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  • Bryan Watson

2023 Tour: RM of Spy Hill Cemeteries and Historic Sites

On a beautiful Saturday, June 24, The Heritage Cemeteries Project, Inc. hosted its annual tour. While past tours have taken us to historic sites and cemeteries of the RM’s of Churchbridge, Langenburg, and Fertile Belt, this year’s tour took us to our neighboring RM of Spy Hill.

The tour began with an interesting and educational visit to both buildings of the Spy Hill Museum. We want to offer a special thanks to the Museum board for agreeing to open early for us so that the tour group could visit the museum.

An antique John Deere plough at the Spy Hill museum.

If you haven’t visited the Spy Hill Museum, you’ll want to put this on your list of things to do this summer! The museum was filled with interesting artifacts and historical pieces from different eras of the area.

A mystery! This tombstone was found in the Beresina district, but there is no known family by this name. Can you solve the puzzle?

From arrowheads to pioneer furniture, tools, and photos, through the war(s), and to the relatively recent past of the 50’s, you can experience the development and changes that formed the fabric of Spy Hill and the surrounding areas.

Antique scale formerly used by Watson's Self-Serve grocery store.

After visiting the museum, the group headed off to visit the Spy Hill Cemetery, located at the foot of the actual Spy Hill. This historic cemetery is beautifully kept. Some notable memorials include the first female land-owner in the North West Territories (which is what Saskatchewan was, before it became a province,) as well as a person who attended school with John McCrae, the author of the poem, In Flanders Fields.

The beautiful Spy Hill Cemetery gate.

From there, the group headed east, and stopped for a moment at the remains of the hamlet of Welby. Although just a signpost and a few visible foundations remain, Welby was once an important site for the railway, with a water tower and a coal dock. The village had a church, some stores, a school, and several families residing there, yet now, there is only the blowing of the wind and the regular sound of a train that passes without stopping. But when you stop for a moment, you can still feel the history of the settlement.

After Welby, we headed down into the beautiful Qu’Appelle Valley to spend a moment at St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Cemetery. This pioneer-era cemetery has a lot of history, as it was once abandoned and had to be “rescued” from the bush that was overtaking it. This was an effort that was apparently led by the late Hank Surman, who was recently laid to rest there himself.

The road through the bush that accesses St. Joseph's Cemetery.

The gate at St. Joseph's Cemetery

The tour then continued across the river at Fort Espérance, a national historic site remembering a North West Company trading post which existed from 1787 to 1819. Here, we stopped for a picnic lunch.

Monuments at Fort Esperance

Our next stop was at the Hamona Provincial Historic Site on the north side of the Qu’Appelle Valley. Founded in 1895, Hamona was the first co-operative established in Saskatchewan.

The tour group at Hamona

Heritage Cemeteries chairman Bryan Watson provides commentary for Jack Dawes of The Rock 98.5 FM

From Hamona, the group crossed Highway 8 and visited Holar Cemetery, followed by a brief stop in Tantallon to pick up some refreshments.

Monument for Holar School District

From Tantallon, it was off to Valley View Cemetery, another scenic cemetery at the edge of the Qu’Appelle Valley.

Valley View Cemetery gate

Sign recognizing a donation toward the iron fence at Valley View Cemetery

After Valley View Cemetery, we left the Qu’Appelle Valley behind and headed north toward Highway 22, where we visited Vallar Cemetery near the Mosaic K2 mine site.

Heading east along Highway 22, we stopped at the Gerald United Cemetery, and finally concluded the tour in Gerald at St. Wenceslaus Roman Catholic Cemetery, just as the weather turned a little threatening.

Altar commemorating the first St. Wenceslaus Church

Tour group at St. Wenceslaus Cemetery in Gerald

I want to congratulate the caretakers of all of the sites we visited. All of the cemeteries and historic sites were very well groomed, and it is easy to see that people who care are caring for these places. And the Spy Hill Museum was a delight.

Thank you to everybody who attended the tour! We look forward to seeing you again soon, perhaps on another future tour.

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