Environment and Geography

Environment and Geography

Geographical factoids – mainly plains here?
Well, no.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saving the planet

Ongoing community efforts in a time of climate change  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Environmental heroes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saskatchewan as energy guzzler

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

factory smokestacks
Illustration by Ruth Millar

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

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

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

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

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

Saskatchewan as energy producer

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

image of windmills
Wind farm on the prairies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greenhouse gas emissions (GHG)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s in a name?

Places with First Nations names

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

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

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

Chitek Lake: from Cree word for “pelican.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All shook up:

Earthquakes felt in Saskatchewan 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hottest, coldest, wettest

Extremes from the Weather Office

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A snowy winter in Kindersley.
Photo by Gerry Ackerman

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

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

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

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

image of couple trudging through high snowbanks
Illustration by Ruth Millar

Cold ’nuff fer ya?

How those long cold winters affected us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

illustration of woman sweating in hot weather
Illustration by Ruth Millar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oldest heritage buildings in Saskatchewan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Community sources, www.vanishingsask.ca/]
Farmers and Ranchers Outstanding in Their Fields

Farmers and Ranchers Outstanding in Their Fields

The unstoppabie character of our homesteaders, farmers and ranchers helped them survive adversity and adapt to their new surroundings.

Take up the plow, young man!

After the buffalo were mostly gone, the feds urged First Nations to take up farming. (Unfortunately the tools were often primitive and inadequate.) These government incentives were designed to enable and motivate First Nations included in Treaty Six (1876) to take up farming:

To each Indian family starting to farm:

Four hoes and two spades; one scythe and one whetstone; two hay forks and two reaping hooks (whatever they were)

To every three Indian families starting to farm:

One plough and one harrow;

To each Indian band starting to farm:

Two axes, one cross saw, one handsaw, one pitsaw and the files needed to sharpen them.

One grindstone, one auger and one chest of ordinary carpenter tools.

Four oxen, one bull and six cows; one boar and two sows.

Two carts with iron bushings and tires. 

Enough wheat, barley, potatoes and oats to plant land already broken.

One hand mill — when sufficient grain had been raised.

To all Indian bands included in Treaty Six beginning to cultivate: a sum not exceeding one thousand dollars distributed annually — at the discretion of the chief Indian agent— among bands actually cultivating, to assist and encourage them to farm.

[Rollings-Magnusson, The Homesteaders, Ch. 3; other sources]


How many settlers obtained “free” land

The Dominion Lands Act — amended several times between 1872 and 1918 — generally required that those taking up a homestead:

A replica of the Diefembaker family homestead buildings ner Borden. They are now located at the
Sukanen Ship Pioneer Village south of Moose Jaw.
Photo by Patricia Pavey

Be male and at least eighteen years old (except widows with dependent children).

Make official entry on a 160-acre “quarter” section designated for homesteads.

Pay the ten-dollar registration fee.

Build a permanent dwelling on the selected “homestead” quarter.

Occupy that homestead quarter for at least six months in each of three successive years.

Break and crop a set portion (usually thirty to forty acres) of the homestead quarter during that interval.

Apply for patent (title) to the homestead quarter upon fulfilling the above requirements.

They could also buy an adjoining “pre-empted” quarter section for a set price.


A place of their own

Single women farmers battling the elements  

In homesteading days single women (except heads of households with children) couldn’t get free homesteads as men did, so they often bought ready-made farms. Their worst enemies were mortgages – unless they were wealthy. Many did backbreaking work themselves: felling trees, stooking, and digging up stones, plus the usual milking of cows, harnessing horses, gardening, preserving and other endless tasks.

Some, like remittance men, had wealthy parents back in Britain. If they had the money, women could buy ready-made farms from the CPR. For example, Maggie Dunn bought CPR land in the Ellisboro area of Assiniboia in 1908.

They could buy “scrip” allotted to veterans of the South African (Boer) war, although they still had to meet homestead regulations. Sixty-year-old Sarah Birtle bought South African scrip (SAS) and acquired title to a homestead near Colonsay, and one in Alberta.

Metis women could get either 240 acres of land or paper scrip to compensate for confiscated land, and issues leading to the 1885 conflict. Often scammers convinced them paper scrip was worthless, and the Metis sold it to land speculators “for a song.”

Some women financed farms with personal income earned as businesswomen or professionals. They could buy farms from male homesteaders who had thrown in the towel, as journalist Georgina Binnie-Clark did. A proponent of the Homesteads for Women Movement, she was keen to prove single women could farm ably and profitably.

Many bartered cooking or laundering services for help from neighbours in clearing land, seeding and harvesting. Widow Theresia Lutz came from Minnesota to Muenster in 1902 with two teen daughters, an eleven-year-old son, and a married daughter and family. The latter soon left, but Theresia stayed and toughed it out. She left in 1910 when her eyesight failed.

Some had male neighbours nearby who lent a hand. In 1903, Isabella Wilson immigrated to Sonningdale with two brothers who acquired their own homesteads. Being single, she had to buy her land, and neighbours built her little home.

Others were well-heeled entrepreneurs who hired all the necessary labour.  Ruth Hillman of Keeler ran her farm like any other business, with six workmen. Within five years she had a two thousand–acre farm. In the first world war her land was producing forty thousand bushels per year.

[Saskatchewan Archives Board homestead records:  www.saskhomesteads.com/metis-scrip.asp. Binnie-Clark: Carter, Imperial Plots. Lutz: Lutz, A Mother Braving the Wilderness. Wilson: Sonningdale Memories, 406-8. Hillman: Carter, 221-2, 343]

Coping with nature

How early settlers overcame natural scourges and some pretty lame tools

Sowing seeds by hand.

Farmer illustration
Illustration by Ruth Millar

Planting crops really early. Before the advent of Marquis wheat with its shorter growing season, many crops were zapped by August frosts. One farmer tried it in February, but did not record how he sowed the crop in the snow.

Improvising implements such as a wooden harrow made with planks and railway spikes.

Harvesting with sickles and scythes, then collecting the sheaves and propping them up in stooks to keep the grain dry.

Ploughing fireguards made of earth to stop raging prairie fires.

Killing grasshoppers with poisoned bait.

Spraying coal oil mixed with soapy water around the edges of gardens and crops, to squelch cutworms.

Building smudges with green branches to protect livestock from mosquitoes.

Shooting hawks that swooped down and carried off chickens.

Waging war on gophers by poisoning, trapping, shooting and drowning.

Planting scarecrows in fields to terrorize marauding coyotes, and switching to energetic poultry that could fly to escape predators.

Cajoling or convincing or forcing women and children to do their bit helping out in the fields.

Co-operating with neighbours in “bees” on heavy jobs.

[Rollings-Magnusson, Ch. 3; other sources; collective memory]


Salt of the earth

A few of the notable Saskie farms and farmers, past and present, who influenced prairie farming

The Bell Farm, managed by Major R.W. Bell, was founded near Indian Head by the Qu’Appelle Valley Farming Co. in 1882. It failed to make a profit despite large expenditures on buildings, machinery and livestock on the fifty-thousand-plus acre holding. After a series of poor harvests and marketing difficulties, the farm was dissolved in 1889. The round stone barn on the main farmstead is now a protected heritage building

Lanark Place, near Abernethy, was the homestead of William R. Motherwell, am outspoken advocate of better methods of dryland-farming in the early 1900s. He became provincial minister of agriculture, then federal. His original farmstead, with its two-storey stone house is now a heritage site

Seager Wheeler house.
Seager Wheeler farm, a national heritage site near Rosthern. Photo by Judy Buckle, August 2019.

Seager Wheeler was a science-minded homesteader who began selecting and breeding strains fruits and strains of wheat suited to the prairies in 1904. He was proclaimed World Wheat Champion at a New York exhibition in 1911 and several years thereafter for the grain he had grown at Maple Grove Farm, Rosthern. Wheeler also pioneered dryland techniques such as summer fallowing and planting shelter belts. His farm, restored to the way it was when he retired in 1919, is a designated national heritage site.

Robert Caswell’s Royal Stock Farm at Saskatoon, with its championship Clydesdale horses, Shorthorn cattle and cereal grains was acclaimed as one of the largest and most advanced mixed farming enterprises when he retired in 1923. Most of its land and farmstead are now part of the city.

The Matador Farming Pool near Kyle was the last of the co-op farms established by the Tommy Douglas CCF government after World War II. It was founded in 1946 by seventeen veterans who collectively worked on ten thousand acres, shared land and machinery, and lived communally. Despite restructuring in succeeding decades, it declined from a high point in the 1950s and was dissolved in 2011.

Copeland Seeds Ltd. at Elrose is owned and operated by William J. (Bill) Copeland and his son Bob. Bill was one of the first farmers to practice minimal cultivation and grow pulse crops in the Rosetown-Elrose district. The annual Copeland Prize in crop science at the U of S is named for him, as is CDC Copeland malting barley. 

Quark Farms near Mossbank is owned and operated by Dan Quark, a fourth-generation dryland farmer. He and his family grow a variety of grains, pulses and oilseeds using continuous cropping and minimal cultivation techniques on their sixteen-thousand–acre holding.

Aberhardt Farms near Langenburg is owned and operated by Terry Aberhardt– a third-generation dryland farmer — and his father Harvey. They practice crop rotation, continuous cropping and minimal cultivation, producing cereal grains, pulses and oilseeds on their fifteen thousand acres.

Prince Valley Farms is a midsized dryland farm in the North Battleford district. Experienced owner/operator Martin Prince successfully competes with larger farms using automation, data sensors and other high-tech means to produce and market a variety of grains efficiently. 

The Double Bar D farm at Grenfell is a mixed farm owned and operated by Richard Dimler and family. Starting in 1968 with 640 acres and seven heifers, the Dimlers expanded their farm to thirty thousand acres and one thousand purebred cattle.

[Bell Farm. Archer, Saskatchewan: A History, 72-3, bellfarm.ca; Lanark Place: . www.historicplaces.ca; Maple Grove: Wikipedia; Royal Stock Farm: R.W. Caswell Papers; www.matadorco-opfarm.ca; Copeland Seeds: www.sahf.ca; quarkfarms.net; aberhardtfarms, com; Prince Valley: farmlead.ca; doublebarfarms.com]

The dust bowl

Taming blowing soil

Farms in the arid Palliser Triangle of the south were most afflicted by blowing dust in the dirty thirties. Under the guidance of PFRA and their agricultural experts, farmers battled the dust and drought in these ways:

Crews were sent to farms to help dig deep, long dugouts to capture and hold spring runoff water for irrigation, domestic use, and watering livestock.

Communities banded together for “listing bees”, helping farmers dig deep furrows perpendicular to the wind. It helped prevent soil from drifting.

Farm horses were often weak and half-starved, and farm equipment was dilapidated and outdated, so equipment sometimes was supplied by the government.

Dams were built in creeks and streams to retain water for thirsty stock.

Farmers were encouraged to try strip farming, which the Metis had already done in the Batoche area, sort of. It was a system that gave more settlers access to waterways.

“Agricultural improvement stations” were established near experimental farm substations around the province. Led by successful farmers, they battled to prevent further desertification in the Palliser Triangle. 

Farmers used “trash-cover cultivation” (spreading layers of plant material on the dry soil).

They planted “cover crops” when they could. One variety of grass, crested wheatgrass, seemed to take root in the arid conditions. This grass was planted as a soil stabilizer, and on community pastures as livestock forage.

Tree-planting associations were formed to plant shelter-belts to prevent the soil from blowing away.

[Gray, Men Against the Desert, chapter 6, and other sources]

New cultivation techniques and crop varieties

The short growing season here made necessary innovations in techniques and equipment that better suited the prairie climate, boosted yields and reduced catastrophes caused by drought and early frosts.

Angus Mackay, first director of the Dominion Experimental Farm at Indian Head, promoted the practice of summer-fallowing after the Metis resistance in !885. He had observed that cultivated land that settlers, working as freighters for government troops, left unplanted that year produced above average crops in 1886. 

Dr. Charles E. Saunders, cereals scientist with the Experimental Farm Service in Ottawa in 1907, had Marquis wheat—an early maturing variety he had developed—grown for seed at the Indian Head Experimental Farm. By 1920, Marquis accounted for more than 90 percent of wheat grown on the prairies. The son of Dr. William Saunders, director of Experimental Farms, Charles won a prize of $1,000 in gold from the CPR for the “best wheat variety in Canada.”

Belgian immigrants Gaston and Georges Pootmans set up a model farm north of Regina. He experimented with wheat seeds, taught farmers how to use trees effectively, and raised Belgian horses. Gaston became acting Belgian Vice-Consul in 1918.

Dr. W. P. Thompson, a geneticist in the biology department at the U of S in the 1920s, developed some of the first strains of rust resistant wheat. He later served (1946 to 1959) as president of the university.

Dr. Don Rennie, a U of S soil scientist from 1965 to the 1980s, showed that reduced tillage, new seeding techniques, the use of fertilizers, and herbal weed control were better for prairie soils than summer-fallowing.

Dr. Keith Downey, a U of S plant breeder known as the “father of canola”, produced an edible canola in the 1960s — a valuable crop that now gilds prairie fields and hillsides with almost iridescent yellows.

Dr. Al Slinkard, the “lentils prophet”, with the U of S Crop Development Centre (CDC) developed varieties of lentils and other high protein pulse crops in the 1980s as suitable alternatives to cereal grains on the prairies.

Dr. Bryan Harvey and a team of crop scientists at the U of S developed Harrington malting barley in the 1980s, comprising over half of the malting barley grown in western Canada until 2002.

[Harvey: www.probreeder.com/malting barley varieties. Pootmans: Drake, Regina: The Queen City, 178. Rennie: Saunders, Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan. McKay: Thompson, Canadian Encyclopedia. Other sources: Green & White spring 2015; spring 2014; Arts & Science Magazine; Century of Innovations website, U of S]

Holy cow!

New technological wizardry – even drones and robots

Steam-powered tractor at Western Development Museum
Steam-powered tractor at Western Development Museum in Saskatoon

We’ve come a long way since sickles and scythes were used in homesteading days. Titanic steam-driven tractors made their appearance in 1917, followed by gas-guzzling ones, and finally cheaper diesel-powered combines in 1931. Now they are computerized and air-conditioned.

In 1926 there were only only 148 combines in Saskatchewan. These mighty crop-gobbling machines were first introduced to Canadian farming by the Massey-Harris Company. Ever since, they have crawled across prairie fields like fearsome dragons, except now they are computerized too.

Where once human labour produced stooks of hay and straw, now modern balers roll it all up neatly in large cylindrical bales, often left to dry in the autumn sun before they are scooped up for use on the farm.

Nowadays, drones fly over crops and identify stricken areas in fields that need more water or pesticides.

In the dairy industry, automated milking machines lessen the daily toil of dairy workers astronomically. Cows can activate them themselves, we’re told.

“Animal activity trackers” notify farmers when a cow is feeling frisky, so to speak, so they know when is the best time for breeding.

A smart device called the Moocall, from its vantage point attached to a pregnant cow’s tail – when her time comes – measures contractions of her womb and texts a message to the farmer informing him of the imminent blessed event.

Robotic manure scrapers keep the aisles clean behind animal stalls.

There are even artificial teats so calves can nurse from a faux mommy in the fields. Whether they are used in Saskatchewan is another question.

[Combines: Archer, 103; internet sources. Robots and drones: Emma van Steekelenburg, ” “From Drones to Robots …”, The Sheaf, 21 March 2019. Udders: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SYrpPIddOSo&vl=en]


Small-scale agriculture

While most agro operations here are vast grain farms and ranches directed at national and international markets, a potpourri of small-scale farms in the province sells directly to local markets:

Worm farms, such as those in Regina, Saskatoon and Moose Jaw that grow “Red Wigglers” for vermi-composting bins.

Mushroom farms, especially the one near Regina that sells oyster mushrooms grown in beds of wheat and barley straw directly to local restaurants and at farmers’ markets.

Urban beekeeping, including hives atop buildings on Broadway Avenue and on the university campus in Saskatoon, supplying honey to local eateries.

Backyard chicken farms, such as those of Saskatoon, Prince Albert and Wishart residents who kept three or four chickens in their yards as pets – until forced to stop by local councils.

Community gardens on vacant lots and public property in the cities, where residents (usually apartment and condo dwellers) grow vegetables for their own use or food banks.

Commercial orchards where mostly apples and several berries grow in more than a dozen orchards throughout the province, and are sold on a U-pick basis, and in bulk on site or at farmers’ markets.

Fish farms, like those at Big River and Lake Diefenbaker that raise trout, steelheads and other fish to sell as hatchlings for “seedling” ponds, dugouts and lakes, as well as fresh adult fish to restaurants and individual consumers.

Rooftop vegetable gardens, which in Saskatoon include one in a private garage and two buildings on campus, are grown for ecological benefits in an urban setting, in addition to the food they produce. They prove that unusual spaces can be used by apartment and condo dwellers.

Hydroponic farms, including those at Regina and Saskatoon (university campus) that grow herbs and vegetables by hanging seedlings in tanks containing whirlpools of nutrient soups.

Commercial greenhouses, mostly near cities where vegetables, fruit and flowers are nurtured in climate-controlled enclosures and sold as fresh produce on site or in stores or nurseries.

Vacation farms such as some as some twenty rural B&Bs and farm animal petting zoos, where city folk wishing to sample farm life boost the economy with their cash.

Marijuana grow-ops, now legal.

Home on the Range

Some fabled early ranches

Many early ranchers based in the U.S. drove cattle across the border to feast on our virgin grasslands. But the killer winter of 1906-7 wiped out vast herds, forcing many American cattlemen to vamoose. Weather didn’t stop our hardy Canadian ranchers though — hundreds of ranches still thrive here.

Exotic-looking Michel Oxarart, “the Basque,” who had worked at the Kohr ranch  in Montana, was said to be the first to homestead in the Maple Creek area in 1883. His ten thousand-acre ranch, “The Pyrenees,” became an epicentre for horse-breeding in the province. A connoisseur of thoroughbred horses, he was also an habituέ of the racing circuit.

After the NWMP post at Fort Walsh was closed in 1883, the force set up its Remount Ranch there, to raise their famous strutting black horses – like those later used in the Musical Ride. It is now a national historic site.

Rancher Jim Smart was one of the first ranchers to set up at Saskatchewan Landing north of the fledgling town of Swift Current; he was renowned for his struggles against invading farmers and their fences. He spotted an ad placed by Sir John Lister-Kaye in a British newspaper in 1885, calling for someone to bring men to Canada. He got the job and helped start the famous 76 ranch.  After that, he got his own ranch near Saskatchewan Landing, married, and their home ranch became an oasis, both socially and geographically, as it was close to the South Saskatchewan River’s fast-flowing water.

The first “76” ranch empire in Canada was founded by wealthy Englishman Sir John Lister Kaye, who organized the Canadian Agricultural, Coal and Colonization Company. In 1888 the company bought ten ten-thousand-acre spreads along the CPR line from the feds, and the Canadian property of the Powder River Cattle Company of Wyoming, which owned the 76 brand. Later D.H. Andrew took over, retaining only the Swift Current, Gull Lake, Crane Lake, and Stair ranches.

In 1910 Gordon, Ironside and Fares assembled parts of three large ranches along the Frenchman / Whitemud River, and called the new operation the 50 Mile Ranch.

A leggy giant at six foot six, John Roscoe (“Legs”) Lair was a Scot hailing from Texas, who stayed on site managing the renowned Matador Ranch, owned by Texans. When they left in 1922, he bought his own ranch. He inspired a folklore of vivid tales about his American version of “riding to hounds”, chasing coyotes on horseback with his pack of dogs and like-minded friends who revelled in the chase.

Another rancher who relied on his clever dogs, W.H. (Bill) Martin, had a fifty-five-section sheep ranch near Maple Creek where his whistle-trained collies herded his sheep. The dogs displayed their skills at agricultural exhibitions in Madison Square Gardens in New York and the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto, where they wowed appreciative crowds.  

The famous Matador Ranch started in Texas but, like many other ranching operations, moved north looking for fresh grass for their cattle to munch on and bought a hundred thousand acres north of Swift Current in 1903.

In 1904 Conrad Price of Fort Benton, Montana, set up the Conrad Price Cattle Company ranch on former “76” land near Maple Creek. They imported about two thousand Mexican heifers, and ten thousand longhorn steers from Nevada – but most perished in the winter of 1906-07. The ranch was shut down in 1909.

The Alexander Small family arrived in ranch country by railway in 1882, and first lived in a box car. Later their sons Billy and Johnny stayed in a tent inside an unfinished log cabin. The Small family ranch was later run by Reginald Small, a grandson who raised sheep in the 1930s but reverted to cattle later. 

Early rancher W.T. “Horseshoe” Smith set up his enormous ranch near Leader to escape horse rustlers who had plagued his Montana ranch. At one time he had twenty-two thousand head of cattle, and ten thousand sheep. His well-known Smith Barn, built in 1914 and demolished in 1921, was one of the biggest barns in North America.

The Turkey Track Ranch at Wood Mountain once ran twenty-five thousand cattle, but half perished in the winter of 1906-7. Owner Tony Day, despairing over the losses and the influx of farmers, sold it in 1909 to Gordon, Ironside and Fares, a huge company with vast tentacles across the prairies.

The WP Ranch was launched by the Pollock brothers – William, George, Sol, and Robert – who arrived at Maple Creek from Nevada in 1883 with a herd of horses. One of their ranch hands, William Small, took over the WP around 1900, expanded it and focused on breeding horses.

[Oxarart: Our Pioneers; Maple Creek Museum panel, Donny White, The Advance 30 Aug 2015. The 76: Donny White, email December 2018; albertarecord.ca, Spencer, Lands, Brands & Hands of the 76 Ranch. Gordon, Ironside & Fares: Spencer, 19. Lair: M.W. Campbell, The Saskatchewan, 267-8. Martin: Campbell, 268-9. Price: Our Pioneers (the Maple Creek community history) viii. Small family: White, “Our People….”, Gull Lake Advance 3 September 2014; Smart: M.W. Campbell, 266. Matador: Graber, The Last Roundup; Turkey Track: Poitier: Wood Mountain Uplands, 98; WP Ranch: White, “Our People….”, Gull Lake Advance 3 September 2014 and other articles ]


Celebrated old-time cowboys and ranchers chronicled in cowboy lore

Trefflέ Bonneau of Willow Bunch canned buffalo meat, ranched near Vancouver, worked in lumber camps, and lost an arm. He returned to Bonneauville, ran a store, wed a mail-order bride and had ten children. They moved to Willow Bunch and built up a vast estate, but in the 1930s his renters couldn’t pay, and his empire crumbled. 

Author Wallace Stegner made the name “Slippers” famous in his book Wolf Willow, although he didn’t reveal the man’s real name. Slippers was a Texas cowhand who settled at Eastend, range riding for the Circle Diamond, T-Down and Turkey-Track Ranches. As the story goes, he earned his nickname because he lost all his money gambling at a brothel, and the madam let him stay the night if he forfeited his boots and hat. He returned home wearing slippers, and the name stuck.

A zany but disgruntled rancher at the Matador ranch, James Barnet Henson, left a will in 1919 demanding that proceeds from the sale of his land be used to exterminate “that class of vermin commonly known as farmers.” He also directed that his goods and chattels be sold to buy insect powder and soap, for another cowboy whose standards of personal hygiene he deplored.  

cowboy author Will James
Cowboy, author and illustrator Will James, who came to Saskatchewan from Montreal early in the 20th century, and learned to be a cowboy. – Photo NA-862 from Glenbow Archives, Calgary.

Cowboy Will James of Montreal, alias Ernest Dufault, came west from Montreal as a teenager and learned cowboying in Saskatchewan, working on one of the famous “76” ranches. When he ran afoul of the law, he fled across the border to the U.S. where he achieved fame as an author of such books as Smoky the Cowhorse.

“Scots Metis” Harry Hourie, younger brother of Big Tom Hourie to whom Louis Riel turned himself in, was a renowned bronco-buster who often won at rodeos. Some seven hundred horses and three hundred cattle roamed his own ranch near Wood Mountain. It is said he once rode his horse into a bar, predating the Calgary Stampeders’ custom of riding horses through bars during Grey Cup.

Another famous cowpoke was Harold (Corky) Jones, who came to the Maple Creek area in 1898. He rambled around the ranges at Eastend, worked at the WP ranch, took part in vast roundups of the 76, and battled prairie fires. In 1902 he and Harry A. Crawford ran a ranch at Chimney Coulee where the first Mountie police post had been.  But Corky Jones was better known as a fossil collector.

There was ranching in the north too. The Cyprian Morin family ranched in the Meadow Lake area in 1873, and more cattlemen arrived from 1909 to 1925. (That family sent twenty-four sons off to fight in World War I!) There was enough of a cowboy presence for a stampede there as early as 1920.

William Hall Ogle was an affluent British gent who came to Cannington Manor seeking adventure, but moved on to Wood Mountain. As a greenhorn, he reportedly astonished onlookers by riding a killer bronco on a wild one-hour gallop, until the horse got tuckered out. Ogle married a Sioux, and by 1889 owned a ranch near the Frenchman River. Once he tracked down stolen horses in the U.S. and unmasked a rustling ring. Ogle sired a dynasty of cowboys at Wood Mountain.

In November 1906 American Harry Otterson rode with his shivering wife by buggy in brutal cold from the Bloom Cattle Company ranch in Montana to work at its T-Down Bar Ranch near Eastend. “You picked a fine time to immigrate, Harry” might have been his wife’s refrain that terrible year. His account of their frigid trek across blizzard-blown southwestern Saskatchewan must have impressed Wallace Stegner, who wrote about that winter in Wolf Willow. Later Otterson managed the 50 Mile Ranch, and some say he later had his own.

D.J. Wylie of Maple Creek was a “charming Englishman” who returned to England with Sir John Lister-Kaye to convince investors to pony up for a huge ranching company, and they succeeded. Wylie himself purchased the ranch formerly owned by Michel Oxarart, and became MLA for Maple Creek in 1905.

Bonneau: Poplar Poles and Wagon Trails, 328-30. Slippers: The Best of Billy Bock, Stegner: Wolf Willow. Henson: University of Saskatchewan Archives & Special Collections; On Campus News 19 Feb 1999. James: Millar, Saskatchewan Heroes & Rogues. Jones: Range Riders and Sod Busters, McCourt, Saskatchewan, 63. Morin: Meadow Lake community history. Ogle: www.cowboycountrymagazine.com. Otterson: Otterson manuscript, Sask. Archives. Wylie: McGowan, Grassland Settlers, 60, 135]

Raising critters

Unusual livestock raised in Saskatchewan

Animals other than cattle and hogs are still raised here for meat, dairy, wool or fur. For many, breeding associations exist in the province to promote raising high-quality purebred stock. Others might just be for their novelty. 

At hunting farms, game animals are kept as sport for hunters. There are some half-dozen high-fenced game enclosures in the south, and some in the north. In 2018 there were 175 game farms with animals such as elk, whitetail deer, reindeer, fallow deer, and mule deer.

Buffalo being raised in southern Saskatchewan. Photo by Alistair Mirrlees.

Buffalo once filled the landscape, but now they are carefully husbanded. The Saskatchewan Bison Association (SBA) formed in 1991, keeps track of their numbers, health, safety of their meat, research on them, and commercial aspects. In 2016 there were 303 producers in Saskatchewan raising bison. Hundreds of others roam free in the protected reserve at Grasslands National Park.

Tame rabbits are raised in “rabbitries”, some for their fur, some for their meat and hides, and some as pets. They tend to be located in or near cities. (Wild ones seen hopping around city lawns and gardens annoy groundskeepers and gardeners no end, but children and animal lovers think they are cute.)

When fur coats were status symbols, mink used to be lucrative. But by 2012 there were zero mink farms in Saskatchewan. Who knew then that fur would become politically incorrect, with help from animal activists like Brigitte Bardot? 

Fox ranches used to flourish here, such as the silver fox ranch run by S. Parrot near Saskatoon. It shipped 600 fox pelts every season, plus some mink skins. The Saskatchewan Trappers Association reported only two fox farms in operation here in 2012.

Alpaca wool makes lovely soft sweaters, and alpacas are cute. To keep the species pure, the Saskatchewan Alpaca Breeders Network boasts thirty-six breeders, and there’s an alpaca wool association. In 2016 there were 2,766 llamas and alpacas on 450 Saskatchewan farms.

Llamas are also raised here, although they aren’t as cute, and they spit. Still, one sold at auction for $40,000 in 2002! There are claims they can even herd sheep. There is a Canadian association for them.

When you think about goats, you think of Switzerland or Greece. But we raise ‘em here too, although some say ornery goats with attitude can be a trial. Here, apparently, it’s mainly about the meat. In 2011, 460 farms in Saskatchewan were raising 10,480 goats.

Saskatchewan ranks fourth in Canada as a sheep-producing province. Sheep ranchers, despised by cattlemen, proliferated in the Maple Creek area around 1900. By 1901 the ratio of sheep to cattle in Assiniboia West was bigger than anywhere else in the then Territories. In 1934 their numbers peaked at 381,000, but by 2016 there were still 110,000 sheep here, grown on 871 farms.

In 2018 at least one enterprise, Lazy Plum Farm of Shell Lake in the boreal forest, was raising Tibetan yaks, along with other winter-hardy stock such as exotic breeds of sheep, horses and pigs.

[Buffalo: www.canadianbison.ca. Goats: Natascia Lypny, Regina Leader-Post, 25 July 2016. Foxes: finalnail.com, StarPhoenix 27 December 1941. Alpacas: www.sabn.net; www.statcan. Llamas;  www.llamacanada.com. Sheep: Statistics Canada Census of Agriculture; breeders’ association websites; LaDow, The Medicine Line, 117; Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan. Yaks: StarPhoenix 13 December 2108; www.lazyplum.org]