Located in the prairie region of Canada, Saskatchewan is bordered by Manitoba, Alberta, the Northwest Territories and the United States, and is the only Canadian province with entirely man-made boundaries. The province is rectangular in shape and is 651 900 km2 in area. Half of it consists of forests, one-third of cultivated lands, and one-eighth is covered with water.
The northern zone rests on a formation of Precambrian rock characteristic of the Canadian Shield. As a result, there are numerous (over 100 000) lakes, rivers, bogs and rocky outcroppings.
The southern part of the province is relatively flat, with occasional valleys created by erosion from the glacial era. This prairie zone is where most of the people live.
Camel caravans might not seem out of place in certain parts of Saskatchewan. Athabasca Provincial Park has sand dunes 30 metres high and semi-arid vegetation. Nowhere else in the world are dunes found this far north.
The name Saskatchewan comes from the Cree word «kisiskatchewanisipi,» which means «swift-flowing river.» The province has four major rivers: the Assiniboine, the North Saskatchewan, the South Saskatchewan and the Churchill.
The whole province enjoys a hot, dry summer but the town of Estevan is the undisputed «sunshine capital» of Canada, enjoying 2 540 hours of sunshine per year.
The first European explorers and trappers to visit Saskatchewan found established settlements of Aboriginal people. The Chipewyan Indians lived in the north; the Assiniboine inhabited the eastern plains, while the nomadic Blackfoot roamed the west. The territory of the Cree, who were long-time residents of the north, also extended southward to the plains.
The earliest explorer was Henry Kelsey, a Hudson's Bay Company agent, who in about 1690 followed the Saskatchewan River to the southern plains of Saskatchewan. On the heels of the trappers came fur-trading companies and trading posts, which became the foundation of many present-day settlements.
For 200 years, the Hudson's Bay Company owned and administered the vast Northwest Territories. Realizing their agricultural potential and the opportunities for colonization, the Government of Canada acquired the Territories in 1870. After the Dominion Lands Act of 1872, which encouraged homesteaders, and another Act to stimulate immigration, the new railway began bringing settlers in to farm these rich lands.
In 1905, Saskatchewan separated from the Northwest Territories and was established as a province. Regina became the provincial capital. The years following were years of prosperity, until the 1929 economic crash, combined with a decade of drought and bad harvests, brought the lean years of the Great Depression to the province.
In 1944, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) became the first socialist government elected in North America. Its leader, Tommy Douglas, led the fight for public hospitalization and medicare, earning Saskatchewan the reputation as the «social laboratory of North America.»
The recovery of the 1940s and 1950s saw the economy, once dependent solely on agriculture, become more diversified with the development of oil, uranium, potash, coal and other minerals.
The Métis, people of mixed European and Aboriginal descent, were among the first settlers, many of them having migrated from Manitoba. With land available at token prices, agriculture gradually replaced the fur trade. A major wave of immigration began in 1899 and continued until 1929.
Today, Saskatchewan's population stands at approximately 1 024 000. Saskatchewan is Canada's only province where the majority of the population is of neither British nor French background. The population has a variety of ethnic inheritances — German, Ukrainian, Scandinavian, Amerindian, Dutch, Polish and Russian, as well as British, French and many other non-European origins.
Regina and Saskatoon are the two main cities and together have more than one-third of the total population. Named in recognition of Queen Victoria (Victoria Regina), the capital is the site of Wascana Centre, one of the world's largest urban parks. Saskatoon, which has a larger population, is bisected by the South Saskatchewan River.
Saskatchewan has changed greatly since it became a province in 1905. Back then, agriculture was the only industry, and it centred on wheat farming. Today, Saskatchewan produces over 54 percent of the wheat grown in Canada. Other crops include canola, rye, oats, barley and flaxseed. Saskatchewan is also a major producer of cattle and hogs. The average Saskatchewan farm is about 420 hectares in size.
Northern Saskatchewan's 350 000 km2 of forests are the province's most important renewable natural resource. Softwoods (coniferous trees) are the focal point of forestry development.
Saskatchewan is also a province rich in minerals. Potash, uranium, coal, oil and natural gas are the leading mineral resources. Saskatchewan's almost 19 000 active oil wells produce about 20 percent of Canada's total oil output. In addition, with an estimated two-thirds of the world's reserves, Saskatchewan is the leading exporter of potash.
Research and development is a growing business in Saskatchewan, as attested to by the inauguration of Saskatoon's Innovation Centre and more recently, the construction of the Canadian Light Source synchrotron, one of only a few such facilities in the world. The province's technological potential in agriculture, space technology and biotechnology is now recognized internationally.