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.

[; 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. Einstein is famous for having developed the theory of relativity and for his contributions to quantum mechanics theory. Reportedly, one winter while formulating his world-shaking theory, 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

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: 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: 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,

Medical Care – Health Matters!

Medical Care – Health Matters!

The history of medical care began with early doctors who faced many challenges in serving the sick. Nurses played a vital role too. But perhaps the most important story for Canadian citizens is the Medicare saga which began in our province. We touch on determined individuals who played key roles in that history, the most famous being Tommy Douglas and Emmett Hall.

Indomitable early doctors

Forging a path in health care

Most Saskatchewan communities had pioneering doctors who are still revered for their fortitude and tenacity in reaching far-flung patients. Here are some stories of doctors who played adventurous roles in our past.

Dr. James Hector, medical doctor and naturalist, accompanied the Palliser Expedition in the fall of 1847 to figure out which lands in the Canadian interior could be used for agriculture. Then he stayed behind when Captain Palliser went east, and continued exploring the prairies on his own.

NWMP doctor Dr. Augustus Jukes was sent in 1882 to report on conditions in native camps in the Cypress Hills. He found children in rags, and thousands of destitute people starving, subsisting on dogs. With no buffalo hides for tepees, most were shivering in cotton tents. Despite his scathing criticism of government agents using starvation to force these families on to northerly reserves, they only meted out already-promised annuities.

Surgeon Major James Bell during the Northwest Resistance was commander of medical personnel at the field hospital in Saskatoon where five doctors, six “dressers,” and an orderly laboured to save lives of wounded soldiers.

Dr. Thomas Roddick was Deputy Surgeon General in 1885, tending wounded at the field hospital in Saskatoon. After hostilities ended and his patients were sent home, he stayed behind to minister to Metis wounded at Fish Creek and Batoche. He left them cash and medical supplies, and instructions to NWMP doctors for further care.

Dr. Robert G. Ferguson, superintendent of the Saskatchewan Anti-Tuberculosis League, achieved many firsts for the province, including free TB treatment, vaccination programs for “San” workers and indigenous people, and TB surveys.

Dr. Archibald Kitely of Nipawin was renowned in the 1920s for sewing a severed finger (plus two dangling fingers) back onto the hand of a three-year-old boy who had been playing with a hatchet. Dr. Kitely reportedly was pursued by wolves as he traversed the wilderness to reach patients at distant sites.

Dr. Elizabeth Matheson, “one of Canada’s first women doctors”, practised medicine from 1898 to 1918 at Onion Lake, where she and hubby John Matheson set up a mission and hospital for the Cree. At John’s urging, despite being pregnant and already a mother of two she returned East to finish the medical degree she had started earlier.

Dr. William McKay standing in row of early Saskatoon citizens.
Dr. William McKay, feisty early Medical Health
Officer (second from right) on 20th Street East
in Saskatoon in 1903. Photo LH 1493-c,
from Local History Room, Saskatoon Public Library.

Dr. William John McKay, a feisty medical health officer in Saskatoon, was horrified by typhoid outbreaks caused by contaminated water every summer from 1907 to 1912. He argued that slop disposal methods were – well – sloppy, and the nuisance grounds were a public health hazard. He insisted they be moved further from the city, and railed against outdoor privies, shallow wells, and unsanitary restaurants. McKay drafted bylaws that set a lofty standard in public health, He was listed in the 1911 Who’s Who in Canada.

Dr. Alfred Shadd was probably Saskatchewan’s first African-Canadian physician. He had started medical studies in Ontario before coming to the Carrot River area as a teacher in 1896, After helping a severely injured man there, he returned east to finish his M.D. Graduating with honours, he returned and set up a practice in Kinistino. Following post-graduate studies in Europe in 1907, he moved his practice to Melfort, bought a pharmacy, a prosperous farm and a newspaper, and became an alderman.

A Dr. Walsh, aka Muski-kewe-yinew (medicine man) travelled by canoe in 1919 with a party of fourteen to the far north of Saskatchewan, distributing treaty funds to First Nations people. Accompanying Treaty Commissioner William McKay, Walsh set up his own tent to tend to the medical needs of the native people.

[Bell: Sessional Papers no. 6A,49 Vict., 1886, cited in Tolton, Prairie Warships, 133. Hector: Friesen, Where the River Runs, 219-227; Blaine Lake history, 7-8. Jukes: Letter, Jukes to White. 7 October 1882.  Kitely: assisted by Sharon Butala; Nipawin community history; Matheson: Buck: The Doctor Rode Side-Saddle. McKay: Western People 25 November 1999. Roddick: Ballantine, Saskatchewan History spring 1964. Shadd: Saskatchewan History vol 30 no. 2 (1977): 41-55.]

Milestones in Saskatchewan health care

Medicare owes its origins to the political and cultural will of Saskatchewan people who pioneered several innovations in health policy. Here we note some other health-related milestones that helped pave the way and distinguish the province as Canada’s conscience in healthcare. But, the journey was not an inevitable one. As of 1905, medical care in Saskatchewan was typically provided by individual doctors residing in smaller communities.

Paid doctors:  In 1916 Dr. Schmitt of Holdfast became the first doctor paid an annual salary, organized through the municipal doctor plan in the RM of Sarnia. Paying doctors a salary rather than a fee-for-service became one of the most contentious issues in the struggle for Medicare, ultimately erupting in the world’s longest doctors’ strike, when Saskatchewan doctors withdrew their services for twenty-three days on the eve of Medicare’s implementation in 1962.

Community clinics: In 1962, socialist-minded physicians, who supported the government and opposed the doctors who went on strike, formed a working group to create an alternative to fee-for-service, hospital-based medical care.  Combining the need for prevention with family practice, community clinics remain a critical primary care service and are a reminder of the importance of prevention and education as key elements of our healthcare system. 

Tuberculosis: Indigenous deaths from TB were ten times higher than non-indigenous rates in the first half of the 20th century.  Dr. Robert G. Ferguson, working at the TB Sanatorium at Fort Qu’appelle, introduced the first controlled trial of a TB vaccine (BCG), which relied on experiments on Indigenous children.  The trial proved successful, if controversial.

Mental health: In 1921 Saskatchewan allegedly built the last Victorian asylum in the western world: the Saskatchewan Mental Hospital, Weyburn.  Forty years later ours was the first province in Canada to aggressively reject the long-term confinement of people with mental illnesses or intellectual disabilities, and provincial reformers took a leading role in developing a new system of care: care in the community.

Cancer: In 1931 Saskatchewan introduced the first cancer registry in the nation; this systematized accounting helped to improve early detection and bolstered research that led to major technological innovations, including the cobalt-60, the betatron, and much later, the synchrotron, all of which made Saskatchewan a leader in radiation physics and cancer care services.

Medical education: In 1952 the University of Saskatchewan introduced a full program of medical education, allowing local students the opportunity to complete their training in the province.  This move coincided with the opening of the University Hospital, fulfilling international recommendations that academic medical education occur in tandem with laboratory research and bedside observation.

Spiritual care: In 1954 Plains Cree people established the first (and only) Canadian branch of the Native American Church.  This organization provided spiritual guidance and post-colonial healing through prayer, worship, and the use of peyote (mescaline).

Hospitalization: Drafting the blueprints for a publicly funded healthcare system, Saskatchewan communities pooled their resources to retain physicians, maintain local hospitals, and invest in medical and nursing education programs.  The results of investing in communities paid off:  in 1947 the province passed the Hospitalization Act – the first of its kind, covering the costs of in-hospital care for all provincial residents. 

Medicare: A decade later the Medical Care Services Act (1957) expanded the coverage to services outside of hospitals, excluding pharmacare.  In 1984 the Canada Health Act recognized the culmination of these policies at the national level; all other provinces and territories had followed suit and established their own publicly funded systems of healthcare.

Dental care: Building on its health care promises, in 1978 Saskatchewan introduced the children’s dental service in, what later amounted to a short-term attempt, to bring more health services under the public umbrella.  Recognizing that preventing illness is much less costly than restoring health, dental care became an important area for expanding healthcare services in the community. 

[Erika Dyck, U of S professor & health historian; Canada Research Chair, History of Medicine]

Medicare super-heroes

Leaders in the fight for Medicare

What we know as “Medicare” was made possible by a succession of individuals and groups determined to institute a system of publicly-funded medical care in Saskatchewan. They weathered heated conflict between doctors and government, and a tumultuous doctors’ strike.

Dr. Maurice Seymour served in the 1885 Resistance, practised in the Qu’Appelle Valley, then headed the provincial department in charge of public health. He pushed for public funding of hospitals and physicians, made important contributions to public health, hired Dr. R.G. Ferguson for the tuberculosis program, and dealt with outbreaks of the Spanish flu and other serious infectious diseases.

Bold Experiment book cover
Matt Anderson was significant in the Medicare saga. This book is his take on it.

Norwegian immigrant Mathew (Mathias) S. Anderson could be called the grandfather of Medicare. Starting in 1927, he pushed repeatedly at rural municipality conventions for publicly-funded medical care and hospital insurance. The Matt Anderson Plan, passed as an Order-in-Council in 1939, allowed municipalities to impose taxes for health services. Several did. It cost individuals $5 a year.

Rural Saskatoon resident Diana Wright, after hearing renowned Swiss medical historian Dr. Henry E. Sigerist lecture at Queen’s University on the topic of tax-funded health services for the poor, arranged for him to meet CCF leader T.C. Douglas and CCF MPs from Saskatchewan in 1943.

Dr. Henry Sigerist was a towering figure in the march toward Medicare. He agreed to come to our province if the CCF won the next election, and they did. Sigerist came to Regina for three months, then prepared a report containing advice that would later be implemented in the provincial Medicare scheme.

Thomas Clement Douglas, once voted Canada’s top Canadian, is revered as one of the two “Fathers of Medicare.” Photo QC-1463-3 by CFQC staff
ca. 1961, from Local History Room,
Saskatoon Public Library

Thomas C. (Tommy) Douglas, a former Baptist minister, was horrified by the expense of health care in the harrowing 1930s, care not available to the poor. He pioneered Saskatchewan’s 1947 hospitalization plan, our country’s first, emulated across Canada by 1958, and became a seminal figure in the genesis of Medicare. He oversaw the adoption of the Saskatchewan Medical Care Insurance Act on November 17, 1961, before resigning to lead the new federal NDP party.  

W.G (Bill) Davies, Saskatchewan’s Minister of Health at the time, countered a resulting doctor’s strike by bringing in pro-Medicare doctors from Britain.

Succeeding Premier W.S. Lloyd saw Medicare put into effect on July 1, 1962. it was the first government-funded, comprehensive and universal medical insurance plan in North America.  It was born in a maelstrom of controversy and a doctors’ strike, but within ten years all Canadians benefited from Medicare.  

Dr.  Sam Wolfe was a mover and shaker in setting up Saskatoon’s community clinic. He co-authored the definitive 1967 book, Doctor’s Strike: Medical Care and Conflict in Saskatchewan.

Dr. Orville K. Hjertaas was a key figure in setting up a community clinic in Prince Albert.

Ed Mahood was the first chair of the Saskatoon Community Clinic board, which started the first “interdisciplinary community medicine” in Saskatchewan.

Saskatoon’s Citizens in Defense of Medicare called for citizens to demonstrate their support for Medicare.

Stan Rands, executive secretary of the Community Health Services Association (CHSA), wrote Privilege and Policy: A History of Community Clinics in Saskatchewan.

Dr. Frank Coburn, a professor of psychiatric medicine, played a strong role in the fight for Medicare, and helped set up community clinics.

Bill Harding, founding president of CHSA, chaired the Regina clinic board from 1962-65. With Rands, he helped establish thirty-five clinics in Saskatchewan.

Roy Atkinson was a CHSA founder and its second president.

Citizens for a Free Press, led by Ben and Adele Smillie, challenged the Saskatoon daily newspaper to stop refusing pro-Medicare letters to the editor.

Steps on the Road to Medicare - Why Saskatchewan Led the Way - book by C. Stuart Houston

Notably, in 1961, Prime Minister Diefenbaker appointed Justice Emmett Hall – who had experienced poverty and hardship as a young man in the dirty thirties in Saskatchewan — chair of a Royal Commission on Health Services, charged with exploring ways of publicly financing medical services country wide. The resulting Hall Report (1964) pushed for the implementation of a national Medicare scheme, modelled on ours.

[Seymour: Houston, Steps on the Road to Medicare chapter 2. Wright: Diana Wright fonds, Sask Archives. Anderson: Marilyn Deck, in Canadian Encyclopedia. Sigerist: Houston, Steps on the Road to Medicare; Diana Wright fonds, SAB. Other information: Canadian Encyclopedia; Houston; Canadian Dimension, vol. 46 no. 4, 2012; Jim Harding’s blog]  

Medical honourees

Some people honoured by the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame (CMHF), the government, or a university

Dr. Baltzan, family and associates. Photo CP-5244 by Creative Professional Photographers, from Local History Room, Saskatoon Public Library

Dr. Marc Baltzan, Saskatoon, (OC, SOM), pioneer in kidney research who helped perform the second kidney transplant in Canada at Saskatoon, was president of the Canadian Medical Association.

Dr. Richard Baltzan, Saskatoon (OC, QJM, SOM, LLD) was instrumental in hemodialysis treatment of kidney disease. He chaired the Deptartment of Medicine at U of S, and president of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.

Dr. John Conly, a graduate of the U of S Medical College, was recognized by his alma mater for his work as an infectious disease specialist and expert in microbial resistance at the University of Calgary.

The Honourable Dr. Sylvia Fedoruk (OC, SOM) a medical physicist, was born in Canora. She helped develop the world’s first calibrated cobalt-60 unit used for cancer treatment at the U of S.  She was also lieutenant-governor, and a champion curler.

Dr. William Feindel lived for a time in this province, and founded the neurosurgical department at Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon. He is honoured in the CMHF.

Dr. Robert George Ferguson led in the battle against tuberculosis and received a lifetime membership in the Canadian Medical Association.

Emmett Hall as younbg man. Photo from Uiversity of Saskatchewan Archives
Justice Emmett Hall as young man..
Photo from University of Saskatchewan Archives

Justice Emmett Hall attained an LLB from U of S, and is known by many as one of the Fathers of Medicare. He is in the CMHF.

Dr. Louis Horlick of Saskatoon (OC, SOM, QJM) was a specialist in internal medicine and cardiology, and taught medicine at the U of S.

Dr. C. Stuart Houston of Saskatoon (OC, SOM, QJM) is former head of radiology at the U of S, and author of books on topics ranging from natural history to Medicare.

Dr. Harold Johns, best known for his work in using a calibrated Cobalt-60 unit for treatment of cancer while a member of the U of S. faculty, is in the CMHF.

Dr. Sam Landa of Saskatoon (OC, CM), popular physician catering to athletes, was inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame.

Dr. Roberta McKay of Regina, is a physician specializing in dermatology. she received a YWCA Lifetime Achievement award for her philanthropy.

Dr. James Till from Lloydminister, earned a BSc and MSc in physics at U of S. His most stunning contribution to medical science was the discovery, with a colleague, of stem cells while at the University of Toronto. He is in the CMHF.

Dr. Calvin Stiller, who grew up in Naicam and graduated from the U of S College of Medicine, was one of the first to use ciclosporin to prevent rejection of transplanted tissues. He is also in the CMH.

[Wikipedia, Saskatchewan government; email 13 Feb 2018 from CMHOF]

They also served

Other health heroes

Indomitable nurses and others worked in developing countries or countries under siege, and multitudes of other heroes saved folks here in times of crisis.

Ella May Matthews of Maple Creek was a nurse in Europe during the Great War. She nursed in France with the Queen Alexandra Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS) in 1917, and at the Somme and Paaschendaele battles. 

Nursing sister Harriet Graham went with the first Canadian contingent to France in World War I, where she served as matron at No. 1 Casualty clearing station. King George awarded her the Royal Red Cross, first rank. She lived in Saskatoon after her marriage to J.D. Macdonald in 1914.

Sophia Dixon of Saskatoon lobbied for change in the law governing birth control in 1931, through the United Farmers of Canada. A founding member of the CCF, she later won a Governor-General’s award for her involvement in the famous Person’s Case.

Allen May of Saskatoon was a university student in 1937 as civil war raged in Spain. A devotee of Dr. Norman Bethune, then pioneering mobile blood transfusion units there, May led a massive blood drive in Saskatoon, inspiring four hundred local donors to donate blood, in just ten days.

Portrait of nurse Jean Ewen, in cap
Jean Ewen accompanied Dr. Norman Bethune to China in 1937. Her book China Nurse chronicles that adventure.

Jean Ewen of Saskatoon accompanied the famous Dr. Norman Bethune to China in 1937 and helped him perform operations in the far northwest during the civil war. After she and the truculent Bethune parted ways, she continued to nurse in the war-torn country on her own for a couple of years. At her request, she was buried in China, next to Bethune. Her family quipped that she probably would have said, “Move over Norman, I’m back.”

Kathleen Ellis, first professor and director of the nursing school at the U of S. Ellis Hall was named for her, the only building on campus named after a woman.

Mary Pyne worked as a nurse for two years in Angola and four years in Zaire (aka Congo). She got her pilot’s license in Medicine Hat in 1976, was a member of Amelia Earhart’s “99s”, and was a founding member of its Saskatchewan chapter, the “Flying Tigers.” As a nurse, she flew into many northern communities in her Cessna two-seater. She received a global citizen award from the Sask. Council for International Co-operation

Barbara Carpio (in braids) and Manuel Carpio (behind her) are shown in the back row
of this photo, taken in Peru. – Supplied photo.

Barbara (Kirkby) Carpio, formerly of Saskatoon, was a public health nursing supervisor from 1971-75 in Pucallpa, Peru when she was called to attend victims of an airplane crash in the jungle. Unfortunately, the plane she was riding in also crash landed, but the occupants were all unhurt and able to tend to patients. They had to catch a ride home in a military helicopter. Back in Canada, Carpio taught community health nursing at the U of S from 1975 to 1979.

The Canadian Red Cross awarded their Florence Nightingale Award to Dawn Marie Anderson, a U of S graduate, for her service during the Israeli-Gaza conflict in 2015.

Jo-Ann Hnatiuk received a U of S alumni award for outstanding service. She went to Afghanistan as a critical care nursing officer for the Canadian armed forces.

Nurse Gerri Dickson of Saskatoon (PhD in community health and epidemiology). did two-year stints in Nicaragua, Papua New Guinea, and Mozambique, and also worked in Saskatchewan’s north with Aboriginal people. A faculty member at the U of S, she received a global citizen award from SCIC.

[May: StarPhoenix 26 July 1937. Ewen: Ewen, China Nurse. Anderson: Green & White fall 2015: 31. Pyne: SCIC, Ned Powers, “Pilot Project”, StarPhoenix. Hnatiuk: Dickson: StarPhoenix Sept 2016]

Spanish Flu, 1918

Deadliest epidemic in Saskatchewan history

The first cases of this H1N1 influenza variant in the province, reported in October, 1918, were soldiers returning from the Great War, then railway and restaurant personnel who had come in contact with them.

One of Saskatchewan’s heroes during the Spanish flu was Usask president Walter Murray who quarantined the university campus for seven weeks after all those who wished to leave had left, in the fall of 1918. Until the university re-opened in January 1919, the campus was influenza free — except for Emmanuel College. It was used as an emergency hospital staffed by sixteen volunteers, only one of whom died. Off-campus, Saskatoon was “like a city of the dead.”

This flu spread rapidly, as in the case of the farmer who — with his wife and one of his daughters— died of it within days of getting a haircut from an infected barber in Rouleau.

The Saskatchewan government received several reports in late 1918 of frozen corpses of families, on homesteads, who died from this flu.

Saskatchewan records don’t include the number of deaths on First Nations due to this flu, but it is known to have been higher than the provincial average. Children in residential schools were particularly susceptible, such as at Onion Lake where the dead were reportedly buried in a trench.

There were 4,916 recorded off-reserve deaths due to Spanish flu in the province between September 1918 and December 1919. About half of these occurred after Armistice celebrations in November, 1918.

Of the 2,217 recorded off-reserve deaths due to this flu during 1918, 716 occurred in cities (including 167 in Saskatoon and 255 in Regina), 417 in towns, 546 in villages and 538 on farms.

The provincial Temperance Act was amended by order-in-council in October 1918 to allow druggists to sell a customer up to eight ounces of alcohol “for medicinal purposes”, while the Spanish flu was prevalent.

October 20, 1918 was the first “Churchless Sunday” in the province, when all gatherings for church services were cancelled to prevent the spread of the flu.

To reduce the chances of the flu spreading, there were often burials without funerals that year.

As a further precaution, schools and places of entertainment in cities and towns across the province were also closed for much of the fall of 1918 and into 1919.

[See article in Saskatchewan History (journal) v. 49, no. 1 (spring 1997) and other sources]


How people in Regina handled the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918

Regina suffered a loss of 350 lives. Could we cope with a pandemic today? Would people obey these rules?

Formed an influenza relief committee to coordinate public health efforts

Isolated houses where the residents had flu, with placards in front

Banned church services, public meetings and entertainments

Wore masks, especially barbers

Imposed $50 fines on spitters, sneezers and coughers

Disinfected streetcars every night.

Ate garlic and onions as a preventative measure, along with dubious vaccines.

Volunteered to do clerical work at the relief office

Women staffed soup kitchens, and men provided transport

Nurses, trained and untrained, cared for severely ill patients.

[Riddell, 5]