Saskatchewan lives up to the image of seemingly endless wide open spaces filled with vistas of gold-rippled grain only interrupted by brightly painted grain elevators against one of the bluest skies you’ll ever see – the epitome and embodiment of a central Prairie province. It is a panorama fittingly descriptive of only the south and unlike the nearly uninhabited northern half of the province, a wilderness of forests and endless glacial lakes and rivers.
Saskatchewan is the largest of Canada’s prairie provinces, sandwiched between Alberta to the west and Manitoba to the east. With its fertile, nearly flat plains in the south, it is Canada’s biggest wheat producer. The southern region of the province is home to the large semi-circular portion of the prairie known as the badlands, a mixture of desert-like areas and semi-arid grasslands. This section is part of a wheat-growing belt at the center of which lies the Saskatchewan’s capital, Regina. Beyond this strip is the “parkland”, an outer section of the prairie that boasts rolling hills, gentle trees, and the North and South Saskatchewan Rivers. Beyond the prairies, you’ll find the Prince Albert National Park, which stands at the edge of the remote North Country, a wilderness of forests, marshlands, lakes, and river much of which is Canadian Shield country. It is here where the roads peter out and the population sparse. The wide open spaces, though, are ideal for fishing and canoeing and attract adventurers and urban escapists.
In 1858, John Palliser led the British North American Exploring Expedition to explore and survey western Canada for possible railway routes. His expedition led him through the southwest of Saskatchewan. He deemed the land unfit for farming, but subsequent irrigation proved him wrong – considerably wrong! Saskatchewan today is the largest wheat-growing region in North America, producing 60% of Canada’s crop. Moreover, the southern grasslands represent perfect cattle-raising country. The province has abundant mineral wealth as well, including oil resources that have turned heady profits. And warm summer weather and acres of national parks serve as “tourism resources”, attracting a flock of outdoor enthusiasts each year.
Saskatchewan has about one million people living in an area measuring 250,000 square miles (650,000 square kilometers). That leaves an awful lot of space for its citizens to revel in. Its two major cities, Regina and Saskatoon, treat the province’s vast acres of parklands as their year-round playground.
The relaxed and laidback attitudes of its people belie their fighting spirit and willingness to band together through difficult times. They are also embracive of change, electing the first Socialist government in North America in 1944 and launching an array of innovative social programs. And they never forget their pioneering past, commemorating their early struggles in numerous museums throughout the province. Reminders are frequent of the contributions made by the North West Canadian Mounted Police in the early days, as well as the Northwest Rebellion that still embitters the province in direct and indirect ways.
Saskatchewan’s history has been colorful, to say the least. For thousands of years, First Nations tribes such as the Sioux, Cree, Assiniboine, Algonkian, and Chipewyan, among others, have lived in this vast territory. In 1690, Henry Kelsey became the first European to explore the area, surveying it on behalf of the Hudson’s Bay Company. The company set up trading posts throughout the region. The fur trade flourished, reaching its peak during the 19th century. French fathers began marrying Indian mothers, giving way to the Metis people who lived the native way of life but practiced Roman Catholicism.
In 1870, the Canadian government purchased land from the Hudson’s Bay Company and negotiated treaties to prepare the area for settlement. Free land was advertised to willing settlers and ranchers from the southwest began moving in with their herds. In 1873, the Northwest Mounted Police was created by the government to enforce law and order in the frontier Northwest Territories. Settlers from Europe and the U.S. did not come, however, until the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed in 1882.
The flood of immigrants and the constant surveying of the land by the government was a source of consternation for the Metis, who felt as though their land rights were being encroached upon. They pleaded to the government but were ignored. Turning to the leadership of a young man named Louis Riel, they established their own government and chartered their own set of rights. The English settlers in the region largely opposed Riel, the Metis, and their provisional government. Two pro-Canadian anglophones, Thomas Scott and Major Charles Boulton, attempted to assassinate Riel, who retaliated by having both of them executed. The Metis were eventually granted some of the land they claimed in 1870 and Riel was granted amnesty for his murders but was forced into exile.
During the 1870s and early 1880s, the population of buffalo declined rapidly and the Metis were forced to transition into farming. Their need for more land and the influx of Anglophone immigrants renewed hostilities between the English settlers and the Metis. Riel returned from his exile in Montana to lead the Metis in the Northwest Rebellion of 1885. The conflict was a hopeless ordeal. The rebels were outnumbered at Batoche by government troops equipped with Gatling guns. Riel surrendered, was tried, and hanged for treason.
While the Metis ultimately received the land they sought, Riel’s death ignited the French-English political divide that continues to plague Canada. The memories of these events are kept alive in Saskatchewan each year with the re-enactment of the trial in Regina.
In 1905, Saskatchewan was incorporated, with Regina as its capital, and immigration to the province steadily continued along with prosperity and growth. 10 years of drought and crop failure along with the depression of the 1930s badly hurt the farmers of Saskatchewan, but they remained on their farms. Their tenacity kept them going on as did their willingness to help each other and work together, a spirit still evident today in their hospitality and warm-heartedness.
The main tourist destinations in Saskatchewan include its capital, Regina, its largest city, Sasakatoon, and the hunting and fishing paradise found in the province’s northern lakes and forests. There are also several national provincial parks, 31 of them, that serve as great summer playgrounds for outdoor enthusiasts.
Carroll, Donald. Insider’s Guide Canada. Edison: Hunter Publishing, Inc, 1996. ISBN: 1556507100.
Simpkins, Mary Ann. Canada. New York: Prentice Hall Travel, 1994. ISBN: 0671882783.
 Simpkins, 231
 Carroll, 133
 Simpkins, 231
 Carroll, 133
 Id. at 133-34
 Id. at 134