It was a culturally and historically significant moment for the four Indigenous nations of Maskwacis on July 4 when Canadian Pacific Railway (CP Rail) executives came to the treaty six land to officially rename the railroad signage from “Hobbema” to “Maskwacis.”
Effective June 28, 2019, CP Rail officially renamed the CP station on its Leduc Subdivision to the traditional name of Maskwacis and the signage was replaced soon after.
The renaming ceremony and sign unveiling was held at Maskwa (Bear) Park, starting with a pipe ceremony before the formal speeches began.
Speeches were given by Ermineskin Cree Nation Chief Craig Makinaw, Samson Cree Nation Chief Vernon Saddleback, Louis Bull Cree Nation Chief Irvin Bull and CP Rail vice president of operations Scott MacDonald.
A representative for Montana Cree Nation Chief Standing on the Road was present.
Chief Makinaw says the renaming of the railway signs just further follows through with returning to the traditional name of Maskwacis.
Chief Saddleback spoke about how he didn’t know much about the history of the area growing up in Ermineskin. “Navarre” the name of a grain station stop between Wetaskiwin and Ermineskin, was just a train station to him.
When the Calgary and Edmonton Railway was built from 1890-91, communities along the railway line were named after the railway stations.
“Hobbema” was named after 16th century Dutch artist Meindert Hobbema, a landscape painter.
Now Saddleback wants to teach his children early on about the history of the area.
The four bands of Maskwacis officially requested the name change from Hobbema in 2013 and it was renamed in 2014.
Maskwacis is Cree for “Bear Hill.”
Chief Bull thanked the Creator for the day and all those who came out to the ceremony, and thanked the elder who conducted the pipe ceremony that morning.
He also acknowledged the grandfathers of the past that made an agreement with the railroad, that included an agreement that if the rail were ever to stop, the land would be returned to Maskwacis.
He added that a lot of people already know the area as Maskwacis and that it “follows suit with CP Rail doing the same, recognizing and acknowledging Maskwacis territory.”
“It’s our absolute honour to be here this morning,” said MacDonald.
MacDonald stated the acknowledgement of being on Treaty Six land and that the name of “Maskwacis” reflects the true heritage of the tribes and territory.
“We respect and acknowledge the history of Indigenous people and look forward to the opportunity for economic growth, development and employment.”
A sound clip of a train’s horn was played as the sign was unveiled in a humorous tribute to CP Rail, with the master of ceremonies joking it was CP’s anthem.
After the unveiling, gifts were exchanged between the dignitaries. CP Rail gifted the chiefs with blankets and the chiefs gave the CP Rail executives handcrafted beaded horses.