Cypress Hills History
The uplands and forests of Cypress Hills have always attracted people. For thousands of years, First Nations people came to the hills for its diverse game and plants, many of which could not be found on the surrounding prairie. The area was rich with food resources and bands lived seasonally in the hills, coming into the hills depending on the weather and the location of the bison herds.
The Metis came to the Cypress Hills for the first time in the early 1800s. They followed First Nations to the food sources of the hills, particularly the bison. The Metis formed large groups that hunted bison, collecting meat and robes for their use and for sale back at the Red River. The Cypress Hills provided an important place to winter during the hunt. The trees allowed for log buildings to be constructed, and small communities, known as hivernants, were built throughout the area. In the 1870s, the disappearance of the bison forced many Metis and First Nation hunters farther and farther for food, and more took refuge in the Cypress Hills.
The scarcity of resources and the presence of American traders and wolf hunters created a difficult situation. In June 1873, American wolfers who were searching for missing horses attacked a group of Assiniboine, who they mistakenly believed to have stolen the later. In the end, 23 Assiniboine and one wolf hunter were dead. The incident outraged the Canadian government and led to the creation of the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP), to ensure order and Canadian sovereignty over the northwest. The NWMP came to the Cypress Hills and established its headquarters, Fort Walsh, in the hills in 1875. The fort remained the Headquarters of the NWMP until 1882, and the fort was dismantled in 1883.
In the late 1890s, ranching took hold in the park. The large grasslands in the park and in the region used large ranching operations that moved thousands of cattle around the landscape, feeding off the grass that once sustained the large bison herds. Ranching continued in the park until the mid-1900s, when settlers carved up the surrounding land into small farms and a particularly harsh winter decimated the cattle herds.