Saskatchewan’s population is 3.2 percent of the total for Canada, but consider our contributions to Canada!
World War I claimed the lives of 4,385 of our servicemen and World War II more than 70,000.
At 651,900 square kms (251,699 square miles), Saskatchewan sprawls over more real estate than all France at 643,801 square kms (248,572 square miles).
Our provincial network of roads and highways measures 228,200 kms, 29,500 of them paved.
Saskatchewan is indeed Canada’s “breadbasket,” with 37 million acres of crop-producing land, 41.7 percent of the Canadian total.
Saskatchewan has 10,000 lakes. The deepest is Deep Bay at Reindeer Lake, a meteor crater gouged more than 100 million years ago.
Saskatchewan is gaining international renown for its subterranean treasure trove of fossils, including dinosaurs and prehistoric marine and winged creatures.
Saskatchewan boasts a dazzling number of firsts related to the achievement of tax-funded hospitalization and Medicare.
We have more fly-in fishing camps than almost anywhere in the world.
At least twelve Saskies have received the supreme honour, appointment as Companions of the Order of Canada.
At least fourteen Saskies have been honoured by a British monarch, with appointment to the Order of the British Empire.
At least ten of our writers are winners of a Governor General’s literary award, at least two have won the Scotiabank Giller award, and at least one was awarded the Booker award in Britain.
[www.saskenergy.com/learningcentre; Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan; Archer, Saskatchewan: A history; Lorne Clinton, Alberta Venture 2 May 2008, and other sources]
You’re so wrong!
Common misconceptions about Saskatchewan
Ranging from observations by Captains John Palliser (Palliser Expedition, 1858) and William F. Butler (The Great Lone Land, 1872) to more recent assumptions, usually made by tourists who crossed the province on the Trans-Canada highway.
“Saskatchewan is just a vast flatland.”
Running from the 49th parallel north to the 60th, Saskatchewan is the fifth largest Canadian province. The north is mostly rugged precambrian rock, while the south is largely overlain by glacial deposits, with scattered coulees (former glacial spillways) and a few flat areas (glacial lake bottoms). The Cypress Hills in the southwest, rising to 1,392 metres above sea level, are the highest place between the Rocky Mountains and Quebec’s Appalachians.
“Saskatchewan is a semi-arid prairie province, lacking water resources.”
In fact, the northern half is essentially boreal forest, dotted by 10,000 freshwater lakes. While Palliser’s Triangle in the southwest is the driest part of the grasslands, it usually gets enough rain for dryland farming.
“Saskatchewan was an empty wilderness before European settlers arrived around 1900.”
In fact, since about 9,500 BCE, it was inhabited by diverse indigenous peoples, each with their own cultures and political systems. Southerners depended on vast roaming herds of bison, while most northerners made their living by hunting and trapping in the boreal forests. In both areas, the First Nations had been making deals with Hudson’s Bay Company agents for more than a century before Canadian settlement began.
“Saskatchewan is a rural, agricultural province.”
In fact, since 1950, with 70 percent rural population, until now, when it’s only about 30 percent, Saskatchewan has “urbanized” faster than any other province. Though farm output doubled in that period, the non-agricultural sector has become the economic mainstay, as farm mechanization and improved transport led to rural depopulation.
“Saskatchewan has a diverse, multicultural population.”
In fact, over 80 percent of Saskies were born and raised here, many to the second and third generation. The descendants of European immigrants with distinctive languages and customs have largely blended into the Canadian mainstream. More recent migrants from Latin America, Asia and the Middle East tend to cluster in the cities, where there are more jobs and more guidance in adapting. Ironically the biggest divide remains between the First Nations and the “interlopers.”
“The people of Saskatchewan are all socialists.”
In fact, while it’s true that Saskatchewan was the birthplace of hospitalization, Medicare and other socialist measures under the CCF/NDP, Saskies have been electing Conservative governments intermittently, all along.
People everyone should know about
Most Saskies are aware of our superstars such as Joni Mitchell, Tommy Douglas, John Diefenbaker, Gordie Howe, Buffy Saint-Marie. Here are some who lived in Saskatchewan that you might not know about (more info on them and hundreds more are in relevant chapters).
Comedian Art Linkletter, famous for American radio and television series including “People are Funny” and others, was born 18 July 1912 in Moose Jaw to S.W. Kalle and his wife, but Art was adopted and taken to San Diego. He found this out during a 1974 visit to his birthplace.
Nobel Prize winner Gerhard Herzberg was brought to the University of Saskatchewan by Dr. John Spinks in the 1930s, after they had met in Germany.
Celebrated NFL football player Reuben Mayes of North Battleford came from a famous African-American family in the Maidstone area, who had led about a thousand ex-slaves to the province in 1910.
Grant MacEwan, who moved with his family to Melfort in 1915, once taught animal science at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, and was briefly an editor at the Western Producer. He was an MLA and lieutenant-governor of Alberta, best-selling author of fifty-five books, the man with a college named after him.
Lucy Maud Montgomery (author of Anne of Green Gables) lived for a year in Prince Albert after her father moved there with his new wife, but returned to Prince Edward Island to write her remarkable series of Anne books.
Television broadcaster Keith Morrison of Lloydminster honed his skills as CFQC Saskatoon, and later became a familiar face as CBC-TV anchorman, NBC Dateline.
Leslie Nielsen of Regina acted in serious films such as Forbidden Planet and The Poseidon Adventure, and zany ones like Airplane and the Naked Gun.
Celebrated actor and comedian Eric Peterson of Indian Head trained in the U of S drama department. He played the famous flying ace in Billy Bishop Goes to War and in the TV series Street Legal, Corner Gas, and This is Wonderland.
Actress Shannon Tweed, formerly of Saskatoon, is best known as the wife of Kiss band member Gene Simmons.
TenorJon Vickersof Prince Albert, was an international opera star who performed major roles in London, Milan and New York.
[Linkletter: Not Only a Name: a Long Love Letter from Moose Jaw; MacEwan: Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan,567-8 ; Mayes: CBC; Battleford News-Optimist]
Famous (and infamous) folks with ties to our province
The legendary American outlaw Butch Cassidy and his “Wild Bunch” used to hide out in the Big Muddy badlands in southern Saskatchewan. The caves are still there.
Father Bacchiocci, a Swift Current priest, was said to be the grandson of NapoleonBonaparte.
Chicago gangster Al Capone is said to have frequented Moose Jaw during the Prohibition era. Saskatchewan authors and the tourism sector have exploited this belief.
Inspector Francis Dickens, son of novelist Charles Dickens, was commanding the NWMP garrison at Fort Pitt during the Riel Resistance, but was persuaded to evacuate his men to Battleford, under threat of attack by militant warriors in Big Bear’s band.
Poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s nephew Bertram Tennyson homesteaded at Cannington Manor near Moosomin. His book of poems did not launch a spectacular literary career, but he stuck to his day job, lawyering. He was also known to have pinch-hit as stagecoach driver from time to time.
A couple of nobles associated with the French settlement at St. Hubert, were not shy in their claims to historical prestige. French count Paul de Beaudrap de Denneville (Marche) claimed he was a distant relative of Joan of Arc. He farmed for a while at St. Hubert.
Eminent literary critic Northrop Frye was once a student minister and itinerant preacher at Stonepile near the Cypress Hills for about two years. The problem was, he couldn’t ride horseback. He was later ordained as a United Church minister.
American author Sinclair Lewis in 1924 went on a canoe trip with his physician brother Claude and the “treaty brigade” officials of the Department of Indian Affairs on their annual trek to dispense treaty money to northern tribes.
Author Gabrielle Roy had a family connection to Eastend (or Dollard just down the road). Her uncle brought French settlers to the area so she had at least one first cousin in the town. Her autobiography, translated into English as Enchantment and Sorrow, received the Governor-General’s award in 1987.
Writer Robert Fulford was the nephew of Theresa Fulford Delaney, one of some eighty white settlers who spent two months in the camp of Big Bear in the 1885 North West Resistance.
Maple Creek rancher and storekeeper Horace Greeley was a second or third cousin of the famous American author and statesman Horace Greeley.
Hollywood horror film star Boris Karlov performed in Saskatchewan during his early acting years, with a repertory theatre company that suddenly folded. But the very next day the “Regina Cyclone” devastated much of Regina, and he got a job helping to clean it up.
William Wordsworth’s wife was reportedly the aunt of Henry Hutchinson, the first settler in the Souris area between Carnduff and the American border.
The famous physicist Albert Einstein played hockey as a youth in Germany. Reportedly, one winter while formulating his world-shaking Theory of Evolution, he took a break in Saskatchewan to play for the Canwood Canucks.
Aldous Huxley once carried on a lively correspondence with Humphrey Osmond, who was working on psychedelic drugs at the Weyburn mental hospital. Osmond coined the word “psychedelic.”
Band leader Matt Kearney worked on the harvest excursions at Moosomin, in southern Saskatchewan.
Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons television series, was the son of Homer Groening, whose name inspired his Homer character. The senior Groening, born in Main Centre, Sask., was a cartoonist too.
Saskatchewan author Fredelle Maynard’s daughter Joyce was a teenager at Yale, on scholarship, when she fell in love with author J.D. Salinger (Catcher in the Rye) and left after a year to move in with him. He was thirty-five years her senior. A year later he dumped her and she wrote At Home in the World about it all, but it was panned. She did not return to Yale.
Actor Kiefer Sutherland is the grandson of former premier Thomas C. Douglas, whose daughter Shirley married actor Donald Sutherland. Kiefer plays the highly-principled “accidental president” in the television series Designated Survivor.
[Einstein: Saskatchewan Book of Everything, 126. Fulford: Sarah Carter’s introduction to Two Months in the Camp of Big Bear. Joan of Arc: Count De Beaudrap from Revue Historique vol 10 no. 2 at U of S Archives & Special Collections; Whitewood Museum; Revue Historique v. 10 no. 2 December 1999. Karlov: G. Ross Stuart, The History of Prairie Theatre, 70. Maynard: Vogue 13 Sept 2018,Vanity Fair September 1998. Napoleon: Spasoff, Back to the Past. Tennyson: Literary History of Saskatchewan, p.46, vol. 1. Count Uytendale, display panel at Whitewood Museum. Fulford: Saturday Night, June 1976, 970. Wordsworth: McCourt, Saskatchewan, 33-4; ]
Portrayed on screen and stage
Outstanding Saskies who inspired dramatic interpretations of their lives
Archie Belaneyis portayed in Grey Owl, a movie directed by Richard Attenborough, starring Pierce Brosnan. Belaney was an outspoken early conservationist, but pretended to be Grey Owl, an Aboriginal in the northern wilds, and was one of Canada’s most intriguing imposters.
Chief Big Bear, Cree leader in 1885 Northwest (Riel) Resistance is the subject of a CBC Television mini-series Big Bear based on Rudy Wiebe’s novel The Temptations of Big Bear, starring Gordon Tootoosis. Unlike other Cree chiefs, Big Bear refused to sign Treaty Six until the starvation of his tribe forced him to capitulate.
Hugh Cairns, VC, war hero is depicted in the play The Great War by Don Kerr, 25th Street Theatre. A statue commemorates him in a Saskatoon park.
Morris Cohen, former juvenile delinquent in Saskatoon in the early 1900s, inspired Don Kerr’s play Two-Gun Cohen, and reportedly an early Hollywood film The General Died at Dawn was loosely based on his life. A full-length book, Two Gun Cohen, was published by New York author Daniel Levy.
Nicholas Flood Davin is characterized in Ken Mitchell’s play, Davin: The Politician. A colourful, outspoken journalist, lawyer and MP, he founded the Regina Leader newspaper.He is noted in history for his ill-starred relationship with journalist and author Kate Simpson-Hayes.
John Diefenbaker, the only prime minister from Saskatchewan, is depicted in the play Diefenbaker by Thelma Oliver. It starred Terrence Slater, Norma Edwards and Patricia Lenyre.
Thomas C. (Tommy) Douglas, a father of Medicare: Prairie Giant, is portrayed in a CBC Television miniseries; and Keeper of the Flame (documentary).
Gabriel Dumont, Metis leader in the North-West Resistance is depicted in the play Gabriel Dumont by Ken Mitchell. Dumont escaped to the U.S. where he joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.
Father Athol Murray of Wilcox: the play Murray of Notre Dame by Tony Cashman, is the main protagonist in the movie The Hounds of Notre Dame by Ken Mitchell, starring Frances Hyland, and Barry Morse.
Louis Riel, Metis leader in North-West Resistance, is portrayed in The Trial of Louise Riel, a play by John Coulter (1967) based on the transcripts of Riel’s trial.
Seager Wheeler, a plant breeder known as the Wheat King, inspired the play Harvest Moon, shown every year in Rosthern for years.
Colin Thatcher, son of former premier Ross Thatcher, is depicted in Love and Hate: The Story of Colin and Joanne Thatcher, by Maggie Siggins and Suzette Couture. Colin Thatcher was convicted of having his wife murdered, but he always claimed to be innocent.
“Knights” of the realm
Companions of the Order of Canada
“Companion” (CC) is the top rank of the Order of Canada (the others are CM, Member, and OC, Officer). The Order of Canada could be considered our version of knighthood. (These are cited elsewhere at more length in this website.) Some were also honoured as Fellows of the Royal Society, and the Royal Society of Canada (too many to list here).
Lloyd Barber, born in Regina – former president of the University of Regina.
Lloyd Axworthy, born in North Battleford – former minister in Prime Minister Chretien’s government.
Samuel Bronfman of Wapella – liquor industry baron and philanthropist associated with the mighty Seagram’s.
Balfour Currie, Kindersley and Saskatoon – head of physics at the U of S, founder of Institute of Space and Atmospheric Studies, and other lofty academic posts.
E.M. Culliton, Elbow – former Justice of the Court of Appeal for Saskatchewan and Chief Justice of Saskatchewan.
Brian Dickson, Yorkton – lawyer, puisne justice of the Supreme Court of Canada and later Canada’s fifteenth Chief Justice of Canada.
Tommy Douglas, Weyburn – former premier of Saskatchewan, one of the two Fathers of Medicare, once voted our country’s “greatest Canadian.”
Willard Estey, Saskatoon – moved to Ontario, appointed to the Ontario Court of Appeal, became Chief Justice of Ontario, later appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Emmett Hall, Saskatoon – law professor and judge, one of the two Fathers of Medicare. He became Chief Justice of Saskatchewan and chaired several royal commissions and public inquiries.
Gerhard Herzberg – Nobel prize winner and professor at the U of S; he fled to Saskatoon from wartime Germany. His many important posts include that of physics director at the National Research Council.
Ray Hnatsyshyn, Saskatoon, MP and cabinet minister, and later a senator.
Albert Wesley Johnson, Insinger – held several top posts in the federal government before becoming president of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Chalmers Jack (CJ) Mackenzie, Saskatoon, former dean at U of S, called the most important Canadian in the growth of science after World War II. In Ottawa he became president of Atomic Energy of Canada and the National Research Council of Canada.
Joni Mitchell, Saskatoon – world-renowned singer.
Hilda Neatby, Saskatoon – academic, professor of history at the U of S, especially noted for her ideas on education.
Jeanne Sauve, Prud’homme – former governor-general.
Walter P. Thompson, Saskatoon, scientist and former University of Saskatchewan president.
Jon Vickers, Prince Albert – a former farm boy who soared to international opera stages, notably Covent Garden in London, England
[The Canadian Encyclopedia and other sources.]
“For King and country”
Saskies honoured by the Order of the British Empire
Being invested in Britain’s OBE carries impressive prestige. A
surprising number of Saskies were so honoured, usually for heroic efforts
abroad during the world wars. The ranks are: Commander (CBE), Officer (OBE),
Findlay Andrew (OBE), who moved to Saskatoon in 1959, received his award at Buckingham Palace on July 20th, 1920, for secret war work in China. If secrecy was involved, the OBE handbook often doesn’t cite specific actions of people so honoured. His papers, which include a letter inviting him to London to receive the award, suggest it was for sending vital “intel” to the British from his strategic location in the northwest. Some thought it was for helping prevent a Uighur uprising, which could have led to another pro-German front.
Henry Black of Regina was made a commander of the OBE in 1935 for his work with the Saskatchewan Relief Commission, created by the Anderson government in 1931 to administer relief measures during the desperate days of the Depression. The commission was axed in 1934 by Liberal premier J.G Gardiner due to public criticism.
Elizabeth Cruikshank was a leader in the Local Council of Women in Regina. She was noted for her war work, and was active in the Saskatchewan Natural History Society. She was also an author and a Leader-Post columnist. [Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan]
Dr. Robert George Ferguson, a heroic figure in the fight against tuberculosis in Saskatchewan, reportedly was honoured with an OBE. [Star-Phoenix, undated clipping, likely in 1942.
Joan Bamford Fletcher of Regina got her OBE for leading some two thousand women and children to safety out of a Japanese prison camp in the jungles of Sumatra, in twenty separate convoys along dangerous switchback roads, at the close of World War II. The jungles were swarming with hostile Indonesians fighting for independence from the Dutch. Japanese soldiers, now demobilized, assisted her in the hair-raising exodus.
Vice Marshall Arthur Clinton Maund (CBE) of the hamlet of Cando was also
honoured as Commander of the Order of the Bath, and with the Distinguished
Service Order, and received one Russian and two French medals for his military
exploits in World War I. He had enlisted in the Saskatchewan Light Horse in Battleford
but transferred to the Royal Flying Corps. After the war he served in Russia,
Group Captain Ernest Archibald McNab (OBE, CD, DFC) of Rosthern also
received a Distinguished Flying Cross. An air ace, he commanded Canada’s first
RACF fighter squadron abroad in 1940. Son the McNab who became
lieutenant-governor, he got his OBE for outstanding war work.
Violet McNaughton (OBE) was an outstanding feminist, newspaper columnist and women’s editor at the Western Producer, noted for her role as a leader of farm women and in achieving the franchise for women. She was active in many important early farm organizations. In 1924 King George V conferred to her the OBE for services to rural women.
(MBE), a war hero born in Shaunavon and brought up in Eston, studied
engineering at the U of S. In World War II, as a captain in the Royal Canadian
Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, he designed an innovative portable bridge
that was built in record time to expedite Allied river crossings in Italy.
George Porteous (MBE) of Saskatoon was posted to Hong Kong with the Winnipeg Grenadiers during the Japanese siege of 1941 when more than 1075 Canadians were killed or wounded; others were taken prisoner. He was awarded his MBE for maintaining morale among his fellow prisoners, who for four years suffered unspeakable ordeals. A Scot, he had come to Canada in 1910 and attended high school and university in Saskatoon. Long after the war he became the 14th Lieutenant-Governor of Saskatchewan.
Alleyre Sirois (CM, MBE) originally from Vonda, was invested as a member of the OBE for his war work in intelligence for the British Special Operations Executive in France. He also received the French Croix de Guerre. On his return to Canada he studied law and, practiced in Gravelbourg before becoming a Queen’s Court judge in Saskatoon in 1964.
John William Tranter Spinks (CC, MBE, SOM), president of the University of Saskatchewan 1960 to 1975, was invested as a member of the Order for his work in Britain during World War II, “developing search and rescue procedures for missing aircraft.“ He was also named a Companion of the Order of Canada, member of the Saskatchewan Agricultural Hall of Fame, the Saskatchewan Order of Merit, and a Saskatoon Citizen of the Year.
Harry Thode, born in Dundurn, received two degrees at the U of S followed by a PhD in the U.S. Noted for his work in atomic research, he was honoured by the Order of Canada and the Order of the British Empire, and was also a Fellow of the Royal Society. He became president and chancellor of McMaster University in 1961. [Star-Phoenix 14 April 2017]
Plant breeder Seager Wheeler (MBE) known as the Wheat King, helped boost Saskatchewan as the “bread basket of the world.” He assisted mother nature in selecting the best wheat seeds (some from mutants) he had grown, exhibiting them at agricultural fairs around the world and developing new strains.
Pilot Officer E.A. Wickenkamp (OBE) of Stenen
joined the RAF in 1938. He received the OBE for rescuing two crew members after
the crash of his aircraft. A month later, he was shot down and killed during an
attack on a battleship.
[Andrew: unpublished ms. by Ruth Millar. Black: en.wikipefdia.org/wiki/1935_New_Year_Honourees_ Commander_of_the_Order_of_the British_Empire. Fletcher: Millar, Saskatchewan Heroes & Rogues. Maund: Canadian Virtual War Memorial and other websites. McNaughton: Herstory, 1971. Olafson: Spasoff, Back to the Past. Porteous: veterans.gc.ca. Sirois: Green & White fall 2005. Spinks: Canadian Encyclopedia. Other sources: Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan, Wikipedia]
In 1941, the western red lily was chosen as our official flower. It grows in meadows and semi-wooded areas where its flaming red blossoms stand out like flames against a natural green background.
The sharp-tailed grouse was selected as the provincial bird emblem in 1945.
Our official flag was adopted in 1969. It features the provincial shield of arms, with the western red lily. The flag’s upper half is green, symbolizing northern forests; the lower half is gold, symbolic of southern grain areas.
The Saskatchewan fish is the walleye.
Saskatchewan’s fruit is the Saskatoon berry.
In 2001, needle-and-thread grass was chosen as our official grass. It’s a native bunchgrass common to the dry, sandy soils of the northern plains. Its seeds are sharply pointed and have long, twisted, thread-like fibres.
Our provincial district tartan features the colours gold, brown, green, red, yellow, white and black. Registered in Scotland in 1961, it was introduced in 1997 for highland dancers.
In 1988, the white birch was adopted as Saskatchewan’s official tree. This hardwood tree is found across the northern 75 percent of the province.
Sylvite, a.k.a. potash, is Saskatchewan’s official mineral. We are the world’s largest producer and exporter of potash, over 95 percent of it used for fertilizer.
The white-tailed deer became our official animal in 2001. It tends to be larger in the north than in the south. Adults have a reddish-brown summer coat and a greyish-brown winter coat, with white underparts.
Curling became our official sport in 2001. It has a rich history here, from the Richardson brothers in the 1950s to Sandra Schmirler in the 90s.
“From Many Peoples Strength”: The provincial coat of arms was granted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1986, adapted from the 1906 shield of arms. With a crest of a beaver and crown on top, a lion and deer flank the shield, which displays the royal lion and three gold wheat sheaves. Western red lilies form the base.
Cast in stone (or bronze, or…)
Saskies immortalized in statues & monuments
Chief White Cap and Saskatoon founder John Lake are depicted in a sculpture near the east end of the newly-built Victoria Bridge in Saskatoon.
Chief Payepot (Piapot), cast by Lyndon Tootoosis, marks the signing of Treaty 4 in Regina.
Metis leader Gabriel Dumont is commemorated in a statue in a riverside park in Saskatoon.
A statue of Metis Leader Louis Riel in Regina showing his private parts so offended the Metis Association that the offending image was banished to the basement of the Mackenzie Art Gallery.
First premier Walter Scott is depicted in a statue in Regina.
A statue of Edouard Beaupre, the Willow Bunch giant, stands in front of a local museum named in his honour.
A full-length statue of Sgt. Hugh Cairns VC, World War Ihero, is in Kinsmen Park in Saskatoon.
A life-size equestrian statue of artist Count Berthold von Imhoff adorns the village of St. Walburg.
A head-and-shoulders bust of early MP and newspaper owner Nicholas Flood Davin by Earl G. Drake graces Beechwood Cemetery, Ottawa.
A statue in Saskatoon by sculptor Bill Epp immortalizes the Saskatchewan-born senator Ramon Hnatyshyn, an esteemed Ukrainian-Canadian hero and governor general of Canada for five years.
Statues depicting an encounter between newsboy John Diefenbaker (later prime minister) and Wilfred Laurier is prominently displayed at 1st Avenue and 21st Street in Saskatoon.
A head-and-shoulders bust of early MP and newspaper owner Nicholas Flood Davin is in Ottawa.
A statue of Farley Mowat, famous author, graces the U of S campus.
Famed hockey star Gordie Howe, can be seen in effigy at Sasktel Centre.
Popular radio host Denny Carr’s statue is located in a Saskatoon riverbank park.
A statue of luminary Frederick W. Hill in Regina, was created by Russian artist Leo Mall (Leonard Molodozhanyn).
In the College of Education Building, University of Saskatchewan a new bust stands in the main hallway to commemorate beloved professor David Kaplan, who was a vibrant and influential mentor in the music world in Saskatoon. His Klezmer Band was and is extremely popular amongst Jews and gentiles alike,
In pre-homesteading days, First Nations people, Metis, fur traders and others relied on horses and eventually squeaky oxcarts on the plains and dogsleds in the north. The arrival of steamships briefly offered hope for faster shipping until the railways came, bringing homesteaders who transferred their household goods to wagons, and slogged through gumbo and sloughs to their destination. Gas-powered vehicles of course changed everything.
Full steam ahead on Saskatchewan waterways
In their day, the ear-splitting arrival of a steamer stopped everybody in their tracks. Steamboats edged out oxcarts for transporting goods, until shifting sandbars and seasonal low water levels of our rivers ended the steamboat era on the Saskatchewan River. Steamboat companies here were the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), the Winnipeg & Western Transportation Co. (WWT) and the Northwest Coal and Transportation Company (NCT).
S.S. Northcote:(built 1874; HBC, WWT), a 150-foot long, 28.5 ft. wide,
3.5-foot draft, flat-bottomed sternwheeler, plied the Saskatchewan river. It
may have been our province’s only “gunboat”: in 1885 it transported troops from
Swift Current to Saskatoon, Clark’s Crossing, Fish Creek, and Batoche, where
its funnels were sliced off by a lowered ferry cable as it ran the gauntlet.
S.S. Lily: (built 1877; HBC, WWT)
a 100-foot long, 24-foot wide, 14 -inch draft, flat-hulled sternwheeler with steel-clad
hull, carried goods from Fort Carlton to Edmonton. In 1883, the WWT Co., hoping
to link the railway at Medicine Hat and posts on the North Saskatchewan, sent
the Lily up the south branch, but it
hit a rock and ignobly sank in about three feet of water.
S.S. Manitoba: (built 1878; WWT), a 190-foot-long, flat-bottomed
sternwheeler, operated on the upper North Saskatchewan until it was crushed by
ice in the spring of 1885.
S.S. Marquis(1882; WWT), a flat-bottomed sternwheeler 200-feet-long,
33-foot-wide with a 5-foot draft, ran mainly on the lower North Saskatchewan.
S.S. North West: (1882; WWT) a 201-foot-long, 33.5 foot-wide and 4.5
draft, flat-bottomed sternwheeler, ran chiefly on the lower Saskatchewan.
The May Queen was a 35-foot-long, 4-foot draft, V-hulled steam
launch. In 1883, the Temperance Colonization Co. tried to run it from Medicine
Hat to the fledgling Saskatoon settlement but cut the service after its abortive
maiden voyage upriver.
S.S. Baroness (1883; NCT) a 173 foot-long, 30 foot-wide and
1.5 ft draft flat-bottomed sternwheeler, built chiefly to carry coal in
Alberta, also transported troops to the Northwest Rebellion site.
The same was true of the S.S. Alberta(1883; NWT), a 100-foot-long, 20-foot-wide, flat-bottomed sternwheeler.
The City of Medicine Hat,owned and piloted by the dashing Captain Horatio Ross, was merrily chugging through Saskatoon in 1908, when it smashed into a pier of the Victoria Bridge and sank. Captain and crew all escaped, but a herd of cattle crossing the bridge above, stampeded. All those aboard the steamboat escaped to safety, but the spectacular accident (not to mention the shifting sandbars) helped end the steamboat era on the South Saskatchewan River .
S.S. Minnow(1884, NCT), 75 feet long,
and 10 feet wide, had a shallow draft and was steam propeller driven. It
also carried troops.
The shores of Last Mountain Lake were hot real estate for developers, and steamboat rides on the lake were a merry summer diversion. In 1904 the Welcome was built for William Pearson and plied the waters of the lake in 1905. That year a paddle-wheeler called Lady of the Lake also operated on the lake until 1907 when it sank in a storm. Some say it was the same boat as the Qu’Appelle, retrofitted for William Pearson Steamship and registered in 1908.
[Peel, Steamboats on the Saskatchewan; Tolton, Prairie Warships; www.rvsunsetcover.ca; Saskatchewan History 1960 (v.13 no. 3): 138]
“The Iron Horse”
A brief history of Saskatchewan railways
The first trains to cross Saskatchewan were on the Canadian Pacific Railway line, completed in 1885. Originally their intended route was to go through the parkland region, through Battleford. But the government was spooked by fears that an American rail line close to the boundary might be bad for business up here, so the route was altered to cross the province in the south. “Curses, foiled again!” was the feeling of speculators who had bought land near the route that got dumped. Not only that, the seat of government was moved from Battleford to Regina.
1876: Early plans for the railway heading for Edmonton spawned important communities like Battleford. Railway and telegraph surveyors and linemen working at the confluence of the Battle and North Saskatchewan rivers called the place Telegraph Flat. The NWMP and the HBC set up there too, and the fledgling settlement was named Battleford, first capital in the province.
1882: When CPR plans shifted to the south, communities sprang up along that line too. The CPR reached the little one-horse town of Moose Jaw in 1882 and declared it a “divisional point.” Railway workers and surveyors flooded in, and the population tally leapt to between two and three thousand. Settlers and freighters arrived in droves, buying horses and wagons and trekking north from there.
In 1885 when the Northwest Resistance broke out, the tracks had reached as far west as Qu’Appelle, but there were still gaps on the route. Some troops had to trek on foot over glare ice or icy slush, or ride freezing in open sleighs or flatcars.
1886: The second railway to come
to what is now Saskatchewan was the Manitoba and North Western Railway, which
reached Langenberg that year, having started at Winnipeg. Later it passed
through Yorkton. In 1900 the CPR took over the line.
1880s: An obscure railway company was the Qu’Appelle, Long Lake and Saskatchewan railway company (QLLS). After an abortive beginning involving a cash crunch, by 1890 it linked Regina and Prince Albert through Craik, Saskatoon and Rosthern, and the line had been leased by the CPR. The first bridge in Saskatoon was originally called the QLLS bridge. Alas, it kept collapsing into the river in the annual spring ice break-up – an occupational hazard for bridges. Finally concrete piers were erected, and that solved the problem.
1890s the feds were plotting vast railway expansion, an ambitious dream
that gave birth to the Grand Trunk Pacific and Canadian Northern railways. The
latter crept westward by way of Saskatoon and Battleford along the Yellowhead
route, sort of, and eventually the province was criss-crossed with a network of
railway tracks like a diagram of the human circulatory system.
1917: Canadian Northern and Grand
Trunk railways were strapped for cash. Spurred by a royal commission report,
the feds bought the Canadian Northern Railway system in 1917.
1918: The government also took
over the Grand Trunk Pacific, and Grand Trunk railways and some other regional
railways to form the Canadian National Railway company.
By 1927 in Regina, the CPR had built the Hotel Saskatchewan (almost as stately as the bessborough Hotel to be built in Saskatoon, but not so iconic).
In 1935 the CNR’s opulent Bessborough Hotel finally opened in Saskatoon. It was a hop or two from the railway station on 1st Avenue, so travellers could get there in minutes. (In the 1960s developers put up a pretty replica of it at the front of the mall as a nod to the colourful, smoke-ridden past).
In the 1960s the railway yards were trundled out of downtown Saskatoon to its western perimeter to make way for the Midtown Plaza. Malls were quite novel in those days, and railway yards are messy and smoky. The move was celebrated, but it resulted in less train travel because the new railway station is out in the boondocks southwest of the city. In Regina, the same thing happened, but notice Toronto kept its railway yards along Lake Ontario. (Train travel is still valued in the east, with so many more people moving around.)
Gradually the railway service that linked Saskatchewan cities and towns was axed. By the 1970s railway branch lines were being abandoned, and in their absence the grain elevators that dotted the province couldn’t do their job any more, and were shut down.
the Canadian National cancelled its passenger service from Saskatoon to Calgary,
though railway freight still gets to go that way.
Nowadays it seems
people who travel across Saskatchewan on Via Rail tend to be wealthy Asian tourists
and CNR employees. Just an impression.
[Archer and Derby, The Story of a Province: A Junior History of Saskatchewan; Ted Regehr article, Canadian Encyclopedia, and personal recollections. CPR: Berton, The National Dream: The Last Spike, 471-2. Maps: 1905: map of railways in Sask., p. 134; 1914: map of railways in Sask. prior to 1914, p. 171]
Prairie people were adept at finding ways to overcome vast distances, often in deep snow. Tinkerers invented surprising ways to carry goods and passengers (especially patients) through seemingly impassable territory, before modern transport technology speeded things up.
Riding in horse-drawn sleds in winter, passengers took along a brick warmed in the family’s stove. They’d put the brick in a drawer of a “footwarmer”, and snuggle under buffalo coats or blankets. It made winter sledding more bearable.
In wintertime in the early years, mail, goods and people were swung over the North Saskatchewan at Nipawin, in a basket powered by human muscle-power at first, and later by Model T engines, using a system of overhead cables.
Back in the day when doctors did house calls, dogsleds, cutters, railway jiggers and even a pair of elk were exploited as “ambulances” in winter to get to their distant patients and take them to hospital.
Dr. William Mainprize of Midale contrived three early snowmobiles using a Model T chassis, open-air cab and tractor wheels. One had a narrow axle that would fit between rails.
doctor, Dr. Iser Steiman, invented an early “ambulance” with an enclosed
cab or “pod” for the patient, using an engine to propel his snowplane, which
was equipped with sleigh runners. He too “rode the rails” at times.
third doctor, Dr. Thomas Argue, with the help of a mechanic, combined
the two concepts by inventing a contrivance with continuous-running traction as
well as sleigh runners.
In 1905, a makeshift “ambulance” was invented to carry patients sixty miles to hospital in Yorkton. The patient was put in a long box mounted above two pairs of sleigh runners, and sheltered by canvas or other heavy material draped over it like a covered wagon.
And then there were the notorious Bennett buggies during the Depression, involving horse-drawn automobiles rendered impotent by lack of gasoline, which many car owners couldn’t afford.
Municipal transit services
In this time of uproar over pollution, it is ironic that our first public transit systems were electric-powered “street railways” which opened in Regina and Moose Jaw in 1911 and in Saskatoon January 1, 1913. The coaches glided on tracks set flush with the pavement, and were fueled by electricity from overhead cables. Passengers had to walk into the street to board. Such systems are still in use in some older cities around the world. Saskatoon streetcars even had wood stoves inside to keep passengers war, according to a Facebook posting.
In 1937 Prince Albert’s first city bus service was inaugurated, leapfrogging over those earliest electric-powered streetcar and coach services. Prince Albert Bus Lines was privately-owned and run by William Dawson. The fleet numbered two thirteen-passenger buses, and a ride cost ten cents.
Streetcars were gradually superseded by electric trolleys in November 1948 in Saskatoon, and in Regina after a disastrous fire that destroyed much of the rolling stock in the car barns in 1949. The trolleys were powered by overhead lines too, but had to stay on track. They could also pull up to the curb to pick up passengers.
People in outlying areas with no transit service and no overhead wires clamoured for service. The first bus used in Saskatoon was a Chev rented from Gray Goose Bus Lines in 1937, and then a Studebaker purchased from Tom Guest, owner of an auto dealership downtown.
Because trollies were tethered to electric cables, our cities gradually replaced them all with diesel-powered buses that could go anywhere they could maneuver — handy when construction blocks streets. Trolley coaches ran until the 1970s. In May 1974, six new Flyer buses arrived in Saskatoon from Winnipeg, signalling the end of all trolley coaches in the city.
In the 1970s Regina introduced a Telebus service that sent buses to people’s homes, but it was too costly to be sustainable.
The municipal transit sector has leaned over backward to help people with disabilities. Saskatoon buses, for example, have lower-floor capability to help disabled or elderly people get on board. Many buses have “audible stop announcements” which help the hard-of-hearing, and maybe some cellphone addicts not playing attention.
Saskatoon’s Access Transit service has for decades catered to people immobilized by disabilities. The fleet of twenty-eight buses are small, specialized vehicles with lifts to help people get on and off. The buses must be requested up to seven days in advance, and the fare is the same.
In autumn 2019 Regina Transit was building brand new “car barns” that will charge up electric buses from above, and accommodate articulated buses (long, accordion-like vehicles) that carry more passengers..
Now, we hope, electric-powered buses will take over. Happily, they don’t require overhead lines. A battery-powered vehicle could save cities an estimated $300,000 over its operating lifetime. Saskatoon Transit is eyeing them as a greener option, and hopes to introduce them in 2022.
[General: Transit system websites, newspaper articles and contact people. Prince Albert: P.A. Daily Herald 31 August 1967. Regina: transit officials. Saskatoon: Easten Wayman, Saskatoon’s Electric Transit; CBC and Global News articles; (buses) StarPhoenix 9 June 1973, 9 May 1974, 9 November 1998; stoves on streetcars: Posting on “You know you grew up in Saskatoon SK if you remember …”]
Cars and trucks
and things that go
General Motors ran the show in the early days
The well-known Wilson brothers (one of them a mayor) were apparently the first auto dealers to get cars on the road in Saskatoon, as early as 1909. Their business McLaughlin Carriage Works blossomed anew as McLaughlin Motor Car Co., which brought in the first carload of McLaughlin cars shipped west of Winnipeg. In 1923 they changed their name to McLaughlin-Buick, which was a General Motors of Canada product.
An early attempt at alternative fuel sources is illustrated by this strange straw-powered McLaughlin car on display at the Western Development Museum in Saskatoon. The fuel system was the brainchild of of R.D. Laurin, chemistry prof, and A.R. Greig, engineer. It created methane from straw, powering the car from a gas-producing blimp-shaped object above the vehicle, connected by a pipe to the carburetor.
We even manufactured cars in Saskatchewan, unbeknownst to many. In 1928 a General Motors Assembly plant in Regina began to churn out Chevs and Buicks. During World War II the factory was repurposed as a munitions plant, but after the war, car production fizzled out.
Vintage automobiles are a perennial source of fascination. Collections of them have popped up in surprising places — such as the Assiniboia & District Museum — and also in veritable car cemeteries that “grace” rural parts of the province. Stock car and sports car buffs show off their gleaming, finely restored vintage vehicles not only at races, but other special events. The odd one can be seen in driveways and at curbs too.
As for electric cars, hybrid electric/gas-powered vehicles have been around for years. But probably because charging infrastructure is spotty in rural areas, fully electric cars only represent 3.3 percent of “market share” in Canada because of their limited distance capability – a problem in a sprawling province such as ours. However, “Sask EV” (a group of plug-in car owners) advises there are Petro-Canada EV fast-chargers in Regina, Moose Jaw and Swift Current, with Whitewood coming on stream soon, and there are three or four charging stations that advertise online in Saskatoon. Sask Power has a web page that explains the difference between fast and slower charging systems, urging potential entrepreneurs: “Support a cleaner environment by installing an EV charging station.”
Trucks are apparently more profitable than cars. In late 2019 Tesla introduced an electric pickup truck. Its appearance was odd, described as as “trapezoid on wheels” or a space rocket. If it were to take over on Saskatchewan roads, imagine the decrease in carbon emissions.
Government incentives to convince us to go electric and stop spewing out greenhouse gases: as much as $5,000 to buy new electric vehicles, and businesses can claim tax rebates (up to $55,000) the year they start using such vehicles, advises Sask EV. Sales of plug-in EV (fully electric) vehicles in Saskatchewan are rising, for example twenty-one in the second quarter of 2018, up to forty-nine in the same period in 2029.
Publicly-owned intercity buses: Saskatchewan Transportation Company (STC) buses used to traverse more than five million kilometers a year, covering twenty-eight bus routes that criss-crossed the province. In the early years of the twenty-first century they were linked with 206 private companies to service remote communities. There were main terminals in the three major cities. But in 2017 the government axed the STC, leaving would-be travellers high and dry, and patients dependent on the kindness of family and friends to drive them to city hospitals.
Greyhound Bus Lines used to link up with STC to deliver passengers to Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton, and across the country. But Greyhound shut down its operations in the Canadian West in 2018.
Our province is coursed by a tracery of rivers, the queen of which is the Saskatchewan. Her north and south branches tumble down from the mountains, join east of Prince Albert and flow on to Manitoba. Authors have filled books about her. Steamboats, canoes, and even York boats plied her waters in the past, and now modern watercraft frolic on her surface. She has inspired adventurers, and carried warriors to battle. Incoming homesteaders crossed her in upended wagons. Now her life-giving waters provide irrigation and electric power. She is our Amazon, our Nile, our Mississippi, our Danube. And she is a protagonist in many stories that animate our culture.
John Segers, steamboat captain extraordinaire, piloted the Northcote during the Northwest Resistance at Batoche in 1885. The steamboat was gussied up as a makeshift battleship to carry troops and supplies to Batoche, where it ran the gauntlet of enemy fire. At one point Segers was lying in the pilot house, under siege, steering the boat with his feet! The steamer ran into a lowered cable that sliced off its stacks and wheelhouse. It kept on going, despite the pandemonium on board.
Before bridges were built, travellers often swam their livestock and upended wagons across. By 1885 ferry lines were dotted like beads along the major rivers. But ferry schedules were not always convenient, and sometimes ferries were wayward, escaping their tethering cable lines.
In the absence of ferries or bridges, people had to be inventive. Homesteading brothers Seager and Percy Wheeler travelled in an ox-drawn wagon in 1890 to their first homestead near Clark’s Crossing. Its box was a boat built by Percy, loaded with supplies, a tent, tools and a chair. When they reached a river, they used the boat as transport. Many other early travellers upended their wagons that were coated in tar on the bottom, and crossed that way.
Before the first traffic bridge was built in Saskatoon, in the summer citizens either had to hike across the railway bridge and risk confronting a train – or hop on a ferry.
One of the early ferrymen was Edgar Jackson, whose son became chief surgeon at Saskatoon City Hospital. Many were the times when the ferry broke free, and ferryman and passengers had to scramble to recapture it.
Tom Sukanen built a towering ship in a vain attempt to sail it to Finland, his homeland. The ship has been preserved at the Sukanen museum south of Moose Jaw.
Author Farley Mowat came by his flamboyance honestly. Angus Mowat (chief librarian at the Saskatoon Public Library in the 1930s) and a friend built a boat in a basement, blasted the foundation walls to get it out, then embarked on an abortive expedition down the river.
[Wheeler: Friesen, Saskatchewan History (fall 1996): 19]
Experiments with flying machines
Early pilots really were daring young men in their flying machines, except some were daring young women. Most survived to tell the tale of their aerial exploits. Later our province provided many daring pilots in World Wars I and II.
In 1904 William Wallace “Bill” Gibson (“the birdman of Balgonie”) started fooling around with flying contraptions soon after the Wright brothers’ historic first flight. In Victoria, Gibson devised an engine to power his little aircraft and on September 8, 1910 made a short aerial hop in it — the first flight made by a Canadian airplane powered by an engine built in Canada.
The first airplane to arrive in Saskatchewan was shipped in pieces from Edmonton in May 1911 by the Grand Trunk Railway, for its owner Bob St. Henry, whose real name was Schaffer. He performed dashing aerial stunts over the Exhibition, then flew to Regina, where he did it again.
Ace and George Pepper of Davidson flew about the same time. After experimenting with models and gliders, they got hold of an 8-hp engine and built their own biplane. During the annual fair there in 1911, George took off, coasting about eighty feet at a height of ten or twelve feet before the plane crashed.
Roland Groome, who had been a flying instructor
in World War I, was the first licensed commercial pilot in Canada in 1920, and
he flew the first cross-country flight in the province, from Saskatoon to
Aviator Jimmy Ward
flew a Curtiss Pusher in Regina in July 1912, three weeks after the terrible
“cyclone” of 1912 smashed large areas of the city.
Glenn Martin was a barnstormer who thrilled Saskatoon
when he urged his pusher biplane up to 6,400 feet at the Exhibition. Martin
returned in 1913 and took three local fans up for rides. Later he formed the
company that built the B-26 Marauder of the Second World War.
The Chinese Nationalist League established Keng Wah Aviation outside Saskatoon in May 1919. It was an air training facility for fledgling Chinese pilots being trained for the fledgling air force of Chinese Nationalist president Dr. Sun Yat-sen.
Nellie Carson, born in Yorkton, was the first woman in the province to qualify for a commercial pilot’s license, on October 12, 1929. She immediately set a new altitude record of sicteen thousand feet without an oxygen mask.
Bob Randall of the Saskatoon Aero Club was an early bush pilot who flew on the historic Canadian Pacific Airlines flight over the pole to Europe in 1928.
Stan McClelland, owner of McClelland Aviation, offered thrilling aerial rides in his JN-G-CAAJ to adventurous souls in the early days of flight. His airfield and hanger were a mile northwest of St. Paul’s Hospital.
Flying instructor E.J. (Smudge) Smith-Marriott and passenger Alfred Johnson were killed when their De Havilland (Gypsy) Moth biplane crashed after colliding with high tension wires strung across the river in Saskatoon and plummeting onto a submerged sandbar August 3, 1929.
Canadian Aviation Historical Society – Saskatchewan section, and other sources]
Modern pilots flying over Saskatchewan
Air service is vital in Saskatchewan, especially to the north, where remote destinations are often only fly-in.
Commercial airlines now operating with regularly scheduled passenger service are Transwest Airways of Prince Albert, also offering charters and helicopter flights; West Wind Aviation, which also runs charters and Medivac air ambulance service; and West Wind Aviation’s subsidiary Pronto. Another five are now kaput: Cherry Red, Norcanair, and Saskatchewan Government Airways, according to Wikipedia.
Bush pilots began to fly in goods and people to northern communities, where once the only option in winter was to travel by dogsled. Over the years, pilots who fly into the north have brought in hunters and fishermen hoping to find new Valhallas for their hobby, and by flying in prospectors and mining engineers they helped to open up new venues for mining exploration and development.
Nowadays it’s probably aerial firefighters who face the greatest thrills aloft on a continuing basis. The provincial government’s Ministry of Environment manages this and other aspects of northern forest fires. Their current fleet consists of four Convair 580A land-based air tankers, five CL-215 water-scooping aircraft, and seven smaller bird-dog aircraft that guide the tankers and direct other traffic over the fires, says their website. Parachute jumpers can be dropped to fight the fires closer-up.
The Flying Farmers of Saskatchewan used to be a lively group, linking isolated farm families with more poulated centres. It was founded in Estevan in 1955, with farm families owning their own planes. The FFS not only taught young people how to fly, especially how to land in an emergency, but also leadership skills. Alas, by 2005 membership had shrunk to only about a hundred, and it may not exist anymore.
Saskatchewan Air Ambulance Service (STARS) uses helicopters to deliver remote patients to city hospitals, and saves lives.
In Saskatoon, the newly-minted Saskatchewan Aviation Museum and Learning Centre at the airport preserves vintage planes, some of which – like their De Havilland Tiger Moth — still fly. Sometimes it can be seen winging its way over the city on special occasions. The Tiger Moths were used for flight training during World War II under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCTAP). Some 1550 were built in Canada.
There are several outfits that offer pilot training in Saskatchewan, such as the Regina Flying Club, Millenium Aviation in Saskatoon, and Saskatchewan Polytechnic.
The Saskatchewan Aviation Historical Society also promotes and preserves aviation history in the province.
[Air ambulance: https://stars.ca/our-vips/. Aviation museum: internet sources and phone calls. Flying Farmers: Western People 3 November 2005 . Historical society: Facebook page]