Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.
The same old girl in a new dress. By George Shepherd, Museum Curator.
Most readers of the Iron Men's Album are aware of the agricultural Museum at Saskatoon 'The Museum fartherest North' in fact many have visited it. The coming year of 1972 marks a historic turning point in the history of the Museum. On July first and second the Museum will be holding open house in a new million dollar building just across the South Saskatchewan River from the old Museum site.
The new building is the culmination of years of hopes and dreams and will be a fitting tribute to the homestead people of Western Canada, who came from all over the world to turn the former desolate buffalo ranges into fruitful farms that we have in Saskatchewan today.
It was almost thirty years ago that a movie was being made in Saskatchewan called 'Soil for Tomorrow'. This called for the restoring and operating of some of the old style steam and gas tractors that helped to open up the prairie lands at the turn of the century. After the filming the idea was born that the restored machines should not be abandoned again. This was the germ of the idea of setting up a pioneer agricultural Museum.
Dedicated men and women in all walks of life pooled their ideas to see what could be done. There was in Saskatchewan, at that time, a number of airplane hangars, used to train airmen during World War Two. After the war was over the hangars were standing idle and empty, most suitable buildings for storing and displaying the cumbersome machines of the homestead age, a period that was fast slipping away. After considerable time, thought and effort, vacant hangars were secured at North Battleford, Yorkton and Saskatoon, the last named being the focal point of the activities. In 1949 the Legislature of Saskatchewan set up a Western Development Museum Act and since then the Museum has seen continuous and amazing growth. The Museum has been a leader in its field on the North American Continent and has achieved an International reputation.
The new Museum building is on a lovely site on the East bank of the South Saskatchewan River, a river that rises in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and flows through hundreds of miles of arid prairies, finally draining into the Arctic wastes of the Hudson's Bay. The formerly uninterrupted flow is now harnessed by the Gardiner Dam, a three mile long structure some 80 miles south of Saskatoon.
The new building, 300' x 400' of fire proof construction, comprises 120,000 square feet of floor space, all under one roof and is three times the size of the present hangar building.
The pioneer spirit which built Western Canada was exemplified in great measure by the merchants and trades-men who came along in the pioneer homestead days to supply services which were essential in the opening up of the country. much men took the same chances as the homesteaders in opening up a new land. This business spirit will be ably portrayed in the display of a typical pioneer village street. Twenty-two buildings will show life in a typical early day village of Western Canada in the 1910 period.
Passing through the Museum entrance the visitor will be transported back in time to the homestead days of Western Canada. Here you will see the small business enterprises which, supported by the boundless enthusiasm of the people, in the new land, established forever a spirit of optimism, which still exists today. Optimism was in the air in every homestead community where every small town aspired to be a future Chicago. One does not need to be a grey beard to recall the Saturday night visits to town, for the shopping, and the neighborhood gossip exchanged there.
Already a grain elevator and railway station have been promised for the village. A church is already in place along with a harness shop and shoe repair. That most important of all men in the early days, the blacksmith, will be commemorated by the village smithy. Local organizations are rallying to the project. The local daily newspaper plans on a printing shop while, of course, the old school bell will sound out from the one room school. Most of these enterprises will be in full operating order.
While this is turning a new page in the history of the Western Development Museum the aims and objectives are still the same, except that with enlarged facilities, everything can be greatly expanded. An annual show will still be held and the same cordial welcome will meet visitors in the present as in the past. The Museum will have a strong agricultural flavor and will always remain a grass roots organization. Visiting groups, schools and individuals will be enchanted as they turn the clock back to the homestead days of the West. There is a distinct and fascinating Saskatchewan homestead culture and the Museum has captured the bygone old-time atmosphere.
Among its more than ten thousand exhibit items the Museum numbers some 125 steamers, 250 gas tractors and about the same number of antique automobiles. Also included are a great variety of grain threshers, plows, seeders, wagons, buggies and all the varied implements used during the homestead years. In addition, the Museum has a very large quantity of furniture and clothing for use in the pioneer rooms and buildings portrayed in the new venture. For years the Museum has been giving demonstrations in weaving, wool spinning, quilting, churning and bread baking which were all part of the prairie heritage. These will all be continued and expanded as the project widens.
The Museum looks back over the years with fond memories. Today the plodding ox has been replaced by the rubber tired tractor and the sod shack by modern homes. The wagon, on winding rutted trails, starting from nowhere and going to nowhere, has been replaced by sleek automobiles and black top highways.
This story is all told at the new Museum building as it consolidates its displays. They honor the men, women, yes and children too, who bore the loneliness, isolation and hardships of the pioneer days, with courage and fortitude. Of such life and living as this are heroes made.
The Museum looks forward with confidence to serving in its new and expanded field. Old friends and new are assured of a warm welcome while re-living the colorful days of 'When the West was Young'.