History of Medicine Hat – Invest Medicine Hat

History of Medicine Hat

Community Profile

Historically, natural gas drove Medicine Hat’s economy.

The legend of Medicine Hat

Medicine Hat was named after a Blackfoot legend. One winter, a young man was selected to journey to the South Saskatchewan River, to summon the spirits to their breathing hole. A serpent appeared to him and told him to spend the night on a small island where, in the morning, he found the Medicine Hat and saved the Blackfoot from famine.

Rail central

In 1883, the Canadian Pacific Railway reached Medicine Hat, built a bridge over the South Saskatchewan River and established a townsite. The first hospital west of Winnipeg was developed in Medicine Hat 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.

A rich natural resource

In 1905, usable natural gas was discovered and the City of Medicine Hat took over the rights to distribution. City incentives, low taxes, railway access and inexpensive utilities made Medicine Hat irresistible to manufacturers in the early 1900s. This interest sparked a boom of investment from companies and more than 60 products, including everything from candy to manhole covers, came to be manufactured in Medicine Hat.

Since the first greenhouse opened its doors in 1913, Medicine Hat and the surrounding area has grown into one of Canada’s largest greenhouse clusters. The Rosery Flower Co. opened in 1913, growing acres of cut flowers, vegetables and house plants. Today, greenhouses produce peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers for Canadian and international grocery stores.

Medicine Hat proved the ideal location for stoneware companies. Until 1958, Medicine Hat’s ceramics factories churned out china, crocks, jugs, churns and bricks for homes, hotels and railways. The Medalta factory complex has been recognized as a National Historic Site and today stands as a living museum and contemporary ceramic arts hub.

Alta Glass, a producer of hand-made decorative glassware, used Medicine Hat’s low-cost natural gas to make glass from scratch. The company operated in Medicine Hat from the 1950s to the 1980s.

Medicine Hat’s brewing history dates back the 1800s. The city’s first brewery, the Saskatchewan Brewing Co., opened in the late 1880s.  Founded in 1890, the original Medicine Hat Brewing Co. was a popular place for workers after a long day at the factory.

Science and technology

Much of Medicine Hat’s history and present-day research and development of technology is tied to Canadian Forces Base Suffield. Established in 1941, Suffield was Canada’s centre for gas and chemical warfare. Scientists stationed here tested cloud diffusion, smoke warfare and ballistics. By the end of World War II, 584 Medicine Hatters worked at CFB Suffield.

Today, CFB Suffield is the largest training ground in the British Commonwealth and is used by the British Army Training Unit Suffield.

Believe it –or not!

In the 1940s, Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Featured Medicine Hat’s streetlights. Powered by natural gas, the lights were left on 24 hours a day because it was more expensive to re-light them in the evening than leave them running. The old-style streetlights are still used in the downtown, however, they are currently being converted to low-cost LED lighting.