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Scotsguard

The Red Coat Trail's 'Little Chicago' has fallen silent

Fire hall and jailThe old fire hall and jail

For several years after the Canadian Pacific Railroad triggered the creation of Scotsguard in 1913, the village was one of the liveliest spots on the prairie; new restaurants, a dance hall, hotel, pool hall and even a theatre. In fact, Scotsguard's early boom times earned it the moniker "Little Chicago" - mainly because of the proliferation of gambling joints. And that action kept the law busy.

During the roaring twenties, Scotsguard's lone policeman, Luke Willy, could be heard shouting all over town, "Stop, in the name of the law!"

For a long time, especially during the Prohibition years, there was much to investigate. Bootleggers and rumrunners eagerly worked overtime, and their stock was popular at backroom poker games. While the police pursued, novel methods were created to stay one step ahead.

"My dad told me a story that one bootlegger was rumoured to be a woman " says current resident Keith Hagen, born in 1948 near Admiral, six km away. "One night the police raided her place but found her sick in bed. It wasn't until much later they found out that that's where she hid her liquor."

But as with every new community built along the CPR line in the Red Coat Trail region of southern Saskatchewan, there were also countless tales of pioneer prairie grit, courage and generosity. When the first settlers came to Scotsguard, there was abundant hope for future prosperity; as the new land was in the heart of a fertile farming district. The village was originally called Notukeu but was changed to Scotsguard as it was discovered there was already another village named Notukeu in Saskatchewan. The town grew quickly, and from 1916 to 1935, its population reached 350. Business boomed with those early years. The town had a bank, six grain elevators, a large stockyard, three lumber yards, three hardware stores, a pair of busy garages, a drug store, two grocery stores, an insurance business and two livery barns. Scotsguard, which had a mayor from 1926 to 1941, was also the site for the municipal office.

When it was time to rest, residents had three churches for spiritual relief; the kids had an ice cream parlor; and everyone could enjoy the local golf course, baseball field, tennis court and curling rink.

But Scotsguard's period of prosperity was short-lived. The depression and drought years hit the town hard. Growing competition from the neighboring communities of Simmie and Shaunavon squeezed out many local merchants, but especially elevator owners as grain was being marketed to Simmie. The bank closed in 1934 and the municipal office was moved to nearby Instow. To make matters worse, a fire in 1941 destroyed 11 buildings, devastating the town's financial heart.

The decline ultimately saw the town being officially dissolved as a village on December 31, 1953.

Nearly half a century later into the 21st century, Scotsguard's elevators are gone as are most of its residents and the once prosperous business district.

Keith Hagen is one of three residents left. He has lived with his wife in Scotsguard since 1987, and is often seen from spring to fall grooming lawns and offering visitors a tour of the once bustling "Little Chicago." A farmer and an accountant, Hagen also collects antique cars but his true passion lies in Scotsguard's history.

He plans to erect original streets signs and owns several buildings, including the old jailhouse and the two-sheet curling rink

"In my younger years, the first sight after grain elevators at every whistle stop was a curling rink," says Hagen, a teenage 4-H club skip. "It was often very cold but we'd bring sandwiches and put a can of beans on the stove.

"We were very community-minded," adds Hagen. "Scotsguard has always been a welcoming place."