/sa skach"euh won', -weuhn/, n.
1. a province in W Canada. 907,650; 251,700 sq. mi. (651,900 sq. km). Cap.: Regina.
2. a river in SW Canada, flowing E to Lake Winnipeg: formed by the junction of the North Saskatchewan and South Saskatchewan rivers. 1205 mi. (1940 km) long.

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Province (pop., 2000: 978,933), western Canada.

It is bounded to the north by the Northwest Territories, to the east by Manitoba, to the south by the U.S. state of Montana, and to the west by Alberta. The capital of Saskatchewan is Regina. A plains region, with prairie to the south and wooded country to the north, it supports rich and varied wildlife. The Cree Indians inhabited the region for some 5,000 years before it was claimed by the Hudson's Bay Co., which controlled the area from 1670 until it surrendered the land to the British in 1868. It was part of the Northwest Territory until 1869, and in 1870 it became part of the Dominion of Canada. From 1882 the extension of the railroad brought large numbers of European settlers. The province was created in 1905. Its economy is based on oil, gas, and potash production, grains, and livestock. The largest city is Saskatoon.

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Saskatchewan, flag of province of Canada, one of the Prairie Provinces. It is one of only two Canadian provinces without a saltwater coast, and it is the only province all of whose boundaries are wholly artificial (i.e., not formed by natural features). It lies between the 49th and 60th parallels of latitude and is bounded on the west by longitude 110° west of Greenwich, and its eastern limit, with minor adjustments, is longitude 102°. Its southern half is largely an extension of the Great Plains of central North America, rarely rising 2,000 feet above sea level, and its northern half, most of which lies in the ancient rock mass of the Canadian Shield, is sparsely populated bush country with many lakes and tundra. Its area is 251,866 square miles (652,330 square kilometres), of which 31,518 square miles are water; and it measures 760 miles (1,223 kilometres) from south to north, tapering from a width of 393 miles (where it abuts Montana and North Dakota in the United States) to 277 (where it meets the Northwest Territories). In area, Saskatchewan is Canada's fifth largest province, and in population, its sixth. Economically, the province has always been heavily dependent on the exportation of its agricultural and mineral products and is thus peculiarly sensitive to fluctuations in world markets beyond its own or even Canada's control.

Physical and human geography

The land
  Although familiarly known as one of the Prairie Provinces, Saskatchewan has little native prairie; a large proportion of its productive acreage (half the province) is rolling ranch and parkland, both of which offer immense vistas from their higher points. There is not a single mountain in the province, although the term is loosely used to identify several landmarks. The Cypress Hills, in the southwestern corner of Saskatchewan, include the provincial summit: 4,816 feet (1,468 metres) above sea level. The hills constitute the only part of the area to escape glaciation and contain unique plant and animal life. Wood Mountain (3,275 feet) and the Vermilion Hills (2,500 feet) are some of the province's other major departures from the rolling plains topography. Cut into the plains are many spectacular river valleys, including those of North and South Saskatchewan and the Qu'Appelle.

Drainage and soils
      Saskatchewan drains from west to east, its great rivers (which provided the first transportation routes) rising in the Rocky Mountains and emptying ultimately into Hudson Bay. The soils through which the rivers flow are predominantly chernozemic (dark-coloured grassland) and podzolic (light-coloured forest) with extensive deposits of poorly drained mineral and peat soils in the north.

      The climate keeps much land out of agricultural production. In the southern half of the province there are as few as 80 to 100 frost-free days annually. Temperature variations are extreme; January temperatures have fallen below −65° F (−53° C) in settled parts, and in July temperatures upward of 105° F (41° C) have often been recorded. The normal mean daily reading for the arable regions ranges from −5° F (−21° C) to 10° F (−12° C) in January and from 55° F (13° C) to 65° F (18° C) in July. Precipitation generally is not high, averaging from 10 to 20 inches (255 to 510 millimetres) each year; snowfall ranges from 30 inches (760 millimetres) in the southwest to more than 60 inches (1,525 millimetres) in the north-central area. Drought years are not uncommon.

Plant and animal life
      Saskatchewan from north to south is marked by six recognizable bands of natural plant life, all running in a southeasterly direction and roughly following the pattern of soil deposits. Farthest north is the subarctic forest tundra, south of which lie the northern coniferous forests and then a strip of mixed forest. The most northerly agricultural belt is aspen parkland, parts of which are still being cleared. The two most southerly bands are composed of midgrass prairie and shortgrass prairie. The three most southerly zones produce a rich profusion of attractive wildflowers, many of which also, paradoxically, qualify as noxious weeds.

      The vast unsettled parts of Saskatchewan support a large wildlife population of great variety. Grizzly bears and mountain lions are now rare, but wolves, black bears, moose, deer, caribou, elk, and antelope are common, together with enormous numbers of smaller mammals. Coyotes, foxes, and lynx, together with the gophers, rabbits, and other creatures they prey on, are abundant, and the province supports a considerable amount of trapping. Saskatchewan is on the main western flyway of waterfowl, songbirds, hawks, and owls, many of which nest in the province. The extensive water resources maintain both commercial and game fish in quantity. Northern Saskatchewan, particularly, is a haven for the hunter and angler.

      The lack of heavy industry and of metropolitan areas keeps Saskatchewan relatively free of the kinds of pollution associated with high population density and manufacturing, but the extensive agricultural development subjects it to those connected with weed killers and insecticides. Significant amounts of mercury have been found in fish and birds, and continuing research suggests that the amount of contamination in wildlife may be larger than had been apparent. The sources of the major rivers also subject Saskatchewan to upstream pollutants from areas over which it has no control; but prevailing winds do not come from heavily polluted regions, and the air is generally clean, though an occasional northern forest fire casts a pall over thousands of square miles to the south. Frequent strong winds produce dust clouds.

Settlement patterns
 Saskatchewan's landscape makes its inhabitants conscious of the sky; and the changing patterns of light and shadow on clouds, which commonly offer magnificent sunrises and sunsets, are as much a part of the scenery as any contour of the earth. All of Saskatchewan is farther north than any of the most densely populated parts of Canada, and the province's own north is largely inaccessible except by air, with the result that few citizens are familiar with it. Saskatchewan's best-known regions and sites are its main agricultural and recreational areas: the wheat belt (see photograph—>), the ranching country, the Qu'Appelle valley, the Cypress Hills, Lake Diefenbaker, Waskesiu Lake, the old fur-trading routes and trails and their inevitable forts, and the sites of Saskatchewan's few battles.

      Saskatchewan is not dominated by any metropolitan centres. Unlike most Canadian provinces, Saskatchewan has in effect two capitals: Regina, the official capital, in the central south, and Saskatoon, 160 miles to the north. Both cities are growing rapidly. Other major cities include Moose Jaw and Prince Albert. Because the four largest cities maintain less than 50 percent of the population, a small-town character is maintained. The most striking man-made feature of the landscape has been for decades the grain elevator, and the typical village is clustered around three or four of these structures. But changing technology has been making the elevators obsolete, and they are being replaced by facilities set farther apart.

The people
      The population has changed markedly during the area's history. It was originally exclusively American Indian, to which French and British elements were added early, and a large population of mixed origin, the Métis, developed. Then other European groups—German, Austrian, Ukrainian, Scandinavian, Russian, and Polish, among others—were attracted, some by generous homestead grants, and some in part by a desire to avoid compulsory military service in their own countries. The period of heaviest immigration was between 1900 and 1920, when the population rose suddenly from less than 100,000 in 1901 to nearly 700,000. The population of British origin was, by the late 20th century, less than 40 percent. Many of these groups, including the British, settled in separate communities where they could use their own language and continue their own religion and customs, and Saskatchewan contains many settlements readily identifiable as Ukrainian, French Canadian, or German. Since the 1960s an appreciable number of migrants from India and East Asia have arrived, settling mainly in the cities. Provincial law permits the use of languages other than English in schools for specific purposes, and widespread advantage has been taken of the law. Ethnic variety is matched by that found in religious affiliation; the largest churches are the United Church of Canada, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, Ukrainian Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Mennonite, Presbyterian, and Baptist.

      Population growth has been generally slow because of the high emigration rate, which exceeds immigration. This is attributed to increases in the efficiency of Saskatchewan's basic industries, which can steadily produce more with less manpower. Internally, the province, although still one of the least urbanized, has one of the highest rates of urbanization in Canada, the growth coming chiefly from the movement of rural dwellers into urban areas.

The economy
Resource exploitation
      Saskatchewan's economy, since its beginning, has been based on extractive industries: forest products, fish, furs, agricultural products, oil and gas, and potash. In almost all cases the products are consumed outside the province and generally outside Canada, a situation that makes the province one of the most economically vulnerable areas in the world. A grain belt, made up predominantly of wheat but also including large acreages of barley, oats, rapeseed (canola), flax, and rye, lies between the southern border and the 54th parallel of latitude. Potash is found in a narrower band running diagonally across the province from west to east, its northernmost point being west of Saskatoon. Oil and gas lie in the southernmost quarter of the province, while there are rich uranium deposits in the north; there also diamonds of industrial quality were discovered in the 1980s. Other significant minerals include salt, sodium sulfite, lignite, zinc, copper, gold, and a variety of clays. In terms of employment, manufacturing has always played a relatively minor role in the provincial economy and is characterized by several hundred small establishments, most of which have only a few dozen employees.

Government policies
      The Saskatchewan economy, always dependent on external markets, has internally required a variety of governmental supports; as a result the province has never had a true free-enterprise system, while public enterprise and mixed public and private ventures have characterized the development of the economy from the beginning. The Canadian protective tariff, long criticized by prairie dwellers because it made them pay more for goods of all kinds, appears to be the mainstay of the developing secondary industries. The first waves of settlers, attracted to Saskatchewan by federal policies, were carried on railways built with federal assistance. Saskatchewan grain moves to federal terminal elevators at controlled freight rates. Within the province, political parties in power, regardless of ideology, have sponsored and maintained publicly owned utilities, a bus company, an insurance company, and public hospitalization and medical care. Nonetheless, in the 1960s and again in the '80s the people elected governments that stressed private capitalism.

      Modern Saskatchewan was originally the creation of transcontinental railroads, which carried settlers and supplies in and grain out. Though freight remains an important rail component, passenger carriage has declined, and services have been reduced or abandoned. The province is now crisscrossed with highways. The system of land division in the rural areas provides for “road allowances,” strips of territory a mile or two apart that serve as simple, mostly dirt, roads, which when dry are firm and passable and widely used for local travel.

      Except for recreation, water transportation is all but obsolete in Saskatchewan; small shallow-draft steamers formerly sailed the main rivers, but, since the rivers are shallow with shifting sandbars, they have not been significant transportation routes since before World War I. Airlines, by contrast, have developed dramatically in Saskatchewan, where approximately half the province is accessible only by air. Small planes serve the north for both commercial and recreational purposes, and all major centres are on scheduled airlines.

Administration and social conditions
      Saskatchewan's constitution, based on custom and the Saskatchewan Act of 1905, provides for a British parliamentary system, in which the life of the executive depends on the support of a majority in the legislature. A general election must be held every five years; short of that period, the premier may advise the holding of an election at any time, and most assemblies last only four years. As in all the provinces, the lieutenant governor is appointed and has become by custom and judicial decision the counterpart of a constitutional monarch, whose position and powers are largely symbolic. Saskatchewan's larger centres have their own local police, but in the province as a whole the law is enforced by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

      Unlike those of Canada's other Prairie Provinces, the Saskatchewan legislature has a long tradition of strong vocal opposition in the assembly, with the Liberals and the New Democratic Party (NDP; formerly the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation) traditionally providing what was a two-party system ideologically divided into free enterprise versus democratic socialism. Since the 1970s the Progressive Conservatives have gained support at the expense of the Liberals, and they became the governing party in 1982, ousting the NDP. Like the Liberals, the Progressive Conservatives draw their greatest strength from rural areas; the New Democrats have a stronger urban base. The governing party is vigorously opposed by the others, with the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives generally espousing development of the province by business and corporate means and the NDP strongly urging the use of public and cooperative enterprise.

      The province is divided into a multiplicity of local administrations including hospital districts and school districts, all constitutionally under provincial jurisdiction but all having considerable local responsibility. Municipal government in Saskatchewan is based on the U.S. mayor-council model, with a mayor elected separately from the council, and a number of appointed boards and commissions operating largely independently of either.

      For most of its history the province has qualified for the kinds of federal aid available to those whose economy operates below the national average. The province's reliance on federal subsidies as a percentage of total revenues, though it varies with crop conditions, is generally above the national average. Saskatchewan's wage levels for both industry and agriculture are never among the lowest for the provinces but are neither among the highest. The province's “middle” position carries over into its internal affairs: it is socially and economically (except for its poor American Indian and Métis peoples) one of the least stratified areas in Canada, having little of great individual or corporate wealth on the one hand, and little general destitution on the other.

Cultural life
      Although lacking great metropolitan centres, Saskatchewan has developed creditable art galleries and professional theatre and opera companies; even so, many artists leave for careers elsewhere. Writing in and about the province, always strong, has blossomed since the 1960s, and the same is true of painting and sculpture. Saskatoon and Regina have excellent civic auditoriums, and Saskatoon has an outstanding branch of the Western Development Museum, whose chief exhibits, outmoded farm machinery and automobiles, are annually refurbished in a celebration of pioneer days. The province is well served by the radio and television networks of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, augmented by private broadcasting services.

      The province's oldest recognizable cultural institution is the University of Saskatchewan, established in 1907 and, with remarkable foresight, given a huge campus at Saskatoon. The university has produced much fundamental research relevant to Saskatchewan (it maintains, for example, an Institute of Space and Atmospheric Studies that has done extensive research on the aurora borealis) and has also a tradition of extension services on and off campus. It has sent forth a steady stream of distinguished workers in a variety of fields, from theatre to nuclear physics. As a result of the limited opportunities available, not many of these have been able to remain in the province. The province is also noted for the number of professional hockey players and curling champions it has produced.

      Since Saskatchewan became a full member of the Canadian federation only in 1905, much of the area's historical interest depends on events vastly older than the province. Dinosaur and mammoth finds have been common. The first known human inhabitants were American Indians of several linguistic groups who were present at least 5,000 years ago; they were mainly hunters. With the coming of the Europeans, they became trappers involved in the fur trade. The first European known to see the Saskatchewan River was Henry Kelsey (Kelsey, Henry), who in 1691 explored part of the plains for the Hudson's Bay Company, which received its charter in 1670 and is still extant. Fur traders and buffalo hunters, variously American Indian, Métis, French, and British, and explorers and missionaries made up the bulk of the area's inhabitants until the second half of the 19th century.

      The area from which Saskatchewan is carved was first granted to the Hudson's Bay Company and then, in 1869, surrendered by the Rupert's Land Act back to the British crown, in order that it could be turned over to the newly formed Dominion of Canada, which was done in 1870. Canada administered its newly acquired western territories almost as if they were colonies and, in 1873, created the North West Mounted Police to maintain law and order. In 1885 the national authorities sent out troops to quell the second Riel Rebellion, an uprising in which a large number of Métis, by then deprived of their main sustenance, the buffalo, sought to establish their rights to western lands in the face of growing settlement. Constitutionally, the territories in 1875 were granted an executive council with a promise of an elected assembly, and by 1897 they had won responsible parliamentary government on the British model.

      Saskatchewan, created by the Saskatchewan Act in 1905, entered confederation with its present boundaries and the status of a province equal to the others except that, as with its sister province Alberta, the federal government retained control of its natural resources, paying a subsidy in place of the revenues the resources might have yielded. (The resources were assigned to the province in 1930.) The new provincial government, after a good deal of rivalry among the towns, chose Regina, the former territorial capital, as its centre of operations, and the first premier appointed was Walter Scott, a believer in partisan politics, as opposed to those who favoured a continuation of the kind of cooperative effort that had led to the creation of Saskatchewan as a separate province. A member of the party in federal power at the time, the Liberal Scott was the first of several able politicians who kept the party in power in Saskatchewan except in 1929–34 and 1944–64, and after 1971. The 1944–64 period was unique in North American history. During that era the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF (Co-operative Commonwealth Federation)), successively led by T.C. Douglas and Woodrow Lloyd, established the first avowedly socialist government on the continent, and the party won international attention in 1962 when it implemented the continent's first compulsory medical care program, accompanied by a doctors' strike.

      Regardless of which political party has been in power at any given time, the Saskatchewan environment has always demanded much governmental intervention in the economy. The provincial telephone company and the power and gas utility, for example, were publicly owned (although neither was created by a socialist government) down to the 1980s, when privatization began under a Progressive Conservative government. The cooperative movement has been encouraged by all parties and has been influential in a wide range of service, retail, and wholesale activities that include large credit unions and an oil refinery. In the handling of grains, the backbone of the province's economy, the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, also a cooperative, has been a dominant influence. The co-ops helped many individuals survive the drought and depression of the 1930s, during which Saskatchewan society is considered to have sustained setbacks as severe as any suffered in Canada. After World War II the province attained a major development in mineral exploitation and industrial growth, and its diversified base was combined with new farming techniques to strengthen the economy.

Norman Ward

Additional Reading
The most comprehensive sourcebook on the province is J. Howard Richards and K.I. Fung (eds.), Atlas of Saskatchewan (1969). A general description is provided in Edward McCourt, Saskatchewan (1968, reprinted 1977). John H. Archer, Saskatchewan: A History (1980); D.H. Bocking (ed.), Pages from the Past: Essays on Saskatchewan History (1979); and Deanna Christensen and Menno Fieguth, Historic Saskatchewan (1986), offer informative surveys. Current research may be found in Saskatchewan History (3/yr.).Norman Ward

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Universalium. 2010.

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