Tourism: Seeing Saskatchewan

Tourism: Seeing Saskatchewan

Beauty spots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eye-catching buildings worth a tour

Beauty in the eye of the beholder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Off the beaten track

Unusual places to stay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teepees at Wanuskewin, just outside Saskatoon.

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

[Bin inns:; yurts and domes: unique…;

Northern sojourns

Popular getaways in Saskatchewan’s northern lakes district

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food, glorious food!

Intriguing restaurants in smaller centres

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Distinctive natural landforms and other features

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Binoculars up!

Bird-watching trails

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shaunavon and Eastend.

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


Watering holes

Craft beer microbreweries for suds-loving Saskies

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

9 Mile Legacy Brewing Company, Saskatoon

Paddockwood Brewing Company, Saskatoon

Saskatoon Brewing Company, Saskatoon

Churchill Brewing Company, Saskatoon

21st Street Brewery, Saskatoon

High Key Brewing, Saskatoon and Regina

Rebellion Brewing Company, Regina

Bushwakker Brew Pub, Regina

District Brewing Company, Regina

Brewsters’ Craft Beer & Restaurant, Regina

Pile o’ Bones Brewing Company, Regina

Nokomis Craft Ales, Nokomis

Black Bridge Brewery, Swift Current

Prairie Sun Brewery, Saskatoon

The train has left the station, but …

“Repurposed” former railway stations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Adaptive re-use of “prairie sentinels”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Away from it all

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

Temple Gardens Spa in Moose Jaw, with healing mineral waters

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

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

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

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

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

Living Skies retreat at Lumsden: retreat and conference centre

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

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

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

Mural, mural on the wall

Communities with multiple outdoor murals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Community sources,]

“From washboard to gumbo”

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

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

Highway #354, Bethune to Dilke

Highway #151, Buffalo Narrows to LaLoche

Highway #47, Springside to Buchanan

Highway #322 Silton to Glen Harbour

Highway #51, Kerrobert to Major

Highway #21, Paradise Hill to Pierceland

Environment and Geography

Environment and Geography

Geographical factoids – mainly plains here?
Well, no.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Bad drinking water: CBC 15 October 2015. Forests: 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;, 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 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 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 Companies remove heat from buildings during the summer, and pump heat from deep in the ground to use in winter.

[Geothermal: 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,]

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,]