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"Medicine Hat" ... the Legend Behind the Name

Medicine Hat inherited its name from the native word "saamis" which means medicine man's hat. A number of legends tell the story of how this city was named. One of these legends is beautifully depicted in a sculptured brick mural at City Hall. 

Brick Mural of Medicine Hat Name Legend

The legend tells of a winter of great famine and hardship for the Blackfoot nation. The elders of the Council chose a young man to save his tribe from starvation. Setting out with his new wife and favourite wolf dog, he journeyed down the ice-bound South Saskatchewan River. After many arduous days they made their way to the “breathing hole” an opening in the ice, located on the river between what is now Police Point and Strathcona Park in Medicine Hat. This location was a sacred place to the First Nations’ people: a place where the water spirits came to breathe.

They made camp and summoned the spirits to appear. A giant serpent rose from the misty waters and demanded the sacrifice of the woman in exchange for a “Saamis” or “holy bonnet” which would endow the owner with special powers and great hunting prowess. The young man tried to trick the serpent by throwing the body of his dog into the river, but the serpent was not fooled, and finally reluctantly, the woman was thrown into the frigid waters.

The man was told to spend the night on the small island (Strathcona) and “in the morning when the sun lights the cut-banks, go to the base of the great cliffs and there you will find your Medicine Hat”. And so aided by the magic of his Saamis, the young hunter located the much needed game, saved his people, and eventually became a great Medicine Man.
Last updated: 12/8/2011 1:49:57 PM