Skip to main content Skip to Search Box
Summary Article: Saskatchewan
From The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Province of west-central Canada, the middle Prairie Province, bordered to the west by Alberta and to the east by Manitoba. To the north of Saskatchewan (above the 60th parallel) are the Northwest Territories, while to the south (below the 49th parallel) lie the US states of North Dakota and Montana; area 652,300 sq km/251,854 sq mi; population (2001 est) 1,011,800. The capital is

Regina. Towns and cities include Saskatoon (the largest city), Moose Jaw, Prince Albert, Yorkton, and Swift Current. Industries include extraction of oil, natural gas, uranium, zinc, potash, copper, and helium; and manufacture of cement, chemicals, fertilizers, and wood products. Wheat, oats, barley, rye, and flax are grown, and there is cattle-rearing and dairying.

Physical The southern two-thirds of Saskatchewan lies between 365–610 m/1,200–2,000 ft above sea level, rising gradually through Parklands (mixed grassland and aspen trees) into the Great Plains region. The large majority of the population lives here. The highest point in the province (1,468 m/4,816 ft) is in the Cypress Hills, to the southwest of the Alberta Plain. The northern third of the province lies in the Canadian Shield region; the largest lakes are found here, including Athabasca, Reindeer, and Wollaston. In total, some 35,550 sq km/13,650 sq mi of Saskatchewan's land area lies under water. The main river is the Saskatchewan, from which the province takes its name. Joining near the city of Prince Albert, the North and South Saskatchewan rivers flow east and finally drain into Cedar Lake in Manitoba; this river route was an important trade artery for much of the province's history. The South Saskatchewan River Irrigation Scheme was designed to provide water for about 800 sq km/300 sq mi in the dry central districts. The upper Churchill and Qu'Appelle rivers also flow east into the Hudson Bay watershed, while some Shield rivers, in the far north, flow into the Arctic Ocean watershed.

Economic activities The main area of arable land in Saskatchewan lies in the central section of the prairie, which contains the most fertile zones of dark brown and black soils. In 1997, wheat was the dominant crop, providing over 60% of Canada's production and accounting for 51.5% of the province's arable land. Canola, oats, barley, rye, and flax are sown in smaller quantities. The heavy emphasis on wheat has made the economy vulnerable to the effects of drought and fluctuations in world demand, and so the Saskatchewan government has instituted an Agricultural Development Fund and an Action Committee on Rural Economy to help bring diversity to the province's agribusiness. To the north, the cool temperatures, short growing season, and poorer soils limit the wheat belt. Hardy cereals, root crops, and rapeseed are grown on the farming fringe, and beef cattle are reared. The southwestern part of the province is too dry for crop cultivation, and cattle ranching is practised; farms are large because of the sparseness of the grass cover.

Areas of woodland containing spruce, larch, jackpine, poplar, and birch cover 45% of the province, mainly in the north and in the Cypress Hills, but the forests are not dense enough to sustain a widespread lumber industry. Production is confined to the areas north of Prince Albert in western Saskatchewan. Beaver, otter, bear, martin, mink, ermine, and wolf are trapped in the northern part of the province, mostly by the American Indian population.

Saskatchewan's mineral resources form a valuable part of its economy (in 2000, they contributed Canadian $2.4 billion, as opposed to Canadian $2 billion from agriculture). It is the second-largest oil producer in Canada, and has large reserves of coal, lignite, and natural gas. Over 80% of Canada's uranium is mined in the province, especially in the area around Lake Athabasca. Saskatchewan also contains the world's largest deposits of potash (in the south), and the only western source of helium outside the USA. Copper, zinc, gold, silver, diamonds (from 1989), and antimony are also extracted. Mining centres include Lloydminster (on the Alberta border), Estevan, Swift Current, and Weyburn.

Manufacturing industry in the province is mainly concerned with the processing of local raw materials, and includes flour-milling, brewing, meat-packing, dairy production, and the manufacture of wood products. Other industries are oil-refining, and the manufacture of cement, chemicals, machinery, electrical goods, textiles, and fertilizers. Regina, Saskatoon, Moose Jaw, and Prince Albert are the province's main administrative, industrial, commercial, and service centres.

History Saskatchewan was first inhabited by Athabaskan-, Algonquian-, and Sioux-speaking American Indian peoples, such as the Cree, Assiniboine, and Blackfeet. These hunting peoples depended on caribou and moose in the north and buffalo in the south. The first European to reach the region was Henry Kelsey, an employee of the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC), who penetrated the Carrot River Valley in 1690. However, the French were first to exploit the area's natural resources when they established fur-trading posts, for example at Fort Paskoyac and Fort-à-la-Corne on the Saskatchewan River, in about 1750. The region soon became a rich source of animal pelts. By 1774, the Hudson's Bay Company, which now claimed the region as part of Rupert's Land, had founded its first trading post and permanent settlement in the interior, at Cumberland House (also on the Saskatchewan River). Numerous posts on the Churchill, Saskatchewan, and Qu'Appelle–Assiniboine river systems soon followed, built by the Hudson's Bay Company and its rival, the Montréal-based North West Company (NWC). Settlements grew up around these posts, but general settlement did not occur until after 1870, when the Hudson's Bay Company Territory was acquired by Canada and became part of the Northwest Territories.

Land in Saskatchewan was cheap to acquire in the mid-19th century, after a government expedition had pronounced the south unfit for farming (‘Palliser's Triangle’); under the Dominion Lands Act of 1842, in return for a registration fee of Canadian $10, farmers received 0.65 sq km/0.25 sq mi of free land on the undertaking that it would be retained for three years, and occupied for six months of each year. Irrigation schemes on the South Saskatchewan River later transformed this poor land into highly viable farmland.

Once the Dominion of Canada had come into being in 1867, its government negotiated treaties with American Indian groups, provided law and order by forming the North West Mounted Police, surveyed the land, inaugurated a free homestead policy, and subsidized the construction of a transcontinental railway (the Canadian Pacific). When this line was being built, in 1881–85, immigration to the province rose steadily. Despite dwindling during the 1890s because of recurring drought and worldwide depression, immigration swelled to a flood after 1900. By 1914 the majority of the agricultural lands had been distributed.

An uprising of Métis and other American Indians against the appropriation of their land (the North-west Rebellion) took place in 1885. After a number of violent incidents, it was quelled by an expeditionary force sent from eastern Canada, and the leader of the Métis, Louis Riel (who had also led the Red River Rebellion of 1869–70 in Manitoba) was hanged. Like Alberta, Saskatchewan was created a province out of the southern portion of the Northwest Territories under the 1905 Acts, and was admitted to the Dominion of Canada on 1 September 1905.

Geology Saskatchewan can be divided geologically into two parts: the Canadian Shield to the north, and a region of sedimentary rocks covering two-thirds of the province to the south. The shield is a vast area of Precambrian rock, the remains of a highly eroded ancient mountain system that has been repeatedly scoured by glaciation. Low-lying, undulating bare rock predominates, pitted with innumerable lakes and bogs. Stands of coniferous forest occur on moraines (glacial debris) deposited by the retreating ice sheets.

To the south, sedimentary rocks were laid down by eastward-flowing rivers, which carried material eroded from the Rocky Mountains during the Cretaceous period. These deposits covered the entire prairie area, and have been subjected to repeated uplift, forming three levels or prairie steps rising from north to south. The first or northwestern step is the Manitoba Plain, a rocky area of lakes and marsh, which ends in the Manitoba Escarpment to the south and west. The greater part of the province lies within the second of the prairie steps, the rolling Saskatchewan Plain, where patches of Eocene and Oligocene rocks form hill areas. The plain culminates in the Missouri Coteau, an escarpment that traverses the southwestern section of the province. Above the Missouri Coteau lies the Alberta Plain, an expanse of more hilly country that extends westwards into Alberta.

Trees do not thrive in the southern part of the province, mainly because of the dryness of the climate, and an extensive prairie of natural grassland has combined with the sedimentary rocks of the area to form deep and very fertile brown and black earths. Soil colour varies with its humus content, which is dependent on vegetation cover. A series of belts of different soil types occur across the prairie: light brown (low humus) soils in the dry southwest; thick dark brown and black soils in the more moist central districts; transitional and grey acid soils in the cool and moist northern districts.

Climate The province has a cold continental climate, far from any oceanic influence. The cooling down of the continental interior during the winter months causes temperatures to fall as low as −40°C/−40°F, although the average January reading is around −19°C/−2°F. During summer, the interior heats up to give temperatures of up to 38°C/100°F and an average July figure of 20°C/68°F. Throughout the province precipitation levels are low, 330 mm/13 in in the southwest to 430 mm/17 in in the east. Most rain occurs during the spring and summer months, and is sufficient to support cereal cultivation, except in the drier southwest where there is a risk of drought. Winter snowfalls are slight, but high winds often give blizzard conditions. The intensity of the winter cold is occasionally broken by incursions of warm dry winds called chinooks, which sweep down from the Rockies and across Alberta before reaching Saskatchewan. Chinooks result in dramatic temperature rises, often as great as 39°C/102°F (−37°C/−35°F to 2°C/36°F). Spring chinooks play an important role in agriculture, thawing the ground to permit an early start to the planting season.

Features Principal museums include the Saskatchewan Museum of Natural History and Royal Canadian Mounted Police Centennial Museum in Regina, and the Ukrainian Museum of Canada in Saskatoon. Areas of outstanding natural beauty for outdoor recreation can be found at Prince Albert and Grasslands National Parks and Lac la Ronge Provincial Park. Places of historical interest include Fort Walsh, a North West Mounted Police post; Fort Espérance; Battleford 1876, a reconstruction of a mid-19th century Mountie stockade and buildings; Batoche National Park, a memorial to the Métis North-west Rebellion of 1885; and the Wanuskewin Heritage Park, commemorating the culture of the northern Plains Indians.

People and culture About 75,000 of the population are Native Canadian; there are also people of British, French, German, Scandinavian, and Slav origin. Most inhabitants of modern Saskatchewan are descended from the European settlers who came here from the 19th century onwards. In particular, Ukrainians emigrated here to farm (the wheat-growing prairies strongly resembled their homeland). There is also a substantial American Indian population in the province, living, for the most part, on over 100 reserves. Many of these are situated within the forested Canadian Shield region to the north.

Facilities for higher education include the University of Saskatchewan (1907) at Saskatoon, and the University of Regina (1974).


Saskatchewan – flag

© RM, 2018. All rights reserved.

Related Articles

Full text Article Saskatchewan
The Macmillan Encyclopedia

A province of W Canada, on the Great Plains. The N is covered by forest, mostly noncommercial, with lakes and swamps. The S is open prairie,...

Full text Article Saskatchewan
Philip's Encyclopedia

Province in W central Canada, the southern half on the fertile Great Plains and the northern half in the lake-strewn Canadian Shield. The...

Full text Article Duck Lake
The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Town in central Saskatchewan, Canada; population (1991) 700. It is located 52 km/32 mi southwest of Prince Albert, to the west of the South Saskatche

See more from Credo