All about Nemiskam (or is it Nemiscam)?


Since it’s early days, the community of Nemiskam has been spelled with both a “c” and a “k”, and both are considered correct, I guess. It would have saved us all a lot of trouble if they had stuck with the community’s original name: Bingen.

According to J. Derek McNaney in the 1975 local history, Shortgrass County, a group of German Russians escaping religious and political persecution settled just south of the present townsite, beginning in about 1911. Place Names reports the surrounding community was christened “Bingen” after a town in Germany, and by 1913 a post office of the same name had been established. Then in a patriotic (and somewhat ironic) twist, the growing community dispatched its Germanic namesake in 1916, adopting the less-threatening Nemiskam- a First Nations word meaning “between two valleys”.

Or was it Nemiscam?

A war of wording ensued, and the question of Nemiskam v. Nemiscam has remained unsettled for over a century, and it seems unlikely that a resolution is coming anytime soon. For one thing, all three levels of government would have to agree on a common spelling. The province and the federal government are on one side, generally spelling Nemiskam with a “K”. On the other hand, Nemiskam is located within the County of Forty Mile No. 8, and the local municipality routinely spells Nemiskam with a “c” on county maps, online and on signage around the county. Adding to the uncertainty is the C.P.R., who allegedly caused all of this confusion in the first place. A spin through Alberta Land Titles confirms that the original C.P.R. townsite survey plans spell Nemiskam with a “c”. However signage formerly located alongside the uprooted tracks of the abandoned C.P.R. Line heralded ones arrival in “Nemiskam”, not “Nemiscam”.

While we can remain hopeful that the Prime Minister, the Premier, and the Reeve of 40 Mile will put all pressing business aside to come to an agreement on the contentious issue, we may be waiting some time before the Nemiscam / Nemiskam Accord becomes a reality. In the meantime, whether you choose to spell it Nemiscam or Nemiskam, one thing remains certain: They should have stuck with Bingen.

Old Pakowki, where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain…

Old Pakowki, where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain…(with apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein II).

Following the arrival of rail in 1915, a townsite sprung up at Pakowki, about eight miles east of Etzikom along Highway 61. Pakowki, which is pronounced “Pa-coke-ee” by the locals, roughly translated from Blackfoot means “bad water”, a reference to nearby Pakowki Lake. For a brief period, the settlement at Pakowki included a hotel and livery, two (possibly three) elevators, and the ubiquitous lumber company. The Ghost Town Journal states this bona fide ghostly burg was also home to a Chinese restaurant, machine shop, machinery agent, and two general stores, during its heyday.

However, Pakowki’s heyday was short-lived, as residents and merchants migrated east with the railway the following year, and the townsite dispersed to Orion and Manyberries. According to Orion icon, Boyd Stevens, farmers continued to haul wheat to the siding for a time, dumping on the ground until it could be loaded into boxcars and shipped. In later years, Stevens said Community Auction Sales operated a stockyard at Pakowki, the remains of which are all that is left of the community today.

Chronicling the pioneer-era people and places of the southern Alberta drybelt. 2014 Alberta Heritage Resources Foundation Heritage Awareness Award recipient.