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:
Indian family starting to
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.
grindstone, one auger and one chest of ordinary carpenter tools.
Four oxen, one bull and six cows; one boar and two sows.
carts with iron bushings and tires.
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:
Be male and at least eighteen years old (except widows with dependent children).
Make official entry on a 160-acre “quarter” section designated
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.
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.
How early settlers overcame natural scourges and some pretty lame tools
Sowing seeds by hand.
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.
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.
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 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 Farmsis 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
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]
New technological wizardry – even drones and robots
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.
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:
farms, such as those in Regina, Saskatoon and Moose Jaw that grow “Red
Wigglers” for vermi-composting bins.
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’
beekeeping, including hives atop buildings on Broadway Avenue and on the
university campus in Saskatoon, supplying honey to local eateries.
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.
gardens on vacant lots and public property in the cities, where residents
(usually apartment and condo dwellers) grow vegetables for their own use or
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.
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
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 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]
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 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]
Historians love to debate what came first. Firsts are notoriously difficult to verify, but here’s what we found:
Henry Kelsey was the first white man to enter what is now Saskatchewan, in 1691.
In 1739, Brothers François and Louis-Joseph de La Vérendrye were the first Europeans to cross the northern prairies and reach the Rocky Mountains.
It is believed the first wheat planted here was in the 1750s, at Fort a La Corne in the Carrot River Valley.
The first permanent white settlement was at Cumberland House in 1774.
St. John the Baptist church, established at Ile a la Crosse in 1846, was the first Catholic church, and Holy Trinity was the first Anglican church, built at Stanley Mission, La Ronge, in 1853.
The first telegraph office in the then NWT was erected in 1878 at Humboldt (since the railroad line was expected to go along the more northerly Yellowhead route to Edmonton).
In August 1878, the Saskatchewan Herald, first newspaper in the territories, was founded at Battleford by Patrick Gammie Laurie.
The first lieutenant governor was A.E. Forget, and Walter Scott was the first premier, 1905.
It was claimed that Gerald Spring Rice of Regina brought in the province’s first “horseless carriage”, a noisy, unpredictable novelty, but the author didn’t say when or what. The first auto in Saskatoon might have been one brought by A.J.E. Sumner in 1903.
1911: Regina and Moose Jaw got electric street railway systems. In 1913 Saskatoon did too.
In April 1920 Roland Groome became Canada’s first licensed commercial pilot and aviation engineer. In World War I he served with Britain’s Royal Flying Corps as a flying instructor.
Regina’s first radio station was CKCK, which first broadcast in Regina, July 1922. Saskatoon’s was CFQC, established in 1923.
The first Rhodes Scholar in Sskatchewan is said to be Austen Bothwell, who led in formering a branch of the Canadian authors Association in 1925.
In 1954 the first major oilfields were discovered in the southwest, and the first television broadcasts hit the airwaves, from CKCK Regina and CFQC Saskatoon.
Trailblazers other than politicians
Nellie Carson of Saskatoon was said to be the first woman pilot in Saskatchewan, the ninth in Canada. On June 8, 1931 she set a record for altitude gained by a woman — around 16,000 feet.
Lydia Gruchy was the first woman ordained as a United Church minister in the province, in 1916. She was also the first woman in Canada to be awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity, in 1953.
The book Prairie Pot-pourri by pioneering journalist Kate Simpson Hayes was said to be the first “regional fiction” book published in the province.
First female chief of a First Nation was Alphonsine Mary Lafond, who also chaired the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations senate.
Ethel MacLachlan of Regina was the first juvenile court judge and first female judge in the province, even though she was a teacher, not a lawyer.
Nan McKay graduated from the U of S in 1915, first Metis and Aboriginal woman to do so.
Delia Opekekow became the first Aboriginal lawyer in Saskatchewan and Ontario. She graduated from Osgoode Hall, Cambridge and Harvard, and specialized in treaty rights.
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond of the Muskeg first Nation was the first Aboriginal judge in Saskatchewan.
[Hayes: Drake, Regina: The Queen City, 90. Miller: Green & White, fall 2004, 15-17. McLachlan: Waiser, Saskatchewan: A New History, 240]
Important mileposts in our history
1670: Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) was formed to purchase and market Canada’s immense riches in fur.
1821: The HBC and North-West Company merged.
1869: The HBC signed over Rupert’s Land to the Dominion of Canada.
1870: North-West Territories were transferred to Canada, and the first lieutenant governor appointed.
1874: The newly-minted North West Mounted Police marched west. Its first posts in what is now Saskatchewan were at Fort Pelly, and later Fort Walsh.
1874: Fort Livingstone became the temporary provincial capital until 1876. The international boundary was being surveyed.
1877: The NWT capital was transferred to Battleford, and Sitting Bull joined some 5,000 Dakota Sioux who had fled to Wood Mountain after the Battle of the Little Big Horn.
1882: The NWT were divided into four districts: Assiniboia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Athabasca.
July 1882: The new CPR line under construction reached Moosomin, where John Lake and his party landed on their way to found the city of Saskatoon. Moose Jaw was founded that year too.
1883: The NWT legislative building was erected at Regina. The CPR line crossed Assiniboia and reached Calgary.
1883: The CPR chose the site for Moose Jaw as a railway depot, and built facilities there. It reached Regina November 7.
1885: North-West Resistance (Riel Rebellion) ended with the hanging of Louis Riel and several Indigenous men. Most of the latter did not have legal counsel.
1905: The new province of Saskatchewan was born.
1911: Saskatchewan had the third largest provincial population.
October 12, 1916: Female British subjects got the vote in provincial and municipal elections.
December 31, 1916: Prohibition was enacted.
1917: Saskatchewan Provincial Police was formed.
1940: British Commonwealth Air Training Plan bases were set up to train Commonwealth air crew.
1944: In a landslide election, Tommy Douglas’s Co-operative Commonwealth Foundation (CCF) assumed the reins of provincial government, becoming the first social democratic government on the continent. The CCF later became the NDP.
1946: Saskatchewan Transportation Company was formed, a government-owned
bus company. It was axed in 2017.
1947: A publicly-funded hospitalization plan was implemented in Saskatchewan, the first province to introduce such a program, which was later copied by the rest of the country..
1948: The Saskatchewan Arts Board
was founded, the first in North America. It propelled the advance of art,
literature and other creative activities in the province.
1949: The process of rural electrification began.
1951: The new Cobalt-60 bomb at
the U of S became a high-tech treatment for cancer tumours.
1952: An outbreak of polio attacked
masses of Saskatchewan people, leaving many crippled for life. Eldorado Mining and
Refining Limited began mining uranium in northern Saskatchewan.
1954: Television arrived like a
meteor in the province, with CFQC and CKCK the first to broadcast in the new
medium. Saskatoon’s George Genereux won an Olympic medal for trapshooting at
the Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. Golfer Pat Fletcher won the Canadian Open.
1954: “Scramble lights” for pedestrians at important intersections were being tested in Saskatoon. These lights permitted pedestrians to cross the intersection every which way, including kittycorner. They lasted for some decades.
1955: The new University Hospital
(now RUH) opened in Saskatoon. The province celebrated its golden jubilee with
1957: The Saskatchewan section of the Trans-Canada highway was
completed. Progressive Conservative John Diefenbaker
became prime minister.
1959: Queen Elizabeth II and Prince
Philip came to Saskatchewan. The South Saskatchewan River Dam project near
Elbow was launched, promising life-giving water to much of the arid Palliser
1960: The precious right to vote
was finally given to “Treaty Indians.” Western Canada’s first steel mill,
IPSCO, was established in Regina.
1962: Medicare was implemented under Premier Woodrow Lloyd. A potash mine at Esterhazy began digging up potash; underground
flooding led to an innovation called the Blairmore Ring, which revolutionized
1963: The first buildings of the new University of Regina campus started to take shape near Wascana Lake.
1964: Electrons first raced
through the world’s biggest linear accelerator located at the U of S, an early
step on the path toward the Canadian Light Source Synchrotron, which has dazzling
benefits for health and other research.
1965: The province rejoiced as the U of S opened the new Western College of Veterinary Medicine. No longer would aspiring vets have to move to Guelph for their training.
1966: Regina’s Globe Theatre was
born. The Saskatchewan Roughriders defeated the Ottawa Roughriders to win the Grey
Cup. They won again in 1989 against the Hamilton Tiger Cats, in 2007 against
the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, and in 2013 against the Tiger Cats again.
1967: Canada’s centennial sparked
an explosion of activity in the province. The South Saskatchewan River dam project
was completed, irrigating a vast swath swath of dryland, and bringing water to
1970: Regina’s Saskatchewan Centre
of the Arts, now the Connexus Centre, was opened to much fanfare.
1971: The Canada Winter Games took
place in Saskatoon, with the ski component held at the man-made “mountain,”
1972, The Saskatchewan Indian Cultural
College was established as the teaching facility of the Federation of
1974: The government came up with
a free dental care plan for children. Regina campus became a separate institution,
the University of Regina.
1975: Saskatchewan brought in a
prescription drug plan. The Saskatoon Farmers Market was inaugurated.
1976: Sherwood Credit Union in
Regina implemented one of our handiest systems – the first automated teller machine
1977: Western Canada’s first “research
park”, Innovation Place, was inaugurated at the university in Saskatoon.
1981: Saskatoon’s Folkfest was incorporated,
and is still a popular annual multi-cultural festival.
1982: The Federation of
Saskatchewan Indian Nations, comprised of band chiefs, became the first Indigenous
1983: Our population reached one
1984: The government began to
subsidize the Crow’s Nest Pass Agreement, first enacted in 1899. When it was
axed in1995, gain transport costs soared.
1989: Swift Current Pioneer Co-op
lived up to its name and pioneered the handy new debit card.
1990: Ramon Hnatyshyn became
Canada’s first Ukrainian governor-general of Canada. He was also a senator.
1991: Saskatchewan’s first Imax
theatre opened at the Saskatchewan Science Centre in Regina.
1992: Wanuskewin Heritage Park opened
as an interpretive centre just outside Saskatoon. Previously it mostly been the
domain of long-ago Indigenous people, and inquisitive archaeologists and
anthropologists. The federal and provincial governments and twenty-five First Nations
bands signed the long-awaited Treaty Land Entitlement agreement to honour unfulfilled
1994: Remains of “Scotty,” the
famous T-Rex dinosaur, were unearthed at Eastend.
1995: Internet service came to
Saskatchewan, courtesy of SaskTel.
1997: Former members of the PC and
Liberal parties united to form the new Saskatchewan Party.
2002: Catriona LeMay Doan, and Haley
Wickenheiser of Shaunavon and her team won Olympic gold at Salt Lake City,
along with some hockey players. Wickenheiser and her team won again in 2006,
2010, and 2014.
2004: The revolutionary Canadian Light
Source Synchrotron came to fruition on the U of S campus. Corner Gas, the blockbuster prairie
sitcom created by Saskatchewan comic Brent Butt, was launched. It lasted until
2009. It spawned a feature film and an animated version with characters the
spitting image of the originals.
2005: Saskatchewan celebrated its
2007: Saskatoon hosted the Juno
Awards. The Remai Art Centre, home of Persephone Theatre, opened. Now it is
known as the Remai Modern Art gallery. But Saskatoon came second last of
fifteen in a politeness survey conducted by Reader’s Digest.
2008: An American-based company,
Site Selection Company, rated Saskatoon as one of the best places to live in
2012: Regina scored amongst the
top five best places to live in Canada, in Moneysense Magazine’s list
ranking 190 Canadian cities. But that year Stats Canada said Regina and Saskatoon
experienced the country’s highest number of murders.
2016: The Rush, Saskatoon’s pro
lacrosse team, won the NLL championship. They did it again in 2018. In August, Clayton
Boushie was fatally shot in a farmyard, and the verdict outraged many. A bus carrying Humboldt Broncos hockey players
collided with a transport bus near Armley, Sask., killing sixteen on the bus, and
injuring thirteen. It was a national tragedy.
2017: The Moose Jaw Times-Herald announced it would close, after 125 years of publicstion. Saskatchewan Transportation Company (STC) public bus line closed down, along with many other services, leading to public outrage. StarPhoenix columnist Doug Cuthand won an indigenous media award.
2018: Greyhound Bus Lines, after
the closure of STC, also shut down in western Canada – leaving a yawning transportation
gap. Our comfortable old department store, Sears Canada, folded. The
Saskatchewan Aviation Museum and Learning Centre opened in May near the
Saskatoon Airport offering educational classes, exhibition flights, flight
simulators and replicas of vintage planes.
2019: After mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, police addressed a packed house in March at a Regina mosque. In Saskatoon, Muslims and non-Muslims also crowded into a mosque, where dignitaries of all stripes voiced heartfelt sympathy and shock at the atrocity. On July 10, protesters outside the Bessborough Hotel railed about lack of government action to address climate change, while inside the hotel premiers gathered for a historic conference.
[Saskatchewan government timeline online; Saskatchewan History Centennial Timelineby Ruth Bittner and Christa Nicholat, WDM, 2005; newspaper accounts. This is a skeleton list only; consult our sources for more landmark events.]
While most arable land in the province was taken up by individual homesteaders, chartered companies recruited specific kinds of settlers in pursuit of their vision:
The York Farmers Colonization Co. (1882): Toronto-based James Armstrong, managing director, advertised for “experienced and thrifty farmers” from Ontario and other parts of the Dominion, and “first-class tenant farmers from the Old country” to settle in what is now the Yorkton area.
Cannington Manor Co.(1882): Founded by Englishman Captain Edward M. Pierce, who came to this area when there were already some settlers. He founded a remarkable colony, bringing in scions of wealthy British families to learn to farm. He built a mansion (now gone) and the young patricians enjoyed grand balls, gambling parties, hunting, polo and tennis. Although lackeys did the work, the lifestyle was not sustainable, and most of the bluebloods left for greener pastures.
Qu’Appelle Valley Farming Co. (1882) Toronto-based, directed by Major W.R. Bell, recruited settlers from eastern Canada and the USA. They ran their farms within a large tract near Indian Head, known as the Bell Farm, in a co-ordinated, factory-like system.
The Temperance Colonization Co. (1882): John N. Lake of Toronto, land commissioner, helped people primarily from Ontario, to settle in the Saskatoon area, to be “forever free of the accursed liquor traffic”.
Primitive Methodist Colonization Co.(1883), Toronto-based, led by Reverend W. Bee, helped adherents of this Wesleyan sect of Methodists from Ontario and Britain to settle in the Pheasant Forks area—north of Wolseley.
Scottish Crofters Resettlement Co. (1882), founded by philanthropist Lady Gordon Cathcart, who resettled poor families of landless share-croppers — then being forced off Scottish estates—in the Wapella area.
East London Artisans Colonization Co. (1884): Founded by British baroness Burdett-Coutts near Moosomin. As benefactress, the baroness resettled poor, unemployed working-class families from east London.
Rolanderie Farming and Stock Raising Co.(1885): Dr. R. Meyer of Alsace-Lorraine, a wealthy gentleman with grand ideas about agriculture, settled European nobles, including nine French counts and a Belgian baron, at St. Hubert near Whitewood to carry on their aristocratic way of life.
Saskatchewan Valley Land Co. (1902): Directed by Colonel A. E. Davidson based in Minnesota, the company helped Americans seeking affordable farmland to settle in a tract of land extending from the Craik area to Dundurn.
The Britannia Co. (1903): Founded by Englishman Reverend Isaac Barr, who settled a multitude of largely middle-class Britons and their families, wishing to “exchange the poverty of England for an estate in Canada”, in what is now the Lloydminster area.
[Cannington Manor: Beck, Pioneers of Cannington Manor. Temperance Colony: Kerr & Hanson, Saskatoon: the First Half-Century; others: John Archer, Saskatchewan: A History]
Promises, promises …
Promises (in a nutshell) “the Queen” made in 1876 to the Crees in Treaty Six, in return for surrender of their lands. Other treaties were similar. The trouble was, historians say, the government did not stick to its own promises.
“Reserves for farming lands” up to a square mile for each “Indian” family of five;
Each “Indian” man, woman and child would receive a gift of twelve dollars;
Schools would be provided if the indigenous people so wished;
No liquor would be allowed on the reserves or sold there;
The “Indians” could hunt and fish anywhere, with certain exceptions;
The government could appropriate sections of the reserves to put up buildings;
A census of “Indians” was to be taken soon after the treaty was concluded, and every year afterwards;
The Queen would spend $1500 every year for ammunition and twine;
Native families would receive certain agricultural implements and tools (all low-tech), seeds, oxen, cattle and pigs, to encourage them to farm.
Each chief would receive $25 per year and his “head men” would receive $15 each year, and a suit of clothing every three years, plus – on the “closing” of the treaty – a flag, a medal, and a horse, with harness and wagon.
Indian agents would receive $1,000 each spring to buy provisions for farmers on reserves;
Each Indian agent was to maintain a “medicine chest” (since interpreted as free Medicare) for the First Nations bands.
[The Treaties of Canada with the Indians of Manitoba and the North-West Territories…]
Clash sites in the Northwest Resistance of 1885
Duck Lake – March 26
Battleford – March 30-31
Frog Lake – April 2
Fort Pitt – April 14
Fish Creek – April 24
Cutknife Hill – May 2
Batoche – May 9-12
Frenchman’s Butte – May 28
Steele Narrows – July 2
[Howard, Strange Empire; Historical Atlas of Canada]
A wound that never healed
Why Metis and First Nations were disgruntled about government treatment
Lack of government aid to Metis settlers after a series of bad harvests.
The decision to build the CPR railway along a southern route instead of the planned northern route.
Some loss of Metis land titles in Manitoba.
Demand for recognition of Metis land in the Duck Lake area.
Adoption of an American survey system that rejected the Metis’ traditional strips of land extending perpendicular to the river, giving each farmer river frontage.
Primitive and inadequate farming equipment allotted to the Aboriginals under the treaties.
Miserly rations in a time of crisis caused by the disappearance of the buffalo.
Inadequate clothing supplied to the natives.
[Stonechild & Waiser, Loyal Till Death, 59; other sources]
Quirky facts in 1884
Curious things that happened during the Northwest Resistance
Surgeon Major Campbell Mellis Douglas (VC), who missed the steamer at Saskatchewan Landing, just happened to have brought along a folding canoe he invented. Passing the beleaguered Northcote en route, he silently paddled into Saskatoon to take up his medical duties tending the wounded there.
Among the wounded on the Northcote was Hugh John Macdonald, son of Prime Minister Sir John A. He was wounded at Fish Creek.
Telegraphy was a boon during the Northwest Resistance, as news reports flew over the wires in Morse code to eastern newspapers. Telegraphers call it the Victorian internet. The telegraph arrived in the battleford area in 1876.
The pilot on the Northcote at Batoche was John Segers, newly returned from a steamer expedition up the Nile in Egypt to rescue General Gordon at Khartoum. (They didn’t make it in time.) At Batoche, Segers lay on the floor of the vulnerable pilot-house to escape whizzing bullets and steered the wheel with his toes, as a crew member shouted directions to him from a lower deck.
William Robinson brought troops on a steamer down Lake Winnipeg to Selkirk at the end of the rebellion. He was another pilot on the abortive Nile expedition. After the 1885 conflict he had a successful business career involving sawmills, lumber and steamboats.
Colonel Arthur Williams – a nationally prominent figure – was a Member of Parliament for Durham East in Ontario. The Midland Battalion he had assembled in Ontario were devastated when their beloved commander died of typhoid fever on the Northcote, heading homeward to Grand Rapids.
Materials used to armour the barges that carried troops and supplies included barrels of provisions and sacks of flour. They were dubbed “flourclads” a pun on the word “ironclads,” steamers employed in the American civil war.
Three generals were involved in the 1885 resistance: the overall commander General Middleton, General Thomas Strange, and Major General John W. Laurie, who actually outranked Middleton but agreed to a subordinate position. Middleton received a knighthood and substantial pension for his efforts.
Ann Flora McKay, daughter of Joe McKay — the farm instructor at the Sweetgrass Reserve who had fled with his family down the river in 1885, married a Mountie named Joe McKay after hostilities were over.
Twins! During officers’ celebrations on board a steamer returning from the rebellion, two officers from different military units met each other and discovered they had the same last name. Incredibly, they realized they were twin brothers separated as children.
Imasees, warrior son of Big Bear, participated in the murders at Frog Lake, but he survived being hanged with other perpetrators by fleeing to Montana. A year later he went to Ottawa dressed like a chief, and far from being punished as a leading rebel, was greeted with fanfare. Go figure.
[Macdonald, Saskatchewan Herald, 11 May 1885. Segers: Saskatchewan Herald 18 May 1885 & other sources. telegraphy: McCourt, Saskatchewan, 149. Twin soldiers, Sask. History autumn 1955, 277. Imasees: Cameron, Blood Red the Sun]
Wet or dry
The Prohibition saga in Saskatchewan
1908: The provincial government adopted the Liquor Licencing Act, which regulated the days and hours when licenced bars and clubs could sell booze. It also let adult males vote by plebiscite whether to allow such outlets in their communities.
1911-14: Ban the Bar crusades led by activist groups such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union showed growing support for prohibition of liquor sales across the province.
1915: In the name of patriotism during the Great War, the legislature closed all private bars and clubs (by axing their licences) and set up government-run, off-sale liquor stores.
1916: A wartime plebiscite calling for prohibition, including the shut-down of government liquor stores, won majority support – much of it from women exercising their hard-won franchise.
1917: The feds issued an order-in-council under the War Measures Act, banning the sale of made-in-Saskatchewan liquor to other provinces and the USA.
1919: Federal wartime regulations were cut at war’s end, and provinces could again choose whether to be “wet” or “dry.”
1920: In a plebiscite, most Saskie voters again voted to remain dry.
1921: The provincial government adopted the Saskatchewan Temperance Act banning the production or sale of alcohol — except for medical, scientific or religious purposes.
1922-23: Police reports disclosed more stills producing taboo liquor in our province than anywhere else in the country, while bootlegging and rum-running were soaring.
1924: In another plebiscite, most voters approved a moderate wet option.
1925: The temperance act was axed, and liquor was again peddled through government-run stores. Licenced beer parlors were banned for another decade.
[Archer Saskatchewan: A History; Ken Dahl’s 1996 master’s thesis.]
Noteworthy characters in our history, whether you agree or not!
Inspector Walsh of the NWMP fed Sitting Bull and his starving Sioux who had fled canada after their triumph at the battle of the Little Big Horn. After most of the buffalo were slaughtered, food was scarce. Many of his men did likewise, from their own rations.
Cree Chief Big Bear, who refused to sign treaties sanctioning the transfer of their lands to the Crown, relegating them to reserves. He was holding out to see how treaty bands fared under the treaties, but was punished for his stand. In the end, starvation among his people forced him to capitulate.
John W. Foster of Ottawa, born in Abernethy, was recognized by the Chilean government for his humanitarian activism that helped thousands of Chileans fleeing the Pinochet dictatorship. With lobby groups in Toronto he pushed for federal support for the refugees to help them settle in Canada. At least 7,000 Chilean refugees came to Canada, many to Saskatchewan.
The learned Englishman Honorέ Jaxon (William Jackson) sided with the Metis in the North-West Resistance; in fact, he was Riel’s secretary. For the rest of his life he saved his irreplaceable papers about the resistance, until as a penniless old man living in New York he was ejected from rented rooms, and his cache of historic papers went to the city dump.
During the terrible Spanish Flu outbreak in 1918-19, Walter Murray, president of the U of S, imposed a quarantine on campus, sealing it off from the world and thus saving thousands of lives: only one person on campus died from the flu.
Father Claffey, an Irish priest, was in Rome during Nazi occupation in World War II. With a secret rescue group, he smuggled Allied fugitives into the Vatican or safe houses. That story was told in a book, The Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican, and a movie, The Scarlet and the Black, starring Gregory Peck. Father Claffey ended his days in a hostel at St. Paul’s Hospital, Saskatoon.
Peter Dmytruk, born in Radisson, was an RCAF flight sergeant in World War II. He was serving as rear gunner when his Lancaster bomber was shot down over France, but he survived. He worked with the French Resistance before being captured and executed by the Nazis. The French awarded him a posthumous Croix de Guerre, a street in a French town was named in his honour, and a monument was erected at the spot where he died.
Joan Bamford Fletcher of Regina, a member of the British FANY, was appointed by Supreme Allied Commander Mountbatten to lead some two thousand women and children out of a Japanese prison camp through the jungles of Sumatra, at the close of World War II.
Bud Pelton of Bushell rescued pilot Jimmy Price and his passengers after they crashed on the way to Uranium City in 1953. After he brought them in a dogsled to safety at Bushell, they were flown to Edmonton for hospital care. They lost limbs to frostbite but survived.
[Claffey: Millar, Saskatchewan Heroes & Rogues, 120-131. Ewen: Millar, 86-105; Ewen: China Nurse. Fletcher: Millar, 133-146. Foster: www.uregina (2017); Green & White; spring 2017, 40. Pelton: McIntyre, Uranium City: The Last Boom Town, 42-45]
Sworn to secrecy
Resistance fighters, intelligence agents and spies
Several Saskies worked for a British secret agency, the Special Operations Executive (SOE), which operated in Europe and the Far East during WWII. Others worked in North America for the British Security Coordination (BSC) run by Sir William Stephenson (Intrepid) whom Churchill and Roosevelt appointed to coordinate British wartime intelligence in the U.S.
One SOE agent was Jacques Taschereau, born in Humboldt. In 1944 he worked with the French Resistance, sabotaging trains, blowing up factories, and ambushing Nazi soldiers. In 1945 he was transferred to the Far East where he trained in jungle warfare at the SOE’s Eastern Warfare School. He parachuted into Burma with six other Canadians who worked with guerrillas to ambush Japanese soldiers crossing the mountains into Siam (Thailand).
Alleyre Sirois of Vonda and Saskatoon was another SOE agent, which recruited him because he spoke French fluently (albeit with a Canadian accent). After training in Whitby, Ontario, he did undercover work and sabotage in France but was betrayed by a stool pigeon. Luckily Sirois escaped to a safe house. On his return, he studied law and became a judge.
George Findlay Andrew, born in China but with roots in England, immigrated to Saskatoon in the 1950s. During WWII he had been SOE spymaster in Chongqing. For complicated reasons, by that time SOE could no longer conduct sabotage in China, so his people chiefly created false propaganda. But other countries in Asia were part of his mandate, and he dipped his fingers into spy capers in various countries.
Findlay’s son Leslie Andrew, who immigrated to Saskatoon after World War II, joined the SOE during World War II and was sent to India. It is likely that he trained at the Eastern Warfare School. As a European he could not blend into Asian crowds, but he trained others in espionage skills. On a repatriation ship from Hong Kong he had met and married a Saskatoon nurse who served in various theatres of war. After the war ended they were posted to Africa for a while, but returned to Saskatoon.
Benjamin De Forest Bayly, who grew up in Moose Jaw, was right hand man to Sir William Stephenson (known as Intrepid). Bayly was wartime Deputy Director of Communications at the international spy school, Camp X, between Whitby and and Oshawa, Ontario. Camp X was the secret Canadian base for Churchill and Roosevelt’s British Security Coordination (BSC) headed by Stephenson. An engineering whiz, Bayly perfected an unbreakable cipher machine, and a system for locating enemy subs. As a young man he might have attended the U of S, but apparently did not graduate from here. Before the war he moved to Toronto to study electrical engineering, and became a professor of engineering at the University of Toronto. In 1955 he resigned from the university to establish Bayly Engineering in Ajax, wherre he also became mayor.
Henry Nuett, the anti-Nazi German who escaped from prison camp in his homeland (chronicled below), was still in danger of being shot when he reached France, for the Resistance thought he was a Gestapo spy. But he convinced them he was anti-Nazi, and they inveigled him into the Resistance. His skills were prized: he translated German signs, documents and labels, helped identify rocket sites, tracked troop movements, and posed as a Nazi corporal to direct trains in the wrong direction. His basic military training in Germany helped him provide German weapons instruction. Then he worked for British Intelligence in Russia until 1948, but had to stop because the Russians knew he was a spy. After these many thrilling and dangerous wartime experiences he immigrated to Uranium City. Later he became a detective in Edmonton.
Patsey Sullivan grew up in Saskatoon, where her father taught at the first Saskatoon incarnation of the U of S. After living in Europe, she returned to study at the U of S about 1917. In 1941 she began working for the spy chief Intrepid at the BSC offices in New York.
Conrad O’Brien-ffrench (not a typo!) has been dubbed Saskatchewan’s James Bond. He was born an aristocrat in England, but he came to Canada where he joined the RNWMP and served at Maple Creek around 1910–12. Then he served in WWI, and dabbled in spy capers as a prisoner of war. Later he joined the British secret service as Agent Z3. While spying on the Nazis he met author Ian Fleming, leading to claims he inspired the Bond character.
On the home front, Emma Woikin was a Doukhobor farm woman who went to Ottawa and inadvertently, because of her Russian connections, became entangled in the Igor Gouzenko espionage trials that helped launch the Cold War. On her release from prison, she returned and worked in a Saskatoon law firm.
[Andrew: Findlay Andrew papers. Bayly: Ken Smith, “Mayor Pat Bayly”, municipal document, town of Ajax, 2001; Stafford, Camp X, and other documents. Dmytruk: Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan. Nuett: Harris & Taylor, Escape to Honor. O’Brien-ffrench: Saskatchewan History spring/summer 2013. Sullivan: Interview. Syrois: Green & White fall 2005. Taschereau: McLaren; cbc.ca/xcompany. Woikin: June Callwood, Emma]
Escapers and evaders
Saskies who escaped captivity (though some were recaptured)
During the Cypress Hills massacre, wolfers seized five native women and violated them – except for one, a teenager. Abe Farwell’s Indigenous wife grabbed a pistol, stomped over to Solomon’s fort, and demanded they release her.
During the 1885 Resistance Metis farm instructor Joe McKay and family fled from the Sweetgrass Reserve in a small boat with only their clothes, and almost no food. Subsisting in sub-zero weather on spruce gum and grease used for caulking, with their former captors in pursuit, after about three weeks they reached Prince Albert.
In 1885, William Bleasdell Cameron, author of Red Blood the Sun, escaped being killed at the Frog Lake Massacre dressed as a woman, with the help of a Woods Cree, Kinistatin, who smuggled him to the safety of Big Bear’s camp. Kinistatin had worked at the HBC store.
During World War I, Mervyn Simmons (originally from Buchanan, Sask.) was a downed pilot who escaped three times from German-run prison camps, only to be captured by the Kaiser’s army. On his fourth try, he made it across the border to Holland, and home. He narrated his story to Nellie McClung, and she wrote Three Times and Out about his experiences.
During World War II, Henry Beaudry, a grandson of Chief Poundmaker, was captured at Ravenna, Italy and taken to Stalag VIIA. He and a Mongolian from the Russian army escaped enroute to another camp. After the two endured intense cold and near starvation, sympathetic farmers smuggled them to an American base. After the war Beaudry resided on the Mosquito First Nation, where he painted scenes of prison camp conditions. He lived to be ninety-five.
Henry Nuett (born Hans Nutt) was a Social Democrat, German anti-Nazi who was imprisoned in a German concentration camp, Borgermoor-Emsland, where he lived in daily peril. In a breathtaking act of courage he broke free and ran twenty-four miles barefooted, with Nazi guards in pursuit. Ill-clad and half-starved, fording icy ditches and sleeping in haystacks, he threaded his way through Nazi-infested Germany, Holland, and Belgium, constantly in danger of being shot. In France his German accent made him a target, but finally he was accepted by the the French Resistance, and during the Cold War he worked for British Intelligence in the USSR. Later he reportedly worked in Uranium City as a butcher, ending up in Edmonton as a detective.
Three Saskie civilians were interned in Hong Kong, Morris (Two-Gun) Cohen, Gladys Andrew, and Leslie Andrew. Luckily, all of them were later repatriated to Canada aboard the Gripsholm in a prisoner exchange with Japan.
Cecil Merritt, commander of the South Saskatchewan Regiment, was captured at Dieppe with eighty-eight of his men. After leading them across a bridge under siege at Dieppe, he was captured and imprisoned at a camp in Bavaria. He and sixty-four fellow prisoners escaped through a tunnel in June 1943, but were caught.
RCAF pilot Ken Woodhouse of Prince Albert leapt out of his damaged Spitfire north of Paris in March 1944, and holed up in a haystack. A French trucker picked him up and took him to the Resistance, who guided him from one safe house to another, supplied him with fake ID, and shepherded him and twenty-six other evaders all the way to Bonaparte Beach, where they were boarded a fast boat to England.
Being part of an escape route like the Comet Line bonded its participants, both evaders and their helpers, for life. Woodhouse was one of four Saskatchewan members of the Royal Air Forces Escaping Society, Canadian branch. The others were E.A. Powell of Saskatoon, W.G. Dennstedt of Moosomin, and J.E. Harlton of Riverhurst.
[Andrew family: Findlay andrew papers. Beaudry: North Battleford News-Optimist, 9 Feb. 2016.Cameron: Stonechild and Waiser, Loyal Till Death, 112. Cohen: Millar, Saskatchewan Heroes & Rogues. Farwell’s wife: Savage, A Geography of Blood, 105. McKay family: Tolton, Prairie Warships, 116-122; Nuett: Collins andTaylor, Escape to Honor, 1985; Frances (Bergles) Daw, former Uranium City resident. Woodhouse: The Evaders, 258-262; Greenfield, The Forgotten; Lavender and Sheffe, The Evaders, 26, 96-112, 242]
If it could happen, it did
Early in 1904 the roof of a curling rink in Regina came crashing down. Luckily, the curling playoff scheduled for that day had been cancelled
The QLLS bridge in Saskatoon collapsed in 1904 and 1905 under the weight and force of annual ice breakups. The wooden bridge was reconstructed, with the same result, until finally concrete piers were erected. The ice breakup was an annual spectacle, as titanic blocks of ice crashed against each other. That ended when the Gardiner Dam was built.
A famous accident occurred in 1908 when a steamer crashed into the Victoria Bridge in Saskatoon. The wreck of the “City of Medicine Hat” June 7, 1908. was called “the greatest marine disaster in the history of Saskatoon.” The crew managed to scramble to safety, while a herd of cattle crossing the bridge stampeded. The accident heralded the demise of the steamboat era on the Saskatchewan River, because of the river’s shallow waters and shifting sandbars.
Around 1910 there was a Canadian Northern Railway train wreck near Hanley, so memorable a postcard was made of it.
Slumping on the east riverbank has plagued Saskatoon since early days. In 1929, the McCraney Slide along Saskatchewan Crescent wreaked havoc. It happened again in various places in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1990s, and often since 2000. In 2016 the riverbank near the University Bridge again collapsed, leaving a gaping hole big enough to park a bus.
In 1922, No. 4 (Exhibition) streetcar came down the Long Hill and missed a turn onto the Victoria Bridge in Saskatoon on March 3,1922. It plunged down the riverbank and crashed on the ice, but no one was killed.
A Canadian Northern passenger train jumped the tracks when leaving the railway yards in March 1912 and knocked out a span of the railway bridge. The sleeper car Kipling, crashed onto the river ice below and injured thirteen people.
In the 1930s, locomotive No. 5617 went off the rails in the railyards of Saskatoon. This crowd attests to the entertainment value of such an incident, even if it was only a tip-over.
Even streetcars went off the rails sometimes. A Mayfair-University streetcar was derailed at Avenue E and 25th Street on February 4, 1947. The car was of a type known as “puddle-jumpers.”
The Duncan Dam and Reservoir was a PFRA project completed in 1942, but ten years later spring runoff was such a threat an emergency spillway had to be built. But they had to scramble to block even that, after a spectacular washout in 1952.
In 1954 planes were zooming around above Moose Jaw. Pilot trainee Thomas Thorrat from Scotland went out for a spin in a Harvard jet, but didn’t see the Trans Canada “North Star” coming his way. Thorrat ploughed into the airliner, it exploded and split in two, and all thirty-five of its passengers perished. The tail of the airliner then crashed into a house below, killing one person, the housecleaner.
Within hours of its opening, the centre span of the newly-built Dyck Memorial Bridge collapsed in September 2018 and fell into the Swan River north of Canora. Luckily no one was on it at the time.
Some accidents are just too horrible to contemplate. See our Sports section for accounts of two major highway accidents involving buses and athletes.
Though ours is generally a peaceful province with law-abiding residents, there have been mass public disturbances here over the years.
Regina, May 1, 1931: A May Day parade (spurred by the communist-based Workers Unity League) through Market Square led to a three-hour clash between jobless men in the parade and local residents who objected to red flags marchers carried. Several from each side were injured and some marchers arrested before the conflict ended.
Saskatoon, November 1, 1932: City police and about twenty Mounties dispersed some two hundred unemployed men protesting being sent to the Exhibition grounds relief camp.
Saskatoon, May 8, 1933: A Mountie died after falling off his horse during a ruckus with jobless men in the Exhibition grounds relief camp. He was one of the RCMP officers and city police ordered to remove fifty “troublemakers” from the camp.
Regina, July 1, 1935: In the City Market area pitched battle raged between jobless men from across western Canada taking part in the “On-to-Ottawa” march – versus RCMP officers and city police. A city cop and a protest marcher were killed and about one hundred more rioters from both sides were injured.
Rosetown, July, 1952: At a baseball tournament, a bat-swinging “rhubarb” between two teams led to the Mounties’ holding two players – the instigator who had hidden in a house while an opponent threatened him from outside – in custody overnight. Both left the next day.
Saskatoon, October 23, 1993: Rowdy fans celebrating the Toronto Blue Jays’ win at the World Series spilled onto 8th Street from nearby bars, and were met by city police in riot gear and armed with teargas. Damages to adjacent properties came to thousands of dollars.
Unity, March 31, 2016:The RCMP were called in to settle a brawl in the local arena between fans of the competing Wilkie Outlaws and the Biggar Nationals after a game that day to determine the 2015-16 SaskWest Hockey League championship winner.
Prince Albert, December 14, 2016: One inmate was killed and two seriously injured before a standoff in the federal penitentiary – allegedly over stingy food portions – was ended by an emergency response team.
Regina, June 9, 2017:a guard and a prisoner were injured and great damage done to the provincial jail in a violent clash between guards and inmates protesting meal changes.
Moose Jaw, September13, 1944: after a dance at Temple Gardens, pilots-in-training from the nearby British Commonwealth Air Training Plan base attacked local swains who had assaulted airmen for dating local girls. After ensuing street fights, city police detained several local youths, and the flyboys were confined to base to cool their heels.
[Archer, The Story of a Province; Waiser, A New Saskatchewan History; Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan]