History

In 1883, when the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) reached Medicine Hat and crossed the river a town site was established using the name from the First Nations legends.

As Western Canada developed, Medicine Hat became an important centre. The first hospital West of Winnipeg was developed here in 1889 and the city was a CPR divisional point. It was incorporated as a town on October 31, 1898, and as a city on May 9, 1906.

In the early twentieth century, there was a movement to change the city’s name. An early Hatter – Francis F. Fatt – wrote a letter to famed English writer Rudyard Kipling, asking for his support in embracing the name Medicine Hat.

Kipling, who had fallen in love with the community on an earlier visit, wrote an impassioned letter to keep the name, putting the debate to rest.

Bateman’s Burwash, Sussex.
December 9th, 1910.

Francis F. Fatt, Esq.
Medicine Hat
Dear Sir:

I have received your letter of the 22nd of November, which interests me intensely, both as a citizen of the Empire and as a lover of Medicine Hat.

You tell me that a public vote is to be taken on the question of changing the city’s name. So far as I can make out from what I heard when I was with you in 1907 and from the clippings you enclose, the chief arguments for the change are (a) that some U.S. journalists have some sort of joke that Medicine Hat supplies all the bad weather of the U.S. and (b) that another name would look better at the head of a prospectus.

proudly and go forward as Medicine Hat – the only city officially recognized as capable of freezing out the United States and giving the continent cold feet.

Incidentally I note that both arguments are developed at length by The Calgary Herald. I always knew that Calgary called Medicine Hat name, but did not realize that Medicine Hat wanted to be Calgary’s little god-child.

Now as to the charge of brewing bad weather, etc, I see no reason on earth why white men should be fluffed out of their city’s birthright by an imported joke. Accept the charge joyously and proudly and go forward as Medicine Hat – the only city officially recognized as capable of freezing out the United States and giving the continent cold feet.

Let us examine the soul of the present name – Medicine Hat. I have no maps by me, but I seem to remember a few names of places across the border such as Schenectady, Podunk, Schoharie, Poughkeepsie, Potomac, Sohoes, Tonawanda, Onenoto, etc., etc., all of which are rather curious to the outsider, but time and the lives of men (it is people and not prospectuses that make cities) have sanctified the queer syllables with memories and associations for millions of our fellow creatures. Once upon a time these places were young and new and in the process of making themselves. That is to say they were ancestors with a duty to posterity, which duty they fulfilled in handing on their names intact; and Medicine Hat today is an ancestor – not a derivative, not a collateral, but the founder of a line.

To my mind the name of Medicine Hat has an advantage over all the names I have quoted. It echoes as you so justly put it the old Cree and Blackfoot tradition of red mystery and romance that once filled the prairies. Also it hints, I venture to think, at the magic that underlies the city in the shape of your natural gas. Believe me, the very name is an asset. It has no duplicate in the world: it makes men ask questions, and as I know, more than twenty years ago, draws the feet of the young men towards it; it has the qualities of uniqueness, individuality, assertion and power. Above all, it is the lawful, original, sweat-and-dust-won name of the city, and to change it would be to risk the luck of the city, to disgust and dishearten old-timers, not in the city alone, but the world over, and to advertise abroad the city’s lack of faith in itself. Men do not think much of a family which has risen in the world, changing its name for social reasons.

They think of a town that went back on itself.

Forgive me if I write strongly, but this a matter on which I feel keenly. As you know, I have not a dollar or a foot of land in Medicine Hat, but I have a large stake of interest and very true affection in and for the city and its folk. It is for this reason that in writing to you I have taken liberty which to men who have known the city for several months or perhaps three years, must seem inexcusable.

In conclusion, it strikes me that the two arguments put forward for the change of name are almost equally bad. The second is perhaps a shade worse than the first. In the first case the town would change its name for fear of being laughed at. In the second it sells its name in the hope of making more money under an alias or, as The Calgary Herald writes, for the sake of the name that “has a sound like the name of a man’s best girl and looks like business at the head of a financial report.”

But a man’s city is a trifle more than a man’s best girl. She is the living background of his life and love and toil and hope and sorrow and joy. Her success is his success; her shame is his shame; her honour is his honour; and her good name is his good name.

What, then, sould a city be rechristened that has sold its name? Judasville.

Very Sincerely yours,
(Signed) Rudyard Kipling