Review of The Heavy Hand of History: Interpreting Saskatchewan's PastEdited by Gregory P. Marchildon; On the Side of the People: A History of Labour in Saskatchewan By Jim Warren and Kathleen Carlisle; & Saskatoon: A History in Photographs By Jeff O'Brien, Ruth W. Millar, and William P. Delainey
Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 27, No. 2, Spring 2007, pp. 135-37.
In their pictorial overview about the northern prairie city of Saskatoon, Jeff O'Brien, Ruth Millar, and William Delainey note that the opening decade of the twenty-first century contains three significant centennials for Saskatchewan, a land described by journalist Peter Gzowski as "that most Canadian of provinces." In 2005, Queen Elizabeth II joined Canadians in observing the centenaries of this western province as well as its restive sibling, Alberta. During 2006, residents and officials recognized the hundredth anniversary of Saskatoon, the largest city in Saskatchewan and home to the majestic University of Saskatchewan. For 2007, similar celebrations are planned for this campus community, as the University was established formally in April 1907. Contributing to this triptych of accomplishment, these successive anniversaries sparked the production of a plethora of substantive, sympathetic, and celebratory works focusing on Saskatchewan as well as the place of the province within what Duke historian John Herd Thompson refers to as "The New West and the Nation."
Within the substantive stream, Gregory Marchildon's edited volume of essays addresses Clio's weight upon this "Land of Living Skies." Helpfully, his introductory chapter alerts readers to a ubiquitous source of unease within contemporary Saskatchewan: its wealthy, western sister Alberta. The increasing disparity between these two provinces marks what the Canada West Foundation calls "an east-west divide within Western Canada." If helpful in identifying this fault line, Marchildon's initial analysis is unfortunately incomplete. While contending that many Saskatchewan resident~ feel left behind by Alberta's "blue-eyed sheiks," he adds that they have actually "fared well" when compared with citizens of other provinces. Quietly, he posits that "oil royalty revenues" help to account for lower taxes in Alberta, thereby contributing to the prosperity of that province.
As a former senior Saskatchewan policy maker, Marchildon makes three curious omissions in his introduction. First, as a significant source of oil, uranium, and potash, Saskatchewan has a surfeit of natural and renewable resources. As highlighted by Jim Warren and Kathleen Carlisle, during the 1970s leaders from both Alberta and Saskatchewan were considered to be "blue-eyed sheiks." Second, as Juan Enriquez explains in As the Future Catches You, wealthy jurisdictions no longer need "great deposits of gold or diamonds, or an abundance of land, or millions of people. They need to educate their population. They need smart and entrepreneurial people." Within the context of the North American prairies and Plains, successful jurisdictions must also work to retain their populations. As recent work by the Canada West Foundation highlights, over the last decade 117,000 people left Saskatchewan for Alberta, as the population of that province increased by 10.3 per cent between 1996 and 2001 while Saskatchewan's declined by 1.1 per cent over the same period. Finally, Mark Partridge, a former Canada Research Chair at the University of Saskatchewan (now at Ohio State), suggests that "it is time to slay the energy myth in describing Alberta's prosperity." He argues that geographic amenities-like mountains, business-oriented public policies, and the evolution of substantial urba'n centers cannot be overlooked when considering the contemporary trajectory of "Wild Rose Country."