Tourism Saskatchewan

Old Wives Lake History

Bookmark and Share

Welcome! You are viewing an archived feature article from October 2009. To learn more about wildlife viewing in Saskatchewan, click here.

The Legend of Old Wives Lake

Old Wives LakePrior to European contact, the hills and valleys around Old Wives Lake and Lake of the Rivers were frequently home to many First Nations people. Tipi Rings and other pre-contact artifacts have been found near both lakes. 

The territory was very important because the immense herds of buffalo that once populated the West. These animals’ regular migrations through the district made it a valuable hunting ground and a cause of dispute between the Cree and Blackfoot First Nations. 

According to Métis guides traveling with the North West Mounted Police in 1874, there was a famous confrontation between the two near Old Wives Lake in approximately 1840. 

The Métis claimed a group of Cree from the Qu’Appelle Valley were camped near the south eastern edge of Old Wives Lake. They were discovered by a small party of Blackfoot, but the Cree, who were traveling with their families and who were encumbered by their provisions, could not get to safety prior to the Blackfoot returning with a larger party. 

Anticipating the Blackfoot would attack in the morning, the elderly Cree women offered to remain behind as a decoy to allow the younger people to escape during the night. In the morning the Blackfoot descended on the camp only to find most of the Cree gone. In vengeance they killed the “Old Wives,” but according to the Métis guides, the spirits of these women still inhabit the Isle of Bays in Old Wives Lake, where their laughter still taunts and mocks the Blackfoot.

The first non-Aboriginal people to visit the Mossbank district were likely members of Capt. John Palliser’s survey expedition of 1857-58. By the 1860s, the Aboriginal presence in the district was declining due to the startling decrease in the buffalo population. Part of the reason for the reduction was the arrival of European trophy hunters who killed the animals in vast numbers. 

Ironically, in 1886, the traditional Aboriginal name, Old Wives Lake, was abandoned by the federal government and the lake was officially renamed Lake Johnston, after one of the trophy hunters, who shot buffalo in the district in 1866. Fortunately, in 1955 after lobbying from Anne Cusick of Coderre, the provincial government restored the Lake’s original name.

Click here for information about Old Wives Lake Interpretive Area.