Saskatchewan is part of the Prairie region and is the only province with entirely artificial boundaries. It is bordered by the US to the south, the Northwest Territories to the north, and Manitoba and Alberta to the east and west respectively. It was created from the Northwest Territories in 1905, at the same time as Alberta, and shares with that province the distinction of having no coast on salt water. The name, which was first used officially for a district of the Northwest Territories in 1882, is derived from an anglicized version of a Cree word, kisiskâciwanisîpiy, meaning “swiftly flowing river.”
Saskatchewan is divided by two of Canada's seven physiographic regions. These two regions are the Interior Plains and the Canadian Shield. The Canadian Shield is characterized by rugged rock exposures and many lakes. It also includes a sandy region south of Lake Athabasca. South of the Canadian Shield is the area commonly called the “grain belt.” It is characterized by level or gently rolling plains and fertile soils.
On the western boundary and across the southwest corner is another plains region of generally higher altitudes. Its rolling and hilly terrain is distinct from that of the grain belt. The extreme southwest the province shares the Cypress Hills with Alberta. The Cypress Hills are the highest point of land in Canada between the Rocky Mountains and Labrador.
Saskatchewan’s natural vegetation is divided from north to south into six fairly distinct zones. All of these zones cross the province on a southeast diagonal. A band of subarctic forest tundra exists along the northern boundary. South of that band is a broad region of northern coniferous forest. A third band of mixed woods is below that. The northern agricultural belt is aspen parkland, the central is mid-grass prairie and the southernmost is short-grass prairie.
Four major basins drain the province: the Mackenzie and Churchill in the north and the Saskatchewan and Qu'Appelle-Assiniboine in the south. Both agriculture and industrial development (particularly the production of potash) require large amounts of water. Saskatchewan is heavily dependent on river flows and precipitation. The river systems in the agricultural sector use water that comes mainly from snow melt in the Rocky Mountains, and snowfall there is subject to wide variations. Precipitation within the province is similarly unreliable. (See also Geography of Saskatchewan.)
Evidence of Indigenous peoples in Saskatchewan can be traced to at least 10,000 BCE, when hunters followed the migratory herds of bison, leaving behind arrowheads and ashes. The first European explorers, most of them seeking routes for the fur trade, appeared late in the 17th century, and were in time joined by more scientific travellers who expanded knowledge of the area throughout the 19th century. Actual settlement was preceded in most sections by the establishment, in 1873, of the North-West Mounted Police, after which homesteaders, attracted by land that was all but free, poured in at an accelerated rate.
The 1881 census revealed 19,114 inhabitants, the 1911 census, 492,432 and the 1931 census, 921,785. Thereafter the population levelled off and even declined considerably, partly because the Second World War drained off people to the armed forces and industrial plants elsewhere; after 1961 the population fluctuated between 920,000 and 955,000. In 2016, the population was 1,098,352.
The first immigrants settled in areas suited to agriculture in the southern half of Saskatchewan where most residents still live. Towns and villages served as supply depots for farm implements and related service industries, and, with the rise of non-agricultural production, rural areas have steadily lost population to urban ones.
Although Saskatchewan lacks cities comparable in size to Canada’s large metropolises such as Toronto, Montreal, or Vancouver, its urban population has grown from 16 per cent in 1901 to 67 per cent in 2016. With a population of 246,376 (2016), Saskatoon is the province’s largest city, while the capital,Regina, is second in size with 215,106 (2016). The next largest community is Prince Albert at 35,926, followed by Moose Jaw, Swift Current, Yorkton and North Battleford.
Prince Albert, as the province's most northerly city, performs a special function as a "gateway to the north. " It is particularly important as the point of departure for recreational and forest areas. Despite its predominantly urban population, Saskatchewan's vast expanses of open landscape, combined with the conspicuous architecture of grain elevators in the villages and towns, continues to convey the impression of a predominantly agricultural province.
Saskatchewan's labour force has reflected the changes in the provincial economy, as urban workers have steadily replaced farmers and their helpers. Union organization began around the turn of the century in Moose Jaw and Regina, principally among skilled tradesmen in printing and railways, but the development of the economy did not encourage influential union activity of the kind familiar in heavily industrialized communities.
The largest single unions are not primarily of steelworkers or automobile makers, but of teachers and public servants, although unions are active in such areas as the retail and wholesale trades, and in oil and potash. Provincial governments under the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation(CCF) and NDP were perceived as being particularly friendly to organized labour.
Although the province was one of the chief sufferers during the Great Depression and drought of the 1930s, the technology of later decades has been more conducive to sustaining its labour force. Historically an exporter of labour to other provinces, Saskatchewan’s resource-rich economy helped reverse this narrative following the 2008 recession.
The province’s appeal is in large part tied to its low unemployment rate. Historically one of the lowest in the country, the rate remained low post-2008 recession, even as other provinces struggled to rebound. In 2014, for example, Saskatchewan’s unemployment rate was 3.8 per cent. By comparison, the national average for that year was 6.9 per cent.
As in other provinces with economies particularly linked to oil and gas prices (namely Alberta) the unemployment rate tends to rise as oil prices drop. The province’s 2016 unemployment rate was 7.1 per cent.
In 2016, the province’s top three employment sectors were healthcare and social assistance, retail, and agriculture, forestry, hunting and fishing.
Language and Ethnicity
English is the dominant mother tongue in Saskatchewan. However, a number of non-official languages are spoken in the homes of Saskatchewan residents, with Tagalog, Algonquian, Cree-Montagnais, and Chinese languages numbering the highest, according to the 2016 census. The current predominance of English was written into the conditions by which Saskatchewan joined Confederation in 1905. Owing to the protest of Clifford Sifton, minister of the interior, Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier withdrew provisions made in the Autonomy Acts (1905) to protect the rights of French Catholics. This moment was historically significant because Laurier’s acquiescence to Sifton’s anti-French stance effectively closed the door to bilingualism in Western Canada.
When European settlement of Saskatchewan began in earnest, residents of French origin slightly outnumbered those of British, but both comprised less than 11 per cent of the population — almost all the rest were Indigenous peoples. The influx of settlers brought few new French (migration from Québec to the West was considered by some influential clergy to be a form of exile), but it did bring large numbers of British and other Europeans whose descendants, in one or two generations, also became English-speaking.
According to the 2016 Census, German, English and Canadian were the most cited ethnic origins. The 2016 census also showed the degree to which the province’s visible minority population is growing: in 2006 these communities made up 3.6 per cent of the population and by 2016, the number had tripled to 10.8 per cent. Of this number, Filipino, South Asian and Chinese people represent the largest groups.
Saskatchewan has a large Indigenous community compared to other provinces. In 2016, 16 per cent of the population identified as Indigenous.
The majority of Saskatchewan is Christian, with 72 per cent of the population identifying with a Christian denomination in 2011. The next largest religious group were those identifying with Indigenous spirituality (about one per cent), followed by Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus (each less than one per cent). Those claiming no religious affiliation numbered 24 per cent.
Throughout the province's history, religious groups have been active in expressing their views on such varied social issues as prohibition, immigration, education and the language used in schools. Religious factors lie behind the division of the province's public schools into Protestant and Roman Catholic systems, and a particularly bitter confrontation occurred in the late 1920s when the Ku Klux Klan took the lead in inflaming the electorate over religious symbols (specifically Catholic) in the schools. The Conservative Party was perceived at the time to have Klan support, and hence some Catholic voters thereafter were thought to be supporters of the party's opponents. However, in 1982, the party, led by a Roman Catholic, won an overwhelming victory.
The earliest human inhabitants of the area that became Saskatchewan were nomadic Indigenous peoples grouped roughly from north to south as follows: three nations of the Athapaskan linguistic group (the Chipewyan, the Amisk and the Slavey); two groups speaking Algonquian (the Cree and the Blackfoot); and two nations of the Siouan group (the Assiniboine and the Gros Ventres). Each of the three main language groups occupied approximately a third of the area. Those in the north depended heavily on caribou and moose as a staple food; those in the southern third (i.e., that part which is now the agricultural belt) on the buffalo. These peoples lived in small groups and did not live within fixed territorial boundaries.
Some of these Indigenous communities — especially those close to waterways — were in contact with Europeans as early as 1690, when Henry Kelsey, an employee of the Hudson’s Bay Company, followed the Saskatchewan River west to the area that is now Prince Albert and then proceeded south into the plains.
Exploration of the Canadian prairies came as the fur trade expanded to meet European demand for beaver pelts, which were used to make hats.
The Europeans, once they had discovered the usefulness of the plains for this purpose, wasted little time in moving in. The Hudson's Bay Company was two decades old when Kelsey first saw Saskatchewan in 1690. Pierre Gaultier La Vérendrye then explored some of southeastern Saskatchewan in the late 1730s and he was followed by several more English explorers, of whom the best known is probably Peter Pond. None penetrated north of the Churchill River until 1796, when David Thompson explored the area before heading to Lake Athabasca. At that time little was known of the southern third of the province, but in 1800 Peter Fidler crossed the area using the South Saskatchewan River.
Indigenous peoples participated in the fur trade by trapping furs as well as procuring supplies for the European traders. Others served as middlemen between the trading posts and Indigenous groups farther to the west. Some groups such as the Cree, Ojibwa and Assiniboine moved west as the fur trade expanded to maintain their role in the trade.
Contact with Europeans brought great changes to Indigenous culture and society. The introduction of the horse and the rifle changed the method by which Indigenous peoples hunted buffalo and other big game upon which they were reliant. Additionally, horses, which were able to carry more than humans or dogs, allowed for a greater accumulation of wealth and more elaborate cultural institutions. Beginning in 1781, epidemics of European diseases, such as smallpox, devastated the Indigenous population, as did the introduction of alcohol. The Métis, descendants of European men and Indigenous women, are another product of this contact. On the Plains, the Métis formed their own culture distinct from that of their European and Indigenous progenitors.
Not all exploration was motivated by profit. Men interested in the land and the environment entered the region a century behind the traders. The best known of the early observers were Sir John Franklin and Dr. John Richardson, between 1819 and 1827, and John Palliser in 1857–58. Palliser also led the Palliser Expedition, and around the same time Henry Hind assessed the region’s agricultural possibilities. Previously, the Northwest had been viewed as a desolate wasteland, unsuited for settlement. The reports produced by the Palliser and Hind expeditions refuted this long-held belief and helped to encourage European settlement and agricultural development in the region.
In 1871, in order to facilitate westward expansion and, hopefully, avoid the type of conflicts occurring in the United States, the Canadian government began negotiating treaties with First Nations peoples in the Northwest to extinguish their title to the land and establish reserves for First Nations settlement. Beginning with Treaty One in 1871 and culminating with Treaty Eleven in 1923, they are collectively known as the “Numbered Treaties.” Parts of Treaties Two, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight and Ten comprise present-day Saskatchewan. First Nations leaders signed these treaties to maintain as much of their traditional way of life as possible while adapting to the challenges they faced resulting from the encroachment by European settlers and the devastating collapse of the buffalo population. First Nations leaders insisted on making grants of farm implements and animals part of the treaties. Although traditionally nomadic, they sought to take up agriculture as they could no longer rely on the buffalo as their principal food source. Their efforts, however, were undermined by maladministration by the Canadian government.
In 1885, Métis in the Northwest rebelled against the Canadian government over the issue of land claims. At the same time, small groups of First Nations peoples, angry at the government’s violation of their treaties, and starving after several poor harvests and the government restriction of rations, rose in rebellion. Using the nearly-completed Canadian Pacific Railway, the government was able to send troops to the Northwest and quickly put down both uprisings. In the aftermath, Louis Riel, the Métis leader, was executed. First Nations leaders Big Bear, Poundmaker and One Arrow were sentenced to prison, and the government implemented more restrictive measures to subjugate Indigenous populations.
Also during this time, in 1872, Parliament passed the first Dominion Lands Act, a provision for homesteaders and an act to stimulate immigration. In 1882–83 the first railway lines crossed the area in a southern route through Regina and Moose Jaw. The prerequisites for European immigration and settlement were therefore all in place well before 1900.
The impact of their combined influence shows dramatically in the statistics. In 1885 the population of the area was 32,097, half of whom were British and 44 per cent were Indigenous. Just over 25 years later, in 1911, the population was 492,432, half of which was still British, and the Indigenous population had dropped to 2.4 per cent. Many of the immigrants who came during this period were eastern Europeans, especially Ukrainians, whom Minister of the Interior Clifford Sifton regarded as the ideal candidates to settle the West. The British had by then consolidated their hold on familiar political institutions; the principles of responsible government, which held the Cabinet responsible to a majority of the legislature, were settled in 1897.
Provincial status, first sought in 1900, came in 1905, and with it the relevant apparatus of parliamentary government. (See also Saskatchewan and Confederation.) The province's size and shape were important; although many leading Prairie politicians favoured one large western province, the federal authorities always insisted that the western plains were too large to be made into a single constitutional entity. Depending on where one settled its northern boundary, such a province could have been the largest in Canada, a potential economic threat to the central heartland. In any event, in 1905 the federal government retained jurisdiction over crown lands in Saskatchewan.
Settlement proceeded in a generally northwesterly direction, most of the arable area being occupied by the 1930s. The pattern of settlement itself profoundly affected the nature of Saskatchewan society. Identifiable groups of immigrants, varying from English people desiring to set up a temperance colony to Doukhobors escaping persecution with the aid of Leo Tolstoy and the Society of Friends (see Quakers), established communities, which in the 1980s still reflected their origins. Time, social mobility and intermarriage have blurred the lines separating the original settlements, but at the time many parts of the province were still discernibly French and German, Ukrainian and Scandinavian, Hutterite and Mennonite.
Leading up to the First World War, there were a number of indications the province was well on its way to establishing stability. In 1909, the Saskatchewan Legislative building opened in Regina. Saskatoon began constructing the University of Saskatchewan in the same year and Prince Albert became home to the federal penitentiary. Roads, hospitals, schools, and courts were also built in this period. Agriculture dominated the economy beyond the interwar years and shaped the lives of those who settled in the province. Wheat was the most important crop grown in Saskatchewan. In the face of falling prices, farmers organized and formed the Saskatchewan Co-operative Wheat Producers Ltd. on 25 August 1923 (Saskatchewan Wheat Pool) in an effort to maintain fair prices. Throughout the 1970s, the province has endeavoured to diversify agriculture to include cattle and hogs. Towards the end of the 20th century, small family farms have been replaced by the agri-business model.
Immigration en masse into Saskatchewan had ended, at least temporarily, by the 1930s, although a high turnover in the population did not stop. The province's modern history is marked by the steady departure of people from Saskatchewan, especially in rural parts of the province. Sometimes, as in the two World Wars, thousands left over a short period to enlist or to work in war industries, and many did not return. Economically, the most significant single event of Saskatchewan's modern history was the transfer of jurisdiction over crown lands to the province in 1930. Had this transfer not taken place, the province would still have become a great agricultural producer and contributor to the Second World War effort. However, with it, the province not only had access to lucrative sources of taxation, but also new sources of power which affected its influence within Canada in the 1970s and after, giving it a formidable voice in national affairs.
The experience of the Depression created an environment that was especially conducive to the idea of a big government that would intervene to manage the economy and alleviate social problems. The CCF championed democratic socialism and made way for co-operation, public ownership of industries and universal health care in the province. The CCF also spearheaded initiatives to integrate and modernize northern parts of the province. Unfortunately, efforts to improve health care facilities, for example, only heightened unemployment and poverty. Indigenous peoples were adversely affected by these measures.
Historically, Saskatchewan’s economy centered on the fur trade. Once Europeans established settlements, agriculture overtook hunting and trapping. Wheat, once the plains were settled, was a large factor in Canada's international dealings. Since attaining provincehood, Saskatchewan’s economy is closely linked with that of Alberta as industries and resources overlap. This relationship is especially true of wheat farming, cattle ranching and the extraction of fossil fuels. The province's economy since the drought and Depression decade of the 1930s has shown an impressive capacity for diversification in both agricultural and non-agricultural production. Saskatchewan’s standout economic strengths today are in the development and production of potash as well as agriculture. Reduced demand from India and China, however, led to significant layoffs and reduced production at Potash Corp, one of the province’s leading employers, in 2013. In recent years, the province has seen a surge in the transportation sector as well as in development and construction.
Commonly the province has had little control over the transportation of its own products, or the financing of it, and this situation did not change as wheat was supplemented by natural gas, petroleum and potash. A high percentage of the consumer goods used in Saskatchewan, on the other hand, from canned food to automobiles and farm implements, are imported. A recurring feeling among sections of the population is that the province's economy is the victim of outside forces that are not always benign.
This feeling provides one reason for the remarkable success of the Co-operative Movement in Saskatchewan, through which citizens have banded together to satisfy numerous economic needs. Co-operatives are found in virtually every segment of the retailing and distributing trades, and in many service industries. In 2012, the province had 1,251 co-operatives with 344,000 active members. Co-operative associations in Saskatchewan represent 14 per cent of the national total.
Although non-agricultural production constitutes over half of Saskatchewan's annual output, agriculture remains the largest single industry. The settled era began almost exclusively as a farm economy, with nearly 460,000 ha of wheat planted in the year of the province's creation, yielding 26 million bushels. With the exception of setbacks during the Great Depression (when drought reduced all rural activities) and the Second World War (when some overseas markets for wheat almost disappeared), wheat acreage has grown steadily throughout the province's history and now tops 5 million hectares annually.
Saskatchewan is incomparably the largest wheat producer in Canada and one of the largest in the world: in 2015, the province produced over 13 million tonnes of wheat, or just over 47 per cent of the country’s total production. The province is also a leader in the growth of canola, rye, oats, barley, flax, forage crops and pasturage for livestock.
The province’s livestock industry is an important element in the agricultural economy but does not compare, in terms of income, to crops. In 2014, cash receipts for crops totalled $9.8 billion in comparison to livestock, which totalled $2.7 billion. Total farm cash receipts were over $13 billion, or the highest in the country (farm cash receipts are Statistics Canada’s way of measuring the agriculture sector’s contribution to the country’s gross domestic product, on a province-by-province basis).
Beginning in the 1950s the development of mining in Saskatchewan was almost as spectacular, though not as conspicuous, as that of agricultural settlement half a century earlier. In 1950, the total value of all mineral production was barely $34 million, of which nearly 80 per cent was of metals, mostly copper and zinc, 15 per cent fuels, mostly coal, and the remainder was sodium sulphate. By the 1980s mining ranked second to agriculture as a contributor to the province's production.
A major part of this shift was the increase in fuel production, mainly crude petroleum. In 1943, the first commercial oil well was discovered in Lloydminster. Today, Saskatchewan is the nation’s second-largest oil producing province, second to Alberta. In 2014, Saskatchewan produced 29.8 million cubic metres of crude oil, or about 37 per cent of the country’s total production. Saskatchewan also produces a relatively significant amount of natural gas — 5.8 million cubic metres in 2014, or about 3 per cent of Canada’s overall production (Alberta and British Columbia produce the vast majority of Canada’s natural gas).
Saskatchewan is also the world’s largest potash producer, with sales for the province’s potash totalling $5.7 billion in 2014. The majority of the potash produced in Saskatchewan is for export, particularly to the US, as well as to Brazil, Indonesia, China, India and Malaysia.
The mining of uranium began after 1950 and by the 1980s one large mine had already been, in economic terms, worked out, but remarkably rich deposits remained elsewhere. In 2009, the value of uranium sales was $1.26 billion. The province was once the largest uranium producing-region in the world. Since 2009, Kazakhstan has overtaken Canada as the world’s top producer of uranium.
Established in 1929, SaskPower (formerly the Saskatchewan Power Corporation) is the province’s primary electricity provider. The company generates electricity from a mix of different stations: seven hydroelectric, five natural gas, three coal-fired and two wind. Coal provides the province with more than 50 per cent of its electricity. In light of this high percentage and rising concern about climate change (burning coal produces CO2, a contributor to global warming), Saskatchewan is pioneering carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. In 2014, the province began using CCS at the Boundary Dam — an existing coal-fired power station. The project — the first of its kind in the world — aims to capture 90 per cent of the station’s CO2 and either store it underground or make use of it in oil production.
Forestry is not one of Saskatchewan's largest industries, although where it exists, primarily in the middle third of the province, it is of great local significance. The rapid opening of the Prairies for settlement created a demand for building materials, not just for farm buildings but also for railway ties and telegraph poles; and the closer settlement moved to the northern forest, the more local wood could be used. Pulpwood, which uses smaller growth than lumber, was cut for export as early as the 1920s, but the province's first pulp mill was not built until the 1960s with substantial assistance from the government.
Saskatchewan wood is used for softwood lumber, pulp, plywood and engineered wood products. Despite the industry being relatively small, its activities are nonetheless sufficient enough that Indigenous leaders frequently express concern over the damage caused to wildlife habitat.
Fisheries rank well below forestry as a contributor to the province's economy, ranking with wildlife trapping and fur farming. The fish caught are namely walleye, whitefish, lake trout and pike. Much of the commercial fishing activity is in the north, while in the south, a fairly common sight is the rainbow trout dugout, a licensed artificial pond in which individual farmers raise fish for their own use or for profit.
Saskatchewan is not generally considered a manufacturing centre. For example, in 2014, manufacturing sales totalled about $15.9 billion, as compared to $284.6 billion in Ontario, the province traditionally considered a manufacturing powerhouse. Most manufactured goods are exported to other parts of Canada.
Saskatchewan's industrial economy has always been affected by the relatively small provincial market. What the province produces well it produces in enormous quantities. The Saskatchewan internal market is in many ways more economically served by imports. While a number of attempts were made to establish major industries (Regina obtained an automobile assembly plant in 1928), the province was in the wrong location, and with the wrong resources, to share in the huge industrial expansion of the Second World War. Non-agricultural production in the 1980s was larger and more varied than it had ever been, but Saskatchewan is still a long way from posing a threat to central Canada as an industrial heartland.
No major Canadian bank or trust company has its head office in the province.
It is part of the province's traditional beliefs that banks exploit as well as serve those in debt to them; this response, together with the citizens' confidence in co-operative ventures, led to a widespread network of credit unions — in effect banks owned by their own local customers. In 2012 there were 53 credit unions, with 502,000 members.
The provincial government pioneered in its own financial enterprises when, in October 1944, the legislature passed the Saskatchewan Government Insurance Act. The Saskatchewan Government Insurance Office (SGI; 1945) handles most kinds of property casualty insurance and is particularly involved in automobile insurance, which Saskatchewan also pioneered in 1944 by implementing the Automobile Insurance Act, the first in North America.
Transportation is a challenge in Saskatchewan owing to extreme weather conditions and vast distances between cities and smaller towns. One of the chief concerns, in addition to improving everyday travel for residents, is shipping goods from producers to consumers. With the absence of navigable waters, and the sheer quantities of wheat and potash to be hauled, for example, an efficient and well-maintained system of highways and railways is of overwhelming importance. Potash can be moved directly from the mines to the railways, but grains must be carried by truck from each farm before entering the elevator for subsequent shipment by rail.
The province undertook the building of their portion of the Trans-Canada Highway during 1950–57 and completed “four-lane” highways from Regina to Lumsden, for example, in 1961. Roads in northern Saskatchewan fell under the responsibility of the Department of Natural Resources and were constructed as “resource access routes,” in the 1940s and 1950s. The provincial bus service, operated by Saskatchewan Transport Company, was created in 1946.
When all the roads in Saskatchewan are added together, the province has the longest rural road total in the country: over 190,000 km. Railways are under federal jurisdiction, but roads and highways are provincial. A major item in every provincial budget, vying for position behind health and education, is transportation. Mainline railway track in Saskatchewan accounts for 11 per cent of the total in Canada (over 3,700 km).
Historically, Indigenous peoples in Saskatchewan employed canoes to traverse the province’s network of waterways. Today, the Hatchet Lake First Nation, under contract with the Department of Highways, offers seasonal barge service to Wolleston Lake.
Government and Politics
Structurally, the government of Saskatchewan resembles that of the other provinces. The executive consists of the lieutenant-governor and an executive council called the Cabinet, which, in the name of the Crown, exercises the real powers of government, with the aid of a public service organized into departments and crown corporations. The legislature is unicameral (i.e., it consists of a single chamber) and its members are elected in 58 single-member constituencies. In 2011, Justice Minister Don Morgan announced that there would be three new constituencies distributed in Regina and Saskatoon for the 2015 provincial election. The support of a majority of the members of the legislature is necessary for the continued life of a particular Cabinet. The leader of the majority is the premier, and his Cabinet colleagues are ministers, each with assigned responsibilities. (See also Saskatchewan Lieutenant-Governors: Table; Saskatchewan Premiers: Table.)
(photo by Edward Gifford/Masterfile).
The parliamentary tradition is strong, and Saskatchewan is unique among the Western provinces in that its legislature rarely supported coalition governments for prolonged periods, nor has it been dominated by one party to the virtual exclusion of an Opposition. Even during the life of the lone coalition, the co-operative government of 1929–34, the largest single party formed the Opposition.
A second major tradition of government in Saskatchewan is the blurred line between public and private sectors: the government, no matter what party was in power, has not only encouraged citizens to develop co-operatives that competed with private enterprise but has not hesitated to go into business itself, as in the creation of a telephone system, a power corporation and an energy corporation.
The lively partisan traditions of Saskatchewan are reflected in its election results: in the seven general elections up to 1986, the winning party won over 50 per cent of the vote only twice. The Liberals were chosen to form the first administration in 1905 and won the next six elections handily, although always facing opposition groups with considerable support (see also Liberal Party).
Early 20th Century
The Liberals’ early successes produced a public service weighted with patronage appointments, an issue used against the party in 1929. The basic issue of the 1929 election, however, was the use of schools for religious purposes — something many people were upset about. These two issues helped a loose coalition of Conservatives, Progressives and Independents defeat the government (see also: Conservative Party; Progressive Party). The co-operative government they formed became a victim of the drought and the Depression, and not one of its candidates was elected in 1934.
Post Second World War: CCF and Tommy Douglas
After another decade of Liberal rule, in 1944 the province elected North America’s first socialist government by a landslide, in the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation. The CCF (known later in Saskatchewan as the CCF-NDP and finally as the New Democratic Party) remained in power for 20 years. Under the leadership of Tommy Douglas, proclaimed by the CBC in 2004 as “The Greatest Canadian,” the CCF encouraged the proliferation of co-operative associations, state-managed automobile and fire insurance, and a foundation of social services (see Tommy Douglas: “Greatest Canadian”). At the end of Douglas’ tenure as leader of the CCF in 1961, Saskatchewan was on its way to implementing universal healthcare (see Health Policy). The Liberals returned to office for the years 1964–71, after which the NDP were elected for 1971–82. In 1982, the Progressive Conservatives, who had all but disappeared between 1934 and the 1970s, won their first victory in their own right and were returned to power again in 1986. The NDP returned to power in 1991 under Premier Roy Romanow. His success at battling the deficit was rewarded with a second majority in 1995. Lorne Calvert was elected leader of the NDP in 2001 and assumed the premier’s duties shortly thereafter.
Turn of the 21st Century to Present
Since 1999, the NDP has had fierce competition at the polls from a right-wing coalition called the Saskatchewan Party, created in 1997 by Liberal and Conservative MLAs. The Saskatchewan Party formed their first provincial government in 2007 by winning 38 seats and in 2011 increased their power in the legislature by capturing 49 seats. The Saskatchewan Party’s success is based on its appeal across all demographic groups and especially in rural parts of the province. Brad Wall, who served as premier from 2007 until his retirement from politics 2018, is credited with presenting the province with six consecutive balanced budgets and substantially reducing provincial debt. In 2011, he was named the “most underrated politician” by journalist Chantal Hébert, as well as Politician of the Year by CTV. Scott Moe replaced Wall as leader of the Saskatchewan Party and premier in January 2018, vowing to stick to his predecessor’s vision for the province.
On 26 October 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Saskatchewan held a general election. Moe’s Saskatchewan Party secured a fourth consecutive majority government, the first in the province since the days of Premier Tommy Douglas. It won 60 per cent of the popular vote for the third consecutive election. This matched a record set by Joey Smallwood of Newfoundland and Labrador (see Politics in Newfoundland and Labrador). Moe’s party succeeded by winning more than 70 per cent of the vote in the rural parts of the province while also flipping seats from the rival NDP in Saskatoon and Regina.
Saskatchewan’s judicial system is the usual hierarchy, with a Court of Appeal and a Court of Queen’s Bench at the summit, and provincial courts (formerly magistrate’s courts) below (see Courts of Law). The federal authority appoints all judges except for those of the provincial courts.
Saskatchewan has 14 members in the House of Commons and 6 senators. While the province has never loomed large in numbers in Parliament, its representatives have included many notably vocal individuals. For example, Prime Ministers William Lyon Mackenzie King and John Diefenbaker were Saskatchewan MPs for prolonged periods. One federal minister, James Gardiner, held a portfolio (Agriculture) for a longer consecutive period than any other individual in Canadian history.
Saskatchewan’s income tax rate is comparable to that in other provinces, though much higher than in Alberta, its westerly neighbour. In 2015, for example, the income tax rate in Saskatchewan was 11 per cent on the first $44,028 earned, while Alberta’s was 10 per cent on the first $125,000.
In terms of consumer taxes, Saskatchewan has one of the lowest provincial sales taxes in the country at 5 per cent.
Unlike many other provinces, Saskatchewan does not have counties. Instead, local governance is carried out by eight different types of municipalities: northern towns, northern villages, northern hamlets, villages, resort villages, towns, cities and rural municipalities. Areas of the north not administered by northern towns and hamlets receive municipal services through provincial initiatives.
The municipal governments provide the usual housekeeping facilities. In urban areas, they oversee streets, police, water, sewage disposal and hospitals. In rural areas, they maintain roads and help with problems of drainage and weed control. Municipal governments, often reluctantly, also collect taxes for other local spending authorities, the largest of which are school districts. The Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association and the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities are respected political forces.
Public health policies in Saskatchewan predate the province’s creation in 1905, but the province nonetheless pioneered comprehensive extensions of health care. The hospital services plan, which became effective in 1947, provided universal hospital care insurance throughout the province: since 1947, every qualified citizen has had hospital care when needed, at public expense (see Health Policy). The hospital plan — called the Saskatchewan Medical Care Insurance Act — provided part of the foundation for national, universal prepaid medical care, as well as the establishment of a medical faculty and teaching hospital at the University of Saskatchewan.
The Medical Care Insurance Act — which extended insurance from the hospital to the doctor’s office —also contributed to the adoption of a national health care plan in Canada. Called Medicare, the insurance plan began in Saskatchewan in 1962, with a federal plan — called the Medical Care Act — being passed in 1966. Tommy Douglas’ selection as “The Greatest Canadian” was largely based on his role in spearheading Medicare.
The province inherited the beginnings of a public school system, as well as the idea for a university, from its territorial days. The rapid expansion of the population during the early settlement gave teachers and schools a sense of urgency felt almost everywhere, and the upgrading of inadequately trained teachers and the replacement of makeshift premises were major preoccupations of Saskatchewan’s first years. At the beginning, many of the teachers came from provinces to the east. The new province created normal schools, and in 1927 these were supplemented by a College of Education at the University of Saskatchewan. In due course, the college absorbed the normal schools.
The high ratio of British to French Canadians had important implications for early provincial policies on language and education. The use of French was at one time confined to primary courses, and in 1931 French was prohibited as a medium of instruction; other languages fared less well. In the 1960s, however, the province began to take a more relaxed view toward French in the schools, and public schools teaching the regular curriculum in French began to appear. Where numbers warrant, Saskatchewan francophones may manage and control their own schools through elected francophone boards. There are also federally funded, band-administered schools on Indigenous reserves throughout the province.
Like Ontario, Saskatchewan has two publicly funded education systems, i.e., a secular system and a “separate” system, made up of predominantly Catholic schools. The two systems offer kindergarten to grade 12.
The University of Saskatchewan was established in 1909 with a solitary faculty of arts, a teaching staff of five and 70 students. By the mid-1990s, the university had 13 colleges (faculties), and a teaching staff of 1,000. In 1974, the University of Regina was created out of the Regina campus of the University of Saskatchewan.
In recognition of its significant First Nations and Métis population, Saskatchewan has developed a culturally sensitive curriculum and unique system for delivering educational services by Indigenous peoples to Indigenous peoples. The First Nations University of Canada, formerly Saskatchewan Indian Federated College, is affiliated with the University of Regina and is the only fully accredited Indigenous university in Canada. It offers a range of programs including Indigenous Studies, Literature and Linguistics, Indigenous Social Work, and Environmental and Health Sciences. In 2012, the university had 45 faculty members, the largest concentration of Indigenous faculty in the world. The Gabriel Dumont Institute is the educational arm of the Métis Nations of Saskatchewan, promoting the renewal and development of Métis culture. The institute administers programs such as the Saskatchewan Urban Native Teacher Education Program, which helps Indigenous and Métis students become teachers and role models in communities.
The Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology (SIAST) is the main vehicle for the delivery of technical vocational skill training as well as adult basic education and some university credit courses in the province.
A system of seven regional colleges, with offices throughout the province, provides a wide range of adult education and post-secondary courses, career counselling and other student services to residents of rural and northern Saskatchewan.
The basic instrument of educational policy is the Department of Education. The department is responsible for developing legislation and policy affecting all levels of education and provides financial support for most public education programs in Saskatchewan.
Much of the artistic energy of Indigenous peoples went into artifacts connected with the hunt, and the making of decorated leather clothing and moccasins has survived. There are petroglyphs on outcrops at Roche Percée in the southeast. Traditional Indigenous art forms such as beading and hide-work flourish alongside the work of contemporary artists like Cree painter Allen Sapp and Métis installation artist Edward Poitras. World-renowned singer-song writer Buffy Sainte-Marie was born on the Piapot First Nations Reserve in Qu’Appelle Valley.
The Europeans brought their own crafts with them, and the significance of handicrafts in Saskatchewan's development is reflected in the seriousness with which they are still taken. One of Tommy Douglas’ lasting legacies was the creation of the Saskatchewan Arts Board in 1948. The arts board, modelled after the British organization, is a publicly-funded body that encourages and funds a wide variety of artistic endeavours. Several arts organizations were established in the late 1970s, including the Saskatchewan Council of Cultural Organizations, created to distribute lottery funds collected by the province, and the Regina Arts Commission, which undertakes similar activities to the provincial arts board at the municipal level.
Even before the creation of the Saskatchewan Arts Board, several artists made their mark, including Ernest Linder, Augustus Kenderdine and James Henderson, and the symphonies in Regina and Saskatoon were well established.
Saskatchewan boasts of a number of festivals on its social calendar, including the Festival of Words (Moosejaw), the Saskatoon Fringe Festival (renamed the PotashCorp Fringe Theatre Festival), the Regina Folk Festival and the Midsummer Arts Festival (Fort Qu’Appelle). Saskatchewan is also known for its Canadian Football League team the Roughriders (also known as the “winningest team in the West”) and its die-hard football fans. Support for this team in a relatively small market is so strong that the Roughriders rank third in merchandise sales behind only the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montréal Canadiens.
In 2004, Tisdale-native Brent Butt’s comedy Corner Gas premiered depicting the lives of eccentric residents in the fictional town of Dog River. The show centered on the town’s gas station, the only one for 60 km in each direction, and the adjacent diner. The show ran for six seasons, 107 episodes and won numerous Canadian television awards. In 2009, Premier Brad Wall honoured the show by proclaiming April 13 “Corner Gas Day.” The show brought recognition to Rouleau, located roughly 65 km southwest of Regina, which served as the set for all outdoor scenes.
Regina's Globe Theatre (1966) was Saskatchewan's first professional theatre. It was followed by Saskatoon's 25th Street Theatre (1972), which focuses on Indigenous works. 25th Street Theatre also hosts the international fringe festival, which attracts over 50,000 people each summer. Another Saskatchewan professional theatre, Persephone (1974), produces a mixture of Canadian and international works. “Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan” is a popular summer tourist attraction on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River.
Regina's MacKenzie Art Gallery, housed in the T.C. Douglas Building, began as a part of the University of Regina. Saskatoon's Mendel Art Gallery, Prince Albert's Little Gallery and the Estevan National Exhibition Centre are a few of the other major art galleries. The major galleries, along with dozens of commercial ones scattered across the province, show the work of ceramists who used the province's rich deposits of clays.
Many Saskatchewan writers have been recognized with national and international awards. Maria Campbell, a Métis woman and author of the compelling memoir Half-breed (1973), is a distinguished voice for her community. Guy Vanderhaeghe, Patrick Land and Robert Calder are some who have been awarded the Governor General's Award for Literature. The Saskatchewan Writer's Guild is one of Canada’s first organizations of its kind.
Saskatchewan is home to four daily newspapers, the Leader-Post (Regina), the Moose Jaw Times-Herald, the Prince Albert Daily Herald and the StarPhoenix (Saskatoon). Although there are no major national publishing firms headquartered in Saskatchewan, the province has smaller firms including Thistledown Press, Purich Publishing and the Gabriel Dumont Institute, which publish on subjects of local interest including Métis and First Nations content. Likewise, there are several magazines published in Saskatchewan which focus on local topics such as Saskbusiness, Saskatchewan History Magazine and Prairies North.
The province is dotted with national and provincial historic sites, the most northerly of them marking early missions, the rest variously celebrating fur posts, the first newspaper, Mounted Police depots, colonies of settlers, old trails, the founding of a grain growers' organization or a steamship landing. Wanuskewin Heritage Park, for example, is an important archaeological site that tells the story of the nomadic indigenous peoples of the Northern Plains who lived and hunted in the Opimihaw Creek region. Most recently, the Government of Saskatchewan granted Provincial Heritage Property designations to the Fish Lake Métis Settlement, an independent Métis community occupied between 1945 and 1965, and the Moose Mountain Chalet and Cabins, which played a role in the creation of the provincial parks organization.