Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Spring 2007


Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 27, No. 2, Spring 2007, pp. 139-140.


Copyright 2005 by the Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Bill Waiser's sweeping narrative of the history of Canada's most identifiable agricultural province was published as part of Saskatchewan's centennial celebrations. Wonderfully written in an authoritative but engaging style, Waiser's "Saskatchewan" is a story of challenge where buoyant hopes and dashed dreams were acted out by generations of people whose origins and backgrounds were as diverse as the physical environment they settled.

Two dominant themes underpin Waiser's narrative. The first is the enduring presence of a rural order built around "King Wheat," one that through the years, in both good times and bad, became the focus around which Saskatchewan defined its identity and future. Using a successful blend of narrative and analysis, Waiser demonstrates how Saskatchewan rose to national prominence via the production and export of wheat. Especially convincing is his discussion of the various official strategies taken to support this rural order in lean times, and more latterly how the province is struggling to remake itself in an age of significant change in the nature and importance of farming (and agriculture itself).

Waiser also successfully paints a vivid picture of Saskatchewan's multicultural society. He covers familiar ground as he details the various waves of European immigrants who settled Saskatchewan and lifted it to a lofty position in 1927 as the country's third most populace province and, arguably, the best example of rural Canadian ethnic diversity. However, Waiser is very critical of the treatment suffered by those who did not cleave to Anglo-Saxon values and norms. And while documenting the official sanctions generally accorded these nativist sentiments, he is most critical of the injustices endured by Saskatchewan's aboriginal peoples. Waiser pursues this theme consistently throughout his narrative, and it emerges as one of its strongest features. Also of note is his discussion of women and their overlooked status.