Saskatoon: The First Half-Century


342 pages
Contains Illustrations, Index
ISBN 0-920316-35-2





Reviewed by Gene Olson

Gene Olson was Reference Librarian at the Humanities and Social Sciences Library, University of Alberta, Edmonton.


Saskatoon: The First Half-Century has to be considered the comprehensive history of this prairie city for the time period covered. In its eight chapters, authors Kerr and Hanson trace Saskatoon’s growth from its pioneer origins to the early years of the Great Depression, with extensive references to archival documents, newspapers, tax-lists, city plans, and photographs. In fact, the documentation involves 607 textual footnotes, 84 illustrations, and 10 pages of tabular appendices. A six-page index provides access to place-names, civic luminaries, ethnic groups, cultural and educational institutions, and political and historical events. Separate reference to earlier printed material in the form of a bibliography is lacking, however.

In an afterword, prominent western Canadian urban historian Alan F.J. Artibise congratulates the authors for a “depth and comprehensiveness that few urban biographies can match” and states that their work is important not only because it provides a better understanding of its subject city but also for its insight into the sudden burst of urbanization upon the prairie region around the turn of the century.

Saskatoon is unique among the prairie cities because its sudden rise to prominence eclipsed other earlier settled communities of central Saskatchewan. It is in part the result of the happy coincidence of being colonized by a Temperance Society and later providing shelter and provisions for the Barn Colonists as they passed through on their way west. Events such as these shaped the future of Saskatoon as a trading, service, and communications center. The coming of the railroads and Saskatoon’s selection as the site for the provincial university enhanced this image. Saskatoon’s history was also influenced by external forces: agricultural advances, politics, economics, and climatic changes. Its citizenry adopted “boosterism” as a way of life and rode out its consequences through a number of boom-and-bust cycles. The flavor of the times is reproduced for the reader by such historical “nuts and bolts” as the number of stockings knitted for the World War I effort, the court sentences of Saskatoon’s early drug busts, and the exact dollars and cents of the city’s welfare payments and hospital costs. The narrative style of the book makes for fairly easy reading, with or without reference to its extensive documentation. In some of its sections, it presupposes knowledge of geographical landmarks and street or district names a few pages away from the relevant maps and plans. Nonetheless, this should not prove an impediment to any Saskatoon residents.

Kerr and Hanson and their publisher, NeWest Press, with financial assistance from the City of Saskatoon, The Canada Council, and Alberta Culture, have produced a fine piece of urban history. A sequel of the next “fifty years” might well be in order.


Kerr, Don, and Stan Hanson, “Saskatoon: The First Half-Century,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 20, 2024,