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Whispers from the Past: Discovering the Rich History of Robsart, Saskatchewan

Updated: Apr 2

Discover the captivating history of Robsart, Saskatchewan, nestled within the serene landscapes of Reno No. 51. From its humble beginnings as an independent village in 1912 to its transition into an unincorporated hamlet in 2002, Robsart's story is one of resilience and transformation. Join us on a journey through time as we delve into the rich heritage of this charming community, situated at the crossroads of Highway 18 and the historic Red Coat Trail.


Remember that Robsart is still home to residents and should be treated with utmost respect. While exploring, refrain from entering buildings or trespassing on private properties. Walking along Main Street should generally be acceptable, but always prioritize the privacy and well-being of the town's inhabitants. Let's honor the community and its residents by being considerate and respectful at all times.

 

Roots of Robsart: A Historical Overview

Map of where Robsart is located in relation to Medicine Hat

Robsart, situated within the rural municipality of Reno No. 51 in Saskatchewan, Canada, is an unincorporated hamlet. According to the 2021 census, it is home to 15 individuals residing in 5 out of its 6 private dwellings. This marks a 25% decrease from the population of 20 recorded in the 2016 census. Formerly an independent village since 1912, Robsart transitioned into an unincorporated community on January 1, 2002. Positioned at the junction of Highway 18 and Highway 13, renowned as the historic Red Coat Trail, Robsart lies approximately 170 km southeast of Medicine Hat, Alberta.


Founding and Early Growth: The Birth of Robsart


In 1910, the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) acquired a quarter section of land in southwest Saskatchewan, christening it Robsart. Legend has it that the town drew inspiration from Amy Robsart, a character in Sir Walter Scott's novel "Kenilworth." Three years later, Henry Abbott took ownership of the land and spearheaded the settlement's establishment. With Abbott's leadership, the community flourished rapidly. Among the earliest enterprises were a general store and feed mill, paving the way for the emergence of over 30 additional businesses, ranging from dentistry and jewelry to surgical services.


The Golden Era: Robsart's Boom Years


Robsart Hospital, what's left of it

Following the completion of the Stirling-Weyburn line by the Canadian Pacific Railway, Robsart experienced a remarkable boom, catapulting the small community into a period of unprecedented prosperity. Almost weekly, new businesses emerged, including hotels, cafes, churches, livery barns, a school, banks, grain elevators, and notably, its own public hospital, which opened its doors in 1918 and still stands today, albeit in a dilapidated state. A mere decade after its establishment, Robsart boasted a population of 350 residents, along with its own town hall, mayor, town council, and over 50 thriving businesses. The town's prosperity was so palpable that one postcard depicted Robsart with the ironic motto "A town with a bright future."


Facing Hardships: Robsart During the Great Depression and Beyond


In the late 1920s, Robsart's once-thriving prosperity began to unravel, marking the onset of a prolonged decline. The downturn commenced with a devastating grain elevator fire in 1929, followed by another destructive blaze just a year later that ravaged a significant portion of the business district. These calamities set the stage for the arrival of the Great Depression, compounded by droughts, plummeting grain prices, and meager crop yields, which dealt further blows to the already struggling economy. The once bustling business core witnessed a steady exodus of merchants as financial losses mounted, forcing many to seek opportunities elsewhere. Despite efforts to weather the storm, the community grappled with enduring challenges, its pioneer optimism tempered by the harsh realities of economic hardship.

Robsart Community Hall

During the 1980s, residents and neighboring farmers joined forces in a collective effort to breathe new life into Robsart by refurbishing the old community hall. Their aim was to rejuvenate the once-thriving town. However, despite their endeavors, a steady decline persisted, leading to the gradual closure of most remaining businesses and residences. Among the significant losses were Robsart's Saskatchewan Wheat Pool and Pioneer elevators, which had been integral to the community's identity for years. In 2000, both landmarks were demolished, marking the end of an era. Finally, on January 1, 2002, in the face of dwindling population numbers, the village of Robsart was officially dissolved, and governance was transferred to the Rural Municipality of Reno No. 51.

 

Our Side of The Hills; Community Book


Our Side of The Hills community book

In the early 1990s, a collaborative effort among former and current residents of Robsart culminated in the creation of a community history book titled "Our Side of The Hills." This endeavor aimed to preserve and celebrate the rich heritage of the town. Notably, former mayor and esteemed resident Archie Smiley contributed a revised version of an old poem titled "Ode to Robsart," adding to the collective tapestry of memories and stories woven throughout the book.

 

Tracing History: The Legacy of the Red Coat Trail


Read Coat Trail map in Alberta and Saskatchenwan

The Red Coat Trail derives its name from the vibrant red coats worn by the North-West Mounted Police who patrolled its length. Established to uphold law and order along the 1300km route, the force of nearly 300 men, accompanied by horses and oxen, tackled prevalent crimes such as whiskey trading, bank robbery, horse theft, and cattle rustling. Additionally, they played a crucial role in maintaining peace amid escalating tensions with First Nations communities and the perceived threat of American invasion. The North-West Mounted Police later evolved into the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).


Today, stretches of highways spanning Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta trace the historical paths of the Red Coat Trail. Notably, a section of the trail, known as the Ghost Town Trail, winds through numerous abandoned towns in Southern Saskatchewan, including Robsart, serving as a poignant reminder of the region's storied past.

 

Exploring Beyond Robsart: Local and Regional Attractions


Beaver Lumber Co Ltd. Storefront
  • Beaver Lumber Co. Ltd., one of the last remaining original storefronts along main street.

  • Robsart Hospital, a former community hospital opened in 1918 which still stands today and is known as the only known pioneer hospital of its kind in Saskatchewan, if not Western Canada.

  • Robsart Community Hall, refinished in the 1980s by locals and farmers and still in use today for special occasions.

  • Robsart Community Curling Rink, no longer in use but still stands.

Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park
  • Cypress Hills Inter-provincial Park, an inter-provincial park straddling the southern Alberta-Saskatchewan border; located north-west of Robsart. It is Canada's first and only inter-provincial park.

 
 

In conclusion, Robsart, Saskatchewan, embodies a rich tapestry of history, resilience, and community spirit. From its humble beginnings as a bustling settlement along the Red Coat Trail to its transition into an unincorporated hamlet, Robsart has weathered the trials of time with grace. While its population may have dwindled over the years, the spirit of Robsart lives on through the stories of its past and the enduring legacy of its residents. As we reflect on the journey of this small town, let us cherish its heritage and honor the contributions of those who have called Robsart home. Whether you're a visitor passing through or a resident proud to call Robsart your own, may the spirit of this resilient community continue to inspire and uplift for generations to come.

 
spring scene with green grass, tall pine trees, mountain in the background, with colourful flowers in the foreground

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