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.
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]
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.]
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.
Qu’Appelle 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]
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…]
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
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.]
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.
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.
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, 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.
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]
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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