Weyburn's Soo Line Historical Museum

Weyburn's Soo Line Historical Museum

September 13, 2019 · 8 min. readThis article may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Weyburn's Soo Line Historical Museum is a surprising gem of The Opportunity City. Inside the shell of a former factory, the museum embraces the city's colourful past -- both the things they are known for and the things they try to forget.

Like many Saskatchewan museums, the Soo Line Historical Museum showcases early snapshots of prairie history. I expected this going in, but what I didn't expect was a section about early Indigenous people. My reaction might seem unwarrented, but I couldn't think of another museum in Saskatchewan (besides the Royal Saskatchewan Museum) that has a section about Indigenous people. Not only was this exhibit a surprise, but it had a piece of history that I have never heard about before!

Saskatchewan Indigenous exhibit at Soo Line Museum

This piece of history referenced the Cree "Grandfather Rocks" – basketball-size stones with faces carved into them. These "Grandfather Rocks" were used by Cree medicine men to help carry spirits from this world to the next. Several of these stones were on display in the museum.

The story about how these rocks got here is very interesting. In the 1840s, two smallpox epidemics came through Saskatchewan and killed hundreds of thousands of Indigenous people. At the time, there weren't many settlers in the area and records of this event are scarce. What is known is that these epidemics were devastating to the Indigenous populations.

Decades later, newly arriving settlers would find a pile of these "Grandfather Rocks" north of Weyburn on Win-cha-pa-ghen or Skull Mountainette. Along with these stones, they would also find thousands of skulls, all belonging to victims of the epidemic. When a medicine man dies, they are buried with these stones, which means this area marked a place where scores of lives were lost in a short period of time.

(For anybody like me who has never heard of Win-cha-pa-ghen or Skull Mountainette, it's on the current site of Indian Head.)

Saskatchewan Grandfather Rocks

The next room of the museum would highlight exhibits of early settler life. There were about a dozen of these exhibits, ranging from schools to churches to dentists to grocery stores. Many of these exhibits were similar to the ones I saw while in Ogema or Sceptre, but these were unique to Weyburn, and included old maps and photographs of the early city. I'm not as familiar with Weyburn as I'd like to be but I still found these old pictures very cool.

Church inside the Soo Line Museum Classroom inside the Soo Line Museum Old store inisde the Soo Line Museum Old map of Weyburn

One interesting part of this section talked about "Wonder", an eight-legged calf born in Weyburn in 1945. I'm not a biologist but I think the calf was a conjoined twin, with one twin being white and the other being brown. The calf only lived for a few short weeks before dying of health complications. The owner then had her taxidermied and Wonder ended up in the museum.

Wonder the calf Wonder the calf

The next room was my favourite, and it talked about the Weyburn Mental Hospital, which operated from 1921 to 2006, and was demolished in 2009.

Weyburn Mental Hospital Bedroom at the Weybrun Mental Hospital

The Weyburn Mental Hospital was known worldwide for their innovative treatments and psychedelic experiments. In fact, it was at the Weyburn Mental Hospital that the term "psychedelic" was first coined. Humphry Osmond, a psychiatrist at the hospital, created the word in 1956 after various experiments using lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD).

In fact, LSD experimentation was the hospital's claim to fame. It is through LSD that the doctors could treat and cure alcoholism in their patients.

LSD experiments at the Weyburn Mental Hospital

But it wasn't just the patients that took the drug – so did doctors and nurses. This led to some not so thought-out events – like the idea of opening the doors to the hospital and letting the patients wander around the city without supervision.

The hospital had many different kinds of patients. These patients weren't just suffering from schizophrenia or autism, but some had anxiety, depression or were going through the sudden loss of a loved one. Sometimes mistakes were made too. One example was a woman who spent decades as a patient in the hospital. She could not speak coherently and would often scream nonsense if left untreated. The staff would keep her drugged to prevent her from disturbing other patients. All this changed when a new staff member was hired and was administering medicine. The staff member realized the words the woman was screaming weren't nonsense – and instead, she was speaking her native language of Romanian and nobody could understand her. Once the staff realized what had happened, they concluded there was nothing wrong with the woman and she was released. She was placed in the hospital solely because she couldn't speak English.

Examination room at Weyburn Mental Hospital Microscope at Weyburn Mental Hospital

I visited the former site of the Weyburn Mental Hospital a few years ago, but there was nothing there left to see – not even a plaque. The Soo Line Historical Museum let me see a piece of Saskatchewan history that was torn out and forgotten by time.

There was one more surprise waiting for me as I was leaving the Soo Line Historical Museum. Along with everything else, the museum is also home to the largest silver collection in the world! This collection was donated by Charles Wilson, a Weyburn local, and has pieces from all around the world. These include cups, plates, cutlery, candlesticks, ornaments, vases, broaches and statues. The collection, which boasts 3,300 pieces, all originated from between 1750 and 1972.

Silver Collection

Weyburn's Soo Line Historical Museum was fascinating, and a lot more immersive than many of the museums I've visited. It explored Indigenous past, early pioneer life, historical medical background and some local treasures I never knew existed.

If you want to visit the museum, it is open from 10am – 6pm between the months of May and August, open September – December 1st and in April on Saturdays from 1-5pm. It is closed from December 2 until March.

Have you ever visited the museum? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments below!

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Like many Saskatchewan museums, the Soo Line Historical Museum showcases early snapshots of prairie history. I expected this going in, but what I didn't expect was a section about early Indigenous people. My reaction might seem unwarrented, but I couldn't think of another museum in Saskatchewan (besides the Royal Saskatchewan Museum) that has a section about Indigenous people. Not only was this exhibit a surprise, but it had a piece of history that I have never heard about before!

This piece of history referenced the Cree "Grandfather Rocks" – basketball-size stones with faces carved into them. These "Grandfather Rocks" were used by Cree medicine men to help carry spirits from this world to the next. Several of these stones were on display in the museum.

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