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History of Pilot Mound’s ‘Old Mound’

The hill from which the town gets its name is actually two km away

Recently, my husband and I drove to the south-central part of Manitoba to explore the mound near the town of Pilot Mound, in the municipality of Louise. This hill, from which the town takes its name, is actually about two kilometres away from the town’s present site. It is historically significant to the region and offers a scenic view of the surrounding area.

The mound — which was probably formed by glaciers — is a ridge 35 metres high. It was a prominent landmark used by early travellers as it could be seen from across the prairie for up to 26 km. In 1908 archeological excavations on the hill found old pottery remains and evidence that on the top there was also an artificial mound which had been used as an Aboriginal burial site. It is believed that the pond at the bottom of the hill formed after the soil for this man-made part of the mound was removed.

Later, the place was used for buffalo hunters to meet and as a gathering spot for Aboriginals to hold ceremonial dances — for which it was called “Little Dance Hill” (Mepawaquomoshin). It is said that in the mid-1850s a major battle was fought on the northern slopes between the hunters and the Sioux — the second last major battle on the North American plains. (The Battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana in 1876 was the last.) Apparently the battle started because two buffalo hunters had been killed by the Aboriginals. The hunters, some 1,500 in number, retaliated by attacking the Sioux, almost completely wiping them out. Two escaped but 597 are said to have been buried on the western slope of the mound.

View from the top of the mound.
photo: Gamache Photos

In more recent times, settlers from Ontario arrived in the region and made plans for a town named Pilot Mound to be established on the southern slopes of the hill. Hundreds of lots were organized and sold — most at a cost of $1.60 or $3.20 each. Soon many homes and various businesses were built, including several stores, a school, sawmill, gristmill and church. Sir John A. MacDonald even spoke at a political rally there in 1885. To see an actual plan of the lots laid out and sold, who bought them and what the price was, go to www.pilotmound.com/history and click on the indicated line.

Soon, however there was a change. The Canadian Pacific Railway was being constructed and it was expected that the route would pass near the mound. Instead, it was built a mile farther south, so it was decided to move all the buildings south to the present-day site of Pilot Mound and it was reincorporated there in 1904. Just one item could not be moved — the stone vault of the town’s bank. Today, the only evidence that a town once existed on the mound is this vault which remains partway up the slope.

On our visit we stopped to look inside the vault. The door is missing and shrubs now grow on top, but plans are underway to repair the structure. The mound today is privately owned by Eric and Pamela McKay, and is used as a cattle pasture in summer, but they hope to hire a stonemason to repair the vault and put back the original door, which they still have. Then a fence will be put around the vault to keep the cattle away.

According to Eric McKay, the site is visited each summer by visitors from North Dakota, descendants of the warriors slain in the big battle. They hold special smudging ceremonies as a memorial to those killed. Others are welcome to join them during the ceremonies, or visit at other times, although the hill is fenced as pasture land.

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