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History of Saskatchewan and The Old North West
Chapter I - Purpose and Plan of the Following Work


Has Saskatchewan a History?—The Importance ok Early Chronicles—Biographical Data—Bearing of the Past on the Future —Topics for Consideration in a History of Saskatchewan.

Upon learning of the author's intention of writing a history of his province, various thoughtful persons have objected with the question, "But has Saskatchewan any history?" The answer to this query will depend on one's conception of history. If the rise and tall of dynasties, the intrigues of brilliant courts and the clash of mighty armies arc the essential subject-matter of history, then, in truth and fortunately, Saskatchewan has none.

The historian of to-day, however, does not look upon the land of which he writes merely as a stage upon which the great ones of the earth play their several roles or upon its common people as mere supernumeraries appearing in the background of the scene from time to time. On the contrary, it is his duty to tell the people's own story, to show whence they come and how and why, to trace the rise and transformation of their local institutions and the relations existing between these and the social conditions of the hour.

The primary function of the historian is that of the chronicler. In the pages that follow will be gathered a mass of information that will become more and more interesting and valuable as years pass by. Much of it will be collected from sources not available to the general public. Men of action are rarely facile writers, and the old pioneers are rapidly passing away. It will be the author's privilege, to the extent of his ability, to perpetuate their story, communicated to him by word of mouth, by old diaries, through the pages of faded scrap books and by a multitude of letters. Already the struggles of the pioneers are all but unknown to the mass of our citizens and if the present work could do no more than inform the rising generation of the doings of generations passed and passing, it seems to the author that his task would he well worth while.

History, however, is more than a mere catalogue of facts. It is a nation's assembled biographies. It is important not only that the humble work of countless nameless men should be remembered, but also that names themselves should be preserved from oblivion. In the pages that follow will, therefore, appear biographical records of many men who served this country well even though at present their names may be unfamiliar to the popular ear.

"History is philosophy teaching by examples." Since the white man first appeared in the great North-West more than two hundred years ago many deeds of wisdom and folly have been performed which have a very direct bearing upon the present and future. It will be our task to trace not only the records, but the reasons of success and failure, the causes producing each of which, if repeated, will produce similar results in times to come. Indeed, true history is the most reliable kind of prophecy, for the Future is the child of the Fast. What can and should be done in this great new Province depends in large measure upon what has already been performed: and of what this is, the general public and even our active politicians know all too little.

Saskatchewan as a province came into existence but a very few years ago. Prior to that the records of the country are those of the North West Territories, or, earlier still, of Rupert's Land. We will commence our story, therefore, with the first appearance of the white man m North Western America. A very considerable portion will be such as might with equal but unquestionable propriety he included in the history of any of the prairie provinces.

We will call to mind the founding of British interests in North Western America, the story of its exploration and of the international rivalry for its control. This will involve a study of the doings of the great fur companies, and in connection therewith we will endeavor so to project ourselves into the past as to understand the life and customs of pioneer traders and hunters. The scene of their romantic adventures was peopled by numerous and diverse Indian tribes, whose origin, subdivisions, manner of life, religion and folk lore also offer topics of superlative interest.

We will record the beginning of real settlement, trace the rise and fall of all but forgotten provisional governments, recall how and why this vast domain passed under the aegis of Canada and will briefly relate the troublous events connected with its transfer.

The separate political history of the North West Territories dates from i8;o, when they were given the institutions of Crown Colony Government,

the administration being conducted from Fort Garry. The intensely interesting political history of the territories from 1870 to 1876 we will derive chiefly from unpublished official records. It will be the author's pleasant duty to emphasize the debt of gratitude that the people of Canada in general and of Saskatchewan in particular owe to a group of faithful, courageous and far-seeing men who, when this country was trembling on the verge of ruinous catastrophe in the form of Indian wars, saved it from such bloody tragedy and rendered possible the proud boast that no racial conflict of this familiar type is to be recorded in Canadian history.

In ]876 the territories were given a government entirely distinct from that of Manitoba. The Crown Colony system was retained in essence, but provision was made for transition to representative institutions. Under the North West Territories Act of 1875, provision was made for elected representatives of the people gradually to take their place in the Lieutenant-Governor's Council, side by side with its appointed members. The amount of important legislation enacted by the North West Council is now-a-days realized by only a few, and all those interested in the political superstructure now being raised upon the foundations laid a generation ago will find much worthy of note in the records of the councils from 1876 to 1888.

The outstanding event of this period is the rebellion of 1885. To the best of the writer's knowledge and belief no story of that sad and meaningful episode has hitherto been written which is at once accurate and comprehensive. We will, therefore, examine with care the causes of discontent and will trace in considerable detail the events of the sanguinary drama. The writer will endeavor to make more intelligible to the public the character and ideals of the unfortunate rebel leader, and will emphasize certain important racial and religious aspects of the rebellion which have hitherto received little or no attention at the hands of writers of history.

The history of the North West is of exceptional value to the student of political institutions, from the fact that within a period of less than half a century it presents the maximum of variety. Political evolution such as elsewhere has extended through centuries has here been reproduced within the limits of a generation. Thus in 1888 the territories achieved representative institutions, but the transition to true responsible government was attended by events essentially similar to those through which it has been attained in all other self-governing portions of the empire. The political battles of Royal's regime will be found exceedingly significant in this regard and many remarkable episodes leading up to the establishment of cabinet government will be brought to the reader's attention.

It will be our business very carefully to inquire into the rise of provincial institutions and to make clearer than at present they are to many of our citizens the essential provisions and practical workings of our present constitution. The political history of the Province will he outlined to the year 1910.

Saskatchewan differs from most other provinces and states in that the vast majority of its citizens were born without its borders. The history of immigration will, therefore, be given a prominence not usually accorded it in similar works.

Side by side with political and industrial institutions, those bearing upon the religious interests of the people of Saskatchewan will be given due prominence. Whatever be one's religious creed or affiliation, it is essential that the forces making for the due emphasis of things unseen and eternal should not be ignored. Special attention will also be devoted to the evolution of our educational system and of the varied institutions in which it finds embodiment.

In many respects the most interesting portion of our work will deal with the romantic story of the Royal North West Mounted Police, of which the citizens of the Province are justly proud, and yet know too little.

Such in outline is the purpose and plan of the author as he approaches the task of writing the History of Saskatchewan. With so varied and alluring a field one well may hope to present matter of interest and value to every type of reader.


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