The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan

 

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Sports and Recreation in Saskatchewan - History

By: Pat Rediger

From 1905 until the 1940s, sports and recreational activities were primarily a personal responsibility for families. As the years passed, sport and recreation have become regional, provincial, national and international concerns with new programs and events being organized every year. This has led to larger sporting events, such as the Olympics, but families and children still organize their own activities for fun and enjoyment. Sport and recreation remains an important facet in Saskatchewan residents’ lives.

1880–1919

Old Crossing picnic, near Regina, May 24, 1896.
Saskatchewan Archives Board R-B5

Sports and recreation were simple in Saskatchewan’s early years: transportation limited individuals to participating on local teams and clubs, with few inter-community competitions. Much of the settlers’ recreation and leisure activities originated in the home: hospitality was a main concern, and visits were encouraged among neighbours. At these spontaneous and prearranged visits, Baseball games and dances often occurred. When schools were built, they became the home for recreational activities. Annual picnics held at the schools were the biggest event at that time, and sports days—where baseball, wrestling, horseshoes, horse racing, Soccer, boxing and foot races occurred—became a staple later in the period. The Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) and Young Women’s Christian Association’s (YWCA) played important roles in providing recreational and sporting activities for citizens. The first YMCAs came into existence in Moose Jaw (1905), Regina (1907) and Saskatoon (1913), while the first YWCAs formed in Moose Jaw (1907), Regina (1910) and Saskatoon (1911).

Curling, Battleford, 1911.
Saskatchewan Archives Board R-B1034

Lacrosse was the first sport in Saskatchewan and Canada, thanks to the Aboriginal peoples, who introduced settlers to the game. Curling was also a part of Saskatchewan life in the late 1880s. From 1880 to 1904, the Royal Caledonian Curling Club of Scotland’s North-West Territories branch controlled Saskatchewan curling. By 1889 Regina featured its first curling club, and soon afterwards Qu’Appelle and Indian Head built their own clubs. It was not until 1904 that a provincial association was formed to managed the various clubs across Saskatchewan. After World War I, curling became a staple for residents, and almost every community held bonspiels throughout the winter. Moose Jaw’s Aquatic Club, located on the Moose Jaw River, was a key recreational and sporting site: Swimming, diving, Canoeing, dances, and regattas occurred periodically at this location. The Saskatchewan Football Association formed in 1906, with the Wapella Club taking home the first league championship trophy.

Physical Training Class, Yorkton, 1914. The man standing at center is the school inspector, J.T.M. Anderson, who would be elected premier in 1929.
Saskatchewan Archives Board R-B3737

Favourite summer activities in this period included baseball, football, kites, hide-and-go-seek, horseshoes, and marbles for boys; and hopscotch, skipping rope, and tag for girls. Meanwhile, winter pastimes included skating, sleighing, skiing, and fox-and-hound games. With the onset of World War I in 1914, recreational and sporting activities decreased significantly as residents and communities focused on the war effort. Communities provided recreational activities such as dances for local army training camps, while park construction and other recreational activities, such as sports days, ceased during the period. One sport organization to stem from the war was the Junior Provincial Hockey League, which was formed by the Saskatchewan Amateur Hockey Association in 1917 to fill in the gap left by senior players who had enlisted as soldiers.

1920–1938

The law students lacrosse team, Regina, were Champions in 1914. Seated second from the left is Neil J. (“Piffles”) Taylor. Taylor served in the Royal Flying Corps in World War I and was a prisoner of war for a year. Upon his return to Regina after the war, he played and coached rugby, in addition to practicing law and serving as a city alderman. In recognition of the important role he played in the development of football in Western Canada, Regina’s Taylor Field was named for him.
Saskatchewan Archives Board R-B8768

Automobiles, trains, new roads, and buses provided Saskatchewan residents with the opportunity to travel to neighbouring communities for sport and recreation events, including dances and sports competitions. The 1920s featured competent boxing and a professional hockey team, the Regina Capitals. In their first year, the Capitals came within one game of playing in the Stanley Cup finals; unfortunately this success was not long lived, and professional hockey only lasted for a few years. The franchise was sold to Portland, Oregon in 1926. Boxing was popular and successful in Saskatoon, Moose Jaw and Regina throughout the 1920s. Moose Jaw’s Jack Reddick went on to become the Canadian light-heavyweight champion, while Regina’s Jackie Lewis was Saskatchewan Boxing Champion and Western Boxing Champion in the same year.

On July 15, 1925, Saskatoon’s first pool, the Victoria Park Swimming Pool, opened its doors to local residents. As well, Tennis, softball, lawn bowling, baseball, soccer, and Golf provided Saskatoon’s citizens with plenty of entertainment. In the 1920s, tennis thrived in several communities along the Canadian National Railway (CNR) thanks to O.J. Rowe, the assistant superintendent of the CNR in Biggar, and later superintendent for western Canada; his passion for the game drove him to request the CNR to fund various tennis courts in the communities. George Ward was hired as the first Saskatoon Playgrounds Association’s director in May 1930. Ward was responsible for the sports arena in Westfield Park, a football field, the Avenue H Swimming Pool, four knockdown rinks, a cricket pitch, and two softball backstops. His hard work and dedication had a tremendous impact on the recreation field for over thirty-five years.

Water Sports Day, Swift Current.
Saskatchewan Archives Board R-B8607

The 1930s were a difficult period for Saskatchewan and Canadian citizens. The Great Depression limited recreation and sporting programs in many ways, but Regina’s rowing and canoeing athletes continued to capture several awards at the Canadian Henley and Northwestern United States regattas, thanks to Harry Duckett’s instruction and the athletes’ devotion and skill. Drought and hard times did not stop Moose Jaw from constructing Saskatchewan’s first municipal indoor pool in 1932. The Moose Jaw Natatorium featured the latest technology, but it faced problems because the hot mineral water that was used for the pool corroded the pipes on a regular basis, and the water remained cloudy despite the filter system; despite the problems, the pool was a tremendous success and a popular tourist attraction.

At that time the majority of Saskatchewan’s residents spent their leisure time on inexpensive modes of recreation such as picnics and dances, and travel between neighbouring communities for sport and recreational activities decreased. Sport and recreation budgets greatly diminished or evaporated from schools and communities, which forced youth to return to games such as kick-the-can, red-light, and shinny, in which the puck was improvised from any available material in the area, including frozen horse manure.

1939–1949

World War II began in 1939, and once again sport and recreational activities were hampered by dedication to the war effort. Saskatchewan communities continued to provide entertainment in the form of dances for nearby training camps. Owing to lack of funding, the Moose Jaw Natatorium ceased its aquatic activities and placed flooring over the pool area to provide less expensive activities. Cadet Corps programs were initiated to attract youth to the war movement; all other sports and non-war-related activities were discouraged by the school boards. Elementary school children transformed Halloween into a fundraiser for the “Milk-for-Britain” program, and Junior Red Cross Programs appeared in the schools. The University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon also introduced a Canadian Officers’ Training Corps program to its curriculum.

Government officials felt that physical training was an important component to the war movement, which eventually led to the development of the National Physical Fitness Act of Canada on July 24, 1943. On April 1, 1944, Saskatchewan followed suit by introducing the Saskatchewan Physical Fitness Act. At that time, the Saskatchewan Council on Physical Fitness made suggestions to the Minister of Health and Welfare on the best programs for physical fitness. Sports and recreation were not entirely removed from people’s lives, however: in 1940 the Regina Boxing Club was established, and rugby remained a popular, though not well funded, activity for school children. To commemorate soldier’s efforts at the end of the war, several communities constructed parks, rinks, sports fields, libraries, and swimming pools rather than the traditional, unusable monuments.

On March 31, 1948, the Saskatchewan Division of Physical Fitness, created in October 1944, was no longer under the control of the Department of Public Health; instead, it came under the control of the Department of Education because the majority of the division’s participants were school age children. In 1948, the Saskatchewan High School Athletics Association (SHSAA) was established; it worked with the Division of Fitness and Recreation to fund high school football, basketball, curling, tennis, and Track and Field activities. The Division for Fitness and Recreation was in charge of supplying some sports equipment to communities, especially in rural areas; in 1945 it also published Saskatchewan Recreation magazine to inform the public of various sports topics and events. More importantly, the division focused on promoting sport and recreation leadership skills to Saskatchewan’s citizens through the University of Saskatchewan’s Summer School and other organizations.

1950–1959

The 1950s provided further growth in the sport and recreation fields. Prince Albert was home to the first regional library in 1950; Regina’s recreational facilities included swimming pools, seventeen playgrounds, sixteen rinks for skating and recreational hockey, three community centres, and more. Saskatoon hosted the 1951 Canadian Olympic Speed Skating Trials in February, which was a first for Canada. Changes to the National Physical Fitness Act occurred in the early 1950s: in 1952, the Minister in charge of administering the Act was transferred from the Health and Welfare Division to the Education Division; then, in 1954 the Act was repealed by the federal government, which eliminated Saskatchewan’s recreational funding from the federal level. As high school students became more involved in professional athletics, individuals became concerned that the students would neglect their educational responsibilities to focus on these activities: efforts were therefore taken to reduce any aspects of the students’ activities that would interfere with their schoolwork.

Saskatchewan developed some strong Olympic competitors during this period, such as George Genereaux, a 17-year-old from Saskatoon, who won the gold medal in clay pigeon trapshooting; this was the first Olympic gold medal for Canada since 1936.

The 1955 Saskatchewan Golden Jubilee, celebrating Saskatchewan’s 50th anniversary, dramatically increased the level of sports and recreation in Saskatchewan. Grants were distributed by the Saskatchewan Golden Jubilee Committee, which were used to build community halls and recreational facilities. The committee was also successful in attracting major sporting events to the province: the Macdonald Brier Dominion Curling Championships, the Western Canadian Volleyball Championships, and the North American Figure Skating Championships. Not everyone was excited about the explosion of sports and recreation in Saskatchewan. In 1955 the Regina City Council passed controversial legislation that permitted the Regina Braves baseball club to play three games every Sunday. Delegates from the United Church, the Northside and Central Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and the Regina Presbytery of the United Church protested against the legislation because Sundays were the Christian sabbath day and should not include professional sporting events. However, council retained its decision and Sunday games became a reality.

A new health and physical education curriculum was introduced into schools in September 1956. The modification was in response to the Kraus-Weber Fitness Test, which demonstrated that Saskatchewan’s youth became less physically active once they entered the school system. This led to new gymnasiums being built in elementary schools, and to more educators skilled in the new program. One focus of the Fitness and Recreation Branch of the Department of Education was the creation of a recreation leadership course that would educate participants in various recreational activities such as administration, crafts, sports and athletics, and program planning. The program consisted of two-week courses for three years, which led to a Certificate in Recreation Leadership. Saskatchewan’s recreational leaders also modeled their programs on successful Alberta and Manitoba recreation projects; delegates from the three provinces began to meet once a year, starting in 1958, to discuss recreation issues.

1960–1969

Rythmic playtime for a Grade 2 class at Lakeview School in Regina, 1960.
Ralph Vawter (Saskatchewan Archives Board) 60-570-01

As gymnasiums were built in Saskatchewan schools, physical educators were hired to replace volunteers. In rural areas, the gymnasiums were tremendous assets because they provided year-round entertainment and activities for youth. Saskatchewan Recreation magazine ceased publication in the fall of 1960; during that year, the government passed the Regional Parks Act, and Thomson Lake was the first park formed under the legislation. Recreation delegates established the Saskatchewan Recreation Association (SRA) in October 1961 after several years of discussion; the SRA was responsible for coordinating and promoting all levels of recreation.

Recreational activity of a more spontaneous sort: a “Jam-can” bonspiel on a clearing in a snow-covered back yard.
Vern Kent (Saskatchewan Archives Board) 3527

Several organizations began to merge in order to form more efficient and focused establishments. In 1962, Saskatoon’s Parks Board and Playgrounds Association formed the city’s Parks and Recreation Board. The University of Saskatchewan, the city of Regina and the Saskatchewan government formed the Wascana Centre Authority, which maintained Wascana Park and the Legislature. Wascana Park became an excellent spot for sports and some aquatic activities. At the provincial level, the Continuing Education Branch formed in 1963, when the Adult Education Branch joined with the Fitness and Recreation Division. Throughout the 1960s, the provincial government focussed on Saskatchewan’s youth. The Saskatchewan Youth Act was passed in 1965, which led in 1966 to the establishment of the Provincial Youth Agency, responsible for improving youths’ lives by encouraging skill development, primarily through sport, cultural and recreational activities.

Ralph Punter, Prince Albert, competes in the Senior Men’s Slalom event at the Provincial Ski Meet, March 1963.
Alan Hill (Saskatchewan Archives Board) 62-381-22

The Provincial Youth Agency immediately divided Saskatchewan into eleven regions, based on population sizes. It also encouraged the development of Regional Recreation Agencies to manage each region’s recreational programs. Another significant contribution by the Youth Agency was its assistance in creating, in November 1969, Saskatchewan Sports and Recreation Unlimited, a unified sports administration centre that worked closely with the provincial government to provide administrative assistance to sports and recreation organizations. Local recreation boards increased dramatically in the 1960s, from 73 in 1966 to 415 in 1969. The Saskatchewan Roughriders defeated the Ottawa Rough Riders 29–14 in the Grey Cup final in 1966; this was the ninth time that Saskatchewan competed in the final, the previous time being in 1951.

Gordie Howe Day took place in Saskatoon on July 22, 1966, to honour the Saskatoon native for his remarkable hockey achievements: nicknamed “Mr. Hockey,” he completed 32 professional hockey seasons, won four Stanley Cups, was the National Hockey League’s Most Valuable Player six times, and scored 801 goals and 1,049 assists in his career. To commemorate his achievements, the city changed the name of the Holiday Park Sports Complex to the Gordie Howe Park. The Molson Sports Hall of Fame in Regina was officially opened on October 31, 1966; the facility was a joint venture between Molson Ltd. in Regina and the Saskatchewan Branch of the Amateur Athletic Union. The Saskatchewan Recreation Association became the Saskatchewan Parks and Recreation Association in mid-October 1967 to acknowledge the important role that parks play in the recreation field.

1970–1979

Tourism Saskatchewan

The Saskatchewan Recreation Society, now known as the Saskatchewan Association of Recreation Professionals (SARP), officially opened in 1970 to represent the growing number of recreation professionals in the province. The mission of this non-profit organization is to improve parks and recreation services throughout Saskatchewan. In 1973, the society became independent from the Saskatchewan Parks and Recreation Association. Funding for the society’s programs and projects came from Saskatchewan Lotteries, which began in 1974. At the beginning of the 21st century, the organization supports approximately 291 recreation professionals, compared to its initial membership of seventeen members. Throughout the 1970s, various government departments became increasingly involved in sport and recreation programs; the Department of Tourism and Renewable Resources and the Department of Municipal Affairs provided funding for several recreation and sport facilities.

Dairy Producers played an important role in hosting an annual awards banquet, financially assisting annual meetings through its Fitness Foundation. After long deliberations, Sask Sport Inc., the provincial sport federation, was established on September 29, 1972, thanks to volunteers and supporters from the Provincial Youth Agency. Sask Sport Inc. strives to ensure that people of all ages and abilities are able to participate in sport. In 1973, Sask Sport introduced the Saskatchewan Sweepstakes Lottery; due in part to the success of the lottery, Sask Sport Inc. received its license to manage Saskatchewan’s major lotteries from the provincial government the following year. Sask Sport Inc. also joined other western provincial organizations to form the Western Canada Lottery Foundation. Sask Sport Inc. created the Saskatchewan Lotteries Trust Fund to handle the distribution of the lottery funds in the early 1970s. In its first year, the Trust designated $341,405 to 44 Saskatchewan groups; in 2004 they distributed approximately $29 million, which is estimated to benefit up to 12,000 sport, culture, and recreation groups.

Ted Grant (Tourism Saskatchewan)

In 1972 another recreation publication, Recreation Saskatchewan, emerged thanks to the Saskatchewan Parks and Recreation Association. As well, on April 1 the provincial government passed the motion for the Department of Culture and Youth Act, which amalgamated with the Youth Agency to form the new department. The Department of Culture and Youth was the first sport and recreation agency to have a high stature within the provincial government. Sport and recreation programs experienced tremendous growth throughout the 1970s: by 1972, 505 municipal recreation boards were formed, and in 1978 that number had risen to 700. The Sport and Recreation Branch of the provincial government was established in 1973; its mission was to promote and encourage all sport, recreation and physical activities, to work with provincial sports and recreation agencies to improve their programs, to provide the best competitive situations for those interested in higher levels of sport, to respond to special needs of citizens, to act as consultants for sports and recreation projects, and to encourage non-competitive programs.

The Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame first received financial assistance from the provincial government in 1974. Since then, the provincial government and Saskatchewan Lotteries have funded the Hall, whose mission is to promote and safeguard Saskatchewan’s sports history. In the late 1970s, Saskatchewan Sports and Recreation Unlimited and the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame moved into the Land Titles Building in Regina, thanks to funding from the Saskatchewan government and the Saskatchewan Lotteries Trust Fund for Sport, Culture and Recreation. In 1974, Saskatchewan became a member of the National Coaching Certification Program, designed to develop provincial coaches; a similar program was initiated for officials in 1974–75.

This page and facing page: Today, Saskatchewan citizens can watch or participate in a wide variety of sport and recreation activities year-round. From top to bottom, left to right: Thoroughbred racing at Marquis Downs, Saskatoon; baseball; Waskimo Winter Festival, Regina; curling; canoeing; golfing at Elbow Harbour.
Tourism Saskatchewan

As 1974 wore on, sport research became a priority to Sask Sport Inc. and the Department of Culture and Youth, which assigned a Research Committee to approve grants for appropriate research projects that were important to sport development in Saskatchewan. An Evaluation and Forward Planning Committee was formed in 1976 to discuss the past and future programs of Sask Sport Inc., as well as how efficiently those programs were being conducted. In 1977, Saskatchewan Sports and Recreation Unlimited and Sask Sport Inc. decided to incorporate sport, recreation and cultural organizations into one building, known as the Administrative Centre for Provincial Sport, Culture and Recreation Associations. Sask Sport requested funding in December of that year to cover the costs of renovating the historic Land Titles Building for the project, and the administration center opened in September 1979.

1980–1989

The Saskatchewan Recreation Facilities Association was established in October 1982 to act as an organizational and support outlet for all Saskatchewan recreation facility staff members. Its goal was to provide better services for all communities. The association was needed because an overwhelming number of facilities were being built across the province, and volunteers were organizing most of these facilities. Experienced and knowledgeable personnel were required to run them properly. A Fitness Leadership Instruction Program for Seniors was introduced in 1982 by the Saskatchewan Parks and Recreation Association; its success led officials to found the Saskatchewan Seniors Fitness Association, which would oversee senior’s physical activity development in Saskatchewan. Volunteers remained an invaluable commodity for sport and recreation organizations; however, as programs expanded more time and devotion was required from these volunteers. So in the 1970s and 1980s, the Saskatchewan Parks and Recreation Association took over the responsibility of organizing and assisting volunteers and professionals in recreation. The association listened to its volunteers’ and employees’ concerns over facilities, funding and work responsibilities, and strove to meet those needs in order to ensure that recreation activities continued to succeed.

1990–1999

Tourism Saskatchewan

During the 1990s, more individuals were spending more time at work, which left them with less time for leisure activities. However, sport and recreation remained an important part of people’s lives, which led to large economic benefits for Saskatchewan: a study by the consulting firm KPMG declared that in 1991 sport, culture and recreation created over $1 billion in economic revenue, as well as 23,000 jobs for citizens.

Recreation and sports officials worked hard to promote their fields, especially to youth. The goal of the various youth initiatives was to promote healthy lifestyles and to keep youth from getting involved in dangerous behaviours such as drugs, alcohol, and delinquent activities. Statistics showed that girls who were active in recreation and sports had higher levels of self-esteem and self-worth than non-active girls; as well, there was far less risk of youths following an unhealthy lifestyle if they participated in sports or recreational activities.

Tourism Saskatchewan

Various organizations including Sask Sport Inc., Saskatchewan Parks and Recreation Association, Saskatchewan Council of Cultural Organizations, and the Department of Municipal Government worked to ensure that youths at risk of following dangerous lifestyles had the opportunity to get active in sports and recreation. KidSport, a children’s charity, developed in the 1990s to increase participation in sport and recreation. The program targets disadvantaged children, so that they will have the opportunity to get involved in recreational activities; the goal is for children to learn the principles of teamwork, responsibility and dedication, and to acquire mental, physical, personal and social wellness by getting involved in a physical activity. In 1992, the Rural Sports Hall of Fame opened in Indian Head; notable inductees have included CKRM’s Willie Cole and Barry Trapp of Hockey Canada. Sports Halls of Fame are also located in Saskatoon, Yorkton, North Battleford, and Regina.

The 21st Century

The Sport Medicine and Science Council of Saskatchewan was established on January 1, 2000, to provide information on nutrition, sport first aid, drug education, and mental training for athletes. It was created through the amalgamation of the Sport Medicine Council of Saskatchewan and the Saskatchewan Sport Science Program. During the spring of 2001, the Saskatchewan Department of Culture, Youth and Recreation was established, with the mission to strengthen the social, cultural, recreational and artistic activities in Saskatchewan centres. The department also played a role in determining how lottery and casino funds were allocated and used. Concern has grown over the inactivity and obesity of Saskatchewan’s residents: studies indicate that 52% of all adults and 68% of youth aged 13 to 19 can be considered inactive; women are more likely to be inactive than men; and 32% of children are obese. As a result, several programs and initiatives have been introduced to reverse this problem.

Alan Mills (Tourism Saskatchewan)

In August 2001 the Department of Culture, Youth and Recreation introduced a strategy to increase Saskatchewan’s physical activity rate 10% by 2005. The Saskatchewan Physical Activity Council was established in September 2003 for this purpose; it is assisted by the Saskatchewan Parks and Recreation Association, SaskCulture Inc., and Sask Sport Inc. Saskatchewan is not alone in promoting physical activity: the Canadian government has also supplied funds for various initiatives across the country. On October 19, 2001, the Canadian Professional Coaches Association founded the “Let’s Get Moving” campaign, which has spread to Saskatchewan communities. Its mission is to keep youth and children from entering into dangerous lifestyles by offering various sport and recreation programs, and by improving physical education in schools.

Sport and recreation events contribute large economic rewards to Saskatchewan communities: in 2000, the total economic impact was over $1.1 billion. Visitors spend significant revenue on accommodation, food and drink, souvenirs, travel, entertainment and recreational activities during their stay, which translates into financial contributions to the community and the province’s economy. These events also result in job creation: in 2000 over 4,100 jobs were created through sport, and over 6,300 jobs maintained by recreational activities. RespectEd is a Sask Sport Inc., Saskatchewan Parks and Recreation Association, Canadian Red Cross and SaskCulture Inc. initiative to create sport, culture and recreation environments that are free from harassment and abuse. Sask Sport Inc. has worked to promote the benefits of amateur sport and physical activities through the media with its “SPORT. It’s More Than A Game” campaign; the campaign was introduced in 1994.

The Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame and Museum continues to prosper: a new attendance record of 30,660 was set in 2003, which surpassed the 2002 record by nearly 7,500 individuals. The Regina Sports Hall of Fame was established on October 9, 2003. The goal of the Hall is to recognize individuals who have made a difference in amateur sport in Regina. The first inductees were Laurie Artiss, Al Ford, Ken MacLeod, Charles Leibel, Lorne Davis, and Fred England. On May 28, 2004, the Saskatchewan Parks and Recreation Association lost one of its cherished members when George Garfield Rathwell passed away: he had become the Director of Regional Parks in 1962, and remained an important contributor to Saskatchewan recreation for more than twenty years. The Saskatchewan Regional Park system, which includes over 100 parks, exists thanks in part to Rathwell’s hard work and years of dedication. Sport and Recreation continues to thrive and alter over the years: new programs and initiatives are constantly being added and revised to better represent and suit Saskatchewan’s residents. Only one thing seems to remain constant: the province’s willingness to provide and participate in sport and recreational activities.

Aboriginal Involvement in Sport and Recreation

From 1948 to 1963, the Physical Fitness and Recreation Division supplied funding and consulting services for northern communities, but unfortunately the organization had a negligible impact upon the area. Due to provincial organizations’ failure to promote sport and recreation in northern communities, the government formed the Department of Culture and Youth and the Department of Northern Saskatchewan in 1972 to concentrate on the region. The first Northern Saskatchewan Games and Cultural Festival was held in 1980 in La Ronge. This remains an important and popular competition for northern Saskatchewan residents: it draws, on average, over 800 participants and numerous fans to the event. Northern Saskatchewan culture is unique compared to the south, but it also costs more to fund programs in the north—which is why the same level of sport and recreation programs was not provided. In 1983, northern communities achieved autonomous local governments, and began to demand recreation activities and facilities. The provincial government responded by hiring recreation directors to oversee the developments.

Paul Acoose, one of the first inductees into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame.
Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame and Museum

The Northern Recreation Technology Training Program began in 1984 to train recreation directors. The Community Services Division was the department in charge of the northern governments’ initiatives to develop volunteers for the various sport and recreation events and programs. In 1982, the Department of Northern Saskatchewan ceased to exist, and the responsibilities of the Community Services Division were transferred to the Saskatchewan Culture and Recreation office. Throughout the 20th and the beginning of the 21st centuries, Aboriginal sport and recreation has expanded and met with provincial, national and international success. At the North American Indigenous Games, a competition that includes teams from across North America, Saskatchewan won the overall title for four consecutive championships.

The Saskatchewan Indian Summer Games began in 1974. Since then, the games have been a popular aspect of Aboriginal communities: in 1997, approximately 3,000 athletes attended the event. The Saskatchewan Indian Winter Games, introduced in 1980, continue to be a successful annual event for Aboriginal youth. The Aboriginal community was home to several star boxers, including Don Laliberté, who was the Canadian Heavyweight Champion; Weslie Sunshine; Jessie Laframboise, a strong bantam-weight fighter; and Dana Laframboise, a successful lightweight boxer. The Saskatchewan First Nations Sports Hall of Fame officially opened on July 14, 1994, in Saskatoon. The first inductees were Alex Wuttunee Decoteau, who captured sixth place in the 5,600 metre event at the 1912 Olympic Games; Paul Acoose, an accomplished runner who set a world record in the 15-mile race event; David Greyeyes Steele, an exceptional soccer player; Arthur Obey, a pioneer of the Saskatchewan Indian Recreation Movement; and Frederick George Sasakamoose, who was the first Treaty Aboriginal to play in the National Hockey League.

Northern communities recognize volunteers for their dedication to Aboriginal sport in Saskatchewan: awards are presented in the Youth, Elder/Senior and Open Age categories for the five northern regions. The Aboriginal Participation Initiative was a program established in 2003 by the provincial government to develop sport, recreation and culture services for First Nations and Métis school children. In 2004, the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) introduced a new set of championships for various Aboriginal sports, including softball, soccer, hockey, volleyball and basketball. At the 2003 National Aboriginal Hockey Championships, Team Saskatchewan brought home the gold medal in the Bantam Men’s Division, and placed fifth in the Bantam Women’s Division. FSIN, along with Sask Sport Inc., SaskCulture Inc., and the Saskatchewan Parks and Recreation Association, is working towards creating a sporting and recreation environment that is free from racism. These organizations believe that physical activities should be held in a safe environment and be available to everyone who is interested in participating.

Sport and Recreation for Women

Women have not participated in sports as often as men throughout Saskatchewan’s history for several reasons: lack of encouragement, negative stereotypes about women being “unfeminine” if they are athletic, and prohibition from competing in sports. However, some early women did participate in competitive activities. In 1891, approximately sixty women participated in the Regina and Saskatoon rifle-shooting contest; and in 1913, the University of Saskatchewan initiated its first women’s ice hockey program. The University of Saskatchewan was a major contributor to women’s sports. It hired Clare Hamilton and Ethel Mary Cartwright to be women’s physical education instructors; Cartwright established the university’s first course in physical education specialists in 1933, women being the only participants in the program until 1938. The University also introduced in 1916 a stellar swim team, led by Harry Bailey, that won eleven straight intervarsity championships.

University of Saskatchewan Basketball Team, 1921-1922.
University of Saskatchewan Archives A-926

Ethel Catherwood broke the world record in the ladies’ running high jump with a 5 foot 3 inch jump at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympic Games. This was the first year that women had their own program in the Olympics: until then, women were either unable to participate or were forced to compete in the men’s events. Phyllis Dewar captured four gold medals at the British Empire Games in 1934; her teammates, Phyllis Haslam and Margaret Hutton, also distinguished themselves by their performances at the Games. Women were officially allowed to participate at the provincial level in curling in 1948. In 1974, the Saskatchewan Recreation Branch of the provincial government funded a conference to discuss how sport and recreation affected women, as there were several concerns over why women were not participating in sport and other recreational activities. Although there were several successful female athletes in Saskatchewan’s early years, only a small percentage of women became involved in sport or recreation activities in that period. Studies also indicated that females were less likely to be physically fit than men. However, by 1975 a large number of women had joined either athletics or recreational programs; at the same time, though, women’s activities received less funding, coaching, and opportunities for competition compared to men’s activities.

During the 1990s and early 2000s, several women attracted provincial, national and international attention. Sandra Schmirler and her teammates, Jan Betker, Marcia Gudereit and Joan McCusker, became national household names by capturing six provincial championships, three Canadian championships, three world championships, and gold at the first women’s Olympic curling event in 1998. As well, Catriona Le May Doan remains a Saskatchewan idol for her twenty-three years of speed skating and three Olympic medals—gold and bronze at the 1998 Nagano Games, and gold at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.

Special Needs Sport and Recreational Activities

Swimming lessons at Camp Easter Seal, August 1957.
Saskatchewan Archives Board R-A13537-4

Camp Easter Seal opened in 1954 to adults and students with special needs; in 1956 it moved to a permanent location at Manitou Beach in Watrous. The camp provides boating, swimming, arts and crafts, camping experiences, and more; today, it is managed by the Saskatchewan Abilities Council. In the early 1960s, provincial organizations such as the Coordinating Council on Rehabilitation began to take an interest in providing recreational activities for physically and developmentally challenged individuals.

Camp Tamarack, located 25 km from Prince Albert, was founded in 1977 and continues to provide education, recreation, and sporting activities for learning-disabled youth and children. Teenagers and children 7–13 years old are able to keep up with their education during the summer while canoeing, swimming, learning lifesaving skills, and working on arts and crafts. Throughout the 1970s, the Provincial Youth Agency took part in providing and scheduling recreational opportunities for individuals with special needs.

Unfortunately, the ability to participate in sports and recreation activities is often dictated by the willingness of parents, caregivers, and rehabilitation centres to allow the special-needs person to participate. Fear that either non-disabled persons will tease the individual or that the activity may be too dangerous to the individual are reasons to inhibit recreation and sport involvement. Community staff may also prevent those with special needs from joining their sport and recreation programs because they may not understand the physical and social limitations and skills of those with special needs. Another inhibitor for special needs persons remains the availability of activities in their community, and how close the activities are to the individuals because they often do not have their own form of transportation. Fortunately, more programs are being developed for those with special needs. For example, the Special Olympics, established in 1975, have opened doors for many such individuals; there they strive for success, while learning various skills and gaining confidence in their abilities.

Practicing archery at Camp Easter Seal, August 1957.
Saskatchewan Archives Board R-A13538-2

Attempts have been made to integrate people with special needs into regular programs. The Saskatchewan Games have had success with both groups competing at the same time, rather than having the non-disabled group participate one week and then the special needs athletes compete a few weeks or months later. At the 2002 North American Indigenous Games in Winnipeg, a large number of Special Olympic athletes attended the competition. The first Provincial Special Olympics Curling Bonspiel occurred in Melfort, and the first Provincial Special Olympic Golf Tournament was hosted by Nipawin in 2002. The 2004 Special Olympics National Winter Games in Prince Edward Island were a tremendous success for Saskatchewan’s athletes: overall 17 medals—three gold, nine silver, and five bronze—were collected.

Grants, Lotteries and Casino Funds

The 1943 National Physical Fitness Act brought federal funding to Saskatchewan to develop sports and recreation for ten years. Starting on September 1, 1959, the Provincial Fitness and Recreation Division offered grants to communities that established municipal recreation boards, commissions, and other sport and recreation agencies. The division also awarded grants to develop recreation leadership courses and for other community fitness projects. The Provincial Youth Agency provided grants for initiating regional recreation organizations and projects in 1966; one of the grants provided, the Lighted School House Grant, was instigated to increase the usage of school facilities for community sport and recreation activities.

In 1975–76, the provincial government initiated the Social and Recreation Opportunities for Handicapped Grant Program to develop programs and make them more accessible for those with physical and learning disabilities. Throughout the 1970s, the Provincial Youth Agency was responsible for various grants including the Community Recreation Leadership Initiating Grants, Special Grants (for several events and sport and recreation programs), and Regional Grants. Saskatchewan Lotteries was introduced in 1974 after the provincial government passed legislation in 1973 to allow Sask Sport Inc. to administer major lotteries in the province. Sask Sport Inc. is a non-profit sport federation that is governed by volunteers; Saskatchewan is the only jurisdiction in North America that allows volunteers to operate its major lotteries.

Lottery profits are allocated by the Saskatchewan Lotteries Trust Fund for Sport, Culture and Recreation. One payment is directed to all contractual obligations of the lottery, and other payments are made to the lottery ticket distributors, licensing fees, and the exhibition associations. The remaining lottery profits are divided so that 50% of the proceeds benefits sport, 35% benefits culture, and 15% benefits recreation activities and programs. In the 1970s, Sask Sport Inc. became involved in the Western Canada Lottery Corporation with the Alberta and Manitoba governments. Sask Sport Inc., along with other provinces and territories, coordinates on-line games such as Lotto 6/49 and Super 7 through the Interprovincial Lottery Corporation. In 2004, Saskatchewan Lotteries benefited over 12,000 sport, recreation and culture organizations. The funds are used for programs such as summer camps, youth at risk, and sport for all.

In 1994, the Saskatchewan government introduced the Associated Entities Fund (AEF) to disperse part of the province’s casino profits to various community groups: Métis organizations, non-profit community programs for children, youth and families, and exhibition associations, as well as other sport, recreation and cultural activities and facilities benefit from the funds. AEF was renamed the Communities Initiatives Fund in 2002.

Provincial and National Games

The first Canada Games, held in 1967 in Quebec City, had a major impact upon Saskatchewan because each sport had to be registered as a provincial association to compete in the games; this rule prompted various provincial organizations throughout the province. When the Provincial Youth Agency came into existence in 1966, one of its initiatives was to sponsor the first Saskatchewan Summer Games in 1968; their popularity triggered the formation of four more provincial associations and encouraged other provincial organizations to improve for the next event. The next games were not held until 1972, when Moose Jaw hosted the event.

The agency was also involved in the organization of the 1971 Canada Winter Games that were hosted by Saskatoon through $100,000 in federal financial support. The Department of Natural Resources also provided funding, which was mainly used to build Mount Blackstrap for the skiing events. The Western Canada Games, the Canada Games, and the Saskatchewan Games all encouraged sport development and participation in the 1970s. The Western Canada Games, established in 1971, featured athletes, managers, officials and coaches from British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon. In the 21st century, Nunavut was added to the games as an entity separate from the Northwest Territories. In 1988, the first Saskatchewan Senior 55+ Summer Games were held in Melville; held every two years, they involve about 800 participants.

Sask Sport Inc. remains a member of the Saskatchewan Games Council, an organization that manages the administrative duties of the Summer and Winter Games. It assists in bids for the games, handles liaison with provincial sports governing organizations, is a consultant on games protocol, and performs other crucial duties. Sask Sport Inc. was also involved in the formation of the Saskatchewan Games Program, an initiative to assist in the development of the Summer and Winter Games in 1972. North Battleford hosted the first Saskatchewan Winter Games in 1974. In that same year, the Sport and Recreation Branch sponsored a five-day training camp to assist Saskatchewan officials in selecting athletes for the 1975 Canada Winter Games. The branch held similar duties in 1977 when it organized a camp to prepare athletes and officials for the Canada Games in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

The Saskatchewan Games are held every two years, the summer and winter games occurring one year after another. The games, coordinated by Saskatchewan Culture, Youth and Recreation and by the Saskatchewan Games Council, are funded by Saskatchewan Lotteries, souvenir sales, the Saskatchewan Games Council, and the host community. The events provide athletes with the opportunity to participate at a higher level of competition. Once the games are over, the host community continues to receive benefits from the event, in the form of state-of-the-art facilities and equipment for the area’s athletes. Weyburn hosted the 2004 Saskatchewan Summer Games, and the event attracted a large number of athletes, coaches, officials, volunteers and spectators.

Pat Rediger

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