Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park – Maple Creek, Saskatchewan
About 10,000 years ago, the the world was in the throes of an ice age, the Wisconsin glaciation. Most of Canada and the northern border regions of the United States were covered with a huge sheet of ice. But because of the way mountain slopes directed the flow of ice, some areas were never covered with ice floes. They were islands of land surrounded by icy deserts, scientists nicknamed these oases “nunataks”, from the Inuit term. nunataq.
One of the best examples of nunatak is the Cypress Hills area in southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan. One of the hills has the honor of being the highest point in Saskatchewan, 1,392 meters (4,567 feet). Covering approximately 2,500 square kilometers (965 square miles), the Cypress Hills were never fully covered during the Wisconsin glaciation, so the ground and vegetation were not scuffed by heavy rivers of ice. Today, the region’s many springs make it a different oasis. Its many mountain springs make it humid and humid while the ocean of prairie grass that surrounds it is made up of semi-arid plains.
This region is a revered place for many First Nations and Native American peoples. For at least 7,000 years, the hills held great spiritual significance and were used as shelter during the winter months. The hills and forests served as protection against the winter storms that ravaged the prairies.
As the settlers moved west, Cypress Hills became infamous when a band of American “wolfers” (professional wolf hunters) invaded Canada and slaughtered an Assiniboine camp. The Americans had lost their horses and were trying to find them when they came across a group of Assiniboine and their leader, Little Soldier. On June 1, 1873, the drunken wolves confront the Assiniboine, accusing them of stealing their horses. As they tried to negotiate, members of both sides were intoxicated and the situation worsened.
Wolves opened fire, wiping out all of Camp Assiniboine in what became the Cypress Hills Massacre. The event revealed how little control Canada had over its Wild West and formed the North West Mounted Police, the forerunners of the iconic Canadian Mounted Police. The area where the massacre took place was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1964.
The Cypress Hills area became an interprovincial park when the two provinces merged their adjacent parks to create Cypress Hills Provincial Park.