THE STORY OF STURGIS
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HISTORY OF A PRAIRIE TOWN
THE STORY OF STURGIS
When we attempt to research history, we find ourselves again and again coming, not to the beginnings of things but to spots where the trail peters out and is lost in the grassy wastes of forgetfulness. Early settles in what is now Saskatchewan were concerned with details of basic survival.... What will be our next meal? How can we find shelter? They had no time for, and indeed no thought of recording their daily doings. Few indeed were those who understood that they were making history and that their story would one day be important. Those who formed social groups - boards, committees, organizations - usually kept only sketchy records, and too often made scant provisions for preserving them. Unexpected fires and even deliberate discard have taken their toll of Sturgis records.
Faced with this vacuum, a researcher seeks out the few old timers still left and delves into their memories. Oh, they remember! Unfortunately, though, human memory is not as reliable as a record written on the spot. Old-Timer A and Old-Timer B remember the same event quite differently - the time of its happenings, the locations, even sometimes the identity of the main actors.
The past is gone forever, and the future will all too soon become the past. Today's historians believes that sifting through the mass of records, fragmentary though they are, and delving into memories will provide a story more accurate than any that can be written later when more of the sources of information have been lost. We sift through what we have, make our choices, and having given the reader fair warning, proceed to recount the story of Sturgis as it seems to us.
In 1895, a rancher named Jack Shewfelt moved his operation to the elbow of our river in what was then the Assiniboine Territory. He seems to have been the first white settler. The discover of arrowheads and other evidence proves without a doubt, of course, that the present site of Sturgis had long been a place of temporary camping for nomadic Indian tribes. In 1901 Owen (Pat) Carragher, who had been ranching at Devil's Lake, bought Shewfelt's buildings (apparently neither man owned the land) and became the earliest settler.
In 1902 townships 33 and 34 were surveyed and as a result of this there was an influx of homesteaders and land purchasers.
The years 1904, 1905 and 1906 saw many homesteaders settling in this area and to the east of here. Settlers came from the United States, Ontario, the Maritimes, England, Sweden, Poland and the Ukraine. Steel followed the settlers and by 1910 the railway line from Swan River west was surveyed and steel laid as far as Pelly. In 1911, steel reached Sturgis and continued to Preeceville. In 1914, steel came from Canora to Sturgis.
THE NAMING OF A COMMUNITY: STANHOPE OR STURGIS?
In 1904, Fred C. Brooks moved his general store from Crystal Lake to just north of Sturgis (where Jack Lesanko now lives, SW of 32-34-4). Fred Brooks became the first Postmaster, operating a post office from this location. The post office required a name and so he named it the Sturgis Post Office, after his hometown of Sturgis in South Dakota. Mail was brought to the Sturgis Post Office from Plateau Post Office that was near Hassan, Saskatchewan. History notes that the Annual Report of the Postmaster General in Ottawa records the formal establishment of Sturgis Post Office in 1908. There is no record of Stanhope.
At the same time, a community was developing a few miles away. The settlement was known as Stanhope. The story goes that the pioneers made a joke out of the name Stanhope. They said, "We can just stand and hope the railway comes." No official government records have been located to verify that the settlement was ever called Stanhope. However, news items in 1910 and 1911 issues of The Canora Advertiser speak of activities and events happening in the community of Stanhope along with the names of individuals known to have been early settlers of Sturgis. This would suggest that Sturgis was at one time called Stanhope.
When the townsite was surveyed in 1911, the post office was moved from the farm of Fred C. Brooks to Lot 4 Block 2 in the community. H.S. Hutchinson became the new postmaster operating out of his general store. The November 23, 1911 issue of the Canora Advertiser reported that great difficulty was being experienced due to a shortage of cars in Stanhope, and that it was rumored that the name Stanhope will in the near future be changed to Sturgis, the present name of the post office.
It would appear that the original settlement was called Stanhope and that the post office was called Sturgis. It also seems possible, that when the post office was relocated to Stanhope, it not only brought mail service but also a new name for the community.
Sturgis, Saskatchewan is one of four communities in North America with this name and the only one in Canada. The others are in South Dakota, Michigan and Tennessee.
THE BEGINNING OF THE COMMUNITY
When H.S. Hutchinson took over the post office, F. C. Brooks started an implement business. Other businesses were the first hardware store (Frank M. Weikle), a livery barn and feed stable (Charles Carragher), a restaurant and boarding house (Mrs. Stennes and her daughter Mrs. Healy) and a lumber yard (F. B. Reusch)
Sturgis was incorporated as a village in 1912 and the first village council overseer was William McDonald. Councillors were A. H. Peterson and C. J. O'Brien. The secretary was Frank M. Weikle.
1912 seems to have been a busy year in Sturgis. Andy and Pete Peterson built a store. John Hollingsworth owned the poolroom and D. Campbell and William McDonald had the McCormick and Oliver implement business.
In 1930, Sturgis was in the midst of a building boom and then the hungry '30's put a damper on everything. In the '40's, it began to grow so that there wasn't a vacant building site on Main Street. The town council and the village councils previously had the foresight to purchase adjoining land so that Sturgis has never been hampered for more space. The town owns the land where the sports grounds are located. Even the public school got an additional five acres of land behind the brick building just in case someday there might be a need for it.
In the 1950's, Sturgis was the site of a cement block manufacturing firm, a cement tile and culvert producing company, a planing mill, one of the first farm co-ops in the province and a $15,000.00 PFRA dam. Sturgis had a population estimated in excess of 850. The town had about 250 homes and the housing situation was described as "scarce". A total of 23 buildings were moved into Sturgis to become new homes.
There was also daily bus service on the Kelvinton-Yorkton run which passed through Sturgis. At the present (2000) , there is bus service to Regina and Saskatoon. The town is situated on highway No. 9 and 49 which are good all weather roads.
While there was no regular air service, there was a landing field that could have been used for small aircrafts. This was lost when a timber mill was set up on the site. The timber mill was shut down in later years.
Farming has always been the main industry of the district. Storage capacity of the three grain elevators in the town was about 450,000 bushels. Farming land varies from sand to black loam. Its value ran from $1,200 to $80,000 a quarter section. Through the years, the yields varied from as high as 40 bushels an acre to a still respectable 25 bushels an acre.
The town of Sturgis was the largest cattle shipping centre in the eastern area of the province. Several carloads of cattle were sent out each week. A number of farmers also shipped large quantities of milk and cream.
The Sturgis Farm Co-operative Association was incorporated March 15, 1945. This was the first co-operative farm organized in Saskatchewan. There were six farmers and their families in the organization: Hugh E. Mitchell, Charlie S. Mitchell, Elmer J. Sjolie, Sam Sookocheff, A.M. (Sandy) Nicholson (M.P. for MacKenzie), and Henry (Ted) E. Moritz.
Population of the rich district which surrounded Sturgis was estimated as close to 3,000. Sturgis is in the Rural Municipality of Preeceville, No. 334.
The Board of Trade, Home and School Club, Ladies Aid, Catholic Women's League were among the more active clubs and organizations in the community in early times. Other organizations and clubs are the United Church Women, Chamber of Commerce, Economic Development, Women's Evangelical, Kinsmen, Kinettes, K'ettes, Cadets, Boy Scounts, 4-H, C.G.I.T., Hockey, Figure Skating, LaCrosse, Ball Clubs, Sports & Rodeo Committee and Sturgis Wildlife.
That Sturgis is a good place to live is well attested by at least four residents who passed the century mark in it: Tom Rongve (103 years), Lizzie Weikle (101 years), Stella Laing (100 years) and Marie Gromnisky (105 years).
In the early days, buffalo roamed the high land near here and wallowed in the Assiniboine River, easy targets for the arrows and guns of the Indians. These large animals left their bones and skulls as evidence along the river. Then the days of the ranchers and early settlers which led to the days of the frontier businesses and railroad laying. Time has marched on leaving a scar here and a mark there so that history . . . the history of Sturgis, could be written for future generations.