Saskatoon is a commercial and educational centre in the province of Saskatchewan. It lies along a bend of the South Saskatchewan River, 346 km north of the Canada-US border, 224 km from Alberta and 344 km from Manitoba. It is central Saskatchewan’s great crossroads; a hub for water, rail, and highway crossings east and west, north and south. The Saskatoon area has been inhabited for at least 8,000 years. Buffalo kill sites, teepee rings and a medicine wheel can still be seen today and form an important link with the past. The first European to set foot on the northern prairies was Henry Kelsey, a fur trader and explorer who arrived in 1690. Anthony Henday was the first European known to have passed through the Saskatoon area, in 1754.
The Temperance Colony Settlement:
European settlement of Saskatoon did not begin until 1881. That year, a group of Ontario temperance activists formed the Temperance Colonization Society (TCS), with the idea of creating an agricultural colony on the prairies, dedicated to the ideals of the Temperance Movement, a philosophy which blamed alcohol for most of the ills that beset society. Take away the alcohol, the reasoning went, and you took away the ills.
At the same time, the Canadian government was hoping to stimulate settlement on the prairies by offering huge blocks of land to colonization companies. For the TCS, therefore, the new colony would not only be agricultural and social utopia, but also a chance to make a tidy profit from selling land to prospective settlers.
They soon signed up 3,100 would-be colonists for more than two million acres, and by June of 1882, John Lake--a Methodist minister turned entrepreneur--was scouting out possible colony sites along the South Saskatchewan River.
As it turned out, the colony’s land grant comprised only 313,000 acres. It extended along both sides of the South Saskatchewan River, from Clarke’s Crossing (present-day Clarkboro) in the north to Moose Woods (the present-day Whitecap First Nation) in the south. It was to include a centrally-located townsite to act as a service centre for the surrounding farms. On the advice of Chief White Cap of Moose Woods, Lake chose the site we now call "Nutana" as a place to plant the new town.
Lake returned the following year to survey the colony. The first settlers travelled by railway from Ontario to Moose Jaw and then made the grueling 160 mile trip to Saskatoon in horse-drawn carts.
Village to City:
Saskatoon grew slowly. There was no railway and the river was too shallow and too full of shifting sandbars for easy navigation. (One steamboat captain remarked to the effect that one did not sail down the South Saskatchewan so much as hopped from sandbar to sandbar.) Sensationalized newspaper reports of the North-West Rebellion in 1885 also helped discourage settlement. Less than a dozen new settlers a year arrived in the district between 1885-1890. The TCS fell on lean times and, wracked by internal squabbles and lawsuits, folded in 1891.
In 1890, the railway finally arrived. That year the Qu’Appelle, Long Lake and Saskatchewan Railway Company bridged the river at Saskatoon. The railway snaked up from the south, following the course of what is now the Idylwyld Freeway and crossing the river where the Senator Sid Buckwold Bridge is now, on its way to Prince Albert. A new settlement soon developed on the west side of the river around the railway station.
By 1899 Saskatoon consisted of a few houses on the east side of the river and on the west side was the station house, the section foreman’s house, the Mounted Police barracks, a stone building, a hotel and about six other houses and shacks. In 1901 when the west bank settlement incorporated as a village, it kept the name of Saskatoon. The name of the original settlement on the east side was changed to Nutana. A third settlement, Riversdale, developed west of the railway tracks beginning in 1903. In 1906 with the promise of a traffic bridge and other civic improvements, the three settlements amalgamated to form a city. The trickle of immigrants was becoming a flood and Saskatoon became the fastest growing city in Canada.
Boom, Bust, War and Depression:
By 1911, the population had more than doubled and Saskatoon had become what is still today: a major distribution centre for the surrounding agricultural district.
In the years leading up the First World War, Saskatoon’s economy boomed. The population exploded. New construction was everywhere. Speculators bought up land for miles around, subdividing it into streets and lots and re-selling it at sometimes enormous profits. Otherwise sober men dreamed of a city of 100,000 by 1920, in a province of 2 million inhabitants. It was not to be. The boom went bust in 1913, followed by the declaration of war with Germany in 1914.
With the exception of a few years in the late 1920s, the next 30 years were marked by economic and political upheavals of one sort or another, including Influenza Epidemic of 1918, the Great Depression of the 1930s and the great human tragedy known as the Second World War, from 1939-1945. After that war, Saskatoon underwent a huge housing crisis - as bad as or worse than that which followed the First World War in 1918. By the late 1940s things had settled down somewhat and the city entered a period of prosperity which has lasted - with exceptions - ever since.
With its dependence on agriculture, Saskatoon has experienced many "booms and busts" throughout its history. The expansion of the mining industry in the 1970s and 1980s (particularly potash) reduced this to some extent, and the future promises continued diversification through the emergence of more advanced technology industries and an increase in manufacturing, primarily to service the resource sector.
Although Saskatoon's pioneers came mostly from Ontario or Great Britain, the city is now home to people from around the world as well as to a large First Nations population. This ethnic diversity is a dynamic component of the rich culture which makes Saskatoon such an interesting place to live.
Saskatoon became the central city of central Saskatchewan because a small group of pioneer businessmen tirelessly lobbied to make sure the railways came to their town. By 1908 three railway bridges and a traffic bridge crossed the South Saskatchewan and Saskatoon was the hub of a transportation network. Today five of the city’s seven bridges are motor vehicle bridges and only two carry rail traffic. But Saskatoon remains the place where many trails cross.