The Village of Roche Percée, with an approximate population of 162 is located only 20 minutes SE of Estevan in the Souris River Valley. It is situated just off Hwy 39, a short distance from the Canada-US border. The name of the community is derived from a unique landform, long known to First Nations peoples who camped in the area. Their name for a large, hollowed sandstone outcropping was translated by Métis travelling through the region as la Roche Percée. James Hector of the Palliser Expedition who visited the area in 1857, was the first to note coal along the Souris. The North-West Mounted Police made their first major camp here, the Short Creek Camp, during their 1874 trek westward.
July 25, 1874
“We reached Roche Percée. This singular rock is a white sandstone of wind formation, running up like a crest from the bottom of the Souris Valley. At its base. it measures about 35 feet in height and the base about 140 feet. Some parts are softer than others, and from the combined influence of wind and rain, fissures and holes have been worn through it. On different parts of the rock are cut the names of people who have passed by and many hieroglyphics which, of course, remain a mystery to us.”
-Henri Julien (source unknown)
The coal-mining industry, which gave life to the community, had its beginnings in the 1880s, when individual entrepreneurs and small-time operators began digging the coal, then transporting it by barge down the Souris River, into the Assiniboine, and then on to Winnipeg. The first viable coal mine in the area was established in 1891. The CPR’s SOO LINE came through in 1893 and within a few years, dozens of mines were in operation and many lived at the mining camps in the district. Local farmers used coal mining income to help them establish their farming operations.
It was a few years before the village proper developed and, on January 12, 1909, Roche Percée was incorporated. Although agriculture, consisting of grain and cattle production, was important in this sandy region, the community’s fortunes have always been closely related to the coal mining industry. Underground operations began to give way to surface “strip” mining by electric shovels in the 1930s and, by the mid-1950s, the era of underground coal mining in the region had come to an end.
Today, there are only two companies mining coal in the Estevan-Bienfait area. Their huge dragline operations, however, produce an annual production of approximately 12 million tonnes. Today, Roche Percée is essentially a residential community as businesses, services, and the school, have long given way to those in the nearby city of Estevan.
This great little village is tucked neatly within the scenic landscapes of the Souris Valley. If you are in the area, make sure you stop by to see the beautiful sandstone creations, also known as “the rocks” by the locals, for a short afternoon trip and outdoor adventure!
- Roche Percée Sandstone Formations