Hanley was founded in 1902 and incorporated as a town in 1906. It is a typical small agricultural community in the grain-growing region of Southern Saskatchewan. Thousands of settlers came into the area in the early part of the 20th century after land speculators had procured the lands. Early settlers came from the UK, Eastern Canada, America and Scandinavia. A large community of Norwegian descendants still makes up a significant percentage of the area's residents and there is also a substantial Mennonite-German community.
There are several reservoirs in the region and some limited irrigation projects have utilized them. Wheat, barley, canola, alfalfa, hay, flax, oats, rye and specialty crops are grown in the area. There is also cattle ranching and other specialty livestock production.
Hanley is typical of small "Dust Belt" towns of the North American Great Plains and there has been a great decrease in the rural population and consolidation of agricultural industries of this region in the last 20 years so consequently the tax base is in decline. Hanley has no industries but there is a school, an RCMP depot, churches, post office and some businesses. Hanley's population is growing with a number of young families relocating in the past few years.Although there are no longer grain elevators, train station or loading platforms, theCanadian National's Saskatoon/Regina railway still passes through the community. Railcars can be seen sitting waiting to be loaded with grain in the fall and spring. It is also on Provincial Highway 11. Hanley was once noted for being an important community in this region of Saskatchewan and several railroads were to come through this community and for many years up until the 1960s, was an important trading and business centre in the region.
There were some grand buildings and homes in the town including one of the few Opera Houses in Canada, the Lawrence House Mansion and one of the largest and finest brick schools in the region. All are now gone.