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Renewal, Revitalization … and Resilience

Known as the first “Cow Town” of the old West, historic Maple Creek is now a vibrant growing community that serves as a gateway for an estimated 250,000 tourists each year heading to Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, Fort Walsh, and the historic site of the Cypress Hills Massacre.

However, six years ago, following severe impacts of flooding in southwest Saskatchewan, the community’s future was a source of concern.

In 2012, a group of forward focussed people gathered in Maple Creek for a community planning meeting to discuss the future of the community. Discussions revolved around rebuilding the community by leveraging its unique culture and built heritage. Twenty-one citizens representing 13 groups drafted a vision at that meeting, “to be leaders in building partnerships for a sustainable future”. This initial commitment to renew and reinvent the community led to implementation of a Main Street revitalization project and dramatic improvement in the economic vitality of Maple Creek.

A focused community revitalization initiative harnessed local partnerships and birthed an incredible number of community events including a Heritage Festival, a Heritage Walking Tour, a multicultural mosaic, a Family Day Winter Festival, Communities in Bloom, The Cowboy Poetry Gathering, a Taste of Maple Creek, The Farmer’s Market, a Cowtown Christmas, the Battle of the Big Puck, a Music Festival, museum activities, Canada Day celebrations and most recently the establishment of Etoile International Culinary School.

Over six million dollars invested in the Maple Creek Heritage District since 2012 has resulted in:

  • 14 buildings within the Heritage District receiving façade rehabilitation work.
  • 8 downtown streetscape enhancement initiatives completed.
  • 20 new businesses opening.
  • 66 new jobs being created.

The historic Commercial Hotel (which had been closed and abandoned since the 2010 flood) was saved from demolition and re-opened to the public. The first heritage tax credit program for business owners in Saskatchewan outside of Saskatoon & Regina (it is believed to have been the only tax credit program of its kind in a rural community on the prairies) was successfully implemented.

Now the town of Maple Creek attracts art lovers and shoppers with new businesses such as the Broken Spoke Fine Art Gallery and Over the Hills Antique shop. Unique is the new normal in this region. Just one-mile south of Maple Creek, the newly opened Grotto Gardens Country Market and Gifts boasts Saskatchewan’s first Goat Walk – an obstacle course for goats to climb and entertain the public. Barnyard Yoga is also offered on a specially constructed platform that is shared with the friendly goats, creating a sense of oneness with nature and the animal kingdom.

Maple Creek is now home to Saskatchewan’s largest independent toy store. Located in the towns first courthouse and jail, Cowtown Kids Toy and Candy Store holds western Canada’s largest puzzle inventory with over 2000 puzzles.

New fine dining experiences have captured the attention of national food aficionados. The historic Star Café was named on the Food Network’s top 10 list of Highway Hotspots in 2016. The Star Café, the Rockin Horse Cookhouse and the Daily Grind are included in the Cowtown Culinary Food and historic tour which runs weekly during the summer months.

Five star accommodations blend with new vacation rentals such as the Cottage of Content and Ghost Town Blues with its cowboy chic pioneer cabins and covered sheep wagons, providing unique overnight experiences.

Maple Creek has embraced the unique aspects of its past to create a future that celebrates culture and diversity. One example is the recent creation of a Métis Cultural Centre. The Centre hosts workshops on playing the fiddle, creating sashes, beading and dancing the Red River Jig. It has also developed a mutually beneficial collaborative partnership with the local museum. The two groups share space and utilize the gallery for public programming, while maintaining their own unique identities.

The Nekaneet First Nations Regalia Group is another recent success story built on collaboration. The idea grew out of a realization there were young people who were interested in pow wow dancing, but faced challenges of not having access to regalia. The project brought together elders, artisans and young people at the museum to create regalia.

Community pride and quality of life of have grown significantly over the past six years. A parallel increase in tourism related revenues has also occurred. Since 2016, Maple Creek has hit record highs in visitation numbers and economic impact of the tourism industry on the community. Many businesses are reporting the highest sales months they had achieved since having been in business with 100% and 153% increases in business over the same month the year previous.

“We wouldn’t have been having this conversation about our community ten years ago” says Royce Pettyjohn, Planning and Economic Development Manager for the Town of Maple Creek. “Cultural planning and economic development just wasn’t on the radar, there was no appetite for it, no understanding, really no interest in it whatsoever. Ten years later we’re now talking about tangible economic growth, we’re talking about cultural activity, we’re talking about festivals, events and heritage conservation”.

The citizens of Maple Creek approached adversity with determination, collaboration and the realization that they must invest in their own future. With a newfound capacity and momentum of success, the community is well positioned to take advantage of new opportunities.