As the Canadian Pacific Railway was planning its route between Winnipeg and Fort Calgary, the decision was made to cross the South Saskatchewan River at a wide valley west of Fort Walsh lush with cypress trees. Here a station was erected and a townsite subdivided called Medicine Hat after a Cree medicine man. The surrounding district was soon the domain of numerous ranches, and, during the 1890’s, Medicine Hat emerged as the regional metropolis of a cattle domain. In 1898, it was incorporated as a town with over 500 people. By this time, gas reserves were discovered in the district and incentive was provided for industrial development, particularly in pottery. In the meantime, the city’s streets came to glow from gaslight. By 1906, Medicine Hat was large enough to be incorporated as a city. By 1911, its population stood at 5,600. Contributing to its growth was its comparative isolation, and the conversion of much of the surrounding ranching leases into farmland, which resulted in the emergence of a large farming population in the hinterland.
Though the surrounding countryside and growing urban population of Medicine Hat was ethnically mixed, the business elite of the community was primarily British. The first ranchers had been mainly British, and the new wave of industrialists and real estate developers were also of British origin, primarily immigrants from Ontario. It was natural therefore that the first City Councils would often contain the same people as the Chamber of Commerce, with names such as Fewings, Tweed, Cousins, Crawford, Milne, Pingle, Sissons, Kealy, Huckvale and Stewart predominating. It was probably also natural that such people would found a social club, where affairs of common interest could be discussed with less formality and out of the public eye. Thus, on 21 November 1903, the Cypress Club was incorporated by an act of the Legislative Assembly of the North-west Territories. Like the Edmonton Club and Ranchman’s Club (Calgary) before it, the Cypress Club was intended to provide a retreat for local business and community leaders to plot the development of the community in an atmosphere of brotherhood and congeniality. A great incentive was the authority such a private club would have to obtain a liquor license and so provide intoxicants to its members at any time it chose. As was typical, membership was confined to men.
Three of the first six presidents of the Cypress Club, F.L. Crawford, William Cousins and Charles Pingle, would also be presidents of the Medicine Hat Chamber of Commerce at roughly the same time, while numerous others would also be members of City Council. To expand its scope, the Club also encouraged membership among the more prominent of the local ranch owners, and also the professional classes, particularly lawyers. The first president was F. L. Crawford, the manager of the Bank of Commerce, but the tradition would soon be established that the presidency should alternate between City businessmen and district ranchers.
Members of the Cypress Club first met in the Cousins Block in downtown Medicine Hat. As membership soared, and the Club quickly evolved into the elite social club of the business community, there was incentive and resources to construct a self contained building. In 1907 therefore, the Club purchased the lot on 218 – 6th Avenue SE in the downtown core and contracted the prominent local architect, William T. Williams, to design a small, but elegant structure of red brick and sandstone to serve exclusively the functions of the Club, or whatever other purpose the Club would choose. A deal was struck with the Bank of Commerce which gave the Bank the front half of the property on Main Street, while the Club building itself was to be built on the back part, within easy walking distance for most of the local businessmen. When the design of the $15,000 building was complete, A.P. Burns was contracted to begin construction. This was done through a loan from Hop Yuill, who would be repaid over the years from membership dues and fundraising activities.
As time passed, the Cypress Club continued to serve the business and professional elite of Medicine Hat and its surrounding district as a men’s social club. During World War II, it was turned over to the Empire Club for use by armed service personnel stationed in the district. Occasional internal renovations would occur, and, at times, financing was precarious, but, invariably, members from the business community would come to the rescue with loans. Members over the years would include most of Medicine Hat’s mayors and members of City Council, several of the districts Members of the provincial Legislative Assembly, and Members of Parliament William Wylie, Bud Olson and Bert Hargrave. Other members to gain a strong reputation outside the district of Medicine Hat include Judge John Sissons and Edmonton Journal editor Andrew Snaddon.
In 2002, the Cypress Club was designated a Provincial Historic Resource. Its historical significance lies in its service as the main social club for men in the city and district of Medicine Hat since its inception in 1903.
Written by: David Leonard, Historian
Visit the Alberta Register of Historic Places to learn more about the heritage value of the Cypress Club. In order for a site to be designated a Provincial Historic Resource, it must possess province-wide significance. To properly assess the historic importance of a resource, a historian crafts a context document that situates a resource within its time and place and compares it to similar resources in other parts of the province. This allows staff to determine the importance of a resource to a particular theme, time, and place. Above, is some of the historical information used in the evaluation of the Cypress Club.