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Contact the Housing Services Centre
Housing Services Centre Suffield
19 Edgewood Road
Ralston AB T0J 2N0
Email: [email protected]
Medicine Hat is a city in southeast Alberta, Canada. It is located along the South Saskatchewan River. It is approximately 169 km (105 mi) east of Lethbridge and 295 km (183 mi) southeast of Calgary. This city and the adjacent Town of Redcliff to the northwest are within Cypress County. Medicine Hat was the sixth-largest city in Alberta in 2016 with a population of 63,230.
Started as a railway town, today Medicine Hat is served by the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1) and the eastern terminus of the Crowsnest Highway (Highway 3). Nearby communities considered part of the Medicine Hat area include the Town of Redcliff (abutting the city’s northwest boundary) and the hamlets of Desert Blume, Dunmore, Irvine, Seven Persons, and Veinerville. The Cypress Hills (including Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park) is a relatively short distance (by car) to the southeast of the city.
Historically, Medicine Hat has been known for its large natural gas fields, being immortalized by Rudyard Kipling as having “all hell for a basement”. Because of these reserves, the city is known as “The Gas City”.
Name origins and ancient history
The name “Medicine Hat” is an English interpretation of Saamis (SA-MUS) – the Blackfoot word for the eagle tail feather headdress worn by medicine men. Several legends are associated with the name of a mythical mer-man river serpent named Soy-yee-daa-bee – the Creator – who appeared to a hunter and instructed him to sacrifice his wife to get mystical powers which were manifest in a special hat. Another legend tells of a battle long ago between the Blackfoot and the Cree in which a retreating Cree “Medicine Man” lost his headdress in the South Saskatchewan River.
A number of natural factors have always made Medicine Hat a gathering place. The gently sloping valley with its converging waterways and hardy native cottonwood trees attracted both the migratory bison herds which passed through the area, and humans who used the waterways and hunted the bison. Before Europeans arrived, the historic Blackfoot, Cree and Assiniboine nations used the area for hundreds of years, but they had been preceded for thousands of years by previous indigenous cultures.
Beginning in 1971, archaeological excavations supervised by scholars from Medicine Hat College (MHC) were conducted at what became known as Saamis Archaeological Site along Seven Persons Creek, near a historic Blackfoot buffalo jump. These revealed numerous artifacts associated with bands of First Nations ancestors, known as the Old Women’s Phase to archaeologists. They found “quantities of stone tools, fire cracked rock, butchered bone and pottery”, marking this as an important spot. Most of the bones were identified as bison. Additional excavations were conducted in 1972 and 1973, and a field school for college students was based there. They “excavated and mapped over 3,200 sq. ft. of living floors and nearly 80 features including hearths and stone boiling pits. Radiocarbon dates indicate the Saamis Site was initially occupied about AD 1500 and again around AD 1750”, well before most European contact.
Also in this area, further to the west, other MHC students and faculty were part of an excavation in 2000 at what became known as the Hillside Campsite, where two layers of finds were made. The upper layer had artifacts from the Old Women’s Phase, but the lower layers were found to be much older, containing Pelican Lake Phase remains that were dated to between 1000 and 1500 BC.
In 1883, when the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) reached Medicine Hat and crossed the river, European Canadians established a town site. They named it from the First Nations legends. As growth took place, in 1889 Medicine Hat built the first hospital west of Winnipeg. The CPR established this town as a railway divisional point. The frontier settlement was incorporated as a town on October 31, 1898, and as a city on May 9, 1906. Medicine Hat is halfway between Winnipeg and Vancouver, British Columbia, on the Pacific Coast.
Progress and growth
Rich in natural resources including natural gas, coal, clay, and farmland, the town became industrialized and was known in its early days as “the Pittsburgh of the West”, referring to the industrial city in western Pennsylvania of the United States. A number of large industries located here, attracted by the cheap and plentiful energy resources. Coal mines, brick works, pottery and glass bottle manufacturing plants, flour mills, etc. became established. With transportation access via the railway and river, the town became a service and trade center for the agriculture and its products, both commodity crops and livestock, of the surrounding area. Between 1909–1914 the town had an economic boom that increased the population to more than 10,000. Little growth occurred between the World Wars.
During World War II, one of the largest prisoner-of-war camps (P.O.W.) in Canada was established here in the mid-1940s, used primarily to hold German and Italian prisoners. It was not until the 1950’s of the post-war period that the town again had commercial growth.
In the 21st century, Medicine Hat promotes its quality of life and affordable cost of living, enjoying the savings of a city-owned gas utility and power generation plant. Major industries have included chemical plants, a Goodyear tire and rubber plant, greenhouses, numerous oil and gas related companies, a foundry, I-XL Industries (a brick works dating from the 1880’s), to name a few. Friends of Medalta is a non-profit that has been formed to preserve some of the city’s industrial heritage.