Saratoga Park

The Society of the Grasslands Naturalists honours and acknowledges that we live and work on the traditional territories of the First Nations People of Treaty 7, Treaty 4 and Metis people who share a deep history with this land.

We recognize and respect cultural heritages and relationships to the land. We extend our hands in peace and friendship to all indigenous peoples who have made these places their homes since time immemorial, as we forge together a relationship of reconciliation, respect and healing.

This scenic view is located along the Seven Persons Creek from South Railway Street at the foot of Scholten Hill, west to Dunmore Road. The view is complete with slumping (but now stabilized), steep, shrub-grassland slopes. Along the trail, you will find Manitoba Maple, and Chokecherry trees. On the opposite side of the Creek, there is a Memorial Arboretum (pine, spruce, and deciduous trees). It is a tribute to past loved ones, families and businesses who made a difference in their community, as well as Alberta workers whose lives were lost due to accident or illness while on the job. Additionally, there is a fenced off-leash dog park for both larger and smaller dogs.

From the Saratoga Park trailhead on South Railway SE, the riparian trail meanders along the south side of the creek. Looking ahead you will see trees on either side. But if you look up you will see steep and grass and shrub vegetated hills. Just before you cross the foot bridge you will see two information signs about the History of Metis Settlement and Saratoga Park being a Municipal Historic Resource. The City of Medicine Hat writes, “The Saratoga Park area was a favoured campsite and burial ground. This area was used by First Nations, the Metis, fur traders, buffalo hide hunters, whiskey traders, ranchers and early settlers traveling between the Saskatchewan and Missouri River drainage basins. The Metis are a distinct people of mixed ancestry which evolved from relationships between First Nations women and the men of the fur trade. Their distinct culture was officially recognized in 1982 within the Canadian Constitution.” And, “Today, this area is a secluded natural space along Seven Persons Creek but historically, Saratoga Park played an important role in the city’s early industry and later was home to a vibrant Metis community. Saratoga Park’s earliest inhabitants were Indigenous people who recognized the abundance of the area’s resources. From 1907 through the 1930’s, commercial activity gave way to a Metis community that endured for 80 years. At its peak, as many as 20 families called Saratoga Park home. No other part of the city has been identified with a specific ethnic group for such a long time. Although the houses are gone, the core of Saratoga Park still conveys the history of the Metis community. A community that helped make Medicine Hat unique.”

The following Saratoga Park Medicine Hat News newspaper article was written by Malcolm Sissons, Heritage Resources Committee, Medicine Hat.

“Saratoga Park is usually defined as the area on both sides of the Seven Persons Creek between Dunmore Road and Scholten Hill and it has a colourful history in Medicine Hat. Historically, the South Flats (originally known as the Moccasin Flats) was a preferred camping area for bands of First Nations visiting this area. The Ross and Seven Persons Creeks offered game, shelter and firewood.

Old-timers related that First Nations had burial grounds there and human remains were discovered in 1954. A few years later, in 1959 while constructing the road up Scholten Hill, more graves were discovered and deemed to be of the Assiniboine tribe. In a News interview with an oldtimer, he recounted that bodies were placed on a slab and using strips of canvas wound around the body, strapped to the board like a mummy. These were hung from Cottonwoods in Police Point and Strathcona Island. When Alberta became a province, these remains were taken down and buried on the heights above the creek.

Saratoga derives from “se-rach-ta-gue”, an adaptation of a word from the Mohawk language, the name of hunting grounds located along both sides of the Hudson River, New York state, and meaning ‘the hillside country of the quiet river’ (Wikipedia). The name has long been associated with a mineral springs spa there and perhaps the spring on the hillside above our creek inspired this name.

Saratoga Park first appears on a map in 1907, with the intention that it become the city’s industrial park but a photo from 1913 also shows several scattered small buildings indicating possible residences. The creek was diverted in 1910, pushed closer to the cliffs to create more developable land for the city’s nascent industrial park anchored at either end by a flour mill and a foundry.

That commercial activity was shared with a Métis community whose presence only ended in 2010. There are suggestions of Métis families scattered all the way down to the river. Despite not having title, the City was tolerant of their presence on City land, in gratitude for service in both World Wars. In 1955, the City replaced Mary Bliss’ home which had burned down. Mary had married a NWMP Officer William Hatfield Bliss, settled in the Hat in 1899 and lived to see 75 great grandchildren. At its peak in the 1960s, as many as twenty families called Saratoga Park home. An active cultural life, the presence of horses, a shared communal water tap and close family links all contributed to make this community cohesive and unique in the city. Despite a lack of municipal services, the community resisted efforts to relocate. However, the agreement with the City meant that as each resident died or moved away, their house would revert back to the City. The last house in Saratoga Park was that of Henry Aaker, who moved there in 1930 at the age of two months and lived there until 2010. His death marked the end of the Métis settlement in Saratoga Park. Today, although the houses are gone, the core of Saratoga Park still conveys the feeling of the Métis community that helped make Medicine Hat unique. The City of Medicine Hat designated Saratoga Park as a Municipal Historic Resource on the 16th of November 2020.”

When you travel west across the small footbridge, you will observe a South East Alberta Watershed Alliance riparian restoration project. On both sides of the creek there are plantings of trees and shrubs. These plants are protected from animal damage by wire cages. In time they will provide a deep binding root mass to help stabilize the creek banks, and prevent erosion and the sloughing of soil material into the water.

As you continue west on the trail, you will pass the old Ogilvie Flour Mill, and Canadian Pacific rail spur lines. The Ogilvie Flour Mill is a centuries old industry, which is now retired. It has a strong history of being the largest mill in the city. Starting in the 1950’s, Ogilvie bought out the Wood’s Milling Company. It was known for its Five Roses Flour and research laboratory. Perhaps on a quiet sunny day, you can hear the echo of the mill at work and the train helping to get Ogilvie flour to market.

This trail continues further west of Dunmore Road and along Seven Persons Creek. Looking south, you will find a trail that goes up Marlborough Coulee. At the top, you can cross College Drive SE and discover the Connaught Pond Scenic View. For additional adventure, you may wish to travel down College Avenue to Kipling Street SE. You can then travel west into Kin Coulee Park and discover the Saamis Tepee and Archaeological site.

Along Seven Persons Creek, Yellow-breasted Chat frequent the brush on the hillsides, and Barn Swallows ply their trade. Saratoga Park is also a good location for Lazuli Buntings.

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