From the time Ogema began to attract its first inhabitants, it has been a forward thinking, organized community. Detailed records were kept of early meetings, day-to-day business operations and of those whose time and dedication assisted in the growth of this town located on the W1/2 of 22-7-22 just north of what would become Highway #13. Over the years Ogema has received many awards recognizing its contribution to the development of Saskatchewan. A single article cannot capture all of what has made Ogema what it is today, but it will attempt to pay tribute to some of events from the past and today.
Ogema began in a humble enough way, back as early as 1908. Some of the first inhabitants lived in tents until more secure shelter could be built. In 1907, Mr. Erb had a store in his house, serving the growing community.
The early settlers selected the name “Omega”, which, in Greek means ‘end.’ At that time it was truly the end of the line at least, for this was as far as the Canadian Pacific Railroad (CPR) line had come west. There was a problem though, because Omega had already been used and names were not to be duplicated. One letter in the name changed position to make it “Ogema,” an Indian word meaning Big Chief.
The Village of Ogema held its first Council meeting in February, 1911. D. B. Robertson was overseer, and J.M. McLean, manager of the Union Bank was the Secretary-treasurer. The other members were Bob Grant and A. R. Sargent.
July 13, 1911, the CPR line arrived in Ogema. It never looked back. During 1911 plans for a new council Chamber were tendered. The village hired a constable and janitor for the new chambers. Beaver Lumber set up shop, and Patterson’s Drug Store was in business.
The Royal Hotel on Railway Avenue had been built in 1910 and did a steady business. The Union Bank of Canada opened a branch in October 1920 and was eventually taken over by the Royal Bank of Canada in September 1925. The RBC remains a part of Ogema to this day. Mr. T. Gamble organized the first Ogema Band in 1910 with instruments brought in from Fillmore. This band performed off and on until 1929.
Education was another important element for the growing village. The first school meeting took place on December 3, 1910. School opened in a 14’x18’ structure with Murdock Matheson as teacher in July of 1911. There were 18 pupils ranging in age from 6 years to 14 years. Later the same year, the school board borrowed $3,000 to build a more permanent school 24’x36’ in size. It had a basement for the furnace and a play room for students, separate cloakroom, 5 doors and at least 5 windows.
In 1918 plans were made to go ahead and build a 4 room school. In 1927, an addition to the brick school would bring the room number to six. By 1955 there were 185 students attending Ogema School and there were three bus routes. In 1961 a new High School and gymnasium were completed. At this time the old brick school was demolished. During the 1980s enrollment was over 225 students, with 15 staff and seven bus routes. Today, the school has 105 students, 17 staff and three bus routes.
Ogema’s first skating rink was built in 1911 on the east side of town. When the wind blew it down it was rebuilt, but that building was sold and moved to Limerick.
On October 4, 1912, a motion was made by council stating, “Be it resolved that Secretary-treasurer post up notices of the intention of the Village Council to apply to the Lieutenant-Governor in Council for the corporation of the Village into a Town.” Ogema became a town in December 1912.
Elections for Council took place on February 8, 1913 with A.R. Sargent acclaimed Mayor, and Councillors elected (2 year term) being C.A. Brunton, V. W. Saunders and W. H. Dicken, and (1 year term) W. J. Scott, Sam Cohen and G. G. West.
A Police Detachment came to Ogema as part of the Depot Division between 1912 and 1917. The detachment office was in the Town Hall and it proved to be too small, so an addition including a wooden jail was added. Until the RCMP absorbed them in 1928, the Saskatchewan Police were responsible for policing the province. By 1930 there was some consideration given to closing the detachment on the grounds that Bengough Detachment was close enough to take care of the work around Ogema. In September 1933, the Ogema Detachment closed.
Church and worship was and is an important element of life in Ogema. Throughout its history there have been many denominations represented including: Presbyterian and Methodist who joined together and then became a part of the United Church of Canada using what was formally the Methodist church for worship. The Catholic congregation began with services held in private homes and the Veteran’s Hall until 1942 when the old school house was renovated into a church. The Anglican Church was erected in 1912 and celebrates its centennial this year. In 1975 the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ moved their meeting place into Ogema from the country. Today they meet in Bengough. The Lutheran Church held its first service on January 15, 1978 and is still in action today and The Abundant Living Centre has been worshiping in Ogema for many years and continues to do so today.
Fire was a concern in the early years and Ogema had its share. Wooden buildings closely situated and a lack of water could bring about disaster. In January, 1915, fire destroyed several buildings on the east side of Main Street: Kilpatrick’s Bakery, Chong Gow’s restaurant, Patterson’s Drug store, Dave Rowats’ butchershop, Bradley’s Shoe & Harness shop, and Ernie Posts’ Real Estate office. Though the town owned a fire engine it was of no help due to the fact it was frozen up because of the cold temperature. The Livery, Salt & Feed stable owned by W. E. Campbell was also destroyed by fire during 1915. These fires prompted Council into building a fire hall on the east side of Main Street and a fire wall on the west side. The Fire Hall was to have a large cistern for water storage and one wall was to be as thick as the fire wall on the west side. A new fire engine was purchased in 1916. In 1934, fire struck once again claiming the Print Shop, Confectionery and part of the pool room.
The first Post Office was established and operated by R. L. Green and was located on the west side of Main Street. The location of the Post Office moved a number of times until 1969 when the government erected a new building which is still in use today.
Ogema Drug and Stationery was located on the east side of Main Street and owned by Dr. J. B. Patterson, a retired veterinarian until it burned in the fire of 1915. It was rebuilt and changed hands over the years. The building is now a part of the Deep South Pioneer Museum.
When Mr. Kirkpatrick opened his bakery in 1913, he also opened and maintained a heated lending library in a corner of his shop. Records reveal the Library actually began in 1917 and Kirkpatrick is listed as librarian. The Ogema Library was developed from this humble beginning. The Library stayed open through tough years when fundraising and volunteers were the only way for it to remain active. In 1965, the grand opening of the South Saskatchewan Regional Library was held linking Ogema with the provincial library system. Today one can check out a book, use a computer, special order books and other items or simply browse in the Library.
The Ogema Agricultural Society is almost 100 years old. It received its Charter on January 8, 1914 with Mr. T. E. Gamble as president and Mr. C. P. Ennals as secretary. In its infancy the Society concentrated on having speakers from the Department of Agriculture. There was also Baby Shows and Baby Welfare Clinics conducted. Fairs and Sport’s Days were held every year except 1931, when a ‘picnic’ was held to keep the association intact. Fairs were big events and from 1950 onward the 4-H Regional Show & Sale was held in June and the Summer Fair in July.
In 1967, the Agricultural Society turned its property over to the Regional Park board with consideration that the grounds be available for use by both 4-H and Summer Fairs. Many improvements have been made over the years including the curling rink with artificial ice, a swimming pool, picnic and camping area, a new skating rink and ball diamond with bleachers.
Telephone communication began in Ogema back in 1918, when Ogema was part of the Key West and District Rural Telephone Company customers, under the title of Ogema North East. Phone hours were from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. except for holidays and Sunday when hours were reduced. A long continuous ring denoted an emergency or a coming event for all to hear. Operators continued to serve Ogema until 1966 when the change to dial phones was made. On August 31, 1978 SaskTel took over the Ogema Rural Telephone Co.
Ogema continued to bloom, with new businesses opening and more families settling. A few of the early businesses were: Department stores, Real Estate & Insurance office, Post Office, Dry Goods store, Banks, Law Office, Harness shop, Butcher shop, Restaurants, Drug store, Doctor’s office, Bakery, Lumber yard, Implement dealers, Hotels including The Royal, Ogema Hotel and Hotel National, Cafes, Livery barns, Grain Elevators, Theatre, Bowling Alley, Flour Mill, Newspaper, Jewelers, Meat market, Clothing stores and BA Oil.
As Ogema grew, so too did farms in the area. Farmers needed Elevators to deliver their grain to. Ogema was graced with four of these prairie sentinels; The Saskatchewan Co-op Elevator built in 1915, Matheson-Lindsay, the North Star and International. Matheson-Lindsay became the Province and later the Reliance Elevator. It was taken over by Federal Grain about 1926. The North Star was torn down in 1937. The Reliance Elevator was also taken over by Federal Grain in 1940. It was eventually sold for its lumber and torn down. In 1926, Saskatchewan Pool Elevators bought out the Saskatchewan Co-op Elevator and its frame annex. In 1957, both were dismantled and a new 50,000 bushel elevator was erected. Then, in 1964 a 60,000 bushel annex was added. The Federal Grain Elevator and its frame annex were sold and dismantled in 1980. There is one remaining elevator standing in Ogema.
To continue its development, Ogema needed water and electricity. Roy Murphy had the first electric light plant and supplied power to the hotel in 1919. He sold out in 1923. A power plant that supplied electricity to the town from dusk to 11:00 p.m. was located on Saskatchewan Avenue. In 1924, electric street lights were installed and in 1945 an AC system was adopted. This plant was in operation until SaskPower bought it out in 1950.
In August of 1961, a bylaw was passed to raise funds for the cost of local improvements for the town. At this time the Town proposed a bylaw for the issuing of debentures to the amount of $35,000 for the purpose of paying for a waterworks system, including well, pump house, elevated storage and iron removal. Another debenture was floated for construction of water mains.
On December 7, 1950, the Ogema District Credit Union was organized on a motion made by John Tondevold and George Bacon. Charles Grainger was the first President and M.W. White the Secretary-treasurer. There were 28 members. Over the years the Credit Union has played an important and active role in the community. In June 2006, the Ogema District Credit Union joined Radius Credit Union and continues to serve the town and surrounding area.
In 1954, Dr. Harold Struthers and his wife Beatrice moved to Ogema with Struthers serving the municipalities of Norton, Bengough, The Gap and Key West as Veterinarian. Doc Struthers was much loved and respected by the communities he served until his retirements in 1992. During his time serving from Ogema, Doc Struthers went from having an office in his home to a clinic which officially opened its doors on August 13, 1992. In 1992, Dr. Andy Acton took over the clinic and has served the area for the past 20 years.
Another gem in Ogema is the Deep South Pioneer Museum, a Society registered in November of ’77. The museum was a result of the wishes of many residents to have a safe, permanent place to store and share the antiques and mementos of their forefathers. The Museum began on five acres of land that was donated. In 1980 another five acres were purchased for the fast-growing display. Restoration of old machinery and equipment is an ongoing project. The entire community was encouraged to, and did get involved in this massive project. The decision was made to start a pioneer village when it became quickly apparent the 120’x48’ building was too small to hold all the treasures. Buildings were moved from Ogema and surrounding districts; every type possible is represented in this amazing collection. It is truly a village, larger than many became in the day and is well worth touring.
The Ogema Second Hand Store opened its doors in 2009 and has just celebrated its 3rd Anniversary. This little store run by dedicated volunteers has raised over $70,000 that is donated to projects within the community.
In 2012, another reality has taken flight. Ogema has taken a step into its past by welcoming and working with the Southern Prairie Railway to bring a tourist train to town. The 1945 engine and its passenger car can be seen travelling the old CPR track that began the story of Ogema. As Ogema celebrates its Centennial the train will celebrate its beginnings with its Official opening taking place as part of the weekend of events.
Today, Ogema has a population of 368 people. There is a small but growing community of Philippine families that began to settle in Ogema in 2008. They bring with them great enthusiasm and have become a part of the fabric of Ogema.
Ogema has a rich history, far more in-depth then what is included in this article. This only skims 100 years of growth, stability and prosperity of a town and its people. A town and people ready to rise to whatever challenge is placed before them. Join Ogema in the Centennial Celebration, soak up some history and look forward to the future!