Amazing Things about Saskatchewan

Amazing Things about Saskatchewan

Tooting our horn

Things you might not know about Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan’s population is 3.2 percent of the total for Canada, but consider our contributions to Canada!

World War I claimed the lives of 4,385 of our servicemen and World War II more than 70,000.

At 651,900 square kms (251,699 square miles), Saskatchewan sprawls over more real estate than all France at 643,801 square kms (248,572 square miles).

Our provincial network of roads and highways measures 228,200 kms, 29,500 of them paved. 

Saskatchewan is indeed Canada’s “breadbasket,” with 37 million acres of crop-producing land, 41.7 percent of the Canadian total. 

Saskatchewan has 10,000 lakes. The deepest is Deep Bay at Reindeer Lake, a meteor crater gouged more than 100 million years ago. 

Saskatchewan is gaining international renown for its subterranean treasure trove of fossils, including dinosaurs and prehistoric marine and winged creatures.

Saskatchewan boasts a dazzling number of firsts related to the achievement of tax-funded hospitalization and Medicare. 

We have more fly-in fishing camps than almost anywhere in the world.

At least twelve Saskies have received the supreme honour, appointment as Companions of the Order of Canada.

At least fourteen Saskies have been honoured by a British monarch, with appointment to the Order of the British Empire. 

At least ten of our writers are winners of a Governor General’s literary award, at least two have won the Scotiabank Giller award, and at least one was awarded the Booker award in Britain.

[www.saskenergy.com/learningcentre; Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan; Archer, Saskatchewan: A history; Lorne Clinton, Alberta Venture 2 May 2008, and other sources] 

“Wrong” sign | unsplash

You’re so wrong!

Common misconceptions about Saskatchewan

Ranging from observations by Captains John Palliser (Palliser Expedition, 1858) and William F. Butler (The Great Lone Land, 1872) to more recent assumptions, usually made by tourists who crossed the province on the Trans-Canada highway.

Saskatchewan is just a vast flatland.” 

Running from the 49th parallel north to the 60th, Saskatchewan is the fifth largest Canadian province. The north is mostly rugged precambrian rock, while the south is largely overlain by glacial deposits, with scattered coulees (former glacial spillways) and a few flat areas (glacial lake bottoms). The Cypress Hills in the southwest, rising to 1,392 metres above sea level, are the highest place between the Rocky Mountains and Quebec’s Appalachians.

“Saskatchewan is a semi-arid prairie province, lacking water resources.”

In fact, the northern half is essentially boreal forest, dotted by 10,000 freshwater lakes. While Palliser’s Triangle in the southwest is the driest part of the grasslands, it usually gets enough rain for dryland farming.

“Saskatchewan was an empty wilderness before European settlers arrived around 1900.”

In fact, since about 9,500 BCE, it was inhabited by diverse indigenous peoples, each with their own cultures and political systems. Southerners depended on vast roaming herds of bison, while most northerners made their living by hunting and trapping in the boreal forests. In both areas, the First Nations had been making deals with Hudson’s Bay Company agents for more than a century before Canadian settlement began.

Saskatchewan is a rural, agricultural province.”

In fact, since 1950, with 70 percent rural population, until now, when it’s only about 30 percent, Saskatchewan has “urbanized” faster than any other province. Though farm output doubled in that period, the non-agricultural sector has become the economic mainstay, as farm mechanization and improved transport led to rural depopulation. 

“Saskatchewan has a diverse, multicultural population.”

In fact, over 80 percent of Saskies were born and raised here, many to the second and third generation. The descendants of European immigrants with distinctive languages and customs have largely blended into the Canadian mainstream. More recent migrants from Latin America, Asia and the Middle East tend to cluster in the cities, where there are more jobs and more guidance in adapting. Ironically the biggest divide remains between the First Nations and the “interlopers.”

“The people of Saskatchewan are all socialists.

In fact, while it’s true that Saskatchewan was the birthplace of hospitalization, Medicare and other socialist measures under the CCF/NDP, Saskies have been electing Conservative governments intermittently, all along.


Famous Saskies

People everyone should know about

Most Saskies are aware of our superstars such as Joni Mitchell, Tommy Douglas, John Diefenbaker, Gordie Howe, Buffy Saint-Marie. Here are some who lived in Saskatchewan that you might not know about (more info on them and hundreds more are in relevant chapters).

Comedian Art Linkletter, famous for American radio and television series including “People are Funny” and others, was born 18 July 1912 in Moose Jaw to S.W. Kalle and his wife, but Art was adopted and taken to San Diego. He found this out during a 1974 visit to his birthplace.

Nobel Prize winner Gerhard Herzberg was brought to the University of Saskatchewan by Dr. John Spinks in the 1930s, after they had met in Germany. 

Celebrated NFL football player Reuben Mayes of North Battleford came from a famous African-American family in the Maidstone area, who had led about a thousand ex-slaves to the province in 1910.

Grant MacEwan, who moved with his family to Melfort in 1915, once taught animal science at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, and was briefly an editor at the Western Producer. He was an MLA and lieutenant-governor of Alberta, best-selling author of fifty-five books, the man with a college named after him.

Lucy Maud Montgomery (author of Anne of Green Gables) lived for a year in Prince Albert after her father moved there with his new wife, but returned to Prince Edward Island to write her remarkable series of Anne books.  

Television broadcaster Keith Morrison of Lloydminster honed his skills as CFQC Saskatoon, and later became a familiar face as CBC-TV anchorman, NBC Dateline.

Leslie Nielsen of Regina acted in serious films such as Forbidden Planet and The Poseidon Adventure, and zany ones like Airplane and the Naked Gun

Celebrated actor and comedian Eric Peterson of Indian Head trained in the U of S drama department. He played the famous flying ace in Billy Bishop Goes to War and in the TV series Street Legal, Corner Gas, and This is Wonderland.

Actress Shannon Tweed, formerly of Saskatoon, is best known as the wife of Kiss band member Gene Simmons.

Tenor Jon Vickers of Prince Albert, was an international opera star who performed major roles in London, Milan and New York.

[Linkletter: Not Only a Name: a Long Love Letter from Moose Jaw; MacEwan: Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan,567-8 ; Mayes: CBC; Battleford News-Optimist]   

Surprising connections

Famous (and infamous) folks with ties to our province

The legendary American outlaw Butch Cassidy and his “Wild Bunch” used to hide out in the Big Muddy badlands in southern Saskatchewan. The caves are still there.

Father Bacchiocci, a Swift Current priest, was said to be the grandson of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Al Capone's Hideaway motel in Moose Jaw.
A motel in Moose Jaw commemorates the famous Chicago gangster said to have stayed there often
during the Prohibition era. Photo by Patricia Pavey.

Chicago gangster Al Capone is said to have frequented Moose Jaw during the Prohibition era. Saskatchewan authors and the tourism sector have exploited this belief.

Inspector Francis Dickens, son of novelist Charles Dickens, was commanding the NWMP garrison at Fort Pitt during the Riel Resistance, but was persuaded to evacuate his men to Battleford, under threat of attack by militant warriors in Big Bear’s band. 

Poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s nephew Bertram Tennyson homesteaded at Cannington Manor near Moosomin. His book of poems did not launch a spectacular literary career, but he stuck to his day job, lawyering.  He was also known to have pinch-hit as stagecoach driver from time to time. 

Aristocrat from Whitewood
Count Beaudrap, who lived at Cannington manor for a while, was said to be related to Joan of Arc!

A couple of nobles associated with the French settlement at St. Hubert, were not shy in their claims to historical prestige. French count Paul de Beaudrap de Denneville (Marche) claimed he was a distant relative of Joan of Arc. He farmed for a while at St. Hubert.

Eminent literary critic Northrop Frye was once a student minister and itinerant preacher at Stonepile near the Cypress Hills for about two years.  The problem was, he couldn’t ride horseback. He was later ordained as a United Church minister.

American author Sinclair Lewis in 1924 went on a canoe trip with his physician brother Claude and the “treaty brigade” officials of the Department of Indian Affairs on their annual trek to dispense treaty money to northern tribes. 

Author Gabrielle Roy had a family connection to Eastend (or Dollard just down the road). Her uncle brought French settlers to the area so she had at least one first cousin in the town. Her autobiography, translated into English as Enchantment and Sorrow, received the Governor-General’s award in 1987.

Writer Robert Fulford was the nephew of Theresa Fulford Delaney, one of some eighty white settlers who spent two months in the camp of Big Bear in the 1885 North West Resistance.

Maple Creek rancher and storekeeper Horace Greeley was a second or third cousin of the famous American author and statesman Horace Greeley.

Hollywood horror film star Boris Karlov performed in Saskatchewan during his early acting years, with a repertory theatre company that suddenly folded. But the very next day the “Regina Cyclone” devastated much of Regina, and he got a job helping to clean it up.

William Wordsworth’s wife was reportedly the aunt of Henry Hutchinson, the first settler in the Souris area between Carnduff and the American border.

The famous physicist Albert Einstein played hockey as a youth in Germany. Reportedly, one winter while formulating his world-shaking Theory of Evolution, he took a break in Saskatchewan to play for the Canwood Canucks.

Aldous Huxley once carried on a lively correspondence with Humphrey Osmond, who was working on psychedelic drugs at the Weyburn mental hospital. Osmond coined the word “psychedelic.”

Band leader Matt Kearney worked on the harvest excursions at Moosomin, in southern Saskatchewan.

Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons television series, was the son of Homer Groening, whose name inspired his Homer character. The senior Groening, born in Main Centre, Sask., was a cartoonist too.

Saskatchewan author Fredelle Maynard’s daughter Joyce was a teenager at Yale, on scholarship, when she fell in love with author J.D. Salinger (Catcher in the Rye) and left after a year to move in with him.  He was thirty-five years her senior. A year later he dumped her and she wrote At Home in the World about it all, but it was panned. She did not return to Yale.

People with links to Saskatchewan
Actor and musician Kiefer Sutherland is Tommy Douglas’s grandson.

Actor Kiefer Sutherland is the grandson of former premier Thomas C. Douglas, whose daughter Shirley married actor Donald Sutherland. Kiefer plays the highly-principled “accidental president” in the television series Designated Survivor

[Einstein: Saskatchewan Book of Everything, 126. Fulford: Sarah Carter’s introduction to Two Months in the Camp of Big Bear. Joan of Arc: Count De Beaudrap from Revue Historique vol 10 no. 2 at U of S Archives & Special Collections; Whitewood Museum; Revue Historique v. 10 no. 2 December 1999. Karlov: G. Ross Stuart, The History of Prairie Theatre, 70. Maynard: Vogue 13 Sept 2018,Vanity Fair September 1998. Napoleon: Spasoff, Back to the Past. Tennyson: Literary History of Saskatchewan, p.46, vol. 1. Count Uytendale, display panel at Whitewood Museum. Fulford: Saturday Night, June 1976, 970. Wordsworth: McCourt, Saskatchewan, 33-4; ]

Portrayed on screen and stage

Outstanding Saskies who inspired dramatic interpretations of their lives 

Archie Belaney is portayed in Grey Owl, a movie directed by Richard Attenborough, starring Pierce Brosnan. Belaney was an outspoken early conservationist, but pretended to be Grey Owl, an Aboriginal in the northern wilds, and was one of Canada’s most intriguing imposters. 

illustration of Big Bear
Illustration of Big Bear by Ruth Millar – based on a photograph]

Chief Big Bear, Cree leader in 1885 Northwest (Riel) Resistance is the subject of a CBC Television mini-series Big Bear based on Rudy Wiebe’s novel The Temptations of Big Bear, starring Gordon Tootoosis. Unlike other Cree chiefs, Big Bear refused to sign Treaty Six until the starvation of his tribe forced him to capitulate.

Hugh Cairns, VC, war hero is depicted in the play The Great War by Don Kerr, 25th Street Theatre. A statue commemorates him in a Saskatoon park.

Morris Cohen, former juvenile delinquent in Saskatoon in the early 1900s, inspired Don Kerr’s play Two-Gun Cohen, and reportedly an early Hollywood film The General Died at Dawn was loosely based on his life. A full-length book, Two Gun Cohen, was published by New York author Daniel Levy.

Nicholas Flood Davin is characterized in Ken Mitchell’s play, Davin: The Politician. A colourful, outspoken journalist, lawyer and MP, he founded the Regina Leader newspaper. He is noted in history for his ill-starred relationship with journalist and author Kate Simpson-Hayes.

illustration of John Diefenbaker
Diefenbaker – illustration by Ruth Millar for SaskPotpourri.com

John Diefenbaker, the only prime minister from Saskatchewan, is depicted in the play Diefenbaker by Thelma Oliver. It starred Terrence Slater, Norma Edwards and Patricia Lenyre.

Thomas C. (Tommy) Douglas, a father of Medicare: Prairie Giant, is portrayed in a CBC Television miniseries; and Keeper of the Flame (documentary). 

Gabriel Dumont, Metis leader in the North-West Resistance is depicted in the play Gabriel Dumont by Ken Mitchell. Dumont escaped to the U.S. where he joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

Father Athol Murray of Wilcox: the play Murray of Notre Dame by Tony Cashman, is the main protagonist in the movie The Hounds of Notre Dame by Ken Mitchell, starring Frances Hyland, and Barry Morse.

Louis Riel, Metis leader in North-West Resistance, is portrayed in The Trial of Louise Riel, a play by John Coulter (1967) based on the transcripts of Riel’s trial.

Seager Wheeler, a plant breeder known as the Wheat King, inspired the play Harvest Moon, shown every year in Rosthern for years. 

Colin Thatcher, son of former premier Ross Thatcher, is depicted in Love and Hate: The Story of Colin and Joanne Thatcher, by Maggie Siggins and Suzette Couture. Colin Thatcher was convicted of having his wife murdered, but he always claimed to be innocent. 


Order of Canada medals
Order of Canada medals

“Knights” of the realm

Companions of the Order of Canada

“Companion” (CC) is the top rank of the Order of Canada (the others are CM, Member, and OC, Officer). The Order of Canada could be considered our version of knighthood. (These are cited elsewhere at more length in this website.) Some were also honoured as Fellows of the Royal Society, and the Royal Society of Canada (too many to list here).

Lloyd Barber, born in Regina – former president of the University of Regina.

Lloyd Axworthy, born in North Battleford – former minister in Prime Minister Chretien’s government.

Samuel Bronfman of Wapella – liquor industry baron and philanthropist associated with the mighty Seagram’s.

Balfour Currie, Kindersley and Saskatoon – head of physics at the U of S, founder of Institute of Space and Atmospheric Studies, and other lofty academic posts.

E.M. Culliton, Elbow – former Justice of the Court of Appeal for Saskatchewan and Chief Justice of Saskatchewan.

Brian Dickson, Yorkton – lawyer, puisne justice of the Supreme Court of Canada and later Canada’s fifteenth Chief Justice of Canada.  

Tommy Douglas, Weyburn – former premier of Saskatchewan, one of the two Fathers of Medicare, once voted our country’s “greatest Canadian.”

Willard Estey, Saskatoon – moved to Ontario, appointed to the Ontario Court of Appeal, became Chief Justice of Ontario, later appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada. 

Emmett Hall, Saskatoon – law professor and judge, one of the two Fathers of Medicare. He became Chief Justice of Saskatchewan and chaired several royal commissions and public inquiries.

Gerhard Herzberg – Nobel prize winner and professor at the U of S; he fled to Saskatoon from wartime Germany. His many important posts include that of physics director at the National Research Council.

Ray Hnatsyshyn, Saskatoon, MP and cabinet minister, and later a senator.

Albert Wesley Johnson, Insinger – held several top posts in the federal government before becoming president of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Chalmers Jack (CJ) Mackenzie, Saskatoon, former dean at U of S, called the most important Canadian in the growth of science after World War II. In Ottawa he became president of Atomic Energy of Canada and the National Research Council of Canada.

Joni Mitchell, Saskatoon – world-renowned singer.

Hilda Neatby, Saskatoon – academic, professor of history at the U of S, especially noted for her ideas on education.

Jeanne Sauve, Prud’homme – former governor-general.

Walter P. Thompson, Saskatoon, scientist and former University of Saskatchewan president.

Jon Vickers, Prince Albert – a former farm boy who soared to international opera stages, notably Covent Garden in London, England

[The Canadian Encyclopedia and other sources.]

“For King and country”

Saskies honoured by the Order of the British Empire

Being invested in Britain’s OBE carries impressive prestige. A surprising number of Saskies were so honoured, usually for heroic efforts abroad during the world wars. The ranks are: Commander (CBE), Officer (OBE), member (MBE).

George Findlay Andrew served in British intelligence in China in both the world wars. Here he wears traditional Chinese garb with pride,
in the country of his birth.

Findlay Andrew (OBE), who moved to Saskatoon in 1959, received his award at Buckingham Palace on July 20th, 1920, for secret war work in China. If secrecy was involved, the OBE handbook often doesn’t cite specific actions of people so honoured. His papers, which include a letter inviting him to London to receive the award, suggest it was for sending vital “intel” to the British from his strategic location in the northwest. Some thought it was for helping prevent a Uighur uprising, which could have led to another pro-German front.

Henry Black of Regina was made a commander of the OBE in 1935 for his work with the Saskatchewan Relief Commission, created by the Anderson government in 1931 to administer relief measures during the desperate days of the Depression. The commission was axed in 1934 by Liberal premier J.G Gardiner due to public criticism.

Elizabeth Cruikshank was a leader in the Local Council of Women in Regina. She was noted for her war work, and was active in the Saskatchewan Natural History Society. She was also an author and a Leader-Post columnist. [Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan]

Dr. Robert George Ferguson, a heroic figure in the fight against tuberculosis in Saskatchewan,  reportedly was honoured with an OBE. [Star-Phoenix, undated clipping, likely in 1942.

Joan Bamford Fletcher of Regina got her OBE for leading some two thousand women and children to safety out of a Japanese prison camp in the jungles of Sumatra, in twenty separate convoys along dangerous switchback roads, at the close of World War II. The jungles were swarming with hostile Indonesians fighting for independence from the Dutch. Japanese soldiers, now demobilized, assisted her in the hair-raising exodus.

Air Vice Marshall Arthur Clinton Maund (CBE) of the hamlet of Cando was also honoured as Commander of the Order of the Bath, and with the Distinguished Service Order, and received one Russian and two French medals for his military exploits in World War I. He had enlisted in the Saskatchewan Light Horse in Battleford but transferred to the Royal Flying Corps. After the war he served in Russia, 1919-20.

RCAF Group Captain Ernest Archibald McNab (OBE, CD, DFC) of Rosthern also received a Distinguished Flying Cross. An air ace, he commanded Canada’s first RACF fighter squadron abroad in 1940. Son the McNab who became lieutenant-governor, he got his OBE for outstanding war work.

Violet McNaughton on stage with dignitaries
Farm leader Violet McNaughton addresses crowd at Indian Head celebrating founders of the Territorial Grain Growers Association, August 19, 1955. Also on stage are James Gardiner (left), ex-premier, and T.C. Douglas, premier. Photo by Western Producer, from Local History Room, Saskatoon Public Library

Violet McNaughton (OBE) was an outstanding feminist, newspaper columnist and women’s editor at the Western Producer, noted for her role as a leader of farm women and in achieving the franchise for women. She was active in many important early farm organizations. In 1924 King George V conferred to her the OBE for services to rural women.

Ellaf Olafson (MBE), a war hero born in Shaunavon and brought up in Eston, studied engineering at the U of S. In World War II, as a captain in the Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, he designed an innovative portable bridge that was built in record time to expedite Allied river crossings in Italy.

George Porteous (MBE) of Saskatoon was posted to Hong Kong with the Winnipeg Grenadiers during the Japanese siege of 1941 when more than 1075 Canadians were killed or wounded; others were taken prisoner. He was awarded his MBE for maintaining morale among his fellow prisoners, who for four years suffered unspeakable ordeals. A Scot, he had come to Canada in 1910 and attended high school and university in Saskatoon. Long after the war he became the 14th Lieutenant-Governor of Saskatchewan.

Alleyre Sirois (CM, MBE) originally from Vonda, was invested as a member of the OBE for his war work in intelligence for the British Special Operations Executive in France. He also received the French Croix de Guerre. On his return to Canada he studied law and, practiced in Gravelbourg before becoming a Queen’s Court judge in Saskatoon in 1964.

Dr. John William Tranter spinks, former president at the U of S, – Photo from University of Saskatchewan Archives and Special Collections.

John William Tranter Spinks (CC, MBE, SOM), president of the University of Saskatchewan 1960 to 1975, was invested as a member of the Order for his work in Britain during World War II, “developing search and rescue procedures for missing aircraft.“ He was also named a Companion of the Order of Canada, member of the Saskatchewan Agricultural Hall of Fame, the Saskatchewan Order of Merit, and a Saskatoon Citizen of the Year.

Harry Thode, born in Dundurn, received two degrees at the U of S followed by a PhD in the U.S. Noted for his work in atomic research, he was honoured by the Order of Canada and the Order of the British Empire, and was also a Fellow of the Royal Society. He became president and chancellor of McMaster University in 1961. [Star-Phoenix 14 April 2017]

Plant breeder Seager Wheeler (MBE) known as the Wheat King, helped boost Saskatchewan as the “bread basket of the world.” He assisted mother nature in selecting the best wheat seeds (some from mutants) he had grown, exhibiting them at agricultural fairs around the world and developing new strains.

Pilot Officer E.A. Wickenkamp (OBE) of Stenen joined the RAF in 1938. He received the OBE for rescuing two crew members after the crash of his aircraft. A month later, he was shot down and killed during an attack on a battleship.

[Andrew: unpublished ms. by Ruth Millar. Black: en.wikipefdia.org/wiki/1935_New_Year_Honourees_ Commander_of_the_Order_of_the British_Empire. Fletcher: Millar, Saskatchewan Heroes & Rogues. Maund: Canadian Virtual War Memorial and other websites. McNaughton: Herstory, 1971. Olafson: Spasoff, Back to the Past. Porteous: veterans.gc.ca. Sirois: Green & White fall 2005. Spinks: Canadian Encyclopedia. Other sources: Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan, Wikipedia]

Saskatchewan emblems

In 1941, the western red lily was chosen as our official flower. It grows in meadows and semi-wooded areas where its flaming red blossoms stand out like flames against a natural green background. 

The sharp-tailed grouse was selected as the provincial bird emblem in 1945.

Our official flag was adopted in 1969. It features the provincial shield of arms, with the western red lily. The flag’s upper half is green, symbolizing northern forests; the lower half is gold, symbolic of southern grain areas.

The Saskatchewan fish is the walleye.

Saskatchewan’s fruit is the Saskatoon berry

In 2001, needle-and-thread grass was chosen as our official grass. It’s a native bunchgrass common to the dry, sandy soils of the northern plains. Its seeds are sharply pointed and have long, twisted, thread-like fibres.

Our provincial district tartan features the colours gold, brown, green, red, yellow, white and black. Registered in Scotland in 1961, it was introduced in 1997 for highland dancers. 

In 1988, the white birch was adopted as Saskatchewan’s official tree. This hardwood tree is found across the northern 75 percent of the province. 

Sylvite, a.k.a. potash, is Saskatchewan’s official mineral. We are the world’s largest producer and exporter of potash, over 95 percent of it used for fertilizer.

The white-tailed deer became our official animal in 2001. It tends to be larger in the north than in the south. Adults have a reddish-brown summer coat and a greyish-brown winter coat, with white underparts. 

Curling became our official sport in 2001. It has a rich history here, from the Richardson brothers in the 1950s to Sandra Schmirler in the 90s. 

“From Many Peoples Strength”: The provincial coat of arms was granted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1986, adapted from the 1906 shield of arms. With a crest of a beaver and crown on top, a lion and deer flank the shield, which displays the royal lion and three gold wheat sheaves. Western red lilies form the base.


Cast in stone (or bronze, or…)

Saskies immortalized in statues & monuments

Chief White Cap and Saskatoon founder John Lake are depicted in a sculpture near the east end of the newly-built Victoria Bridge in Saskatoon. 

Chief Payepot (Piapot), cast by Lyndon Tootoosis, marks the signing of Treaty 4 in Regina. 

Statue of Metis leader Gabriel Dumont in a Saskatoon Park.
Statue of Metis leader Gabriel Dumont
in a Saskatoon Park.

Metis leader Gabriel Dumont is commemorated in a statue in a riverside park in Saskatoon.

A statue of Metis Leader Louis Riel in Regina showing his private parts so offended the Metis Association that the offending image was banished to the basement of the Mackenzie Art Gallery. 

First premier Walter Scott is depicted in a statue in Regina.

A statue of Edouard Beaupre, the Willow Bunch giant, stands in front of a local museum named in his honour.

A full-length statue of Sgt. Hugh Cairns VC, World War Ihero, is in Kinsmen Park in Saskatoon.  

A life-size equestrian statue of artist Count Berthold von Imhoff adorns the village of St. Walburg. 

A head-and-shoulders bust of early MP and newspaper owner Nicholas Flood Davin by Earl G. Drake graces Beechwood Cemetery, Ottawa.  

A statue in Saskatoon by sculptor Bill Epp immortalizes the Saskatchewan-born senator Ramon Hnatyshyn, an esteemed Ukrainian-Canadian hero and governor general of Canada for five years.

Statues depicting an encounter between newsboy John Diefenbaker (later prime minister) and Wilfred Laurier is prominently displayed at 1st Avenue and 21st Street in Saskatoon.

A head-and-shoulders bust of early MP and newspaper owner Nicholas Flood Davin is in Ottawa.

Statue of writer Farley Mowat
Statue of writer Farley Mowat on
the U of S campus

A statue of Farley Mowat, famous author, graces the U of S campus.

Famed hockey star Gordie Howe, can be seen in effigy at Sasktel Centre.

Popular radio host Denny Carr’s statue is located in a Saskatoon riverbank park. 

A statue of luminary Frederick W. Hill in Regina, was created by Russian artist Leo Mall (Leonard Molodozhanyn).

In the College of Education Building, University of Saskatchewan a new bust stands in the main hallway to commemorate beloved professor David Kaplan, who was a vibrant and influential mentor in the music world in Saskatoon. His Klezmer Band was and is extremely popular amongst Jews and gentiles alike,


Tourism: Seeing Saskatchewan

Tourism: Seeing Saskatchewan

Beauty spots

To see the grandeur of the land, avoid the Trans-Canada! 

Our vacation trails offer sublime scenic and historic routes. Several of our writers have rhapsodized about their favourite  Saskatchewan vistas.

View of South Saskatchewan river nearTramping Lake.
Tramping Lake. Photo by Gerry Ackerman

Newspaper reporter George Ham admired riverside vistas from a steamer chugging north of Saskatoon in 1885: “a winsome scene … a summer dreamland … a scenic poem” like a “well-kept ancestral estate in the Old Country.”

Just east of Fort Pitt village, the view from Frenchman’s Butte is spectacular, especially if you climb to the summit.

Mark Abley wrote of a vista southeast of Lloydminster: “The summer grass, grown tall in the ditches, lunged against the wind like a free animal. … I passed seven bay horses in a field, one of them dipping his head to drink from a rippling slough in the sun. As the land smoothed out, the sky hesitated between rich blue and a richer, menacing blue-black. Near the valley of the North Saskatchewan the rising, fenced wheat made an ocean of prairie waves combed by the air.”

“The drive along the Frenchman River from Eastend to Ravenscrag meanders along the scenic Frenchman River valley: crumbling clay cliffs, circling hawks, eagles, even turkey vultures, and bucolic scenes of grazing cattle, the occasional cowboy on horseback moseying through them,” writes author Sharon Butala. “You find yourself …, gazing around in wonder, your head full of the smell of sage and grasses.”

Candace Savage and her partner drove north from Consul, from where “tawny swells rose up [and] ushered us into a well-watered valley of surpassing beauty.” In the Cypress Hills was “a lookout over a spectacular sunlit valley framed on the far side by a rise of hills scrawled with stands of spruce. In the center [was] Fort Walsh.”

The route north from Wood Mountain to highway 13 and on to Assiniboine is gorgeous, especially in canola blossom season when brilliant yellow fields extend to the horizon.

Slightly reminiscent of Olde England is the drive between Cochin and Turtle Lake north of North Battleford in the parkland region. Clumps of dark bushes cling to the paler green contours of slightly rolling farmland, with its rich fecund soil, in a serene and sublime vista.

Qu’Appelle Valley’s string of lakes and the town of Fort Qu’Appelle offer superb vistas that have attracted would-be dwellers since time immemorial.

A breathtaking vacation trail leads from Whitewood past two provincial parks to Souris River country near the U.S. border. In autumn, the rolling terrain and forest colours are unforgettable.

The drive between Battleford and Saskatoon affords sublime views of the wide Saskatchewan unravelling like a ribbon along the valley.

To Edward McCourt, the drive from Cut Knife Hill to the Battlefords was one of the most impressive in the west. It revealed a vista overlooking the North Saskatchewan and Battle river valleys, with Battleford and North Battleford on the horizon.  

The apex of the “St. Victor outcropping” afforded one of McCourt’s favourite vistas: it overlooked steep slopes, expanses of alkali flats, and sweeping croplands that looked to him like “God’s chessboard.”

Saskatchewan’s north is part of the great Pre-Cambrian Shield, and resembles northern Ontario. Take the Hanson Lake Road from Smeaton northeast past stately woods towards Tobin Lake for one of the best views.

To get to the popular resort at Waskesiu, the prettiest route goes past Emma Lake and through the “old park road.”

[Abley, Beyond Forget, 251. Savage, A Geography of Blood, 100, 153. Korpan; Ham quoted in Tolten, Frontier Warships, 16. Butala, email Jan 2019. McCourt, Saskatchewan, 53, 153]

Eye-catching buildings worth a tour

Beauty in the eye of the beholder

Bessborough Hotel - painting
Painting by Patricia Katz of the iconic Bessborough Hotel,
from her book Sketches of Saskatoon.

Saskatoon’s Bessborough Hotel, one of a chain of CNR hotels across the country, has long been the city’s most iconic structure.

Its CPR counterpart in Regina, the Hotel Saskatchewan, has a historic grandeur missing in modern hotels.

First Nations University in Regina was designed by outstanding Ottawa architect Douglas Cardinal, famous for the graceful curvilinear lines of his architectural creations that blend cultural traditions and European architecture.

Gordon Oakes Red Bear Student Centre on the U of S campus in Saskatoon was also designed by Douglas Cardinal. It features the circular concept beloved by First Nations people. Cardinal also created the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec, and the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC.

Affinity Credit Union administrative centre in Saskatoon, an eye-catching office building on 7th Avenue, is an outstanding example of adaptive re-use.  It incorporates parts of the old brick Wilson School into a modern glass-faced building.

Keyhole Castle in Prince Albert, a large Queen Anne Revival style house, was constructed in 1913 by local lumber baron Samuel McLeod, with distinctive turrets and gables.

The new Remai Modern art galley near River Landing in downtown Saskatoon features 130,000 square feet of soaring inner space, vast expanses of glass, and a spectacular view of the river. When it opened in 2017, its works by Picasso attracted the attention of Britain’s The Guardian.

St. Peter’s Abbey in Muenster is graced by European-style interior murals painted by the renowned German painter, Count Berthold von Imhoff.

St. John’s Anglican Cathedral in Saskatoon, built 1912-17, is one of many magnificent cathedrals that have stood the test of time. On the exterior, it is faced with terra cotta and Tyndall stone. Its cinnamon hues are reminiscent of ancient and revered structures in India, making it a striking and iconic presence on the riverbank. In architectural style it is neo-Gothic.

SEDCO Building, U of S
SEDCO Building at University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. Photo by Ruth Millar

The eye-catching glass planes of the SEDCO Centre make it a photogenic landmark in Innovation Place on the U of S campus in Saskatoon.

Moose Jaw Public Library, a distinctive Italianate-style located Crescent Park, was designed by architects George Reed and Charles McAlpine and constructed 1912-13.

Off the beaten track

Unusual places to stay

Our towns and cities all have hotels and motels, but for history buffs who prefer something a little different, here are some bed & breakfast places, most with private bathrooms.  

A novel place to stay, Bin Inn at Rosetown is a grain bin
attractively renovated for a good night’s sleep.

Bincredible! Converted farm buildings offer unusual digs at Alive Sky Lodge in Rosetown. There’s a luxury suite inside a round metal grain bin and two bunk-houses, plus conventional suites with living room and kitchen inside the lodge. 

Near Emma Lake and Christopher Lake, travellers can rent a yurt – each with  its own bathroom and kitchenette.  Yurts can also be rented near Buffalo Pound Lake, just north of Moose Jaw. Glamping Resorts also offers yurts, along with geodesic domes and safari tents; and and so does Nesslin Lake campground.

Anglin Lake offers fishing in summer, cross-country skiing in winter, with comfortable cabins for rent.

For unusual digs, Beaver Lake Campground in Prince Albert National Park features “oTENTicks”, a blend of A-Frame cabins and prospectors’ tents. They have beds, tables and chairs, propane heaters and barbecue, a dining tent and firepit outside and an electrical outlet.

The historic Bishop’s Residence in Gravelbourg is a big two-and-a-half storey house with a European flavour, filled with light from its large windows, plus a front portico with pillars supporting a porch above, and a roomy verandah on the main floor. One room has two single beds – hard to find in a B&B. Next door is a cathedral.

Burns House B&B near Ogema south of Moose Jaw is a former T. Eaton house, beautifully restored, minimalist in decor, with gleaming white or off-white walls and woodwork, and dark hardwood floors. There’s a two-storey addition on the side with a balcony overlooking it, from which music lovers sometimes enjoy house concerts and other events.  

The two-storey, brick-faced Convent Inn at Val Marie is a Roman Catholic convent located in Saskatchewan’s own deep south. The building is brimming with history, and the morning meal is mouth-watering. There’s still a little chapel on the second floor, with a confessional even. Bathrooms are shared, just as the students used to do.

For people who value feng-shui layouts, there’s Dragon’s Nest Bed & Breakfast in Regina. It was built in 1912, with a third floor added in 2016 with outdoor stairs.  It’s located in the Cathedral area near downtown.  

Grandma Shirley’s Bed & Breakfast, a homey-looking place nestled in the rolling hills around Leader. The rooms are colour-coded – magenta, pink and green. 

Guests can go horseback riding at the historic Reesor Ranch, a former cattle ranch. It offers guests their choice of a fine historic home, a bunkhouse, one of three cabins, and a converted log barn for large gatherings. It was built in 1916 for Senator David Reesor and his wife, the sister of one of the Fathers of Confederation.   

Spring Valley Guest Ranch in the Cypress Hills is another former Eaton house with Victorian detailing including wainscoting and plate rails. It’s 55 kms. southeast of Maple Creek.  

Wakamow Heights, a grand 1905 mansion, sits atop a hill overlooking Moose Jaw. The Victorian-style interior decoration is fanciful and charming, with lace curtains, Oriental carpets, the works. On warm days breakfast is served in the spacious wrap-around verandah. There’s even a four-poster bed, and a honeymoon suite with a heart motif. 

Teepees at Wanuskewin, just outside Saskatoon.

Wanuskewin just north of Saskatoon offers a luxury tepee experience, and there’s similar accommodation in the Cypress Hills. You sleep in cots and sleeping bags. 

[Bin inns: info@florabora.ca; yurts and domes: tourismsaskatchewan.com/blog/2019/08/16/five unique…; https://www.glamping.ca/

Northern sojourns

Popular getaways in Saskatchewan’s northern lakes district

(Based on the number of private cabins, rental units and campsites). Each has distinctive natural/cultural features, resort subdivisions, rental cabins, campgrounds and recreation facilities.

Candle Lake, adjacent to Candle Lake Provincial Park, has clear water and sandy beaches.

Emma Lake is a legendary year-round resort that has housed artists, writers and musicians’ colonies. Its shores are ringed with cottages too. Many a work of art has had its genesis there, not to mention all the friendships forged.

Greenwater Lake, alongside Greenwater Lake Provincial Park, with popular interpretive trails, is a water sport mecca.

Jackfish Lake, bordered by Battlefords Provincial Park, has shallow beaches and year-round residential communities – Cochin, Meota and Metinota.

Lac La Ronge is an outfitting centre with year-round fishing, and secluded cabins on islands hidden along an expansive shoreline. It’s also a thriving community in all seasons.

Meeting Lake, very picturesque, is adjacent to Meeting Lake Regional Park

Ness Creek, like Emma Lake, is a cultural surprise tucked away in the boreal forest up north. The Jack Millikin Centre there is a modern “four-season” art centre. And then there’s the annual Ness Creek bluegrass festival, where you can camp in a clearing in the woods, while music wafts over you.

Redberry Lake, site of the only UNESCO biosphere reserve in Saskatchewan, is a nesting place for pelicans, and popular for sailing too.

Turtle Lake, near St. Walburg, is long, deep and narrow, and supposedly the site of periodic sightings of the legendary Turtle Lake monster. The meandering drive to get there is reminiscent of English countryside in places, and the fishing can be great.

Waskesiu Lake and townsite, in Prince Albert National Park is a tourist mecca, with its extensive interpretive programs of the parkland belt, plus fishing, canoeing and Lobstick golfing. And many a marriage has blossomed from attachments formed there, too.

Food, glorious food!

Intriguing restaurants in smaller centres

Our cities have an embarrassment of riches for dining, so we picked some from roads less travelled. Note that gastronomic tastes vary by gender.

Broderick: Terrace Dining Room steakhouse ten minutes from Outlook “serves up comfort-food classics with a gourmet twist.” With patio and outdoor stage, the view is pure prairie. It’s located in a character building that has been an army barracks, a town hall, a church, a toy factory, and an antique store.

Carlyle: The Office Bar & Grill, a surprisingly posh restaurant downstairs in a former office building, caters to a wide array of tastes, including Chinese and Thai, plus typical Canadian: salads, salmon, steaks, pizza and even gluten-free.

Eastend: Jack’s Café in Eastend, said to be the best in town, says author Candace Savage. Its decor features a wrap-around painted mural depicting the area’s colourful history.  Steaks, pizza and pasta on the menu.

Maple Creek: The Star Café occupies “an award-winning, beautifully restored nineteenth-century stone building.” In the heart of cattle country; suitably it offers steaks and prime rib, and homemade desserts.

Ogema: An Italian fellow fell in love with a young Ogema woman and followed her there. Now they are running Solo Italia, making traditional Italian pizza, which they sell all over the province.

Fort Qu’Appelle: Tangerine in the Valley with its light-filled spacious interior, lace curtains and good food appealed to me, but my companion favoured the licensed restaurant and bar next door with its patio and dark colours.

RosthernRosthern Cozy Cottage Bakery on 6th Street also has a dining area with vintage tables and chairs, and Saskatchewan art on the walls. The scrumptious baking is done on-site.

Stenen (near Preeceville): Rawhides Bar & Bistro was converted in 2012 from an old brick-faced hotel into a western-themed restaurant (think steaks and ribs) that attracts up to six hundred customers a day.

Stewart Valley: Rabbit Hill B&B & Teahouse, just north of the Trans-Canada near Lake Diefenbaker, in a big Victoria- style house with verandah and hanging baskets of flowers.

Shaunavon: The Harvest Eatery and Fresh Market offers fresh food in a vintage setting. Brisket, burgers and trout on the menu.

St. Denis: Howling Café, thirty-three minutes east of Saskatoon features homemade meals with local produce and “protein” (code for beef and pork?). It’s part of the rustic looking Champetre County complex, with a campground, horses, the whole western experience. 

Vibank: The Grotto Coffee House & Eatery, on Highway 48 southeast of Regina serves authentic Mexican food – pricey, reviews say, and you have to book ahead.

Eye-catchers

Distinctive natural landforms and other features

You’d never expect to find deserts, soaring cliffs, waterfalls, giant and weird-shaped trees, even a “dead sea” here, but we have them all!

The Athabasca Sand Hills, a wide ribbon of shifting dunes up to thirty metres high, flank the south shore of Lake Athabasca for about a hundred miles in the northwest corner of the province. They were formed about eight thousand years ago. The best way to appreciate them is from a plane.

Deep Bay is a body of water that fills a meteorite crater at the south end of Reindeer Lake in the northeast area of the province.

At Nistowiak Falls, east of Stanley Mission, water from Lac La Ronge plunges over ten metres into the Churchill River system. It is one of the highest and most beautiful waterfalls in Saskatchewan.

The Crooked Trees (or bushes), a weird grove of aspens in the Redberry Lake Biosphere Reserve near Hafford, are one of the “fifty-four wonders of Canada.” Their branches twist surrealistically, like something imagined by Harry Potter. This enigma is thought to be caused by genetic mutation.

For list of landforms etc in Tourism
Unusual tree at Rosthern. Photo by Patricia Pavey

An odd-shaped tree in Rosthern is one of many trees in the province that swoop low to the ground, affording excellent tree-climbing possiblities.

The Great Cottonwood, thought to be more than 169 years old, is more than five metres in circumference. The oldest and largest tree in the province, it is near Blaine Lake.

Castle Butte is a sandstone hill more than seventy m. high in the Big Muddy badlands south of Bengough. The badlands alone are worth the drive, especially in autumn.

The Qu’Appelle Valley, meandering from the elbow of the South Saskatchewan River all the way to Manitoba, is our largest “glacial spillway” (coulee).

Great Sand Hills
The Great Sandhills, in southwest Saskatchewan.
Photo by Gerry Ackerman.

The Great Sand Hills, an expanse of shifting sand dunes up to twelve m. high near Sceptre in the southwest, are sometimes called “the Sahara of Saskatchewan.” These desert-like dunes cover more than 4,000 square kms (1,900 square miles). With a camel you could imagine you were in Africa.

Cypress Hills—the highest altitude between Labrador and the Rockies -– was the site of a historic massacre in June 1873, when traders and wolf hunters from the U.S. attacked an Assiniboine encampment, killing at least twenty people. A reconstruction of Fort Walsh, a NWMP post, is there now.

Near Eastend (ironically in the southwest) are Chocolate Peak, Jones Peak, and Chimney Coulee, site of HBC trader Isaac Cowie’s post in 1871-2, a Metis settlement in 1873 (theirs were the chimneys, now gone), and a NWMP outpost in 1877.

To Edward McCourt, the drive from Cut Knife Hill to the Battlefords was one of the most impressive in the west. It revealed a vista overlooking the North Saskatchewan and Battle river valleys, with Battleford and North Battleford on the horizon.  

McCourt was impressed by the grotesque shapes created by erosion at the St. Victor outcroppings. His literary imagination perceived eerie faces, “hobgoblins” and mushroom shapes. The petroglyphs there may spark greater interest among archaeologists.

John fsher of the CBC floats in Manitou Lake's minersal waters
Photo PH-90-44 by Rumsey & Company, Toronto, from Local History Room, Saskatoon Public Library

Little Manitou Lake is a little like the Dead Sea. Its rich soup of minerals – magnesium, potassium, silica, iron oxide and sulphate – literally holds up swimmers. Believers in its healing waters have flocked there since time immemorial.

Roche Percee is the name of a village, landmark and 1.3-hectare provincial historic park in the Souris River valley near Estevan. Its sandstone outcrop has been sculpted by erosion, and marked by human carvings, now faded and obscured.

Author Edward Mccourt was impressed by the grotesque shapes created by erosion at the St. Victor outcroppings. His literary imagination perceived eerie faces, “hobgoblins” and mushroom shapes. The petroglyphs there may spark greater interest among archaeologists.

[McCourt, Saskatchewan, 53. Savage, A Geography of Blood. General: Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan, Canadian Encyclopedial; internet sources]

Binoculars up!

Bird-watching trails

Flock of geese
Flock of geese aloft near Macklin. Photo by Gerry Ackerman.

Chaplin Lake: where migratory shore birds seasonally frequent the Chaplin Heritage Marsh

Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park: where an ocean of grassland provides refuge for migratory birds.

Douglas Provincial Park draws birds to Diefenbaker Lake and the Qu’Appelle Valley

Eastend where the nearby white mud cliffs attract a distinctive range of birds.

Danielson Provincial Park, a bird and water fowl haven, adjacent to Lake Diefenbaker,

Grasslands National Park – east and west blocks – a refuge for grassland birds where the surrounding area is under cultivation.

Last Mountain Lake Migratory Bird Sanctuary is on the central migratory bird flyway of North America.

Leader, where a distinctive range of birds are attracted to the Great Sand Hills area.

Pelican Lake, designated a “globally important bird area” because of the species it attracts

Quill Lakes International Bird Area, especially the Wadena Wetlands and Foam Lake Heritage Marsh.

Saskatchewan Landing, where many species of birds frequent the river crossing

Shaunavon and Eastend.

Swift Current where songbirds and waterfowl inhabit the grass and reeds along the creek.

[www.naturesask.ca]

Watering holes

Craft beer microbreweries for suds-loving Saskies

In 2000, our province’s only brewery was Great Western Brewing Co. in Saskatoon, launched in 1989 when sixteen former Molson workers bought it and kept the plant running as an independent industrial-scale brewhouse. Since then, there has been a proliferation of microbreweries brewing up a profusion of tasty suds.

9 Mile Legacy Brewing Company, Saskatoon

Paddockwood Brewing Company, Saskatoon

Saskatoon Brewing Company, Saskatoon

Churchill Brewing Company, Saskatoon

21st Street Brewery, Saskatoon

High Key Brewing, Saskatoon and Regina

Rebellion Brewing Company, Regina

Bushwakker Brew Pub, Regina

District Brewing Company, Regina

Brewsters’ Craft Beer & Restaurant, Regina

Pile o’ Bones Brewing Company, Regina

Nokomis Craft Ales, Nokomis

Black Bridge Brewery, Swift Current

Prairie Sun Brewery, Saskatoon

The train has left the station, but …

“Repurposed” former railway stations

Many vacated railway stations are gone now, but some were moved to the country for re-use as homes, granaries and storage sheds. Others, now vacant, are protected by the Heritage Railway Stations Act of 1988, or were bought by town councils to repurpose them. Now restored, some emerged with imaginative new identities.

Regina’s Union Station, constructed in 1912 after the devastating tornado, now houses Casino Regina, owned and operated by Sask Gaming (a crown corporation).

The pre-cyclone station in Regina is now home to a museum in Broadview.

The CPR station in Saskatoon is now a Heritage Railway Station since 1990. It currently houses several private businesses

The former small station from Argo was moved just west of Saskatoon, where it was restored and now houses the Saskatchewan Railway Museum.

The CNR station in Moose Jaw, designated a municipal property in 1992, housed Sahara, a “destination spa”, in 2018.

The CNR station from Prince was moved and restored as part of the Heritage Village on the Western Development Museum.

Warman’s former CNR station was moved from its former site next to the railway tracks, and has become a seniors’ centre.

A railway station in Rosthern was re-imagined as the Station Arts Centre, a theatre containing a spacious café-cum-art gallery.

Another one in Simpson was scooped up by the Ogema Agricultural to replace a similar one demolished there earlier. Now restored, it is now a museums/operations centre, the South Prairie Railway for tourists offering themed rides such as robbery trains, a pitchfork fondue train, a heritage train, and a kids’ fun train.

Metamorphosis

Adaptive re-use of “prairie sentinels”

More than three thousand iconic wooden grain elevators once punctuated the railway lines in hundreds of communities. Only about four hundred remain. Several heritage groups have been taking steps to protect, restore and sometimes “repurpose” them.

Edam’s elevator was repurposed as a museum celebrating the grain-handling industry.

Hepburn’s elevator was preserved on site as a museum to commemorate its past.

In Verigin, the elevator was conserved as part of the Doukhobor National Heritage Village.

Keatley’s elevator was moved to the Western Development Museum grounds in North Battleford, and repurposed as a museum.

An elevator formerly at Mawer was moved to the Sukanen Ship Museum near Moose Jaw, and adapted as a museum.

The former Pool elevator at Harris was bought by a local farmer, who uses it as a private granary, still in its original site along the railway line.

Steps have been taken to conserve the McCabe elevator in the RM of Baildon.

Other communities that have taken such steps include Val Marie, Wood Mountain, Stoughton, Fleming, Gravebourg, Horizon and Indian Head.

Away from it all

Places to write, practice yoga, heal body or mind, or just hang out

Temple Gardens Spa in Moose Jaw, with healing mineral waters

Spa at Lake Manitou, where you can float effortlessly in the pool (or in the lake)

St. Peter’s Abbey in Muenster, a Benedictine monastery.

Emma Lake workshops where artists commune with their peers.  This artists’ environment has been extremely influential in the art world. Their website says the Emma Lake concept has been the model for other workshops in such places as upstate New York, Barcelona in Spain, and Hardingham, England.

Wallace Stegner House in Eastend, which you can rent for a minimum of thirty days and write the Great Canadian Novel.

Queen’s House of Retreats, Saskatoon (Catholic Church) – located near the river, with a quiet riverside trail a few minutes’ walk away.

Living Skies retreat at Lumsden: retreat and conference centre

Shekinah Retreat near Waldheim: a religious retreat in the forested parkland wilderness.

Prairie Sky Recovery Centre, in a former convent in Leipzig.

Calling Lakes Centre at Echo Lake in the Qu’Appelle Valley.

Mural, mural on the wall

Communities with multiple outdoor murals

In Assiniboia there are two outdoor murals, one with multiple images portraying prairie scenes during the four seasons.

Duck Lake has about a dozen murals depicting Metis history, including the 1885 Resistance.

Harris has three outdoor murals depicting scenes from their popular local play The Pull of the Land.

Humboldt has several murals, including scenes based on historic Carlton Trail and Humboldt Telegraph station.

Moose Jaw has more than forty glorious murals depicting episodes of its history.

Nipawin has at least thirteen murals showcasing the town, painted mostly by Saskatchewan artists.

Regina’s wide array of outdoor murals are described in its Downtown Public Art Guide.

Saskatoon has many large colourful murals on walls and fences in the Broadway area, and in Riversdale.

Unity has a series of seven murals offering a self-guided stroll through the town’s history.

Whitewood boasts five murals depicting: a fancy ball enjoyed by the historic French counts, the Pipestone Valley, a harvest scene, an aboriginal scene and an 1885 scene.

Wood Mountain has six large murals on its community hall depicting old scenes of the village, including one depicting its origin as NWMP post.

Yorkton has more than a dozen murals portraying people and activities typical of the city.

Other communities with fewer murals include Arcola, Beechy, Cabri, Choiceland, Consul, Coronach, Delisle, Eyebrow, Fort Qu’Appelle, Glentworth, Gravelbourg, Hazlet, Love, Meacham, Mossbank, Oxbow, Richmound, Rosetown, Stoughton.

[Community sources, www.vanishingsask.ca/]

“From washboard to gumbo”

Don’t go there – consistently worst roads in Saskatchewan.

According to CAA polls each April from 2012 to 2017, which asked motorists to nominate the road they thought were in the worst repair, with the most potholes, cracks, washboards, crumbling surfaces and poor signage. Those that tended to top the lists were:

Highway #354, Bethune to Dilke

Highway #151, Buffalo Narrows to LaLoche

Highway #47, Springside to Buchanan

Highway #322 Silton to Glen Harbour

Highway #51, Kerrobert to Major

Highway #21, Paradise Hill to Pierceland

Environment and Geography

Environment and Geography

Geographical factoids – mainly plains here?
Well, no.

Saskatchewan is the fifth largest province in the country, with a total area of 651, 036 square kilometres (251,366 square miles).

Milanosa, between Waskesiu and La Ronge (a hundred miles apart), is the approximate geographical centre of Saskatchewan.

Saskatchewan has three geographical regions: grasslands in the south, parkland in the middle, and forests in the north. Some of the forests are in the great plains region, and some in the Canadian Shield.

The Shield, comprised of bedrock and lakes, sprawls over a massive part of our province. It cuts across Saskatchewan on the diagonal from 57 degrees latitude in the northwest to 54 degrees in the southeast.

Put another way, Precambrian rock makes up 33 percent of our total area, farmland comprises 33 percent, commercial forest 23 percent, and lakes and rivers, 12 percent.

A whopping 44 percent of the province is considered to be “forested.”

Land makes up 90.8 percent (591,670 square kms or 228,455 square miles) of the total area of the province.

Water constitutes 9.2 percent, or 59,366 square kilometres (22,921 square miles). Our main rivers are the North and South Saskatchewan Rivers, and the Assiniboine.

With all that water, 90 percent of First Nations have dealt with bad drinking water; sixty-five of our reserves have had at least one boil-water advisory. The average for Canada is 65 percent.

Our population has hovered around a million since the 1930s, with 50 percent living in cities, 16 percent in towns, 31 percent on farms, First Nations reserves and small towns.

[Bad drinking water: CBC 15 October 2015. Forests: cfs.nracn.gc.ca from the book Saskatchewan’s Forest. Milanosa: McCourt, Saskatchewan. Shield: Richards, Atlas of Saskatchewan; Wikipedia]

Saving the planet

Ongoing community efforts in a time of climate change  

Jan Norris protesting at a July 10, 2019 demonstration during the “Grassroots Voices Welcome the Premiers” meeting at the Bessborough. Dressed as a Raging Granny, she is part of Climate Justice Saskatoon, a group protesting government lack of action on the climate.

Saskatchewan Environmental Society (SES) is an environmental super-catalyst in this province. Their issues include climate change, bio-diversity, water, environmental law and regulations, uranium and nuclear, energy solutions, and fossil fuels.

The SES educational programs include “Destination Saskatchewan” and “25 Acts of Energy Conservation” (two K-12 programs running in many schools). Their Powerpoint for the latter should be a bible for all of us.

The SES building operator training program,“Smarter Science, Better Buildings, is a partnership between SES and the Western Development Museums, focussing on energy efficiency in homes.  Grade Seven students participate in a half-day workshop that combines interactive displays with inquiry into the energy efficiency of historic buildings at each museum site.

SES’s Solar Co-operative Ltd., Saskatchewan’s first, is a model for future co-ops with the same objectives.

Saskatchewan Waste Management Council is a spinoff of the SES, and advocates ways of sustainable living.  Their website has a database of places to take things for recycling.

“Renewable Rides” is another SES program, providing solar-powered electric vehicles to the Saskatoon Car Share Co-operative.

Fracking is a like a four-letter word for many eco-conscious citizens. Three U of S grads created a portable water treatment system. They sidestep the practice of fracking, by treating waste water for recycling, or sending it back to its sources.

In 2014 the University of Saskatchewan had more than 120 water researchers working for Environment Canada’s National Hydrology Research Centre, at the Global Institute for Water Security.”

Sarcan Industries depots around the province accept drink containers, paint and electronics and sends the products to processing plants to be made into things like fleece jackets, car carpets, or reflective paint on highways.  In existence since 1988, it refunds deposits on containers, an excellent incentive for recycling. Not only that, it provides needed jobs.

At least one Saskatchewan business recycles rubber from tires to make rubber stepping stones, mulch, borders, speed bumps, and driveways. Two U of S grads rescue cast-off bicycles from the city dump for restoration and re-use.

Environmental heroes

Individuals working to raise consciousness about climate change, or doing their bit personally

Richard Ste. Barbe Baker, the ultimate tree-hugger called Man of the Trees, saw it all coming, back in the early 20th century. A former Saskatoon resident and U of S student, he travelled around the world promoting conservation, and tree-planting.

Grey Owl (Archie Belaney) was another early conservationist who expressed his views in his many writings.

Diana Wright and Terry Harley, who produced Pollution Probe, later called just Probe, for the Environmental Society. Harley also headed an energy conservation information centre in Saskatoon.

Ann Coxworth of Saskatoon has long been an outstanding spokeperson for the Saskatchewan Environmental Society. Her name has become synonymous with activism on the climate crisis.

A giant in climate change research is Malcolm Wilson, a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which collectively received the Nobel Peace prize in 2007, along with Al Gore. Wilson is director of the University of Regina’s Office of Energy and Development, and director of the International Test Centre for CO2 Capture.

The community of Craik’s Eco-village and solar project built in 2004 was an environmentalist’s dream. Occupying six thousand square feet, it featured eco-friendly measures like solar power, straw-bale insulation, composting, eater recycling, and wood from elevators. After the concept split the community, the centre burned down in 2016.

The Factor 9 demo home, a single-family home built in Regina for the Saskatchewan Research Council and other agencies, was conceived to use 90% less energy and 50 percent less water than an ordinary 1970 house the same size. Solar heated and airtight, it has no basement and no furnace.

A Saskatoon couple owns the first certified passive house in the prairie provinces. With no furnace, it uses up to 90 percent less energy, heated instead with solar panels and a hyper-efficient heat recovery and ventilation system. It is airtight, with deep window wells, triple-paned windows, and a three-inch-thick door.

To supply green energy to the power grid, the DEEP Earth Company began drilling near Estevan in 2018 in preparation for building a plant to generate enough geothermal energy to supply power to 5,000 houses. It was said its eco-impact would be equal to removing 7,400 cars off the road every yearand that the plant would be the first in Canada. In January 2019 P.M. Trudeau announced a grant of $25.6 million, the provincial government is putting up $175,000]

Another company sells and installs geothermal heating and cooling systems in buildings to cut down on use of fossils fuels.  It has three outlets, in Saskatoon, Hanley and Biggar.

Books - Corvus, by Harlold Johnson and Dry by Barbara Saper
Climate change books – ‘Corvus’, by Harold Johnson and ‘Dry’ by Barbara Saper

Speculative fiction writers who imagine our possible future, as in Barbara Sapergia’s Dry — about a province severely lacking water — and Howard Johnson‘s disturbing novel Corvus, which imagines environmental calamity on the prairies if present trends continue.

Regan Roy, U of S graduate, was working in 2012 with the World University Service in Lima, Peru, to promote water, sanitation, environmental recovery and economic development in Ica, where he worked for twenty-five years.

Nature writers such R.D Symons, Trevor Herriot, Paul Hanley, Sharon Butala and Candace Savage point to our delicately balanced ecosystems as a barometer of the health of the land.   

[Baker: Millar, Saskatchewan Heroes & Rogues. Wilson: Green & White fall 2009: 26; Craik: StarPhoenix April 2006. Demo home: Saskatchewan Research Council. Certified passive house: StarPhoenix 14 November 2016, CBC Radio 13 August 2018. Deep Earth: CBC News 22 November 2018; 11 Jan 2019. Roy; Green & White (fall 2015): 35] 

Saskatchewan as energy guzzler

Saskatchewan is one of the highest energy consumers in Canada (not surprising giving energy requirements for winter heating and agriculture).

factory smokestacks
Illustration by Ruth Millar

We are voracious fossil fuel users and gas guzzlers. In 2016, our energy demand was the fourth biggest in the country, and the biggest per capita.

In 2016, industry gobbled up the largest amount of energy at 58 percent. Transportation gulped 21 percent, commercial 14 percent, and residential, 7 percent.

The fuel our residents used most was natural gas at 46 percent. Heating buildings in Saskatchewan’s frigid winters makes us insatiable consumers of natural gas, with a per capita demand in 2017 at 8 percent of Canada’s total. Even so, our biggest natural gas gobbler was industry.

Electricity consumption per capita in this province was 20 megawatt hours in 2016. Each of us used on average the second-highest amount of electricity in Canada, 34 percent more than the national average. Industry consumed the most electricity in 2016, followed by the commercial and residential sectors. Demand for electricity here soared 28 percent since 2005.

[National Energy Board; CBC; energyhub.org, as shared on Facebook]

Saskatchewan as energy producer

Although the prairie provinces bask under more solar radiation than any other province, Saskatchewan is at the bottom of solar power rankings posted by energyhub.org. Our ranking is 16.2, while Nova Scotia’s is 22.6, and BC’s is 18.9.

image of windmills
Wind farm on the prairies

In Canada, only Saskatchewan and Alberta produce heavy crude oil, of which our province sucked up 11 percent. In 2017, we produced more than 485,000 barrels a day (Mb/d) 

Saskatchewan’s two refineries, Co-op Refinery in Regina and Gibsons Refinery in Moose Jaw use western Canadian crude. Co-op churns out gasoline, diesel, and heavy fuel oil, while Gibsons makes asphalt. Our surplus refined petroleum products (RPPs) go to Alberta, Manitoba, and the U.S.

Natural gas production is huge. In 2017, our province produced an average of 401 million cubic feet per day, about 3 percent of Canada’s total that year. The NEB estimates our natural gas resources at 13.4 trillion cubic feet (Tcf). 

In 2017 “natural gas liquids” produced here made up about 3 percent\ of Canada’s total. Our refineries also spill out a trickle of propane and butane.

Our province produced 25.5 terawatt hours of electricity in 2017, about 4 percent of Canada’s total. Our province can generate 4,533 megawatts (MW).

SaskPower produces most of our province’s electricity, and independent companies generate about 20 percent.

Although the prairie provinces bask under more solar radiation than any other provinces, Saskatchewan is at the very bottom of solar power rankings posted by energyhub.org. Our ranking is 16.2, while Nova Scotia’s is 22.6, and BC’s is 18.9.

Fossils fuels provide about 84 percent of Saskatchewan’s electricity, that is, about 49 percent from coal, 35 percent from natural gas, and 16 percent from renewables, mostly hydroelectricity.

Federal guidelines mandate that our coal plants must close down after fifty years of production, or be retrofitted with carbon capture and storage technology by 2030.

Our province can generate 890 MW of hydroelectric power, in power stations as far north as Lake Athabasca. Our biggest power station is Boundary Dam, capable of generating 672 MW, chiefly coal-fired.

Sunny Saskatchewan could become the epicentre of solar power in Canada. The 10 MW Highland Solar Project near Swift Current, should be in operation in 2019.

The DEEP Earth project in southeast Saskatchewan, mentioned above, has great potential for supplying clean energy to the power grid. (Hot springs are another example of uses of geothermal energy.)

The number of individual buildings heated with geo-thermal energy on site is estimated at one to two thousand across the province, according to a spokeperson for mienergy.ca. Companies remove heat from buildings during the summer, and pump heat from deep in the ground to use in winter.

[Geothermal: info@mienergy.ca. See also The Economy regarding the energy industry.]

Greenhouse gas emissions (GHG)

Our GHG emissions in 2016 were 76.3 MT of “carbon dioxide equivalent” (CO2e), 71 percent more than in 1990.

Each one of us produces 66.9 tonnes of CO2e emissions  –  the most per capita in Canada – 24.4 percent greater than the Canadian average of 19.4 tonnes per person.

Biggest emissions offenders in our province are oil and gas (33 percent), agriculture (23 percent), and electricity (20 percent).

Saskatchewan is Canada’s second biggest GHG emissions culprit (Alberta is first), most of them from coal. In 2016, we spewed out 19 percent of our entire country’s GHG emissions from power generation – way out of proportion.

Ruminant animals like cattle, buffalo, sheep and goats belch out some pretty noxious gases: nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide and methane, responsible for 14.5 percent of gases that contribute to global warming, compared to 14 percent from transport. A worthy research project for animal scientists!

On the positive side, in 2014, the Boundary Dam station has been retrofitted for carbon capture and storage that can reduce CO2 emissions by one megatonne (MT) a year.

[From the National Energy Board web page. Ruminants: United Nations FAO, via CBC 19 July 2018, reuters.com]

What’s in a name?

Places with First Nations names

Saskatchewan River: from the Cree word for “turbulent, swift-flowing river.”

Waskesiu Lake: comes from the Cree word for “red deer.”

Little Manitou Lake: from the Algonquin name for “good spirit” or “giver of life.”

Chitek Lake: from Cree word for “pelican.”

Mistawasis First Nation: “the little child”, head chief of the prairie Cree at 1896 signing of Treaty Six. 

City of Saskatoon:  from the Cree word “Saskatoomina”, flowering willows known for their long branches – suitable for making arrow shafts—as well as their tasty berries.

Town of Assiniboia: from Ojibway word for “one who cooks with stones.”

Town of Moosomin: meaning “high bush cranberries” in Cree.

Town of Nipawin: from the Cree word for “resting place”, where women and children waited for the men to return from hunting trips.

Village of Piapot: from the name Payipwat, “one who knows the secrets of the Sioux”, an influential Cree/Assiniboine chief in the 1870s-80s.

Village of Wawota: from Algonquin word for “lots of snow”.

Village of Meskanaw:  meaning “path” or “trail” in Cree.

Village of Meota: Cree for “good place to camp”.

Metinoa Beach: from Cree word for “near (Meota)”.

Katepwa Beach: meaning “who calls” in Cree (a beach in the Qu’Appelle Valley).

Aitkow Creek: Cree word for “river that turns” (located near the elbow of the Saskatchewan River).

Mistaseni: meaning “big rock” in Cree, referring to a huge buffalo rubbing stone in the Aitkow Valley that was blown up in 1964 during the construction of the Gardiner Dam.  Part of this rock is preserved in a cairn at the Elbow Harbour; the remainder is submerged in Lake Diefenbaker.

[Russell, What’s in a  Name; Barry, People, Places; Wikipedia] 

All shook up:

Earthquakes felt in Saskatchewan 

Except as noted, on these dates the StarPhoenix reported quakes, usually having occurred that day or the day before (since there were two editions a day in the early days). Some were reported in Regina papers as well. But according to seismologists, before the mid-1960s any quakes less than Magnitude 4 couldn’t be detected here. 

15 May 1909: The first quake officially observed in Saskatoon lasted ninety seconds, with an estimated magnitude between five and six on the Richter scale. The only seismograph in Canada then was in Ottawa, but the quake terrified people from Winnipeg to Lethbridge, Minnesota to Prince Albert.  Its epicentre was thought to be where Saskatchewan, Montana and North Dakota meet. 

22 December 1934: the earth trembled nightly at Unity. Oil drillers pooh-poohed talk of earthquakes, believing them to be “gas pains” from drilling. 

19 October 1935: Seismographs at the U of S indicated tremors originating in Montana that went on for hours, and set dogs howling in southern Saskatchewan. 

18 July 1954: A tremor was reportedly felt in Saskatoon. 

August 18, 1959: The biggest quake felt in Saskatoon since 1909 lasted twenty minutes, with lesser tremors following like hiccups, and then a big aftershock four hours later, that kept up for six minutes.  Though it reportedly emanated seven miles to the south, it still registered magnitude four.

Minor earthquakes were reported near Bengough in 1972, and three others near Radville, or Esterhazy in 1976. 

Since then at least three earthquakes registering 4.1, 4.3 and 4.4 M were felt in August 1982, April 2010, February 2012, near the southern border. The biggest was at Langenberg.  At least four others were over 3 in magnitude.

A light (3.8) earthquake was felt early September 5, 2016 in Yorkton, Melville and Langenburg, about 200 kilometres northeast of Regina. The quake shook an electrical substation, affecting farms near Esterhazy and Melville. There had been eleven others of a similar magnitude in the Yorkton-Esterhazy area since 1981.

15 August 2019: A 4.1 MG quake near Esterhazy was reported by the U.S. Geological Centre. Its epicentre was near the K2 potash mine.

[Newspaper clippings; Yorkton: CBC News 5 September 2016; Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 15 (8): 1341-55. Esterhazy: CBC 5 August 2019]

Hottest, coldest, wettest

Extremes from the Weather Office

Saskatchewan’s central location on a large continent, where warm humid subtropical air masses from the south collide with cold polar masses from the north, have created record variations in temperature, rainfall and winds. Some of these are, in Celsius:

The hottest temperature ever recorded in all Canada was 45 degrees C. at Midale and Yellow Grass on July 29, 1939.

A steam locomotive and train bogged down in snow,
ca. 1948. Photo PH 2000-94-18
from Local History Room Saskatoon Public Library.

The most frigid temperature ever recorded in the province was minus 56.7 at Prince Albert, on February 1, 1893.

On July 3, 2000, 375 mm of rain was dumped on Vanguard in eight hours, the greatest ever recorded on the prairies here in such a short period.

Estevan is the sunniest city in the province, with 2,537 hours of sunlight a year on average.

The Canadian record for the most rainfall in an hour — 250 mm — was set at Buffalo Gap, Sask. on May 30, 1961.

The biggest hailstone recorded in Canada (114 mm in diameter) landed near Cedoux in August 1973.

Moose Javians were buffeted by the fiercest known wind gusts (131 km/hr) in the province October 12, 2013.

The lowest windchill temperature in Saskatchewan (minus 59 degrees C.) was recorded at Saskatoon January 17, 1954.

Regina is Canada’s driest capital city, with 390 mm average precipitation per year.

In 1923, Kamsack registered the highest annual total precipitation (916 mm) of any Saskatchewan station in the province’s history.

A snowy winter in Kindersley.
Photo by Gerry Ackerman

The most snow known to have fallen in one year here was 386 cm, at Pelly in the winter of 1955-56.

Regina after a cyclone cut a swath through the city on June 30, 1912
Regina after a cyclone cut a swath through the city on June 30, 1912. Photo LH 280, courtesy of Local History Room, Saskatoon Public Library.

An average of eighteen tornadoes touch down in Saskatchewan each year. The most destructive in Canada, to date, was the famous tornado that ploughed through downtown Regina on June 30, 1912, killing twenty-eight people.

[Assisted by John Paul Cragg, warning preparedness meteorologist, Environment Canada]

image of couple trudging through high snowbanks
Illustration by Ruth Millar

Cold ’nuff fer ya?

How those long cold winters affected us

Extreme winters here are the stuff of legend, especially before official records were kept. Community histories and newspapers delighted in citing extremes, and competed for superlatives. With worse extremes around the world, ours don’t seem so bad. At least we don’t get volcanoes, tsunamis, or hurricanes.

There was so little game in the winter of 1880-81, the Nakoda Assiniboines were famished. and had to kill their precious horses for food.

The winter of 1886-7 seemed endless and its snow fathomless. The STV ranch in the south lost all five thousand cattle they had brought from the U.S.A.

Some thought January and February of 1890 were the worst months in ten years, as blizzards piled the snow so deep the cattle could not graze.

On January 1, 1885, paper stuck to the type inside the offices of the Regina Leader.

The legendary “killer winter” of 1906-07 killed thousands of cattle and some humans. Cattle died of hunger, unable to paw through the snow to feed on grass below. Many ranchers from the U.S. threw in the towel and departed.

Two children were leading their horses home when they got lost in a snowstorm near Wood Mountain in April 1906. Had they been older and wiser they’d have let the horses lead the way, as the horses made it home but they didn’t. Their remains were not found for nine years, and a nearby creek was named “Lost Child Creek.”

In 1906 two German immigrants near Humboldt got lost in a blizzard and froze to death. Their bodies were found near a neighbour’s home.

An apprentice at Georgina Binnie-Clark’s farm ca. 1910 recalled that the kitchen kettle in the kitchen was frozen solid, and the bed linens frozen to the wall.

Many homesteaders’ shacks were not insulated. In Dundurn, chamber pots froze under the beds, and residents heated flat-irons, wrapped them in towels, and put them under the sheets. Some homesteaders banked sand, dirt or manure around the huts as high as seven or eight feet, and poured water on these banks to freeze and keep the banking firm.

In a ten-day blizzard in early 1947 snow buried a train near Weyburn, and many animals perished. Farmers dug tunnels under the snow to reach their barns. The frozen bodies of an elderly couple near Maidstone were found about a mile from their farm.

A blizzard in December 1955 blocked trains. Children stayed overnight in schools. Cattle were found in heaps, dead from lack of oxygen and food. That blizzard claimed a life at Cutknife.

[Assiniboines: Savage: A Geography of Blood, 138; STV ranch: Maple Creek history; Grassland Settlers; Regina: Drake, Regina: The Queen City. 34; Poitier, Wood Mountain Uplands, 63-64; Humboldt: Phoenix 15 February 1906; Binnie-Clark, Wheat and Woman xiii; Dundurn: Prairie Tapestry: Dundurn, 359; Weyburn and Maidstone: Dederick and Waiser. Looking Back; Star-Phoenix 13 Dec 1955; blizzard: Western People, 7 Feb 1985]

Hot ’nuff fer ya? How those long hot summers affected Saskies

illustration of woman sweating in hot weather
Illustration by Ruth Millar

Reports in newspapers and community histories describe torrid temperatures, pummeling rain, parching drought, hailstorms, floods, or tornadoes that wreaked havoc across the province, or specific regions.

In 1886, drought almost completely wiped out crops in certain areas.

In the hot, dry summer of 1890, a fierce hailstorm in July levelled crops in the Swift Current area, smashed windows and left a six-inch carpet of ice on the ground. Also that summer, heat and drought shrivelled the crops. It wasn’t a good year.

In the legendary drought of 1894, it was claimed, the lowest moisture count of 3.8 cm (1.5 inches) was lower than the average in Phoenix, Arizona.

Historic photos of Saskatoon show high water in a 1908 flood, when waters rose almost to the top of the Victoria bridge piers, and almost to Spadina Crescent in places.

Summer hailstorms were so relentless, Dundurn householders stretched horsehide over windows, or stuffed pillows in broken ones. Uprooted windmills sailed away; phone lines snapped; livestock vanished. Later, errant possessions turned up kilometres away.

Blackest year on the prairies was 1937, recalled author Max Braithwaite. Dust piled up to the eaves of farm houses and buried farm machinery, and sloughs and wells dried up. Sixty-six thousand people left because of the destitution. 

Low riverbanks sometimes caused the North Saskatchewan River valley around Nipawin to overflow its banks, and spring runoff would inundate the area. Floods there in 1954 and 1955 caused some exasperated farmers to give up and head for drier pastures.

In April 1971 locals in Regina sprang into action, sandbagging to prevent further damage. An impromptu dormitory with cots was set up at the Armoury to house and feed people made homeless by the floods.

Flooding in 2014 and 2016 made the landscape seen from the air look like broken mirrors strewn across the land. In 2014, sixteen communities declared a state of emergency, and some farmsteads were islands in seas of water. In 2016 the Carrot River area and much of Estevan were underwater after flooding.

People close to the Alberta border eyed the ravenous Fort MacMurray fire with unease.

A hail of a storm” proclaimed the StarPhoenix May 31, 2018 after ice pellets pummelled Moose Jaw, carpeting the streets, after a week or so of temperatures up to 30 degrees C.

And yet, Saskatchewan people just kept on carryin’ on, as Bob Dylan would say.

[Braithwaite: Maclean’s 19 March 1955. Carrot River: CBC News 29 June 2014, Global News 28 Dec 2016. Dundurn: Prairie Tapestry: Dundurn, 239. Phoenix: Drake, Regina the Queen City, 73. Regina flood: Leader-Post 12 April 1971. Swift Current: Grassland Settlers, p. 59.]

Oldest heritage buildings in Saskatchewan

Some notable vintage buildings designated by Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada:

Holy Trinity Anglican Church, oldest building in the province, completed at Stanley Mission in 1860.

Remaining original building of the Hudson Bay Co. post, constructed at Fort Qu’Appelle in 1864

Stone farmhouse on the Motherwell Homestead, constructed near Abernethy in 1882

Marr residence, oldest building on its original site in Saskatoon, built in 1884.

Government House, residence of the lieutenant-governor, constructed in Regina in 1891.

Canadian Bank of Commerce building, distinct Greek Revival style, completed in Watson in 1907.

Mellville Grand Trunk Pacific Railway station, Classical Revival style building, constructed in 1908.

Saskatoon Canadian Pacific Railway station, Chateau- styled architecture, completed in 1908.

Moose Jaw Court House, neo-classical style building, erected in Moose Jaw in 1909.

Addison Sod House, with earthen walls tapered from four feet thick at the bottom to three feet at the top, constructed in the Kindersley district in 1911.

[Community sources, www.vanishingsask.ca/]
Crime and Justice

Crime and Justice

Murder & mayhem

Notorious legal cases that made headlines

Wolfers on trial: The trial took place in Winnipeg, but people here held their breath when three American “wolfers” were tried for murdering thirty natives in the Cypress Hills Massacre of June 1873. Opinion was split in the U.S. and Canada. The judge acquitted the wolfers, but Canadians weren’t pleased. Within weeks Parliament voted to create the North West Mounted Police — its mission to maintain law and order in the west.

The trial of Louis Riel deliberated the Metis leader’s role in the 1885 North-West Resistance, a five-month military clash between the feds and the Metis and some indigenous supporters. It was sparked by tension over land rights, and sweeping social and political changes caused by European settlement. Hundreds were killed, but the government finally triumphed. After a sensational trial, Louis Riel was hanged. The debate continues whether he was a hero, a deranged mystic, or a traitor, but the “rebellion” has affected race relations here ever since.

Race in restaurants: A Chinese café owner in Moose Jaw got into trouble for employing two white women, which the 1912 Female Labour Act forbade. Quong Wing took the case all the way to the Supreme Court, but lost. Not until 1969 was the law erased from the books.

Book cover, Deny, deny, deny.

R. v. Thatcher was probably the most high-profile “whodunit” case in recent decades. Saskatchewan Rancher, MLA and Cabinet Minister Colin Thatcher was charged with causing the death on January 21, 1983 of his ex-wife JoAnn McKay Wilson and thus first-degree murder. Key issues were his alibi, whether he “done it” himself or hired someone else, and whether it was planned. In 1984 he was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. In 2006 he was released on parole, returned home, remarried, and wrote a rebuttal: Final Appeal: Anatomy of a Frame.

R. v. Latimer: Wilkie farmer Robert Latimer put his severely handicapped daughter Tracy out of her misery by carbon monoxide poisoning. He considered it a compassionate act because Tracy suffered from cerebral palsy and frequent seizures, had only a baby’s mental capacity, and endured constant pain. His trial and ten-year prison sentence for murder led to a public debate over euthanasia, and polarized opinion about its legal and moral implications.

Rathwell v. Rathwell: Two watershed cases in matrimonial property — as to whether a divorced woman could claim part of her ex’s property — were the Irene Murdoch case in Alberta (1973, which she lost) and the Helen Rathwell case in Saskatchewan (1978, which she won because she had helped buy the ranch). Feminists jumped into the fray and insisted that a wife’s work entitled her to share the fruits of a family business. The upshot: changes made to family property laws across Canada. 

R. v. Threinen: When four young children disappeared in Saskatoon in June 1975, many parents kept their kids at home, waiting for the serial killer to be found. When police finally tracked down David Threinen, he led them to the bodies of the children he had strangled and dumped out of town. He was convicted of murder. In 2000, he told a parole board he did not want to be released from prison.

R. v. Hoffman: Mass murderer Victor Hoffman was a schizophrenic just released from psychiatric hospital in August 1967 when he entered a farmhouse near Shell Lake with a rifle. Spurred by “voices in his head” he shot James and Evelyn Peterson and seven of their children, some of them sleeping. Only four-year-old Phyllis and a married sister Kathy survived the massacre. He was acquitted by reason of insanity and sent to a mental institution. 

R. v. McCallum. Frederick Moses McCallum was arrested in 1969 for the ax murder of seven members of the Pederson family at Buffalo Narrows but McCallum was found “not guilty by reason of insanity.” One Pederson son survived an axe blow, but was severely traumatized, and got into trouble later. He died after walking in front of a car.

Fraud scheme: Party scandals in the 1990s involved Grant Devine’s Progressive Conservative government implicating sixteen MLAs. “Twelve members of Devine’s government — defeated in 1991 after nine years in power — were charged for a scheme that defrauded taxpayers of more than $837,000.” At least “six were convicted and three others acquitted.”

Stranger than fiction: The birth of a baby in a toilet at a Walmart in Prince Albert in May 2007 sparked headlines. The young mom was charged with abandoning the baby, but she testified she didn’t know she was pregnant. She left the store thinking the baby was dead, but a store manager scooped up the infant, and it survived. The mom was judged not guilty, and this decision was upheld by the Supreme Court. 

R v. Stanley. Racial tensions erupted over a Battleford trial verdict that acquitted Gerald Stanley of second-degree murder in the death of Cree youth Colten Boushie on Stanley’s farm in 2016. Stanley apparently believed the four young people from the nearby Red Pheasant Reserve were trying to steal a vehicle on his farm, and said his gun had gone off accidentally. Boushie’s witnesses claimed they were seeking help to fix their disabled vehicle. The case became a hot-button issue because the jury was all-white.

[Wolfers: McCourt, Saskatchewan, 76-7. Louis Riel: Canadian Encyclopedia; Race in restaurants: Dederick & Waiser, Looking Back; 39-41. Latimer: Canadian Encyclopedia. Fraud: Hurtig’s Canadian Encyclopedia. Others: website CanLII, news reports]

Crimes of passion and shame

Love and murder in Saskatchewan

A number of violent crimes ca. 1920 were committed by eastern European immigrants, perhaps acting on impulses tolerated in their home countries. (Others were committed by Brits.) It seems some immigrant juries based their decisions on unwritten laws of their homelands, and not on Canadian laws. One study contends that the Saskatchewan Provincial Police believed that, given language problems, they could only teach immigrants Canadian law by enforcing our laws.

Sam Kowalski from Claytonville was found dead in a sleigh December 16, 1920 near Prince Albert, and was assumed to have frozen to death. An alert SPP officer, R.R Scotney, suspected foul play. Further sleuthing revealed that Kowalski had died from a blow to the head. It turned out his buddy Steve Zurakowski had been dallying with Kowalski’s wife, and Kowalski objected. Zurakowski was convicted and sentenced to eighteen years in the P.A. pen.

A serial killer crazed by hatred of women provoked an international manhunt that spread to southern Saskatchewan in the 1920s. Earle Leonard Nelson of San Francisco, aka The Gorilla Man and The Strangler, had gone on a massive killing spree that included two Canadian women. After eluding the SPP, he was finally caught in Manitoba and executed.

A complicated case involving arson and the death of five members of the Manchur family and their hired man at Wakaw in 1916 was one of the province’s “ugliest.” It involved an alleged liaison between the hired man John Mychaluk and Paulina Manchur, estranged from her husband Mike Syroshka. Although most of the victims had been shot, Syroshka was found guilty only of arson.

Axe murderer John Morrison, a “Barnardo boy” from England. was a hired hand on Alex McArthur’s homestead fourteen miles from Welwyn, near Moosomin, where he fell in love with the farmer’s daughter. When McArthur nixed the liaison, in June 1900 Morrison went on a nocturnal rampage, attacking the family and killing five of them. Three children survived, including the object of his desire. The tragedy made headlines for days.

Arnold Gart was killed in 1919 when John Bronch from Radisson severed an artery in his victim’s neck with a knife, incensed by Gart’s “undue familiarity” with Bronch’s wife. Bronch was tried at King’s Bench court in Battleford in 1921. Much to the astonishment of the Radisson community, the jury acquitted Bronch.

A married farmer in the Lucky Lake area knocked up his neighbour’s teen-aged daughter in 1920. After they attempted an abortion with linseed oil, the baby was stillborn. The married farmer got four years of hard labour for his sins, interesting because he had already served twelve months for a similar misdemeanor.

Infamous Mountie Sgt. John Wilson came to Canada, leaving behind a wife and children in Britain. His love affair with Jessie Patterson of Blaine Lake led him in 1918 to kill his wife, when she arrived in Canada, so he could wed Jessie. He was hung for his crime.  Lois Simmie’s book The Secret Lives of Sergeant Wilson was, and still is, a bestseller.

After the wife of Isaiah Mitchell of Shell Lake took up residence with a man named Armstrong, the enraged Mitchell shot his wife’s paramour. He confessed to Armstrong’s murder near Fort Pitt, was tried at Battleford in 1921 and sentenced to twenty-five years in prison.

[Most references are in Stewart & Hudson, Mahony’s Minute Men: 34-35, 68-70, 72-73, 75-76, 81-82, 87-94, 97-94. Other references: Bronch: Lin, Policing the Wild North-West: A Sociological Study, 100; Sask. Archives, SPP returns, October 1919; King’s Bench Court, Docket 11, 1921.  Mitchell: Sask. Archives: SPP returns June 1921; KB court docket 28, 1921. Morrison: Dederich, 68-70; Winnipeg Tribune, June 9 and 11, 1900; Moosomin World 14 June 1900. Immigrants: Lin, 100. Syroshka: Downs, (ed.), The Law and the Lawless. Zurakowski: SPP records Februrary 1921, SAB]

Cold cases

Candles in memory of family passed away (stock photo)

Murdered and missing victims whose killers were never identified

The oldest such case in Canada involves an unidentified woman (discovered during excavation in 2006) whose body had been stuffed in a wooden barrel and down a well in Sutherland (now part of Saskatoon).  Forensic study indicated she was Caucasian and between twenty-five to thirty-five years old. Her clothes were 1910 to 1920 vintage. 

Charles H. Baxter, Hawarden district, aged thirty-one, left to seek work in July, 1939 and was not seen again.

Alvin C. Berg, thirty-five, of Pierceland, was last seen in October, 1940, when he left the farm near Maymont where he had been employed.

Margaret Blackbird, a twenty-one-year-old mother, left her husband and two young children on their family farm near Loon Lake in the summer of 1951 and has not been seen since.

Tersilla Bonthoux, a seventy-nine-year-old woman, left Duck Lake on October 25, 1954 to walk about eight miles to the farm where she lived, and was never seen again.

The girl in Saskatoon - Book cover
The Girl in Saskatoon, book abut the Wiwcharuk murder

The battered body of Alexandra Wiwcharuk, a twenty-three-year-old nurse, was found in a shallow grave on the west bank of the river in Saskatoon on May 31, 1962. The case was the subject of a nonfiction book by Sharon Butala.

René Bruneau, aged twenty-four, of Leoville was last seen June 27, 1965, at the Saskatchewan Hospital at Battleford.

Caroline Burns, a fifty-two-year-old woman of Aboriginal descent, was last seen leaving her residence in the small settlement of Molanasa Molanosa (south of Lac La Ronge) on Jan. 2, 1973.

The badly-beaten body of Cindy Blazik, a twenty-three-year-old school teacher, was found in a burning teacherage on the Onion Lake First Nation on December 7, 1986.

Emerson Dobroskay of Saskatoon, aged twenty-one, was last seen on the Vancouver campus of the University of British Columbia on Oct. 28,1988.

Ernestine Kasyon, a tenty-six-year-old aboriginal woman, was last seen in Prince Albert on Dec. 6, 1989. An unconfirmed report says her skull was found six years later on the Black Lake First Nation.

Tamra Keepness, a five-year old girl, originally from the Whitewood First Nation, was last seen in her Regina home on the evening of July 5, 2004.

Melanie Dawn Geddes, a twenty-four-year-old mother of three children, was last seen in Regina on Aug. 13, 2005. Her remains were found Dec. 20, 2005 in a field near Southey 

[Canada’s Missing Persons, and Unsolved Canada.ca]

Shady business

Scoundrels and scallywags

The Midland Provisional Battalion (Midlanders) during the North-West Resistance made themselves highly unpopular by pilfering packages meant for other units. They compounded their sins by stealing fresh pies. 

The infamous James Gaddy and Moise Racette teamed up in Stony Mountain Penitentiary. When they got out, for a lark, they had their photos snapped at an itinerant tent studio in Qu’Appelle. To augment their finances, they stole some horses to sell them. The owner of one of the horses, a neighbour and a NWMP sergeant formed a posse to catch the ne’er-do-wells. At Racette’s home a melέe ensued. Gaddy grabbed a fallen revolver and shot McLeish, the horse’s owner, and shot him three times; McLeish died soon afterwards. Now the law was really after the errant pair. Eventually the NWMP recognized them from their photos and arrested them. They were convicted and died by hanging on June 13, 1888.

James and Melissa Sharpe, members of the Adamite religious sect, originally from Missouri, already had a shady past when they came to Saskatchewan on a strange utopian mission, but after the Doukhobors rebuffed them, they left. They came to a violent end in a Kansas shootout.  

Babe Belanger was charged with bribery when she offered a Saskatoon cop a monthly bribe if allowed to open her bawdy house in the city. But she was acquitted when she claimed she was only joking.

“Diamond” Jim Brady, henchman of Al Capone, was a known gambler, rum-runner and the number one bootlegger in Moose Jaw just after World War I. He died of gunshot wounds soon after returning to Chicago in 1920. 

Morris “Two-Gun” Cohen, once a rascally habitué of Saskatoon’s early gambling dens, and a bit of a pickpocket, ended up in China as bodyguard to the revered Dr. Sun Yat-sen.

In pre-World-War-I Moose Jaw, Rosie Dale ran a brothel frequented by some five hundred railroad workers. When forced out by city authorities, she simply skedaddled outside city limits.

Charlie Parmer
Charlie Parmer, Dundurn farmer – a questionable past..

Charlie Parmer, a disreputable Dundurn farmer, claimed to have taken part in bank robberies with the Jesse Games gang before escaping to Canada from the American draft. (His claims are scoffed at.) But there was something dodgy about him, for in Dundurn he used his formidable collection of firearms to ward off intruders.

Former hockey coach Graham James created a tempest in the 1980s when he was charged and convicted for molesting a junior hockey player. After multiple accusations of sexual abuse, he was in and out of jail for years, and was finally released on full parole in 2016.

Rosie Dale: Gray, Red Lights on the Prairie. Gaddy and Racette: Anderson, Hanging in Canada, reprinted in The Law and the Lawless, 100-105. Jim Brady: www. virtualsask.com. Midlanders: Lt. C.S. Cassels’ diary, cited in Tolton, Prairie Warships, 172. Parmer: Millar, Saskatchewan Heroes & Rogues. Sharpe: www.virtualsask.com; Macdonald, Cloud-capped Towers. Belanger: Gray, Red Lights on the Prairies; ]

“Low-down varmints”

Bandits & rustlers & downright villains

James Gaddy and Moise Racette, notorious horse thieves in the Saskatchewan district, were convicted of killing a NWMP constable during a shootout and were hung in Regina in 1888.

Americans Sam Kelly, alias Charles “Red” Nelson, and his partner Frank Jones led the infamous Nelson-Jones gang.  They hid out in caves in the Big Muddy badlands down south, and were considered two of the most nefarious, treacherous outlaws ever to afflict the province. In 1904 Kelly gave himself up to a Montana sheriff but was not convicted, for lack of evidence. in pre-World-War-I Moose Jaw.

“Dutch” Henry (Henry Borne) was an American rustler who retreated to Canada to work for rancher Pascal Bonneau in the Wood Mountain area. Reverting to his old ways, he absconded with his boss’s horse to Montana, and was murdered by “a friend” in 1906.

In Webb, a would-be armed robber got away unharmed on the night of June 20, 1920 despite a local “vigilante group” of three (including a cop) who, warned in advance of the planned heist, were waiting for him in the targeted store. He climbed in a back window but a burst of warning shots spooked him, and he quickly scrambled out the window and took off in a getaway Ford.

Moosomin’s “Great Bank Robbery” of 1922 was daring and well planned. The Norman Gang from the U.S. cut telephone wires, and used dynamite to shatter the Union Bank’s glass windows and break into the safe. They got away with $8,000, but were caught, tried and convicted.

Saskatchewan’s only train robber, D.L. Purvis, tied and gagged a CNR express car attendant on February 1, 1923, and cleaned out the safe. He then slipped off the passenger train as it slowed to enter Regina, and disappeared. But a local laundry had placed his initials on the kerchief he used as a gag, and the provincial police tracked him to his address and arrested him two days later.

News accountsof the Robbers Roost operation featured mug shots of some of the rustlers.

The much-married lady rustler of Robbers Roost was said to be the brains behind the gang that stole up to six thousand livestock, Belle Willard (aka Mrs. B.J. Dale aka Mrs. William Kinnick). She ran the ranch near Ravenscrag where the animals were taken to alter their brands. In a sensational Maple Creek trial in November 1924, six trusted locals including Belle were convicted of stealing horses and/or cattle, and all went to jail. 

Saskatoon banks had their exciting moments too. For example, in October 1930 a robber absconded with $3,000 in cash from the west side branch of the Bank of Nova Scotia. On September 7, 1951, armed bandits led police on a merry chase through the Nutana area, after robbing the Royal Bank on Broadway. This time the police caught ‘em.

In early June 16, 1931, three men boldly robbed two Royal Bank employees on a streetcar carrying a satchel of cash from Saskatoon’s main office to the Sutherland branch, then raced south in a blue Nash. The RCMP identified the owner of the Nash, Joe Bowers (a Dundurn farmer), arrested his gang four days later in Calgary and brought them back to the city. The gang pled guilty to armed robberies in Battleford, Rosetown and Saskatoon.

The Ku Klux Klan belong to a different order of n’er-do-wells altogether. This arch-conservative, movement originated in the U.S. and spread like a pestilence across Canada in the 1920s. Their racist ideas took root for a while on Saskatchewan soil, as they marched about in menacing KKK robes carrying burning crosses.

[Henry Borne: Anderson, Outlaws of Saskatchewan. Armed robber: Prairie Memories (Webb, Sask.), 927. Norman gang: Moosomin: Century One: Town and Country, 47. Purvis: Anderson. Robbers Roost: Regina Morning Leader 4 December 1924. Bowers: Anderson, Outlaws of Saskatchewan. Others are from Stewart & Hudson: Mahony’s Minute Men]

The high and the mighty

Chief justices of the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal since 1905

This is the highest court in the province

Edward L. Wetmore, 1907-1912. In 1887, he became puisne {lesser] judge of the first Supreme Court of the then NWT, in 1907 was appointed the first chief justice of Saskatchewan and in 1909, first chancellor of the University of Saskatchewan. 

Sir Frederick W.A.G. Haultain, 1912-1938: A British-born lawyer, he was elected to the NWT assembly in 1888, and led demands for responsible government. He was the first premier of the territories 1887-1905, then led the opposition until 1912, when he was named chief justice of the high court, and chancellor of the U of S. He was knighted in 1916.

Justice William F.A. Turgeon, 1938-1941: He also chaired a dozen federal and provincial royal commissions, including one on transportation in 1951, which, despite calls by several provinces for controls on spiralling post-war freight rates, did not call for intervention.

William M. Martin, 1941-1961: He was MP for Regina 1908 to 1916 and premier of this province from 1916 to 1922, when he was appointed to the Court of Appeal. As a premier he was noted for running a scandal-free government.

Emmett M. Hall, 1961-1962: Known as a “father of medicine,” he also chaired the 1964 Royal Commission on National Health Service, which recommended that Canada adopt a universal Medicare system like Saskatchewan’s, and the 1977 Royal Commission on Grain Handling and Transportation, 

Edward M. Culliton, 1962-1981: He was known as a “compassionate” judge who encouraged appeals for criminal convictions. He wrote the 1983 Culliton Report for the Saskatchewan Justice Department, on the need for access-to-information and right-to-privacy laws.

Justice Edward D. Bayda, 1981-2006: He was a commissioner on the 1974 Vancouver Port Grain Handling Inquiry, which pushed for more efficiency and fewer labor disputes that caused shipping delays. He also chaired the 1978 Cluff Lake Board of Inquiry, which predicted effects of stepped-up uranium production.

John Klebuc, 2006-2013: An expert in bankruptcy lawsuits, Chief Justice Klebuc called for speedier procedures to lower civil court costs, and pushed for more accessible courts.

Robert G. Richards, 2013. He served variously as law clerk at the Supreme Court, a parliamentary intern, and as Senator Ray Hnatyshyn’s chief of staff 

[https://sasklawcourts.ca, Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan, Canadian Encyclopedia, Wikipedia]

Policing milestones

Maintaining peace and order in this province

In 1873 the Canadian government created its spectacular force of Mounties, the North West Mounted Police (NWMP) to enforce its laws throughout the vast interior of the country. 

In 1904 the red-coated force was officially renamed the Royal North West Mounted Police (RNWMP), becoming an enduring symbol of Canada’s northwest.

In 1905 our newly formed provincial government contracted with the feds for the RNWMP to enforce both provincial and federal laws.

In 1911 Premier Walter Scott set up a Saskatchewan secret service, the “whisky sniffers” consisting of some seventy plainclothes officers to help the RNWMP enforce his government’s maze of liquor laws. 

In 1916 our government formed its own distinctively uniformed Saskatchewan Provincial Police (SPP) rather than having the RNWMP continue to enforce provincial statues within its jurisdiction. 

In 1927 our government disbanded the SPP, due mostly to rising costs, and contracted the Mounties – renamed the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 1920 — to again serve as the primary policing agency in this province.

In 1930 our government began hiring mining inspectors, fish and wildlife officers and so on to oversee the natural resources that came under its constitutional control that year. These  evolved into the corps of Conservation Officers who now enforce its related environmental regulations. 

In 1980, the expanded force of traffic officers and vehicle inspectors – operating an increasing number of weigh scales in this province – became the Saskatchewan Highway Transport Patrol.

Since 2000 the RCMP and police forces in this province’s larger centres have been forming “combined forces special enforcement units” and “integrated drug enforcement teams” to coordinate policing of organized crime and illegal drug trafficking.

In 2018, the RCMP, the Highway Transport Patrol and Conservation Officers began forming “protection response teams” to coordinate their surveillance and enforcement work. These teams are expected to improve response times and thus public safety in the rural and northern reaches.  

[Terry Risko; Doug Madill, Highway Transport Patrol, Annual Review, 1980-1981;  StarPhoenix 15 June and 25 August, 2018]

Memorable Mounties

The legendary Sam Steele of Yukon fame first served with the NWMP at Fort Qu’Appelle.  He led a troop of Mounties to accept the surrender of Big Bear’s band in spring 1885.

James Walsh of the NWMP, after whom Fort Walsh was named. Though he befriended Sioux chief Sitting Bull, political factors finally led to their being ousted back to the U.S.   

Leif Crozier, superintendent at Fort Carleton at 1885, one of the NWMP officials involved in treaty negotiations with the Cree. He and his force of Prince Albert Volunteers were defeated at the Battle of Duck Lake.

John Clisby was the lone NWMP constable in Saskatoon in 1896 when he received a wire that a prisoner had escaped from a train at Dundurn. To cross the river, he convinced his horse to stand on a railway handcar while he rolled it and himself across the railway bridge. He got his man. 

Francis Dickens, son of the famous author, was commander at Fort Pitt during the Northwest Rsistance. He was convinced to retreat from the fort and has been villified for it ever since, for the retreat was considered ignoble.

General Sir George Arthur French, a British army officer, was the first commissioner of the North West Mounted Police, from October 1873 to July 1876. Writer Frank Anderson apparently didn’t think much of him.

Henry Morren, RNWMP officer 1911-1919, was said to have dealt with more murders, robbers, gunfights, tornadoes (Regina 1912) and fires during his years in southern Saskatchewan than most twenty-year veterans.

John Leopold, RCMP undercover officer, worked as a Regina housepainter, while infiltrating the Communist Party in the 1920s.

Marcel Chappuis of the RCMP detachment at Cumberland from 1930 to 1945, is said to have covered up to three thousand miles by dogsled on his annual winter patrols. 

Brenda Butterworth-Carr, was the first indigenous woman appointed commanding officer of the RCMP F-Division (Saskatchewan). She was posted here from 2013 to 2018, and then transferred to British Columbia.  

Brenda Lucki, former CO of the Regina RCMP training academy, became the big cheese – appointed permanent woman commissioner of the force, March 2018.


Top cops

Some remarkable police officers in our history

Merle Beck became the first female officer of the Regina police service in 1957.

Martin Bruton, Regina chief of police during the riot of the On-to-Ottawa trekkers in that city July 1, 1935.

Troy Cooperwas the first Metis police officer to serve as chief of the Prince Albert police 2012-2018, then chief of the Saskatoon police on January 17, 2018.

Alex Decoteau, born on the Red Pheasant Reserve, became an Edmonton policeman. But he is best known as an Olympic runner in the 1912 Games. In World War I he joined the 49th Edmonton Regiment, and was killed by a sniper at Paaschendaele in October 1917.  

Constable George Hillock of Yorkton and Sergeant D. Williams of Swift Current, the Saskatchewan Provincial Police (SPP) officers who set the snare in the 1920s that convicted at least six rustlers including Belle Dale/Willard/Kinnick, mastermind of the shady operation centred at her ranch near Ravenscrag.

Ernie Louttit, third indigenous man on the Saskatoon police force, who specialized in working with street people. He wrote two books about his experiences.

Charles Augustus Mahony, chief of Mahoney’s Minute Men. Illustration by Ruth Millar based on photograph.

Charles Augustus Mahoney ( spelled Mahony in the book cited), the controversial chief constable of the Saskatchewan secret service known as the “whiskey sniffers”, 1911 to 1916. Then he became commissioner of the Saskatchewan Provincial Police, the men in the rakish hats who from 1917 to 1928 policed the liquor trade and nabbed criminals, until the RNWMP resumed those roles.

Charles Miller, Regina City Police detective who died after falling from his horse during the Regina Riot, 1935.

Kim Rossmo, first “street cop” in Canada to get a PhD (in criminology). He crafted software for catching criminals using “predictable spatial patterns.” He was with the Vancouver police force for twenty-three years, and later directed the Center for Geospatial Intelligence at Texas State University.

Ex-Mountie Jim Williams was Regina’s first police constable, appointed in 1892. Despite the NWMP presence there, Regina needed a cop for non-Mountie jobs. In addition to normal police duties, he was in charge of licensing and/or inspecting a raft of things, including dog tags, bread, blocked streets, pool rooms, markets and “refreshment houses.” He caught stray animals, and rang the town bell. Most onerous, he was public health inspector without extra pay.

[Hillock: Regina Morning Leader, 4 Dec 1924, Between and Beyond the Benches: 276-77. Riddell, Regina … 32. Drake, Regina: The Queen City, 74-75. Rossmo: Arts & Science Magazine spring 2018: 14-17]
Our History and Heritage

Our History and Heritage

Trailblazers

Firsts in what is now Saskatchewan

Historians love to debate what came first. Firsts are notoriously difficult to verify, but here’s what we found:

Henry Kelsey was the first white man to enter what is now Saskatchewan, in 1691. 

In 1739, Brothers François and Louis-Joseph de La Vérendrye were the first Europeans to cross the northern prairies and reach the Rocky Mountains. 

It is believed the first wheat planted here was in the 1750s, at Fort a La Corne in the Carrot River Valley.

The first permanent white settlement was at Cumberland House in 1774.

St. John the Baptist church, established at Ile a la Crosse in 1846, was the first Catholic church, and Holy Trinity was the first Anglican church, built at Stanley Mission, La Ronge, in 1853.

The first telegraph office in the then NWT was erected in 1878 at Humboldt (since the railroad line was expected to go along the more northerly Yellowhead route to Edmonton).

In August 1878, the Saskatchewan Herald, first newspaper in the territories, was founded at Battleford by Patrick Gammie Laurie. 

The first lieutenant governor was A.E. Forget, and Walter Scott was the first premier, 1905.

It was claimed that Gerald Spring Rice of Regina brought in the province’s first “horseless carriage”, a noisy, unpredictable novelty, but the author didn’t say when or what. The first auto in Saskatoon might have been one brought by A.J.E. Sumner in 1903.

1911: Regina and Moose Jaw got electric street railway systems. In 1913 Saskatoon did too.

In April 1920 Roland Groome became Canada’s first licensed commercial pilot and aviation engineer. In World War I he served with Britain’s Royal Flying Corps as a flying instructor.

Regina’s first radio station was CKCK, which first broadcast in Regina, July 1922. Saskatoon’s was CFQC, established in 1923. 

The first Rhodes Scholar in Sskatchewan is said to be Austen Bothwell, who led in formering a branch of the Canadian authors Association in 1925.

In 1954 the first major oilfields were discovered in the southwest, and the first television broadcasts hit the airwaves, from CKCK Regina and CFQC Saskatoon.

Ladies First

Trailblazers other than politicians 

Nellie Carson of Saskatoon was said to be the first woman pilot in Saskatchewan, the ninth in Canada. On June 8, 1931 she set a record for altitude gained by a woman — around 16,000 feet.

Lydia Gruchy was the first woman ordained as a United Church minister in the province, in 1916. She was also the first woman in Canada to be awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity, in 1953.

The book Prairie Pot-pourri by pioneering journalist Kate Simpson Hayes was said to be the first “regional fiction” book published in the province. 

First female chief of a First Nation was Alphonsine Mary Lafond, who also chaired the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations senate.

Ethel MacLachlan of Regina was the first juvenile court judge and first female judge in the province, even though she was a teacher, not a lawyer.

Nan McKay graduated from the U of S in 1915, first Metis and Aboriginal woman to do so. 

Delia Opekekow became the first Aboriginal lawyer in Saskatchewan and Ontario. She graduated from Osgoode Hall, Cambridge and Harvard, and specialized in treaty rights.

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond of the Muskeg first Nation was the first Aboriginal judge in Saskatchewan. 

[Hayes: Drake, Regina: The Queen City, 90. Miller: Green & White, fall 2004, 15-17. McLachlan: Waiser, Saskatchewan: A New History, 240]

Timeline

Important mileposts in our history

1670: Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) was formed to purchase and market Canada’s immense riches in fur. 

1821: The HBC and North-West Company merged.

1869: The HBC signed over Rupert’s Land to the Dominion of Canada. 

1870: North-West Territories were transferred to Canada, and the first lieutenant governor appointed. 

1874: The newly-minted North West Mounted Police marched west. Its first posts in what is now Saskatchewan were at Fort Pelly, and later Fort Walsh.

1874: Fort Livingstone became the temporary provincial capital until 1876. The international boundary was being surveyed.

1877: The NWT capital was transferred to Battleford, and Sitting Bull joined some 5,000 Dakota Sioux who had fled to Wood Mountain after the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

1882: The NWT were divided into four districts: Assiniboia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Athabasca.  

July 1882: The new CPR line under construction reached Moosomin, where John Lake and his party landed on their way to found the city of Saskatoon. Moose Jaw was founded that year too.

1883: The NWT legislative building was erected at Regina. The CPR line crossed Assiniboia and reached Calgary.

1883: The CPR chose the site for Moose Jaw as a railway depot, and built facilities there.  It reached Regina November 7. 

1885: North-West Resistance (Riel Rebellion) ended with the hanging of Louis Riel and several Indigenous men. Most of the latter did not have legal counsel. 

1905: The new province of Saskatchewan was born. 

1911: Saskatchewan had the third largest provincial population. 

October 12, 1916:  Female British subjects got the vote in provincial and municipal elections. 

December 31, 1916: Prohibition was enacted.

1917: Saskatchewan Provincial Police was formed. 

1940: British Commonwealth Air Training Plan bases were set up to train Commonwealth air crew.

1944: In a landslide election, Tommy Douglas’s Co-operative Commonwealth Foundation (CCF) assumed the reins of provincial government, becoming the first social democratic government on the continent. The CCF later became the NDP.

1946: Saskatchewan Transportation Company was formed, a government-owned bus company. It was axed in 2017.

1947: A publicly-funded hospitalization plan was implemented in Saskatchewan, the first province to introduce such a program, which was later copied by the rest of the country..

1948: The Saskatchewan Arts Board was founded, the first in North America. It propelled the advance of art, literature and other creative activities in the province.

1949: The process of rural electrification began.

1951: The new Cobalt-60 bomb at the U of S became a high-tech treatment for cancer tumours.

1952: An outbreak of polio attacked masses of Saskatchewan people, leaving many crippled for life. Eldorado Mining and Refining Limited began mining uranium in northern Saskatchewan.

1954: Television arrived like a meteor in the province, with CFQC and CKCK the first to broadcast in the new medium. Saskatoon’s George Genereux won an Olympic medal for trapshooting at the Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. Golfer Pat Fletcher won the Canadian Open.

1954: “Scramble lights” for pedestrians at important intersections were being tested in Saskatoon. These lights permitted pedestrians to cross the intersection every which way, including kittycorner. They lasted for some decades.

1955: The new University Hospital (now RUH) opened in Saskatoon. The province celebrated its golden jubilee with much fanfare.

1957: The Saskatchewan section of the Trans-Canada highway was completed. Progressive Conservative John Diefenbaker became prime minister.

1959: Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip came to Saskatchewan. The South Saskatchewan River Dam project near Elbow was launched, promising life-giving water to much of the arid Palliser Triangle.  

1960: The precious right to vote was finally given to “Treaty Indians.” Western Canada’s first steel mill, IPSCO, was established in Regina.

1962: Medicare was implemented under Premier Woodrow Lloyd. A potash mine at Esterhazy began digging up potash; underground flooding led to an innovation called the Blairmore Ring, which revolutionized potash production.

1963: The first buildings of the new University of Regina campus started to take shape near Wascana Lake.

1964: Electrons first raced through the world’s biggest linear accelerator located at the U of S, an early step on the path toward the Canadian Light Source Synchrotron, which has dazzling benefits for health and other research.

1965: The province rejoiced as the U of S opened the new Western College of Veterinary Medicine. No longer would aspiring vets have to move to Guelph for their training.

1966: Regina’s Globe Theatre was born. The Saskatchewan Roughriders defeated the Ottawa Roughriders to win the Grey Cup. They won again in 1989 against the Hamilton Tiger Cats, in 2007 against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, and in 2013 against the Tiger Cats again.

1967: Canada’s centennial sparked an explosion of activity in the province. The South Saskatchewan River dam project was completed, irrigating a vast swath swath of dryland, and bringing water to southern communities.

1970: Regina’s Saskatchewan Centre of the Arts, now the Connexus Centre, was opened to much fanfare.

1971: The Canada Winter Games took place in Saskatoon, with the ski component held at the man-made “mountain,” Mount Blackstrap.

1972, The Saskatchewan Indian Cultural College was established as the teaching facility of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians.

1974: The government came up with a free dental care plan for children. Regina campus became a separate institution, the University of Regina.

1975: Saskatchewan brought in a prescription drug plan. The Saskatoon Farmers Market was inaugurated.

1976: Sherwood Credit Union in Regina implemented one of our handiest systems – the first automated teller machine in Canada.

1977: Western Canada’s first “research park”, Innovation Place, was inaugurated at the university in Saskatoon.

1981: Saskatoon’s Folkfest was incorporated, and is still a popular annual multi-cultural festival.

1982: The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, comprised of band chiefs, became the first Indigenous legislature.

1983: Our population reached one million.

1984: The government began to subsidize the Crow’s Nest Pass Agreement, first enacted in 1899. When it was axed in1995, gain transport costs soared.

1989: Swift Current Pioneer Co-op lived up to its name and pioneered the handy new debit card.

1990: Ramon Hnatyshyn became Canada’s first Ukrainian governor-general of Canada. He was also a senator.

1991: Saskatchewan’s first Imax theatre opened at the Saskatchewan Science Centre in Regina.

1992: Wanuskewin Heritage Park opened as an interpretive centre just outside Saskatoon. Previously it mostly been the domain of long-ago Indigenous people, and inquisitive archaeologists and anthropologists. The federal and provincial governments and twenty-five First Nations bands signed the long-awaited Treaty Land Entitlement agreement to honour unfulfilled promises.

1994: Remains of “Scotty,” the famous T-Rex dinosaur, were unearthed at Eastend.

1995: Internet service came to Saskatchewan, courtesy of SaskTel.

1997: Former members of the PC and Liberal parties united to form the new Saskatchewan Party.

2002: Catriona LeMay Doan, and Haley Wickenheiser of Shaunavon and her team won Olympic gold at Salt Lake City, along with some hockey players. Wickenheiser and her team won again in 2006, 2010, and 2014.

2004: The revolutionary Canadian Light Source Synchrotron came to fruition on the U of S campus.  Corner Gas, the blockbuster prairie sitcom created by Saskatchewan comic Brent Butt, was launched. It lasted until 2009. It spawned a feature film and an animated version with characters the spitting image of the originals.

2005: Saskatchewan celebrated its centennial .

2007: Saskatoon hosted the Juno Awards. The Remai Art Centre, home of Persephone Theatre, opened. Now it is known as the Remai Modern Art gallery. But Saskatoon came second last of fifteen in a politeness survey conducted by Reader’s Digest.

2008: An American-based company, Site Selection Company, rated Saskatoon as one of the best places to live in Canada.

2012: Regina scored amongst the top five best places to live in Canada, in Moneysense Magazine’s list ranking 190 Canadian cities. But that year Stats Canada said Regina and Saskatoon experienced the country’s highest number of murders.

2016: The Rush, Saskatoon’s pro lacrosse team, won the NLL championship. They did it again in 2018. In August, Clayton Boushie was fatally shot in a farmyard, and the verdict outraged many.  A bus carrying Humboldt Broncos hockey players collided with a transport bus near Armley, Sask., killing sixteen on the bus, and injuring thirteen. It was a national tragedy.

2017: The Moose Jaw Times-Herald announced it would close, after 125 years of publicstion. Saskatchewan Transportation Company (STC) public bus line closed down, along with many other services, leading to public outrage. StarPhoenix columnist Doug Cuthand won an indigenous media award.

2018: Greyhound Bus Lines, after the closure of STC, also shut down in western Canada – leaving a yawning transportation gap. Our comfortable old department store, Sears Canada, folded. The Saskatchewan Aviation Museum and Learning Centre opened in May near the Saskatoon Airport offering educational classes, exhibition flights, flight simulators and replicas of vintage planes.  

2019: After mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, police addressed a packed house in March at a Regina mosque. In Saskatoon, Muslims and non-Muslims also crowded into a mosque, where dignitaries of all stripes voiced heartfelt sympathy and shock at the atrocity. On July 10, protesters outside the Bessborough Hotel railed about lack of government action to address climate change, while inside the hotel premiers gathered for a historic conference.  

 [Saskatchewan government timeline online; Saskatchewan History Centennial Timeline by Ruth Bittner and Christa Nicholat, WDM, 2005; newspaper accounts. This is a skeleton list only; consult our sources for more landmark events.]

Westward ho!

Colonization

While most arable land in the province was taken up by individual homesteaders, chartered companies recruited specific kinds of settlers in pursuit of their vision:

The York Farmers Colonization Co. (1882): Toronto-based James Armstrong, managing director, advertised for “experienced and thrifty farmers” from Ontario and other parts of the Dominion, and “first-class tenant farmers from the Old country” to settle in what is now the Yorkton area. 

Cannington Manor Co.(1882): Founded by Englishman Captain Edward M. Pierce, who came to this area when there were already some settlers. He founded a remarkable colony, bringing in scions of wealthy British families to learn to farm. He built a mansion (now gone) and the young patricians enjoyed grand balls, gambling parties, hunting, polo and tennis. Although lackeys did the work, the lifestyle was not sustainable, and most of the bluebloods left for greener pastures.

QuAppelle Valley Farming Co. (1882) Toronto-based, directed by Major W.R. Bell, recruited settlers from eastern Canada and the USA. They ran their farms within a large tract near Indian Head, known as the Bell Farm, in a co-ordinated, factory-like system.

The Temperance Colonization Co. (1882): John N. Lake of Toronto, land commissioner, helped people primarily from Ontario, to settle in the Saskatoon area, to be “forever free of the accursed liquor traffic”.

Primitive Methodist Colonization Co.(1883), Toronto-based, led by Reverend W. Bee, helped adherents of this Wesleyan sect of Methodists from Ontario and Britain to settle in the Pheasant Forks area—north of Wolseley.

Scottish Crofters Resettlement Co. (1882), founded by philanthropist Lady Gordon Cathcart, who resettled poor families of landless share-croppers — then being forced off Scottish estates—in the Wapella area. 

East London Artisans Colonization Co. (1884): Founded by British baroness Burdett-Coutts near Moosomin. As benefactress, the baroness resettled poor, unemployed working-class families from east London. 

Rolanderie Farming and Stock Raising Co.(1885): Dr. R. Meyer of Alsace-Lorraine, a wealthy gentleman with grand ideas about agriculture, settled European nobles, including nine French counts and a Belgian baron, at St. Hubert near Whitewood to carry on their aristocratic way of life.

Saskatchewan Valley Land Co. (1902): Directed by Colonel A. E. Davidson based in Minnesota, the company helped Americans seeking affordable farmland to settle in a tract of land extending from the Craik area to Dundurn. 

The Britannia Co. (1903): Founded by Englishman Reverend Isaac Barr, who settled a multitude of largely middle-class Britons and their families, wishing to “exchange the poverty of England for an estate in Canada”, in what is now the Lloydminster area.  

[Cannington Manor: Beck, Pioneers of Cannington Manor. Temperance Colony: Kerr & Hanson, Saskatoon: the First Half-Century; others: John Archer, Saskatchewan: A History]

Treaty rights

Promises, promises …

Promises (in a nutshell) “the Queen” made in 1876 to the Crees in Treaty Six, in return for surrender of their lands. Other treaties were similar. The trouble was, historians say, the government did not stick to its own promises.

“Reserves for farming lands” up to a square mile for each “Indian” family of five;

Each “Indian” man, woman and child would receive a gift of twelve dollars; 

Schools would be provided if the indigenous people so wished;

No liquor would be allowed on the reserves or sold there;

The “Indians” could hunt and fish anywhere, with certain exceptions;

The government could appropriate sections of the reserves to put up buildings;

A census of “Indians” was to be taken soon after the treaty was concluded, and every year afterwards; 

The Queen would spend $1500 every year for ammunition and twine;

Native families would receive certain agricultural implements and tools (all low-tech), seeds, oxen, cattle and pigs, to encourage them to farm.

Each chief would receive $25 per year and his “head men” would receive $15 each year, and a suit of clothing every three years, plus – on the “closing” of the treaty – a flag, a medal, and a horse, with harness and wagon. 

Indian agents would receive $1,000 each spring to buy provisions for farmers on reserves;

Each Indian agent was to maintain a “medicine chest” (since interpreted as free Medicare) for the First Nations bands. 

[The Treaties of Canada with the Indians of Manitoba and the North-West Territories…]

Resistance hotspots

Clash sites in the Northwest Resistance of 1885

Duck Lake – March 26

Battleford – March 30-31

Frog Lake – April 2

Fort Pitt – April 14

Fish Creek – April 24

Cutknife Hill – May 2

Batoche – May 9-12

Frenchman’s Butte – May 28

Steele Narrows – July 2

[Howard, Strange Empire; Historical Atlas of Canada]

A wound that never healed

Why Metis and First Nations were disgruntled about government treatment

illustration of Big Bear
Illustration of Big Bear by Ruth Millar

Lack of government aid to Metis settlers after a series of bad harvests.

The decision to build the CPR railway along a southern route instead of the planned northern route.

Some loss of Metis land titles in Manitoba.

Demand for recognition of Metis land in the Duck Lake area.

Adoption of an American survey system that rejected the Metis’ traditional strips of land extending perpendicular to the river, giving each farmer river frontage.

Primitive and inadequate farming equipment allotted to the Aboriginals under the treaties.

Miserly rations in a time of crisis caused by the disappearance of the buffalo.

Inadequate clothing supplied to the natives.

[Stonechild & Waiser, Loyal Till Death, 59; other sources]

Quirky facts in 1884

Curious things that happened during the Northwest Resistance

Surgeon Major Campbell Mellis Douglas (VC), who missed the steamer at Saskatchewan Landing, just happened to have brought along a folding canoe he invented. Passing the beleaguered Northcote en route, he silently paddled into Saskatoon to take up his medical duties tending the wounded there. 

Among the wounded on the Northcote was Hugh John Macdonald, son of Prime Minister Sir John A.  He was wounded at Fish Creek.

Telegraphy was a boon during the Northwest Resistance, as news reports flew over the wires in Morse code to eastern newspapers. Telegraphers call it the Victorian internet. The telegraph arrived in the battleford area in 1876.

The pilot on the Northcote at Batoche was John Segers, newly returned from a steamer expedition up the Nile in Egypt to rescue General Gordon at Khartoum. (They didn’t make it in time.) At Batoche, Segers lay on the floor of the vulnerable pilot-house to escape whizzing bullets and steered the wheel with his toes, as a crew member shouted directions to him from a lower deck.

William Robinson brought troops on a steamer down Lake Winnipeg to Selkirk at the end of the rebellion. He was another pilot on the abortive Nile expedition. After the 1885 conflict he had a successful business career involving sawmills, lumber and steamboats. 

Colonel Arthur Williams – a nationally prominent figure – was a Member of Parliament for Durham East in Ontario. The Midland Battalion he had assembled in Ontario were devastated when their beloved commander died of typhoid fever on the Northcote, heading homeward to Grand Rapids. 

Materials used to armour the barges that carried troops and supplies included barrels of provisions and sacks of flour. They were dubbed “flourclads” a pun on the word “ironclads,” steamers employed in the American civil war.

Three generals were involved in the 1885 resistance: the overall commander General Middleton, General Thomas Strange, and Major General John W. Laurie, who actually outranked Middleton but agreed to a subordinate position. Middleton received a knighthood and substantial pension for his efforts. 

Ann Flora McKay, daughter of Joe McKay — the farm instructor at the Sweetgrass Reserve who had fled with his family down the river in 1885, married a Mountie named Joe McKay after hostilities were over.

Twins! During officers’ celebrations on board a steamer returning from the rebellion, two officers from different military units met each other and discovered they had the same last name. Incredibly, they realized they were twin brothers separated as children.

Imasees, warrior son of Big Bear, participated in the murders at Frog Lake, but he survived being hanged with other perpetrators by fleeing to Montana. A year later he went to Ottawa dressed like a chief, and far from being punished as a leading rebel, was greeted with fanfare. Go figure. 

[Macdonald, Saskatchewan Herald, 11 May 1885. Segers: Saskatchewan Herald 18 May 1885 & other sources. telegraphy: McCourt, Saskatchewan, 149. Twin soldiers, Sask. History autumn 1955, 277. Imasees: Cameron, Blood Red the Sun]

Wet or dry

The Prohibition saga in Saskatchewan

1908: The provincial government adopted the Liquor Licencing Act, which regulated the days and hours when licenced bars and clubs could sell booze. It also let adult males vote by plebiscite whether to allow such outlets in their communities.

1911-14: Ban the Bar crusades led by activist groups such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union showed growing support for prohibition of liquor sales across the province.

1915: In the name of patriotism during the Great War, the legislature closed all private bars and clubs (by axing their licences) and set up government-run, off-sale liquor stores.

1916: A wartime plebiscite calling for prohibition, including the shut-down of   government liquor stores, won majority support – much of it from women exercising their hard-won franchise.

1917: The feds issued an order-in-council under the War Measures Act, banning the sale of made-in-Saskatchewan liquor to other provinces and the USA.

1919: Federal wartime regulations were cut at war’s end, and provinces could again choose whether to be “wet” or “dry.”

1920: In a plebiscite, most Saskie voters again voted to remain dry.

1921: The provincial government adopted the Saskatchewan Temperance Act banning the production or sale of alcohol — except for medical, scientific or religious purposes.

1922-23: Police reports disclosed more stills producing taboo liquor in our province than anywhere else in the country, while bootlegging and rum-running were soaring.

1924: In another plebiscite, most voters approved a moderate wet option.

1925: The temperance act was axed, and liquor was again peddled through government-run stores. Licenced beer parlors were banned for another decade.

[Archer Saskatchewan: A History; Ken Dahl’s 1996 master’s thesis.]

Unsung heroes

Noteworthy characters in our history, whether you agree or not!

Inspector Walsh of the NWMP fed Sitting Bull and his starving Sioux who had fled canada after their triumph at the battle of the Little Big Horn. After most of the buffalo were slaughtered, food was scarce. Many of his men did likewise, from their own rations.

Cree Chief Big Bear, who refused to sign treaties sanctioning the transfer of their lands to the Crown, relegating them to reserves. He was holding out to see how treaty bands fared under the treaties, but was punished for his stand. In the end, starvation among his people forced him to capitulate. 

John W. Foster of Ottawa, born in Abernethy, was recognized by the Chilean government for his humanitarian activism that helped thousands of Chileans fleeing the Pinochet dictatorship. With lobby groups in Toronto he pushed for federal support for the refugees to help them settle in Canada. At least 7,000 Chilean refugees came to Canada, many to Saskatchewan.

Honore Jaxon, a.k.a william Jackson, Riel's secretary
Honore Jaxon, a.k.a William Jackson, Louis Riel’s secreatry.
Photo from University of Saskatcheewan Archives
& Special Collections.

The learned Englishman Honorέ Jaxon (William Jackson) sided with the Metis in the North-West Resistance; in fact, he was Riel’s secretary. For the rest of his life he saved his irreplaceable papers about the resistance, until as a penniless old man living in New York he was ejected from rented rooms, and his cache of historic papers went to the city dump.

During the terrible Spanish Flu outbreak in 1918-19, Walter Murray, president of the U of S, imposed a quarantine on campus, sealing it off from the world and thus saving thousands of lives: only one person on campus died from the flu.

Father Claffey, an Irish priest, was in Rome during Nazi occupation in World War II. With a secret rescue group, he smuggled Allied fugitives into the Vatican or safe houses. That story was told in a book, The Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican, and a movie, The Scarlet and the Black, starring Gregory Peck. Father Claffey ended his days in a hostel at St. Paul’s Hospital, Saskatoon.

Peter Dmytruk, born in Radisson, was an RCAF flight sergeant in World War II. He was serving as rear gunner when his Lancaster bomber was shot down over France, but he survived.  He worked with the French Resistance before being captured and executed by the Nazis. The French awarded him a posthumous Croix de Guerre, a street in a French town was named in his honour, and a monument was erected at the spot where he died.

Joan Bamford Fletcher of Regina, a member of the British FANY, was appointed by Supreme Allied Commander Mountbatten to lead some two thousand women and children out of a Japanese prison camp through the jungles of Sumatra, at the close of World War II.

Bud Pelton of Bushell rescued pilot Jimmy Price and his passengers after they crashed on the way to Uranium City in 1953. After he brought them in a dogsled to safety at Bushell, they were flown to Edmonton for hospital care. They lost limbs to frostbite but survived.

[Claffey: Millar, Saskatchewan Heroes & Rogues, 120-131. Ewen: Millar, 86-105; Ewen: China Nurse. Fletcher: Millar, 133-146. Foster: www.uregina (2017); Green & White; spring 2017, 40. Pelton: McIntyre, Uranium City: The Last Boom Town, 42-45] 

Sworn to secrecy

Resistance fighters, intelligence agents and spies 

Several Saskies worked for a British secret agency, the Special Operations Executive (SOE), which operated in Europe and the Far East during WWII. Others worked in North America for the British Security Coordination (BSC) run by Sir William Stephenson (Intrepid) whom Churchill and Roosevelt appointed to coordinate British wartime intelligence in the U.S. 

One SOE agent was Jacques Taschereau, born in Humboldt. In 1944 he worked with the French Resistance, sabotaging trains, blowing up factories, and ambushing Nazi soldiers. In 1945 he was transferred to the Far East where he trained in jungle warfare at the SOE’s Eastern Warfare School. He parachuted into Burma with six other Canadians who worked with guerrillas to ambush Japanese soldiers crossing the mountains into Siam (Thailand).

Alleyre Sirois of Vonda and Saskatoon was another SOE agent, which recruited him because he spoke French fluently (albeit with a Canadian accent). After training in Whitby, Ontario, he did undercover work and sabotage in France but was betrayed by a stool pigeon. Luckily Sirois escaped to a safe house. On his return, he studied law and became a judge.

George Findlay Andrew, born in China but with roots in England, immigrated to Saskatoon in the 1950s. During WWII he had been SOE spymaster in Chongqing. For complicated reasons, by that time SOE could no longer conduct sabotage in China, so his people chiefly created false propaganda. But other countries in Asia were part of his mandate, and he dipped his fingers into spy capers in various countries.

Leslie Andrew, later of Saskatoon.

Findlay’s son Leslie Andrew, who immigrated to Saskatoon after World War II, joined the SOE during World War II and was sent to India. It is likely that he trained at the Eastern Warfare School. As a European he could not blend into Asian crowds, but he trained others in espionage skills. On a repatriation ship from Hong Kong he had met and married a Saskatoon nurse who served in various theatres of war. After the war ended they were posted to Africa for a while, but returned to Saskatoon.

Benjamin de Forest Bayly
Benjamin de Forest Bayly was Intrepid’s right-hand man at Camp X near Whitby, Ontario during World War II. – Photo from University of Toronto Archives.

Benjamin De Forest Bayly, who grew up in Moose Jaw, was right hand man to Sir William Stephenson (known as Intrepid). Bayly was wartime Deputy Director of Communications at the international spy school, Camp X, between Whitby and and Oshawa, Ontario. Camp X was the secret Canadian base for Churchill and Roosevelt’s British Security Coordination (BSC) headed by Stephenson. An engineering whiz, Bayly perfected an unbreakable cipher machine, and a system for locating enemy subs. As a young man he might have attended the U of S, but apparently did not graduate from here. Before the war he moved to Toronto to study electrical engineering, and became a professor of engineering at the University of Toronto. In 1955 he resigned from the university to establish Bayly Engineering in Ajax, wherre he also became mayor.

Henry Nuett, the anti-Nazi German who escaped from prison camp in his homeland (chronicled below), was still in danger of being shot when he reached France, for the Resistance thought he was a Gestapo spy.  But he convinced them he was anti-Nazi, and they inveigled him into the Resistance. His skills were prized: he translated German signs, documents and labels, helped identify rocket sites, tracked troop movements, and posed as a Nazi corporal to direct trains in the wrong direction. His basic military training in Germany helped him provide German weapons instruction. Then he worked for British Intelligence in Russia until 1948, but had to stop because the Russians knew he was a spy. After these many thrilling and dangerous wartime experiences he immigrated to Uranium City. Later he became a detective in Edmonton.

Patsey Sullivan grew up in Saskatoon, where her father taught at the first Saskatoon incarnation of the U of S. After living in Europe, she returned to study at the U of S about 1917.  In 1941 she began working for the spy chief Intrepid at the BSC offices in New York.

Conrad O’Brien-ffrench (not a typo!) has been dubbed Saskatchewan’s James Bond. He was born an aristocrat in England, but he came to Canada where he joined the RNWMP and served at Maple Creek around 1910–12. Then he served in WWI, and dabbled in spy capers as a prisoner of war. Later he joined the British secret service as Agent Z3. While spying on the Nazis he met author Ian Fleming, leading to claims he inspired the Bond character.

On the home front, Emma Woikin was a Doukhobor farm woman who went to Ottawa and inadvertently, because of her Russian connections, became entangled in the Igor Gouzenko espionage trials that helped launch the Cold War. On her release from prison, she returned and worked in a Saskatoon law firm.

[Andrew: Findlay Andrew papers. Bayly: Ken Smith, “Mayor Pat Bayly”, municipal document, town of Ajax, 2001; Stafford, Camp X, and other documents. Dmytruk: Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan. Nuett: Harris & Taylor, Escape to Honor. O’Brien-ffrench: Saskatchewan History spring/summer 2013. Sullivan: Interview. Syrois: Green & White fall 2005. Taschereau: McLaren; cbc.ca/xcompany. Woikin: June Callwood, Emma]

Escapers and evaders

Saskies who escaped captivity (though some were recaptured)

During the Cypress Hills massacre, wolfers seized five native women and violated them – except for one, a teenager. Abe Farwell’s Indigenous wife grabbed a pistol, stomped over to Solomon’s fort, and demanded they release her.

During the 1885 Resistance Metis farm instructor Joe McKay and family fled from the Sweetgrass Reserve in a small boat with only their clothes, and almost no food. Subsisting in sub-zero weather on spruce gum and grease used for caulking, with their former captors in pursuit, after about three weeks they reached Prince Albert.

In 1885, William Bleasdell Cameron, author of Red Blood the Sun, escaped being killed at the Frog Lake Massacre dressed as a woman, with the help of a Woods Cree, Kinistatin, who smuggled him to the safety of Big Bear’s camp. Kinistatin had worked at the HBC store.

During World War I, Mervyn Simmons (originally from Buchanan, Sask.) was a downed pilot who escaped three times from German-run prison camps, only to be captured by the Kaiser’s army. On his fourth try, he made it across the border to Holland, and home. He narrated his story to Nellie McClung, and she wrote Three Times and Out about his experiences.

During World War II, Henry Beaudry, a grandson of Chief Poundmaker, was captured at Ravenna, Italy and taken to Stalag VIIA. He and a Mongolian from the Russian army escaped enroute to another camp. After the two endured intense cold and near starvation, sympathetic farmers smuggled them to an American base. After the war Beaudry resided on the Mosquito First Nation, where he painted scenes of prison camp conditions. He lived to be ninety-five.

Henry Nuett (born Hans Nutt) was a Social Democrat, German anti-Nazi who was imprisoned in a German concentration camp, Borgermoor-Emsland, where he lived in daily peril. In a breathtaking act of courage he broke free and ran twenty-four miles barefooted, with Nazi guards in pursuit. Ill-clad and half-starved, fording icy ditches and sleeping in haystacks, he threaded his way through Nazi-infested Germany, Holland, and Belgium, constantly in danger of being shot. In France his German accent made him a target, but finally he was accepted by the the French Resistance, and during the Cold War he worked for British Intelligence in the USSR. Later he reportedly worked in Uranium City as a butcher, ending up in Edmonton as a detective.

Three Saskie civilians were interned in Hong Kong, Morris (Two-Gun) Cohen, Gladys Andrew, and Leslie Andrew. Luckily, all of them were later repatriated to Canada aboard the Gripsholm in a prisoner exchange with Japan.

Cecil Merritt, commander of the South Saskatchewan Regiment, was captured at Dieppe with eighty-eight of his men. After leading them across a bridge under siege at Dieppe, he was captured and imprisoned at a camp in Bavaria. He and sixty-four fellow prisoners escaped through a tunnel in June 1943, but were caught. 

Book cover, Escape: A canadian Story.
Barris’s book chronicles the thrilling adventures of Canadians imprisoned in Stalag-Luft III, site of the Hollywood film The Great Escape, which did not mention Canadians. Some Saskatchewan men helped with the tunneling project,
but none of them escaped.

RCAF pilot Ken Woodhouse of Prince Albert leapt out of his damaged Spitfire north of Paris in March 1944, and holed up in a haystack. A French trucker picked him up and took him to the Resistance, who guided him from one safe house to another, supplied him with fake ID, and shepherded him and twenty-six other evaders all the way to Bonaparte Beach, where they were boarded a fast boat to England.

Being part of an escape route like the Comet Line bonded its participants, both evaders and their helpers, for life. Woodhouse was one of four Saskatchewan members of the Royal Air Forces Escaping Society, Canadian branch. The others were E.A. Powell of Saskatoon, W.G. Dennstedt of Moosomin, and J.E. Harlton of Riverhurst.

[Andrew family: Findlay andrew papers. Beaudry: North Battleford News-Optimist, 9 Feb. 2016. Cameron: Stonechild and Waiser, Loyal Till Death, 112. Cohen: Millar, Saskatchewan Heroes & Rogues. Farwell’s wife: Savage, A Geography of Blood, 105. McKay family: Tolton, Prairie Warships, 116-122; Nuett:  Collins and Taylor, Escape to Honor, 1985; Frances (Bergles) Daw, former Uranium City resident. Woodhouse: The Evaders, 258-262; Greenfield, The Forgotten;  Lavender and Sheffe, The Evaders,  26, 96-112, 242]

Murphy’s Law

If it could happen, it did

Early in 1904 the roof of a curling rink in Regina came crashing down. Luckily, the curling playoff scheduled for that day had been cancelled

QLLS bridge
The QLLS bridge, also known as the CPR Bridge, collpsed more than once due to the spring ice breakups. Photo LH 871 from Local History Room, Saskatoon Public Library.

The QLLS bridge in Saskatoon collapsed in 1904 and 1905 under the weight and force of annual ice breakups. The wooden bridge was reconstructed, with the same result, until finally concrete piers were erected. The ice breakup was an annual spectacle, as titanic blocks of ice crashed against each other. That ended when the Gardiner Dam was built. 

Steamboat accident in Saskatoon.
A spectacular steamboat accident in Saskatoon June 8, 1908. Photo PH 89-23-8, from Local History Room, Saskatoon Public Library.

A famous accident occurred in 1908 when a steamer crashed into the Victoria Bridge in Saskatoon. The wreck of the “City of Medicine Hat” June 7, 1908. was called “the greatest marine disaster in the history of Saskatoon.” The crew managed to scramble to safety, while a herd of cattle crossing the bridge stampeded. The accident heralded the demise of the steamboat era on the Saskatchewan River, because of the river’s shallow waters and shifting sandbars.

Around 1910 there was a Canadian Northern Railway train wreck near Hanley, so memorable a postcard was made of it.

Slumping on the east riverbank has plagued Saskatoon since early days. In 1929, the McCraney Slide along Saskatchewan Crescent wreaked havoc. It happened again in various places in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1990s, and often since 2000.  In 2016 the riverbank near the University Bridge again collapsed, leaving a gaping hole big enough to park a bus. 

People staring at aftermath of streetcar accident in Saskatoon.
Crowds on the riverbank in Saskatoon after a streetcar
tumbled to the ice below in 1922.
Photo LH 996 by Boyles Ltd., from
Local History Room, Saskatoon Public Library.

In 1922, No. 4 (Exhibition) streetcar came down the Long Hill and missed a turn onto the Victoria Bridge in Saskatoon on March 3,1922. It plunged down the riverbank and crashed on the ice, but no one was killed.

Bridge collapsing with train on it
Bridge collapsing in Saskatoon in 1912.
Photo LH 2003-1 by Dicker & Dunsford, from Local History Room, Saskatoon Public Liibrary.

A Canadian Northern passenger train jumped the tracks when leaving the railway yards in March 1912 and knocked out a span of the railway bridge. The sleeper car Kipling, crashed onto the river ice below and injured thirteen people.

Locomotive N0. 5517 flipped over on its side in the railway yards in Saskatoon in the 1930s. Photo PH 2012-74 and 75 from Local History Room, Saskatoon Public Library.

In the 1930s, locomotive No. 5617 went off the rails in the railyards of Saskatoon. This crowd attests to the entertainment value of such an incident, even if it was only a tip-over.

Even streetcars went off the rails sometimes. A Mayfair-University streetcar was derailed at Avenue E and 25th Street on February 4, 1947. The car was of a type known as “puddle-jumpers.”

The Duncan Dam and Reservoir was a PFRA project completed in 1942, but ten years later spring runoff was such a threat an emergency spillway had to be built. But they had to scramble to block even that, after a spectacular washout in 1952.

In 1954 planes were zooming around above Moose Jaw. Pilot trainee Thomas Thorrat from Scotland went out for a spin in a Harvard jet, but didn’t see the Trans Canada “North Star” coming his way. Thorrat ploughed into the airliner, it exploded and split in two, and all thirty-five of its passengers perished. The tail of the airliner then crashed into a house below, killing one person, the housecleaner.

Within hours of its opening, the centre span of the newly-built Dyck Memorial Bridge collapsed in September 2018 and fell into the Swan River north of Canora. Luckily no one was on it at the time.

Some accidents are just too horrible to contemplate. See our Sports section for accounts of two major highway accidents involving buses and athletes.

[Memorial Bridge: CBC, Global TV, Regina Leader-Post 18 Sept 2018. Thorratt: Diderick & Waiser, Looking Back, 95-96. Duncan Dam: Prairie Memories, 159]

Wasn’t that a riot?

Though ours is generally a peaceful province with law-abiding residents, there have been mass public disturbances here over the years. 

Regina, May 1, 1931: A May Day parade (spurred by the communist-based Workers Unity League) through Market Square led to a three-hour clash between jobless men in the parade and local residents who objected to red flags marchers carried. Several from each side were injured and some marchers arrested before the conflict ended.

Saskatoon, November 1, 1932: City police and about twenty Mounties dispersed some two hundred unemployed men protesting being sent to the Exhibition grounds relief camp.

Saskatoon, May 8, 1933: A Mountie died after falling off his horse during a ruckus with jobless men in the Exhibition grounds relief camp. He was one of the RCMP officers and city police ordered to remove fifty “troublemakers” from the camp.

Regina, July 1, 1935: In the City Market area pitched battle raged between jobless men from across western Canada taking part in the “On-to-Ottawa” march – versus RCMP officers and city police. A city cop and a protest marcher were killed and about one hundred more rioters from both sides were injured.

Rosetown, July, 1952: At a baseball tournament, a bat-swinging “rhubarb” between two teams led to the Mounties’ holding two players – the instigator who had hidden in a house while an opponent threatened him from outside – in custody overnight. Both left the next day.

Saskatoon, October 23, 1993: Rowdy fans celebrating the Toronto Blue Jays’ win at the World Series spilled onto 8th Street from nearby bars, and were met by city police in riot gear and armed with teargas. Damages to adjacent properties came to thousands of dollars.

Unity, March 31, 2016: The RCMP were called in to settle a brawl in the local arena between fans of the competing Wilkie Outlaws and the Biggar Nationals after a game that day to determine the 2015-16 SaskWest Hockey League championship winner.

Prince Albert, December 14, 2016: One inmate was killed and two seriously injured before a standoff in the federal penitentiary – allegedly over stingy food portions – was ended by an emergency response team.

Regina, June 9, 2017: a guard and a prisoner were injured and great damage done to the provincial jail in a violent clash between guards and inmates protesting meal changes.

Moose Jaw, September 13, 1944: after a dance at Temple Gardens, pilots-in-training from the nearby British Commonwealth Air Training Plan base attacked local swains who had assaulted airmen for dating local girls. After ensuing street fights, city police detained several local youths, and the flyboys were confined to base to cool their heels.

[Archer, The Story of a Province; Waiser, A New Saskatchewan History; Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan]