilized, the price of wheat spiked from six bushels per acre in 1938 to 16 bushels per acre in 1939. Willow Bunch welcomed the first load of wheat to the town's south country grain elevator on Aug. 5, 1939.[95] The wheat came from a local farm, which was renowned as the "Million Dollar Farm" because of its exceptional wheat quality.[95]

Establishing the credit union[edit]

Cooperation was becoming a nationwide principle during World War II . As a result, Willow Bunch established a credit union, creating a membership-owned alternative to private banks.[96] A variety of citizens signed the request to build it. Alex Beausoleil, Father Gérard Couture, Hida Lauziere, Raymond Boulianne, Georges Martin, S.-J. Payette, Gédéon Boisvert, E. Paulhus, Roméo Rodrigue, Léopold Granger, and Miss Palmyre Lemieux all signed the request.[96] The Credit Union was officially opened on Sept. 18, 1942.[96] Boulianne was the president and Beausoleil was the secretary-manager.[96]

J.L. Lapointe[edit]

When the war was at its peak, Willow Bunch-born lieutenant J.L. Lapointe was promoted to captain of the A-1 Canadian Artillery Training Centre (CATC).[97] Lapointe was stationed at Camp Petawawa in Ontario.[97] Prior to joining the CATC, Lapointe was an experienced farmer.[97] He gave up his land to work at a psychiatric hospital in Weyburn, Saskatchewan.[97] While in Weyburn, he enlisted with the General Hospital of the Royal Canadian Army Medicine Corps (RCAMC). Lapointe eventually transferred to the artillery before being positioned at the A-1 C.A.T.C.[97]

The Willow Bunch Beacon[edit]

The Willow Bunch Beacon, Willow Bunch's local newspaper, was published in 1943. It focused the majority of its content on postwar conflicts, the decline in wheat prices, the domestic coal situation in Saskatchewan, and Canada's need for more poultry, meat, and eggs. An annual subscription cost $1.50.[98]

There are no archives of the Willow Bunch Beacon after July 20, 1944. The Avonlea Beacon was published in its place from 1944 until 1951.

Facts and tidbits of Willow Bunch between 1945 and 1960[edit]

  • After 1943 Sask Power began to supply power to the village from a coal burning plant in Estevan, Sask. Billy Royce was the longest serving serviceman stationed in Willow Bunch.[99]
  • "Overseer" of the village: In 1945, George Martin became Overseer and kept the position until 1955 when he was replaced by Wilfrid Benoit, With Yvonne Dosch as secretary treasurer. On May 20, 1959, Marcel Ingrand became Overseer, with Leopold Sylvestre as secretary.[99]
  • In 1949, the Convent and the public school were engulfed in the Larger School Unit, and a new school was built. The Brothers of the Christian Schools joined the teaching staff in 1950; they remained until 1963.[100]
  • In 1926 the long-anticipated and much-delayed Canadian national Railways[101] line finally arrived, and brightened the community's future prospects. By the mid-1950s the populations was approaching 800.[102]
  • In 1960 Willow Bunch was no longer considered a village, and was incorporated as a town.[103]
  • Paul Dupuis ran his café and barber shop until his premature death on August 14, 1952.[104]
  • European Hotel Fire November 11, 1959:[104] Fire swept the 20-room European hotel, causing damage estimated by the owner at $70,000. The lower part of the building housed a grocery store. The hotel, built in 1907 and remodeled in the 1920s, was operated by L.A. Bilodeau.[105][106]
European hotel fire

RCMP Willow Bunch detachment

  • Different quarters were made available by the town of Willow Bunch; the village supplied three rooms in a house on Central Avenue (now Avenue F South), and Mrs. Mary Anne Capagne agreed to rent to the force space on Survey Road. This location was vacated in 1947. The detachment continued to occupy the three rooms on Central Avenue. In April 1951, The detachment office, single man's quarters, cell room, and married N.C.O's quarters moved to a two-storey building on Legare Avenue (now Avenue "F" North). The building became known as the police building. This building continued to be used until 1966.[107][108]
  • Country life changed with the movement to larger centres and it became necessary in 1957 to close the Hoath United Church and move the small congregation to the Willow Bunch church. Ministers who served in Hoath Church: 1944-46 Rev. Al Brown; 1946–48 Rev. Vic Wilkinsom; 1948-50 Rev. Gordon Geiger; 1950-53 Rev. Flemming Holm; and 1953-56 Rev. Gavin Kigour. In 1956, Pastoral charges were changed. Willow Bunch was put with Clydsdale and Doronach, Sask. About this time Hoath Church was closed the congregation went to services at Willow Bunch.[109]
  • Bellefleur's Garage: it was built in the late 1930s by Victor Tesseir, from lumber salvaged in the demolition of Frederic Kreish's Restaurant & Pool Room, which previously occupied the site, purchased by Francis Bellefleur around 1943. He, as had his predecessor, handled a General Motors Agency, Esso gas & oil sales, and briefly, the J.I. Case Agency. Francis ran the Garage until 1959-60, then moved to B.C. It was demolished in the early 1980s by David Gold.[104]

- H.A. Balthazar's home. It was constructed in the early 1900s for Louis Beanchesne's wife, Lodina(Millville), who ran a Ladies' Hat & Apparel Shop in it. Freddi Desjardins purchased it in the early 1950s and occupied the premises for over a decade. It was sold and again then demolished in 1983. [110]

- In 1944, Albert and Violet (Rasmussen) André purchased a house and garage, Albert proceeded to operate the garage as a Machine and Welding shop, in conjunction with the John Deere and Ford agencies.

- In 1956, The Andrés closed their shop and moved to Dawson Creek, B.C. It remained closed and was demolished and replaced in the early 1980s.[104]


Willow Bunch Museum[edit]

Willow Bunch Museum

In the summer of 1972, the Willow Bunch Museum & Heritage Society was established by a group of local students through the government Opportunities for Youth Program. The museum was housed in the former Union Hospital which served the community from 1946 to 1969. The museum moved into the Sisters of the Cross Convent School in 1984. [111]

Palace Theater closes[edit]

In 1973 the town inherited the historic Palace Theatre, which was the town's community social centre until its doors closed in 1969. The Knights of Columbus constructed the building in 1925. The building was first used for public meetings in 1928 until it officially became a theatre in 1931. The Palace Theatre showed silent movies, talking movies and was also used for the Knights of Columbus meetings and eventually their bowling in the basement. (Willow Bunch Museum Picture Reference)

RCMP leave Willow Bunch[edit]

On July 2, 1976 the two-man Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) detachment of Willow Bunch moved to the nearby town of Coronach, Saskatchewan after 90 years in Willow Bunch. The then-Assistant Commissioner, J.E. Gibbon, recommended that the RCMP should be moved because of the low population in Willow Bunch. Residents of Willow Bunch strongly disagreed with the move and protested at the Regina Legislature on two different occasions. Two hundred protesters gathered outside the legislature on June 1, 1976. On June 30, 130 protested, demanding to see then-Saskatchewan premier Allan Blakeney. The premier told the angry group that he would not make any commitments other than to consider new facts on the move. Until that confrontation, Attorney General Roy Romanow had been the main government official handling the press and public for the RCMP move. Romanow had said the RCMP advised him that, "one man detachments are of limited value" and that is why the RCMP would be building a new detachment in the economically prosperous Coronach. The developing Poplar River Power Station in Coronach would be expecting 400 to 500 workers, therefore more police manpower would be needed in the town, he argued.[112][113]

Willow Bunch pioneer dies[edit]

Willow Bunch's last pioneer, Russell Wilson, died on March 19, 1977. He was born near Orangeville, Ontario in 1902 and moved out west with his mother in 1916. Wilson married Irene Bradley in 1928 and they lived as farmers in an area near Willow Bunch until they retired to Regina in 1966. Wilson was buried in Riverside Memorial Park cemetery.[114]

Expansion of the credit union[edit]

In 1977 the Willow Bunch Credit Union Limited purchased a vacant lot. Over the years, numerous business were established on this lot. In 1911 there was the Wilson and Scott Department Store, 1959 Rodrigue's Store, 1962 Clover Farm Store, and the 1972 Harry and Olive (Clark) Porter owned bakery which was sold to a Mr. and Mrs. Weibe. The Weibes ran the bakery until they retired in 1976. The building remained vacant until it was bought and subsequently demolished by Robert Piché. The Credit Union used the land to expand its existing building. The Credit Union is still open for business to this very day. (Willow Bunch Museum Photo)

Homecoming 1980[edit]

Willow Bunch held its festivities to celebrate Saskatchewan Day on August 2 and 3, 1980 by inviting former and current citizens to attend a weekend of celebration of the historic town and its people. The first day of celebrations started with a pancake breakfast and then there was the parade of locally designed and commercial floats around the town. The parade procession began at the Community Rink on St. Louis Avenue to Willow Bunch Street, Broad Avenue, Principal Street and then finally down St. Catherine Street which meets St. Louis Avenue. The first prize for float went to the Willow Bunch Kinsmen and Kettle and second prize was a tie between the Willow Bunch Manoir Hotel and the Kirby Family entry from Coronach. An art display featuring Rosetown Painting and Photography was presented at the Willow Bunch School. Day one of the activities also included pony rides for children, ball games for adults and youngsters, an afternoon tea at the Senior Center, a barbecue dinner at the skating rink and then to end the day there was a dance with music by The Big Muddy Ramblers. On the second day, celebrations included church services, a golf tournament and games for kids at Jean Louis Légaré Park, ice-cream and lemonade at the park, tours of the Willow Bunch Museum, an award presentation for family heritage and a horse shoe tournament. (Willow Bunch Museum Picture)

1990 - present[edit]

Grain elevators[edit]

The old Saskatchewan Wheat Pool C elevator in Willow Bunch. It is now privately owned.
Willow Bunch elevator row.

For many years there were four grain elevators in Willow Bunch. Saskatchewan Wheat Pool No. 88 A, United Grain Growers (UGG) No. 1 and the McLaughlin Elevator all opened in 1926. McCabe Brothers began operations in 1929. The capacity of each elevator varied between 30,000 and 32,000 bushels.[115] By the early 1980s the elevators began to shut down, following a trend which was seen right across the province and the prairies.[116] The Pool A, McLaughlin (which by then was Pool B) and McCabe Brothers (now UGG No. 2) elevators all closed in 1984. UGG No. 1 would follow in 1999. The final elevator to close was Sask. Pool C, which opened in 1982 with a capacity of 3,670 metric tonnes, ceased operations in 2001. It is now privately owned.[115]

Jolly Giant Pub[edit]

The 1990s also saw the opening of a new restaurant in Willow Bunch. Originally called Willow B's Tavern, the restaurant opened for business on October 31, 1996. It was owned by David and Georgina Brenner. There was a change in ownership in 2004 when it was purchased by Renaud and Robert Bissonnette, who renamed it the Jolly Giant Pub. Renaud would become the sole owner one year later. In 2012 the restaurant changed hands once again, as it was sold to Dawn Lessard of St. Victor, in partnership Tim and Penny Dlouhy from Assiniboia.[117] The pub continues to serve everything from alcohol and coffee to burgers and full meals.[118]

Willow Bunch School[edit]

The former Willow Bunch School.

Enrolment at Willow Bunch School had been declining since the mid-1960s, when as many as 425 students were enrolled.[119] However, by September 2006, the school's population had dwindled to only 50 students.[120] In January 2007, the Prairie South School Division began a review of its schools in seven communities, including Willow Bunch. The division maintained it was becoming a challenge to "deliver an effective learning program in a fiscally responsible manner."[121]

On May 22, 2007, the Prairie South school board voted to close five schools by the end of August. They included Briercrest, Limerick, Crane Valley, École Ross and Willow Bunch. The special meeting of the board took only 25 minutes to complete.[122]

The last day of classes at Willow Bunch School was June 30, 2007. Students are now bused to the neighbouring communities of Coronach and Assiniboia.[123]

In 2008, the school was bought by CPrize Foundation, Inc.,[124] an educational non-profit, formed in the same year.

CPrize also purchased the school in Crane Valley which was closed at the same time as Willow Bunch's school. The "C" of CPrize stands for Creativity.


In 2009 the library moved to a new home. Established in 1973, the Willow Bunch Library is a branch of the Palliser Regional Library.[125] Originally located in the Hills of Home Senior Centre, the entire collection was moved to the former RM office, which was vacated in 2008 as the Town of Willow Bunch and RM offices were amalgamated. The move took place on April 20, 2009, with the grand opening a month and a half later on June 12.[126]

Political history[edit]

Municipal organization began in Willow Bunch in the year 1910, when the community was formed as District #42. A meeting which was held at Philip Légaré's house, chaired by Pascal Bonneau, Jr. on January 4, marked the first official act. Pascal Bonneau Jr., Dr. Arsene Godin, Alphonse Dauphinais, Amedee Beaubien, W. Ineson, James Hazlett, and A. Saunier were the first members, elected in 1910.

Amedee Beaubien replaced Pascal Bonneau, Jr. as president after Bonneau died. E.P. de Laforest was elected secretary-treasurer for the year 1910 and was replaced by Alex P. Beausoleil in 1911.

The results of the elections in December 1911 were Treffle Bonneau as Reeve/Mayor, and O.A. Hainstock, B. Lowman, Alphonse Dauphinais, Peter Kabrud, Joseph Lapointe, and Alfred Lalonde were elected as councillors.[127]

In 1912, Treffle Bonneau served as the first reeve of Willow Bunch Rural Municipality (RM) #42. This meant that he was also the mayor for the town at this time. In 1913, a committee which Treffle Bonneau served on sought provincial intervention in relation to rural municipal taxation on grazing lands.[128]

In 1927, the first RM-owned office was built and Leopold Sylvestre, the secretary-treasurer, occupied the office from 1927 to 1958. He served 31 years, making him the longest serving secretary-treasurer of any RM in the province.[127]

In 1961, Rachel Skinner was elected to her second term as councillor. Mrs. George Drouin also served her second term that year, and the two women were said to give stronger representation on a six-man council than any other town in the province.[129]

In 1912, there was a redistribution of federal electoral districts, including the RM of Willow Bunch. At the time, it was decided that the redistribution was fair and provided for the just representation of the people.[130]

However, the federal electoral district riding of Willow Bunch that was created in 1924 was abolished in 1933 when the riding was redistributed into Moose Jaw, Swift Current and Wood Mountain. Liberal Candidate Dr. Thomas Donnelly was elected to the new riding in 1925. He also won in the 1926 and 1930 elections.

During the 1928 Liberal Party nomination, Donnelly was the unanimous choice of the Liberals of the Willow Bunch provincial constituency. The other nominees were T.E. Gamble, an MLA from Ogema, J.B Swift, from Assiniboia, Thomas Gallant from Gravelbourg, and A.J. Hindle, ex-M.L.A for Willow Bunch.[131] The Conservative candidate, nominated in 1928, was J. Gibbins, a farmer from the Assiniboia district.[132]

A political issue of the day had to do with whether to give immigrants financial assistance. In 1928, there was a resolution that no further financial assistance would be given by the federal government. Notice of a motion on the topic was given by Dr. Donnelly in Willow Bunch in 1928.[133] In 1929, a vote recount had to take place in Willow Bunch following the application of the unsuccessful candidate, C.W Johnson.[134]

Notable people[edit]

Sitting Bull[edit]

The famous Sioux leader Sitting Bull is connected to Willow Bunch through his relationship with Jean-Louis Légaré. Sitting Bull led the Sioux and the Cheyenne in the Battle of Little Bighorn against General Custer and the 7th Cavalry Regiment. After the battle, the Sioux retreated to Saskatchewan, settling in the Wood Mountain area. The first group of Sioux was sent as a scouting party. They crossed the border along Frenchman river below the present villages of Val Marie and Mankota.[135] They arrived at Jean-Louis Légaré's trading-post on November 17, 1876. "I was in my store with two of my men, when a dozen savages on horseback appeared." They told Légaré they needed supplies and came to "sleep in peace." Légaré gave them $30 in goods and they went away. The next day, they came back with seventy lodges and camped.[136]

The only known photo of Sitting Bull taken in Canada. Photo by T.G.N. Anderton. Saskatchewan Archives, RA-5043.

Many Sioux continued to cross the border to seek refuge. Sitting Bull did not arrive in Wood Mountain until May 1877 when he and his band of 135 lodges crossed into Canada.[137] While camping in White Mud Creek, Sitting Bull and his party were met by North West Mounted Police officers commanded by Major James Morrow Walsh. They were told that they could stay in Canada as long as they abided the laws and did not cross the border to raid the United States.[138]

After meeting with the Sioux, Walsh set up two outposts on the Wood Mountain side of Cypress Hills. One would be closer to the Sioux while the other would be a halfway camp, near present-day Eastend. Walsh decided to build a house at the Wood Mountain post so he could keep a good eye on Sitting Bull. Worried that the Sioux may engage in war either with the United States or other tribes, Walsh instructed Wood Mountain traders, such as Légaré, to give the Sioux only enough ammunition to hunt for food.[139]

Attempts to convince Sitting Bull to return to the United States were continuously made throughout his stay in Saskatchewan. In June 1877, the first delegation arrived at Sitting Bull's camp. These uninvited guests were taken prisoner and Sitting Bull called for Walsh to take them off his hands.[140]

Later in the fall of 1877, with pressure from the Canadian government, the Mounted Police organized a meeting between General Alfred H. Terry of the U.S. Federal Army and Sitting Bull at Fort Walsh. Sitting Bull refused to meet General Terry. As Walsh tried to persuade Sitting Bull, one hundred Nez Perce arrived stricken after battle.[141] This made Sitting Bull even less inclined to go; the arrival of the Nez Perce showed that the U.S. could not be trusted. "You [saw] the Nez Perce wounded and bleeding. How can we go and talk to white men with blood on their hands."[142] With persistence, Walsh managed to convince Sitting Bull to go to the meeting. Nonetheless, the meeting was fruitless. Sitting Bull did not trust the United States and would not return.[143]

In May 1878, the NWMP moved their headquarters from Fort Macleod to Fort Walsh as it became the centre for various councils held between the Mounted Police and Sitting Bull.[144] By this time, 5,000 Sioux were living in Canada.[145] Many of them found it hard to find food as the buffalo herds had declined.[146]

Fearing starvation, many Sioux chiefs and their bands began to return to the United States in 1879. All that remained were about 50 lodges belonging to Sitting Bull and his followers.[147] He asked Walsh for a reservation in Canada but his request was denied. Walsh once again tried to convince Sitting Bull to return, promising the Americans would provide food and clothing. Sitting Bull feared being imprisoned for the Battle of Little Bighorn and could not leave until offered a promise of pardon.[148] During the summer of 1880, L.N.F. Cozier took command of the Wood Mountain post and Walsh was moved to Fort Qu'Appelle. Sitting Bull did not want Walsh to leave. Before Walsh departed, Sitting Bull gave his headdress to him, saying, "I'm through fighting. I want you to have it."[149]

Last Conference between Legare and Sitting Bull, Saskatchewan Archives, RB-11,688.

Throughout their stay at Wood Mountain, Jean-Louis Légaré provided the Sioux with food and supplies. He is also credited for convincing Sitting Bull to return to the United States.[150] On April 26, 1881, Légaré took 16 of Sitting Bull's men to Fort Buford in North Dakota. Four of them returned with Légaré as witnesses to how the Americans were treating the Sioux. Another group of 32 Sioux left to the United States in late May, arriving June 1, 1881.[146]

Meanwhile, Sitting Bull went to Fort Qu'Appelle to procure a Canadian reserve. Sitting Bull's attempts failed once again. At the time, Walsh was in Chicago. He spoke to General Hammond of the U.S. Army, who told Walsh that Sitting Bull would not have to "fear reprisals."[151] Walsh quickly sent word of the news to Wood Mountain. When Sitting Bull returned from Fort Qu'Appelle he told Légaré that he was ready to leave. "There is nothing to eat here, nothing but turnips," he said.[152]

Légaré provided Sitting Bull with provisions for the eight-day trip to Fort Buford.[153] On July 11, 1881, Sitting Bull and his band began their trip with Légaré and his Métis scouts. Along the way, Légaré and Sitting Bull came into conflict. Sitting Bull demanded larger rations to be handed out the first night. Légaré soon realized that he would not have enough supplies for the trip and sent his scout Johnny Chartrand to Fort Buford for more supplies. The Americans provided a wagonload full of provisions.[154] On July 19, Légaré and Sitting Bull reached Fort Buford. Sitting Bull was the last to surrender his Winchester rifle to the U.S. authorities.[155]

Légaré escorted a total of 235 Sioux to Fort Buford and later petitioned both the Canadian and American governments for reimbursement.[156] He spent over a total of $60,000 to feed and supply the Sioux at Wood Mountain. Légaré's family says he was promised $48,000 from Prime Minister John A. Macdonald but was only given $2,000. In the United States, his petition for $13,412 for his expenses was dismissed altogether; he later received $5,000 in 1905.[157]

Total claimed by Jean Louis Legare, Saskatchewan Archives, SHS-34.

Charles and Rachel Skinner[edit]

Charles Skinner and Rachel Skinner are notable people who lived in Willow Bunch. They were business owners and had an exciting life in the town. They owned and operated a garage for 47 years.[158] Charles bought it in 1917 with his brother Russell Skinner.[158] It was here that he built and designed race cars, snowmobiles and an ice boat.[158] Charles Skinner was the owner of Willow Bunch's first power plant in 1927.[158] This power plant was a generator in the Skinner Brother's Garage which made and supplied the town's power. It was turned on from 8 a.m. to midnight because it was assumed that after midnight people would not be using power.[159] In addition to owning the town's first power source Charles Skinner was Saskatchewan's first air ambulance pilot.[158] He also had thousands of hours of flying experience as a prairie barnstormer and a war time test pilot for Canada Car and Foundry Co.[160] He and his wife also owned their own flying business.[158] Rachel Skinner was very active in Willow Bunch. She was one of the first women councilors and was a director of the Willow Bunch Chamber of Commerce.[161] Her main accomplishment as a town councilor was to help bring the town a sewer system.[161]

Édouard Beaupré: The Willow Bunch Giant[edit]

Willow Bunch is the birthplace of Édouard Beaupré, known as the Géant Beaupré. "When he was 12 years old, he was six feet, six inches tall. So some kids would tease him about his size so he would put them up on house roofs and leave them there until they'd stop bothering him about it," said Mary Cleggett at the Regina Regional Heritage Fair.[162]

Édouard Beaupré, the Willow Bunch Giant, was born January 9, 1881 in Willow Bunch, Saskatchewan. Over his lifetime, he grew to the height of 250.19 cm (8' 3"). On July 3, 1904, Édouard died at age 23 from a pulmonary hemorrhage.[163]


During the summer of 1880, Édouard's father Gaspard moved to Willow Bunch with his Manitoba Métis wife, Florestine Piché, to work with long- time associate Jean-Louis Légaré. The family lived on two lots of land just outside Willow Bunch, bought on October 23, 1902 and March 30, 1911.[164]

Édouard came from a family of average height. His father reached 5' 8", an average height for a man of French Canadian descent.[163] His mother was 5' 4", also an average height for women.[163]

Édouard was the first of the 20 Beaupré children to be born in the family on January 9, 1881.[165] He was baptized that same day by Fr. St. Germain with Légaré named as his godfather.[165]

His official birth weight remains a controversy to this day. There are claims Édouard weighed 14 pounds while family members argue it was between 9−10 pounds, an average weight like his future siblings.[165]

Among his siblings, only seven lived to adulthood.[165] Josephine, Alfred, Jules, Marie-Ann, Georgina, Sr. Germain, and Dina all reached an average height for the time period.[165]


Up until age three, Édouard grew at a normal rate, but by age nine, the boy reached six feet.[163] At age 11 he had outgrown his father's clothing[166] and at 12, Édouard was 6'6".[163]

It is said Édouard wrestled fully grown men and always won.[166]

Édouard was described as a shy, intelligent, tranquil person[165] with a favourite saying: "Today is today, tomorrow it will be another day."[163]

In terms of schooling, Édouard attended classes irregularly. According to Dr. J. Maurice Blai, because of this he spoke English with difficulty and wrote French poorly.[163] He also knew how to speak Cree and Sioux.[163] Édouard quickly outgrew his desk, and, with the constant teasing he suffered because of his height, he quit school after three years.[166]

During his childhood, Édouard was forced to seek the company of men because of his height.[163] Because of his irregular school attendance, he had the chance to meet famous cowboys from the Big Muddy Valley. It is said he impressed them with his skills as an excellent rider and was handy with a lasso.[163]

Teenage years[edit]

Édouard worked several ranches in the Willow Bunch area, herding cattle with the scout Johnny Chartrand.[163] He ranched for farmers in the area of Willow Bunch up until age 17, when his height and weight made the job too difficult.[163] His large height and weight may have caused a riding accident that disfigured the left side of his face,[163] or it could have been a paralysis to the left side of his face.[166] By 17, he was 7'1". With his large family living in poverty, he decided to exhibit his feats of strength for profit. He toured throughout North America, going as far as California with André Gaudry, a Metis man, and Albert Légaré, Jean-Louis' son.[163]

After a month, Édouard visited home, then went on tour a month later, accompanied by Joseph Patenaude and J. Herbert. While he was well paid, Édouard was often cheated out of his profits by those around him.[166] Much of the money was handled by his manager, and some relatives of Édouard claim the manager exploited him by keeping him drunk.[163]


As an adult, Édouard's clothing sizes were astounding.

Item Size
Shirt Collar 22" (55.88 cm)
Waist 52" (132.08 cm)
Sleeves 4 ft (121.92 cm)
Fabric for shirts 6 1/2 yards (5.94 m)
Shoe 22
Hat 15

Édouard continued to tour into adulthood. In 1901, he competed against French Canadian wrestler Louis Cyr and lost.[163] The date is said to be either March 15 or March 25, 1901.[165] The loss was blamed on tuberculosis[163] and his gentle nature.[165]

Édouard continued on with the circus, making it his full-time career in 1902.[163] In the fall of 1903, he showed signs of tuberculosis, bone decay, and weak legs. Doctors told him his tuberculosis was incurable, but he decided to continue his life in the circus <.[163]

His health continued to decline that winter[165] with a case of pneumonia. In the spring of 1904, despite his parents' protests and his severe illness, Édouard went back on tour[166] with the Barnum and Bailey Circus at the St. Louis World's Fair.[163]

Édouard Beaupré's ashes were buried in front of this statue, located outside of the Willow Bunch Museum.
Beaupré's ashes are buried outside of the Willow Bunch Museum.
Édouard Beaupré with one of his business managers Joseph Patenaude in 1904.


Édouard Beaupré fell severely ill while performing in the Barnum and Bailey Circus at the St. Louis World's Fair. J.H. Noel who was with him that night described his last moments: "Around 11:45 the presentation finished. At midnight, feeling very tired, he drank a cup of tea. Instantly he felt a sharp thoracic (chest) pain. He began coughing and spitting blood. I showed him the blood. He remarked that he had a burning sensation around his lungs. He tried to undress but was unable. I convinced him to see a doctor, he accepted. Then Édouard added 'I will die, it's so sad to die so young and so far away from dear parents.' He asked for a glass of water. I ran to get water and at my return he was already unconscious. The ambulance transported him to the Emergency Hospital where he died a few minutes later."[167] Édouard Beaupré died on July 3, 1904 from a pulmonary hemorrhage at age 23. Airne Benard, who acted as Édouard's agent, had the body embalmed. Even at the time of his death, doctors determined that Beaupré was still growing.

When the circus refused to pay freight charges to send it to Willow Bunch, Benard put the body on exhibit and charged admission to recoup embalming expenses. Because the Beaupré family was so poor, there was little its members could do to bring Beaupré's body home. Édouard's father, Gaspard, travelled by train to Winnipeg with the intention of bringing his body to Willow Bunch for burial. However, when he was told he needed a double fare, he realized he did not have enough money to do so. As a result, Édouard's family eventually assumed that his body was buried somewhere in St. Louis.

Realizing how concerned the Beaupré family was about the whereabouts of Édouard's body, Pascal Bonneau Jr., a well-to-do man of Willow Bunch, went to St. Louis to settle Beaupré's affairs. Finding that his body was being displayed in storefront windows, Bonneau brought the body to Montreal, where it would remain for many years.

Scientific study[edit]

Beaupré's body was first put on display in the Eden Museum. Because it drew such large crowds city authorities insisted that his body be moved and closed the exhibit. His body then became part of a freak show in a Montreal circus. When the show went bankrupt Beaupré's body was abandoned and left in a warehouse. In 1907, his body was found by a group of children. It was subsequently claimed by the University of Montreal for research purposes. Beaupré's body was later mummified and put on display in a glass case.

It was there that medical researchers first attributed Édouard's abnormal size to a tumour in his pituitary gland. Over the years his corpse shrunk even more due to deteriorating discs between vertebrae. A 1967 Canadian Medical Association Journal article measured the corpse at 215.90 cm (7'1").

When a physician friend gave this article to Ovila Lesperance, a nephew to Beaupré, it was the first indication the family had about the body's whereabouts. In 1975 Lesperance found his body during a visit to the University of Montreal. Until that time, a cover was draped only around the outside of the glass, allowing visitors to look at Édouard's body inside. Disgusted by this display Lesperance succeeded in getting officials to partially wrap the cloth around his body inside the case. University officials agreed to do this but Lesperance and many of Édouard's other relatives remained unsatisfied, including his grandniece, Cecile Gibouleau.

In an article in The Globe and Mail written by Andre Picard on January 9, 1990, she is quoted as saying, "it was morbid and horrible what happened to Édouard. We thought it was about time someone showed a little respect for his body – and his soul." Lesperance felt the same and began plans to have the body returned to Willow Bunch the same year as his visit to the university. This first attempt failed because university officials claimed that the court would have to decide who had the right to the body. Although Lesperance gained power of attorney to act on behalf of the family, he did not proceed with any legal action at that time.


Fourteen years later, in 1989, the family again began to pressure officials at the university to have the body sent to Willow Bunch for proper burial. In several interviews, the head of the university's anatomy department, Bernard Messier, stated that the medical benefits of studying Édouard's body had been exhausted[168] and that "maybe the moment is quite right if somebody can really prove he is a relative of Édouard Beaupré and that his intention is to bury him".[169] Messier further stated in The Globe and Mail that "the university insisted on cremation before giving up the body "because we didn't want another freak show in Willow Bunch or anywhere else."

This argument, however, differs from that of Gibouleau in the same article who claimed, "there was fierce opposition within the university to giving up the body, and pressure from European museums that wanted to buy the body and put it on display." After more negotiations the university signed an agreement to return Édouard's remains to his relatives and on September 28, 1989, the body was cremated. The ashes were later brought to Willow Bunch by Gibouleau for burial.

The memorial service took place on July 7, 1990. The funeral was held at the same St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church in which he was the first child to be baptized 108 years earlier. That afternoon, Beaupré's ashes were buried in front of a life-sized fiberglass statue dedicated to him at the Willow Bunch Museum. Around 400 people attended the ceremonies, with nearly half of them relatives of the Beaupré family.[170]

The Campagne family[edit]

Another well known family from Willow Bunch is the Campagne family. Émile and Marguerite Campagne were very involved in the community and had seven children, most of whom made their living in music. All seven formed a group called Folle Avoine, and later moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba. Michelle, Paul, Suzanne and Annette formed a musical group named Hart Rouge, an homage to one of Willow Bunch's past names. Their sister Carmen Campagne is a well-known children's entertainer. Since 2008, the family returns to the family farm for an annual music festival, Farm Fest Terre Ferme.

Women of Willow Bunch[edit]

Willow Bunch Museum Mannequin- Dress Form

In Willow Bunch there are many women who have made a significant contribution to their community.

Groups and organizations[edit]

Through various groups and organizations that the women of Willow Bunch belong to, they often spend their time volunteering and raising money for charities and community causes. The Legion Ladies Auxiliary #287 was formed June 8, 1974 in Willow Bunch.[171] Its curling team won first in the Legion auxiliary zone district curling bonspiel in 1982.[172] The Catholic Women's League started on October 29, 1963 in Willow Bunch.[173] The League says it is, "dedicated to serving the needs of the community and increasing the spiritual growth of its members as they work and share together". Its members raise money doing raffles, teas, bake sales, etc. and then donate to various organizations and charities.[174] The Federation des Femmes Canadiennes Françaises was originally formed in 1914 in Canada to help soldiers of World War I. It came to Willow Bunch in 1967. Since the war their goal has been to help French Canadian women reach their full potential and to be proud of their heritage as a member of the minority in the community.[175] They have carried out substantial work for different charities including distributing meals for, "Meals on Wheels".[176] The Happy Hobby Club originated at the house of Elizabeth "Beth" Marie Louise Viala in October 1955. They enjoyed themselves meeting on a weekly basis and often worked on projects, which they sold to raise money for charities (such as quilts). They also put on social events in the Community Centre (formerly the Sharon School building). They had annual picnic for members and their families; one year, 100 people were in attendance.[177] The Kinettes Club of Willow Bunch was formed on January 27, 1978 with Mary Eger as the formation president. Their goal was to help with Kinsmen club projects as well as to start their own projects in order to promote Willow Bunch and stimulate community interest. Their events include Ladies Night Out and the Community Birthday Calendar.[178]

The Convent[edit]

Willow Bunch Museum Mannequin- Sister

The Willow Bunch Convent was operated by the Sisters of the Cross.[179] It was opened on September 15, 1914 for students and October 1 for the over 40 boarders who would live there. The original Sisters included Emilie St. Joseph, ThaÏsie-Marie, Jeanne Gabrielle, Valérie St. Antoine, St. Clément, Agnés St. Charles, Marie St. Aubin, Emilie, and Eléonore. There were a total of 91 Sisters who served in Willow Bunch until the closing of the school in 1983.[180]


Cecile Marit has lived in Willow Bunch most of her life. She is now 80 years old.[181] She was born there, as one of 14 children. Both her parents were originally from Quebec and spoke French. She was a boarder and student at the convent and attended up to Grade 10. Her mother and sister ran a restaurant in town called the White Dove Café.[181] She and her husband Lorne farmed together outside of Willow Bunch. They had four boys, but one died. When she and her husband retired they moved back to town.[181] She became a member of the senior citizens board at the senior centre and president of the community choir, which sings at funerals and the Christmas carol festival.

Laurette Lesperance has also lived in Willow Bunch her whole life and is 82 years old. She went to the convent until Grade 3 but had to quit then to help her mother raise her siblings. She spoke French her whole life but learned English when she got married at the age of 17.[182] Her husband, who was her child-hood neighbour, also taught her how to read and write. They had five kids who they raised on their ranch outside of Willow Bunch. They lived on the ranch until 2001, when they sold it and moved into town.[183] She is part of the Ladies of the Parish at the Catholic Church.

Women in Willow Bunch now[edit]

Society in Willow Bunch has changed dramatically over time. The school is closed down so children have to attend school in Coronach and Assiniboia. Graduation rates are higher because girls have fewer duties at home and attending school is free. Most women now have employment outside of their homes. Fewer families make a living by farming and people in Willow Bunch often find work in neighbouring towns. Since most of their day is spent outside of Willow Bunch they tend to buy necessary items, such as groceries, elsewhere. This has affected the town greatly and businesses in Willow Bunch have suffered and even shut down because of this change.

Mayors and reeves[edit]

Before Willow Bunch was recognized as a town, village, or rural municipality some members of the community had a meeting to establish government in the area. The first recorded action and meeting was recorded as January 4, 1910.[184] Members at this at Pascal Bonneau Jr., Dr. Arsene Godin, Alphonse Dauphinais, Amedee Beaubien, W. Ineson, James, Hazlett, and A. Saunier. Willow Bunch's first elections were in December 1911.[184] Treffle Bonneau, O.A. Hainstock, B. Lowman, Alphonse Dauphinais, Peter Kabrud, Joseph Lapointe and Alfred Lalonde were elected the first Reeves. January 1, 1912 Willow Bunch was recognized as a Rural Municipality (R.M.) by the Government of Saskatchewan.[184] The R.M. included Willow Bunch, St. Victor, Little Woody and Kantenville.[184]

Willow Bunch officially became a village on November 15, 1929.[185] After this, the village nominated its first 'Overseer,' Emmanuel Lebel.[185]

On October 1, 1960, Willow Bunch was incorporated as a town. At this time, Marcel Ingrand was the Overseer and, as a result, became the town's first mayor. His major accomplishment as the mayor was being a large role in installing the town's sewer system. Eugene Lesperance was Willow Bunch's mayor from 1989 to 1994. Community involvement runs in the family. His niece, Nicole Gellner, was on the town council. She is currently a volunteer at the Willow Bunch Museum. The current mayor is Wayne Joyal. It is his first term as mayor of Willow Bunch. The councillors are Gerald Bellefleur, Jay Drouin, Gisele Fafard and Art Harvey. The current reeve of the Rural Municipality of Willow Bunch is David Kirby . The councilors for the municipality are Division 1 Denis Bellefleur, Division 2 Real Durand, Division 3 David Marit, Division 4 Trevor Benson, Division 5 Michel Cayer, Division 6 Gerald Delrome


Climate and ecology[edit]

Willow Bunch sits in a small valley in southern Saskatchewan, about 740 metres above sea level.[186] Like most of Saskatchewan, the climate ranges widely, from 40C degrees Celsius in the summer, to -40C in the winter.[187] Traditionally, July is the warmest month on record while February and December are the coldest. The average temperature is in the high twenties during the warmest parts of the year, and around -15 during the coolest.[188] The highest recorded temperature of all time for the area is 41 °C in 1988. The lowest recorded temperature is −41 °C, which occurred in 1983 and 1994.[188]

The Willow Bunch area receives anywhere from 250 to 450 millimetres of precipitation over the course of a year, based on the weather station in nearby Coronach.[189] Most of that precipitation comes during the spring and early summer, with the later part of the summer typically being hot and dry.[189] Occasionally flooding occurs, but it is usually caused by a large spring run-off as opposed to heavy rain fall. The last flood in the Willow Bunch area occurred in 2011 when Highway 36 was washed out.[190]

There are two major ecosystems surrounding Willow Bunch: prairie grassland, and the Big Muddy. Grasslands are dry, arid landscapes, characterized by low precipitation levels.[191] As a result, the plant life consists mostly of small shrubbery and hardy plants like Opuntia Prickly-Pear Cacti, Pasture Sage and Prairie Crocus which can grow without large amounts of rainfall.[191] Trees rarely grow naturally in this type of ecosystem because they are unable to survive on so little water in their early stages of growth.[191]

The Big Muddy is a 3 km wide flood plain left over from the last ice age.[192] Although it's named 'Muddy', the area consists largely of sandstone cliffs and buttes, as well as an alkali lake.[192] The most notable feature of his landscape is the Castle Butte, a large natural structure that juts out of the ground providing a noticeable landmark.[192]

Average Temperature in Willow Bunch, SK.

The wildlife around Willow Bunch consists mostly of small rodents and carnivores. Foxes, coyotes, gophers, raccoons, and skunks are the most common mammals.[193] Prior to the development of agriculture larger grazing animals such as bison and Pronghorn antelope were more common, as were predators like wolves.[193] Today, there are no bison in the Willow Bunch area. Antelope are struggling as well because they have trouble jumping over barbed-wire fences.[194] However, they still exist in the wild around town. The grassland surrounding Willow Bunch is home to the only venomous snake on the Canadian prairie: the Prairie Rattlesnake.[195] Although it is poisonous, this snake rarely attacks and frequently flees from human contact.[195] Willow Bunch is also home to a diverse bird population. Crows, owls and grouse can all be found in the area.[196]

Water conservation is of the utmost importance in the Willow Bunch area because of the dry nature of the climate. Long term agricultural success is dependent on closely monitoring the local water supply.[197] Underground aquifers are one of the most important water sources in the area, although many are too deep to drill wells into.[198] This difficulty has led to the widespread use of irrigation. Willow Bunch's aquifers and groundwater flows are charted by the Water Security Agency for the purpose of monitoring and managing them.[199]

Environment Canada considers south Saskatchewan's water usage to be strongly influenced by climate change.[200] They say a rise in global temperatures would be accompanied by a rise in evaporation rates, which would cause the already dry prairie grassland to become even drier.[200] Farmers could combat excessive droughts with irrigation techniques, but Environment Canada has concerns about how irrigation effects soil quality.[200] Scientists surmise it would bring more soluble salts to the surface, which would lower the quality of the soil.[200]

Willow Bunch Lake[edit]

The side road view of the Willow Bunch Lake, Saskatchewan


The Willow Bunch Lake covers the physiographic area that is also referred to as the Great Plains Province of the Interior Plains of North America.[202] Elevation ranges from 2200 feet along the base of the Coteau Upland to 1875 feet in the northeastern region of the lake.[203]

During the Pleistocene Era nearly the entire lake was covered with continental sheets of ice. Currently, the surface deposits are largely of glacial origin. The remaining surface deposits consist of pre-glacial bedrock or recently exposed glacial deposits.[202] The glacial history of Willow Bunch Lake is difficult to study because of the unique topographic setting. The region is relatively narrow, and therefore successive ice ice-fronts would be confined in the small regions. Therefore, making it difficult to distinguish.

The glacial history of the region can best be understood through eight phases:

1. Continental ice sheets overrode the Missouri Couteau Upland and advanced to an elevation of about 2900 feet in the Wood Mountain Upland. The eroding ice moving southwestward and caused parallel groves in the bedrock near Big Beaver. The canyons and buttes near Rockglen were shaped mostly through this process.[204]

2. The next known phase occurred when ice overwhelmed the Coteau Lake Channel. The movement caused meltwater flowed down the Rokglen Channel and further deepened the channel.[204]

3. An ice front advances to the Big Muddy Valley and deposited the poorly developed Harptree End Moraine.[205]

4. The ice that deposited the Harptree End Moraine thinned and wasted away. Small ponds began forming against the ice front, which affected the north Lake Willows. Water drained from this lake into the Twelve Mile Lake Channel and then eventually into the Big Muddy Valley.[205]

5. Ice in the lowland flowed against rigid stagnant ice on the Missouri Coteau and deposited outwash sand and gavel on the surface of the ice near Horizon and at Ormiston. The meltwater flowed into the Big Muddy River and eroded part of the valley train sediments that were earlier deposited.[205]

6. Old Wives Lake drained through the Ardill Channel in front of the Ardill End Morraine.[205]

7. Trossachs Channel was eroded in ice marginal position during a temporary stand of the ice front.[205]

8. Lake levels were maintained at an elevation of about 1900 feet. The Weyburn Lobe continued to waste until its front was north of Yellow Grass.[206]

Vegetation and soil[edit]

The native vegetation surrounding the lake can be best described as Mixed Prairie type. This is directly related to the constantly changing climate of the region that varies between extremes depending on the season. The hills and grassy pastures of Willow Bunch provided for good conditions to raise livestock. It did not provide for good cultivating ground however, because of saline flats, stony deposits, and slough areas. Farming in general was largely impractical in Willow Bunch, during early settlements. This pushed most farming families towards raising livestock instead. Growing crops was difficult to do, mostly because no railway travelled through Willow Bunch, or near its vicinity.[207]

This therefore made selling crops near impossible. The Métis people of Willow Bunch particularly focused on raising livestock, and had farms that housed large herds. The 1890s brought with them a period of great difficulty, as the regions surrounding Willow Bunch were faced with several years of drought. Livestock losses were more severe in 1893, and also contributed to the closure of the community school. This did not however, drastically affect the population of the town and therefore suggests that citizens were able to cope through other means. [208] By 1884, there was no longer any bison travelling through Willow Bunch or the surrounding area.[209] This affected the Métis people of the community, and most of them turned to farming to make other use of the land. Rather than relocate, the Métis people chose to change their way of life indicating that living conditions on Willow Bunch were exceptional.

The hills in the areas surrounding Willow Bunch provided for difficult soil to farm on, however it acted as good grazing area for cattle ranchers.

Industry, services, and transportation[edit]

Evan Radford - WB Grain Elevator

Given the rise and fall in population of this southern prairie community, Willow Bunch has hosted and said farewell to a variety of businesses, services, and industries. Scanning historical records and personal stories, one can find everything from Jean-Louis Légaré's cheese factory, in operation from 1887 to 1894,[210] to Joanne Prefontaine's photography business, For Real Photography,[211] in full operation today.

If past records and current conditions indicate anything about the area, they show the area breeds entrepreneurship; whether numbering 286 currently[212] or 1,348 in 1929,[185] residents seem to have a knack for being industrious, always looking to expand a new building purchased, or a new business started. From the first Métis in the area, looking for better hunting grounds in 1871, to a thriving museum, housed in a building nearly 100 years old, stories of growth and expansion abound in this quaint town's history.[185]


Crops Yields in Rural Municipality of Willow Bunch No. 42

Agriculture has been and continues as Willow Bunch's largest industry, with spring wheat, durum, oats, barley, and flax seeing the most consistent production over the last 30 years, since 1982. Among these top five crops, the most productive year over the past 70 was in 1993 when 71.5 bushels per acre of oats were produced. These numbers are gathered from the rural municipality of Willow Bunch, RM 42, an area spanning 1,047.8 square kilometres. As of the 2011 Canadian census, there were 102 farms in the Willow Bunch area, operated by a total of 125 farmers. The average age of farm operators in the area is 53.4, while the average farmer's age overall in Saskatchewan is 54.2. In the area, there are 16 animal production farms and 86 crop production farms.[213]

Along with a sustainable agricultural industry, Willow Bunch has seen the trademark grain elevators and rail lines that allow the industry to thrive. In 1925, CN expanded its railway into the town, operating up until the mid-2000s.[214] The Saskatchewan Trails Association lists the rail line between Willow Bunch and Bengough as being abandoned around 2005.[215]

Original grain elevators in Willow Bunch.

For a large portion of the 1900s, four massive grain elevators towered over Willow Bunch. They were owned by United Grain Growers Ltd., Saskatchewan Pool Elevators Ltd., McLaughlin Company Ltd., and McCabe Brothers Grain Co. Ltd. Today, only one elevator remains, built in 1983, originally owned by the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, and now jointly owned and operated as Prairie Giant Processing Inc. It is used for grain storage and cleaning.[214]

In days past, the mining industry was a particular boon to residents of the town and area. Immigrants who had experience with coal mining in Europe, located lignite coal in the area and developed coal mines, including open pit, shaft, and straight cut. Twenty three different mines were in operation during the early to mid-1900s, all with different owners. Frédérick Desjardins' mine stands out as the longest operating, continuing until the late 1950s.[216] Currently, the nearest coal mine is in Coronach; the Popular River Mine[217] employs 800 people.


Evan Radford - WB Thrift Shop

Despite its declining numbers in population, Willow Bunch still offers a variety of services to its residents and others in the surrounding area. Most notable is the town's Thrift Shop.[218] It is owned by the town, but managed and operated by Valerie Bellefleur and her husband, Gerald, who is also a town councillor.[219] The building itself was built in 1909, first used by the Canadian Bank of Commerce until 1911. It has seen use as a café, a butcher's shop, and restaurant, while the upper floor usually served as a residence.[220]

Other services include: a volunteer fire department; an auctioneering service; the Jolly Giant Pub; the Stagecoach Motel; Route 36 Sales & Service, a convenience store and gas bar; a Conexus Credit Union; a community rink, library, and swimming pool; the Hills of Home Senior Centre Club; a variety store; the RM office for the region; and several other services and businesses. In the vicinity of the town, one can find the scenic Willow Bunch Golf Club, nestled in Jean-Louis Légaré Regional Park.[221]


There are two highways servicing Willow Bunch. Highway 36 runs on a north-south axis, eventually reaching the United States border at the Coronach Border station, and extending north to Highway 13. Highway 705 intersects Willow Bunch on an east-west axis, spanning 63 kilometres west to Wood Mountain, and extending more than 230 kilometres east, stopping at provincial Highway 47.



Farm Fest Terre Ferme celebrates Willow Bunch's rich history on the Campagne family's reconstructed farm 15 kilometres from town. The festival is a place for farmers, cowboys, artists and families to mingle and bridge both culture and language. The three-day festival is held at the end of July and features wagon rides, performances, and a pancake breakfast.[222]

Paul, Annette, Michelle and Suzanne, perform as their old band, Hart-Rouge. The band performs its '80s hits and foot-stomping folk harmonies. The whole family joins together to perform as their previous band, Folle Avoine. The family band sings in French, English, Spanish, and Mi'kmaq.[223]

The festival's fifth anniversary in 2013 also welcomed Connie Kaldor, Heather Bishop, J.J. Voss, Michel Lalonde, and Anique Granger.[224] Most artists are francophone or fransaskois, and their CDs are sold at the event. The event brings people together to share music, enjoy the beauty of the coulées, and encouraging new talent to grow.

The town's population decreased by 3.7 percent from 2006 to 2011;[225] therefore, FarmFest is a way for the Campagnes to give back to a town that gave them so much.


A region known as "the hamlet" used to divide the town's Métis and settlers. The majority of Métis lived in squalid shacks while others lived in miserable hovels that were scattered across the barren land.[226] The old, abandoned homes can be seen outlining a coulee that's south of town.

Mural on Garage
Five-Petal Rose

Métis art[edit]

Métis art blends both European and First Nations tradition. The materials used are quills, beads, ribbons, and silk embroidery threads. Women were considered to be great needleworkers who added colour to all household and personal objects. The five-petal rose became a popular symbol used by Metis women; however, some families developed a variation of the flower for self-representation.[227]

Dutch Hollow Art Club[edit]

The club was formed in February 1954. The country school of Dutch Hollow closed; therefore, some members felt that they needed to keep the community spirit alive. The club's initial hobby was shell craft although they ventured into sewing, ceramics, and cookbook making. The original nine members consisted of Emma Tindall, Violet Pulfer, Jean Paterson, Kathleen Gibson, Gladys Carey, Helen Fritz, Kathryn Eger, and Lois DeBlois. Tony Fritz loaned the group $40 to initialize. Thereafter, it charged ten cents for each cup of coffee to raise funds. Members celebrated the 20th, 25th, and 40th anniversaries at the parish hall by playing cards and games, and feasting.[228]


St. Victor's Petroglyphs Provincial Park[edit]

Outside of Willow bunch, SK.

The park[229] holds a Saskatchewan mystery. The site is home to over 300 petroglyphs, which contain carvings of bison footprints, elk, deer, bear and bird tracks, and human faces.[230]

Visitors can camp among the coulees that are lined with white poplar, ash, maple and American elm at the neighboring Sylvan Valley Regional Park.[231] Camping is also available six kilometers southwest of town at Jean-Louis Légaré Regional Park.[232]

Willow Bunch Golf Club[edit]

The golf club[233] is near the campsite that sits within the park. The land was bought for $4,000 and development began in 1959. The nine-hole course was built using the natural terrain; however, some elevation changes were made to accommodate the large hills and valleys.[234] For 50 cents an hour, workers had to climb and mark trees with ribbon, dig out roots, and blast out four-foot tree stumps. It was a five-year project that finished in 1965.[235] The course hosts a men's and women's tournament along with kid's night golfing.

After a game, Willow Bunch's Jolly Giant Pub offers drink and food specials for golfers. A contest was held to win a trip to Las Vegas in 2013.

Jolly Giant Pub Signage

Willow Bunch Museum[edit]

Willow Bunch Museum

The museum[236] supplies the history of its town and surrounding area in a former convent of the Sisters of the Cross. The Museum was established in 1972 by a group of local students through a government summer employment program. It has two full floors of eight exhibits, which are individually dedicated to Édouard Beaupré, pioneers, the chapel, town archives, homemakers, Métis, Northwest Mounted Police/tools and technology, and the hospital. Local and former residents donated the artifacts; however, many of them are packed in boxes that are still waiting to be displayed.[111]


The Willow Bunch area relies primarily on agriculture for its income. Primary exports from the area are various wheat types and oats. There are currently 102 active farms in the area.


Willow Bunch's agricultural scene is characterized by the growth of common grains; spring oats, winter oats, lentils and barley are the most popular grains for farming. Nut and berry trees are cultivated in Willow Bunch, but grain crops see the most production.

Early farming in Willow Bunch's district saw high activity in grain production. In the early 1900s, oats were the most commonly grown (average of 21 yields), and wheat followed (eight yields).[237] Wheat and oats remained popular during the 1920s, and barley emerged as another highly popular grain (producing more bushels than wheat during this period).[238] The popularity and profitability of wheat fluctuated during the economic hardships of the 1930s, and began to stabilize during the 1940s. Although the early part of the decade (1942−1944) saw wheat yields reach tens of thousands of bushels harvested, the rate dropped by 12% in 1945 before marginally improving in 1946. Bushel yields increased and decreased throughout the 1940s before settling at 21,780 bushels (a 10-year high) in 1950. This decade marked a healthier growing period which (barring occasional bad years) produced 12,000-20,000 bushels every year.[239] Towards the end of the 20th century, new grain types entered the market; durum and canola entered the market in the 1970s, while the 1980s saw the introduction of tame hay and a temporary disappearance of canola. Even through these crop changes, wheat varieties and oats produced consistently high yields.[238]


Willow Bunch's agriculture generates the most profit from grain yields; as a result there is much less emphasis on livestock. Surveys from the 1930s show high poultry production, and moderate production of horses, cattle, sheep and swine. Sheep production saw a major drop from 1931 to 1936 and never rose again. The 1950s continued these pre-existing trends with low sheep production, high cattle production, and very high poultry production.[240] The trend has since continued unabated, with far more land dedicated to crops than pasture fields.[241] A 2011 census shows no farms dedicated to animals other than beef cattle ranches and animal combination farms. Furthermore, there are no farms dedicated to general apiculture. The small presence of livestock is characteristic of the farming division, however. While areas like Old Post, Waverly and Excel have many farms dedicated to cattle ranching/farming, these municipalities have few other farms dedicated to animal production.[242]

Farm density[edit]

Although Willow Bunch was consistently populated by farms in the early 1900s, the economic landscape began changing in the 1920s and continues to change today. Entering the 1930s, Willow Bunch's district saw as many as 8,939 active farms.[243] The Great Depression factored into the disappearance of numerous smaller farms, while large farms grew. During this time the number of farms decreased, while the average farm size increased by 73 acres. Entering 1941 the average size of farms became larger, and the number of farms decreased from 8,939 to 8,002.[243] This trend continued into the 1950s, with a government survey recording 421 farms in 1951 and 354 farms in 1956. Again, the average size of farms increased while the number of farms decreased. The trend continues, with a 2011 Statistics Canada report noting only 102 farms remain in the Willow Bunch area (with under 2,000 in the greater District). Furthermore, the majority of farms in the province span 1,600-2,239 acres, while smaller farms (under 200 acres) are becoming a minority.[244] In response to larger farms, small organic farms have sprung up in Willow Bunch. Although these farms are small, the prices commanded by organic goods allows these farms to operate comfortably.

More economic changes emerged in the late 2000s when Chinese investors began moving to Saskatchewan and brokering land deals. MaxCrop (a Regina-based agriculture company) is a major player in these agreements; the organization finds farmland investors among Chinese and South Korean investors and partners them with local farmers who grow crops which are then sold to customers in China. While MaxCrop's involvement has increased farming activity throughout the province, concerns are emerging about the financial barrier of entry for new farmers. Furthermore, some local farmers have expressed concern that Chinese and South Korean investors may be purchasing land that is not ideal for farming.[245]

Farming technologies[edit]

Early farming equipment relied heavily on horses. Labour on the farm could not be performed by farmers alone; cultivation technologies were not sophisticated, so devices such as harrows, carriages and harvest racks were the standard. Steam-powered farming machinery began to appear in southern Saskatchewan in the 1920s, which created much public attention for farmers using the machines.[246] Despite fascination with the new technologies, the machinery disappeared from Saskatchewan farms during the 1930s; the machines were not economically viable amid the Great Depression. This resulted in a renaissance for horses, and early farming technology returned to regular use. It wasn't until the 1940s that farming machinery would see a resurgence amid a flourishing post-World War II economy. The average fee for farming equipment was $40,000-$50,000. Ever since that time, farm machinery has been evolving technologically and quickly climbing in price. Today, the necessary farm machines cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. This high price creates great difficulty for new farmers wishing to enter the industry.

Population characteristics[edit]

Located SE of Assiniboia on Highway 36 Willow Bunch is one of the oldest settled towns in Saskatchewan.[247] The population of Willow Bunch and municipal area is 361, according to the 2011 Canadian Census. This represents a decline of 11.3% since 2006, when the population was 406.[248] There is a population density of 0.3 per square kilometre in a land area of 1,047.83 square kilometres. There are a total of 176 private dwellings within the town and surrounding area.

The average median age of the population in Willow Bunch is 50.2, with 88% of the population over the age of 15 years of age. Within Willow Bunch, males represent 55% of the population, while females account for 45%.[248]

Age Statistics in Willow Bunch

A majority of the population in Willow Bunch are married or living with a common law partner. This group makes up 57% of the population. Single residents account for 19% of the population and separated, divorced and widowed individuals make up 10% of the population.[248]

Marital Status in Willow Bunch

There are 120 families in Willow Bunch, resulting in a total of 90 children from 0–25 years old.[248] However the average number of children still at home according to the Canadian Census 2011 is 0.8. A majority of families are small families; two-person families represent the largest percentile (58%), while families of five or more make up the smallest section of the population (4%).

Family Size in Willow Bunch

A majority of residents in Willow Bunch are of European or Métis Origins. The 2011 census reported 100% of Willow Bunch residents were not of a visible minority.[249] All residents in Willow Bunch are Canadian citizens. A very small portion of the community identify as immigrants (3%), while the remainder are not immigrants (97%).[249]

Ethnicity in Willow Bunch

The Canadian Household Survey[250] 2011 reported Willow Bunch residents are primarily Christian.[249]

  • Christianity: 85% (Catholic 51%) (United Church 34%)
  • No religious affiliation: 11%
  • Other religions: 0%
Religion in Willow Bunch

Most Willow Bunch residents speak English as their mother tongue (84%), a smaller percentile identify French as their first official language (17%). A large percentage of the community is bilingual speaking both French and English (21%).[248]

In terms of occupation, the 2011 Canadian Household Survey reported that residents held the following positions:

  • Management occupations: 5%
  • Business, finance and administrative occupations: 12%
  • Sales and Service occupations:12%
  • Trades, transport and equipment operators and related occupations: 12%
  • Natural resources, agriculture and related production occupations: 22%
  • Occupation not applicable: 36%

The median income in Willow Bunch is $24, 252.[249]

  • Men $59,661
  • Women $19,084
Income in Willow Bunch


French education struggle[edit]

The French language is a symbol of Willow Bunch, Saskatchewan.[251] It remains a spoken language of the Métis, francophones[252] and various other peoples who live there today.[253] However, French was not always a priority in the town's schools.[254]

Before Willow Bunch became situated in its current location in the early 20th century, it was known as Bonneauville.[255] Bonneauville was the location of the town's first school, which opened in 1886 and had no formal name.[256] It was, however, known as a "Free Catholic School."[256]

At the time, Bonneauville was governed by the North-West Territories, as the province of Saskatchewan had yet to be created.[256] There was no legislative act regulating education in the area.[256] Consequently, the school was dependent on ratepayers for funding.[257] Having this burden enabled the residents of Bonneauville, under the North-West Territories Act of 1875,[258] to choose which language the school would teach their children in.[257] Because records were vague during the school's first two years of operation, it is difficult to ascertain which language they learned in.[255] However, it is likely that they learned in French because the majority of residents were francophones in 1888.[259]

Joseph Lapointe, the first teacher at Sitkala. R.C.P.# 23, and his family, 1895

On November 28, 1888, the school was formally established as Sitkala Roman Catholic Public (R.C.P.) # 23 by Proclamation of Lieutenant Governor Joseph Royal.[260] Jean-Louis Legaré, Prudent Lapointe, Narcisse Lacerte and Isidore Ouellette were trustees for Sitkala R.C.P.[260] Lapointe's brother, Joseph Lapointe was the school's only teacher[256] until Antonia Granger was hired in 1889.[255]

Sitkala R.C.P.# 23 Ratepayer's Map, 1888

Twenty-six students[260] from 20 families[259] attended the school in its first term, which ended on March 31, 1889. They were taught reading, dictation, writing, arithmetic, drill, grammar, and geography, all in French. They also learned English as a second language.[260]

In 1907, Sitkala R.C.P. relocated to what would be known as Willow Bunch.[255] The Sisters of the Cross Convent, a private, French-English school, was built there seven years later in 1914.[256]

Teachers and students in front of Sitkala R.C.P.# 23, 1913
Sisters of the Cross Convent

Since Saskatchewan had been formed in 1905, both schools fell under the province's jurisdiction.[261] In turn, they had to abide by the Saskatchewan Act.[262] Under the Act, their right to French education was protected.[261] Just over 25 years later, this right no longer existed.[254]

In 1931, the School Act[263] prohibited French as the sole language of instruction in schools. However, it allowed students to be taught solely in French from Kindergarten to Grade 1. Students in higher grades were able to learn in French for one hour each day.[254]

Six years later, in 1937, Sitkala R.C.P. joined the public school system. Increasing enrolment rates led the Convent to follow suit, but 12 years later in 1949. The Willow Bunch School was built that same year.[256]

With three schools in the town, minimal French education remained a part of the curriculum.[254] Despite this, students were able to sing French songs in celebration of Saskatchewan's Diamond Jubilee in 1965.[264] They also sang Polish, Irish, Czech, English and Aboriginal songs.[264] Nonetheless, their francophone parents were not content with the curriculum being taught.[265]

In May 1969, a Willow Bunch advisory board[266] responded to the parents' concern and began campaigning for equal instruction in French at the Willow Bunch School.[265] The Department of Education supported their inquiry, and proposed it to the Borderland School Unit # 4, which administered the school at the time.[267] However, the Unit rejected their proposal for several months.[268] After meetings October[269] through November,[268] the Unit's position changed.[270]

On November 21, the Willow Bunch School officially became bilingual,[271] making it the fifth school in the province to acquire that status.[270] Grade 1 students received equal instruction in French or English.[270] For higher grades, time allotments for French instruction were implemented one year at a time, over six years, until bilingual instruction was offered in all grades.[272] Reading, writing, and mathematics were taught in English, while language instruction, social studies, health education and religious education were offered in both languages.[272] Parents had the option of enrolling their children in the English or French program.[272]

French-instructed classes, like social studies, provided students with a holistic understanding of the history of other peoples in the area.[273] Students learned about the clothing, spiritual beliefs, dwellings, nutrition, languages and recreational activities of First Nations peoples.[273] The Métis were also included in these teachings, but only regarding their participation in the 1885 North-West Rebellion[273]

The provincial government promised[271] to help with the school's increased costs attributed to it being bilingual.[270] However, in 1977, the French program only had four full-time teachers.[274] The English program had 30.[274]

By then, French had already become less-spoken in peoples' homes.[275][276] In 1961, 477 people most often spoke it at home.[275] By 1976, there were only 235.[276]

Since the Willow Bunch School closed in 2007,[277] this number has dropped to 15.[253]

Language Most Often Spoken at Home in Willow Bunch, SK: 1961-2011

The Willow Bunch School was closed in 2007. Students are now bused to the nearby communities of Assiniboia, Bengough, and Coronach.

Architecture and built environment[edit]

According to the Census of Canada, the town has 160 private dwellings with the latest of them being built in 1990.[278]

Willow Bunch has a number of public buildings and locations including Co-Op Super Market, Fire Hall, Green House, Hills of Home Senior Centre, Jolly Giant Pub, Outdoor Swimming Pool, Palliser Regional Library, Route 36 Sales and Service Gas Station, St. Ignace Catholic Church, Stage Coach Motel & Restaurant, Willow Bunch Catholic Cemetery.

Notable buildings and locations[edit]

Willow Bunch Community Skating Rink
Community Skating Rink

The town of Willow Bunch has had two other skating rinks before the current one. The current community skating rink was built in late 1957 on the east side of town. The arch rafters that were used to build the rink were scavenged from another skating rink in the nearby town of Assiniboia after a severe wind storm had blown it down. The dimensions of the rink are as follows: 1,043 feet wide x 180 feet long x 40 feet high. In 1959, a lobby was built onto the south end of the rink.[88]

Willow Bunch Museum

Originally built as a convent in 1914 by the Sisters of the Cross, this three-storey mansard-roof edifice is now the Museum of Willow Bunch. The dimensions are 83 feet long and 44 feet wide. Planning and construction of the convent began in April 1914. The parish provided a $3,000 grant as well as 20 acres of church land to build the convent on. All stones, sands and building materials were reportedly hauled for free by parishioners. During the First World War construction was momentarily suspended as many of the workers who were originally from France left the town to fight in the war. Because of this, the interior of the top floor was never finished. The building also has served as a private and public school during its existence. Because of declining members of the convent and the school division no longer renting classroom space, the building went up for sale in 1983. It was to be bought by the town on March 27, 1985 to be the Museum of Willow Bunch.[88]

The Telegraph Office

The Telegraph Office is presumably one of the oldest and famous buildings still standing in Willow Bunch. Built in the early 1900s by Jean-Louis Légaré, this building served as the Telegraph Office from 1904 to 1931. The building has acted as a private dwelling and as a SGI office since then. As of October 10, 2007 it has been under a restoration process by Allan Mondor.[279]

The Jean Louis Légaré Regional Park

The Jean Louis Légaré Regional Park is located two km southwest of the town. It was established in 1961. The park has camping sites with access to electrical outlets, picnic areas, showers, washrooms, nature trails and a playground. The most notable aspect of the park is the Willow Bunch Golf Course, established in 1963, which is located within the park itself.[280]


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  • Bonneau, Gilles A., ed. (2005). Willow Bunch Sites and Buildings. Moose Jaw, SK: Grand Valley Press.
  • Chabot, Adrien (1970). Willow Bunch: 1920–1970, vol. 2, La Montagne de Bois. Translated by Sister Gabrielle-Madeleine. Gravelbourg: SK.
  • Day, Bonnie L. (1997). A History of the Lakota Sioux of Wood Mountain.
  • Ellis, J. G.; Acton, D. F.; Moss, H. C. (1967). The Soils of the Willow Bunch Lake Map Area (PDF). Extension Publication. 200. Saskatoon: Saskatchewan Institute of Pedology.
  • Hamilton, Beckey (2013). "Métis land settlement at Willow Bunch, Saskatchewan, 1840–1910" (PDF). Prairie Perspective. 10: 1–29.
  • Howard, James (1984). The Canadian Sioux. University of Nebraska Press.
  • MacEwan, Grant (1973). Sitting Bull: the Years in Canada. Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers.
  • Mandelbaum, David (1979). The Plains Cree. University of Regina Press.
  • Parizek, R. R. (1964). Geology of the Willow Bunch Lake Area. 4. Saskatchewan Research Council Geology Division.
  • Potyondi, Barry (1995). In Palliser's Triangle: Living in the Grasslands 1850–1930. Saskatoon: Purich Publishing.
  • Rivard, Ron; Littlejohn, Catherine (2003). The History of the Métis of Willow Bunch. Saskatoon: Ron Rivard.
  • Rondeau, Clovis; Chabot, Adrien (1970). History of Willow Bunch: 1870-1970. Saskatchewan Archives: Rev. Clovis Rondeau & Rev. Adrien Chabot.
  • Willow Bunch Historical Society (1998). Poplar Poles and Wagon Trails. Willow Bunch, SK: Willow Bunch Historical Society. ISBN 9781550563351.
  • Wishart, David J. (1998). Great Plains Indians. University of Nebraska Press.

External links[edit]

Media related to Willow Bunch, Saskatchewan at Wikimedia Commons