MANITOU BEACH — The Village of Manitou Beach is about to reach 100 years since its incorporation on Aug. 11, 1919.
Many of the commemorating events put on throughout this year aim to recognize the saltwater lake around which a village has developed for decades, and people have utilized for centuries. The history of Little Manitou Lake is one that deserves special recognition along with the centennial of its town.
The first people to settle Little Manitou Lake and the surrounding area were the Sioux, Blackfoot and Gros Vent First Nation tribes. These tribes were pushed out and replaced by the Cree and Assiniboine sometime in the 18th century, said Bill Strongarm, resolution health support worker with the Touchwood Agency Tribal Council.
It was the Cree who gave Little Manitou Lake its name, said Strongarm. Manitou means God or supreme being. The story to the reason for its name is well known to those in the area, and is recounted by Dan Kennedy of the Assiniboine First Nation. At the turn of the 19th century, several Cree travelled for Saskatchewan River to escape the plague of smallpox beset on them at the time. Three members of one group came down with a fever, and they were left where they had camped on the north side of the lake.
“Crazed by fever, one of the men managed to crawl to the shore of the lake to appease the burning third and cool his fever,” wrote Kennedy. “He lay there until the next morning. To his surprise, he found that the fever had left them,” as it would also for his two companions.
All three would join their band, and in sharing their story, first recount the healing properties of Little Manitou Lake.
The lake’s effects are no myth. It’s chemical properties of 1,405.6 grains sodium chloride and 50.9 grains sodium sulphate per gallon make it more buoyant than fresh water. Other unique chemical properties in the water have been thought to cure rheumatism, arthritis, sciatic, constipation, and a variety of skin problems.
The water’s exceptionality has attracted people from across the country for years. The Plains First Nations make an annual pilgrimage with their sick each spring, said Strongarm, while a First Nations group from Ontario, called the Ontario Sisters, make the trip once a year as well, said Manitou Beach centennial committee member Sarah McKen.
The committee of 10 community members have organized over 14 events to celebrate Manitou Beach’s centennial throughout the year. Of those, four have incorporated First Nations’ historical presence at Manitou Lake. They included a traditional pipe ceremony following New Year’s Day, an annual Elders’ Conferences in April, a Wisdom Weekend in May for elementary students to learn the lake’s First Nations history, and a water ceremony planned for Aug. 17 to “bring spirituality to the lake that’s been missing all these years,” said Strongarm.
Each of the events was co-ordinated with Saskatchewan's Touchwood Agency Tribal Council, who represent four bands across the province.
Recognizing that we were celebrating various cultures as apart of our centennial theme, we wanted to make sure that First Nations were an integral part of it,” said centennial committee member Garry Jay.
McKen said that their work done with the Touchwood Agency in facilitating cultural events surrounding Little Manitou Lake has been awesome.
“To celebrate the history of Manitou Beach, and Little Manitou Lake, and not acknowledge how important it has been to First Nations would be irrational,” she said. “It was obvious that it was necessary to acknowledge how important it is to First Nations people.”
She said that more work should be done together to fully realise the history of Little Manitou Lake as a place that “really does connect with people around the world.”
At Watrous in Central Saskatchewan
On Canada’s prairie and plain
The Creator placed a touch of sea
Amid golden fields of grain
—a poem by Rosemary Duckett, found in a 1984 history book on Manitou Beach.