The Anglican Church had been active in the Canadian North-West since 1820, but its missionary activity in what was to become Saskatchewan was largely confined to scattered fur-trading posts and missions. It was not until the Canadian government acquired western lands from the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1869 that the missionary effort of the Church was considerably expanded among the Native population and preparations made for the expected flood of settlers. In order not to lose ground to other denominations, the Anglican Church quickly established a number of dioceses and consecrated bishops to provide the required leadership and direction. In 1874, the Diocese of Saskatchewan was created to oversee missionary activity among Native people and to minister to the colonists settling along the fertile Saskatchewan River valley. Another diocese, Qu’Appelle, was established in 1883 to meet the religious needs of immigrants moving into the agricultural lands of the prairies. Although reasonably well organized at the diocesan and provincial levels, Anglicans were not united at the national level. Furthermore, the eastern Canadian dioceses did not respond in a liberal manner to the numerous appeals for financial support and volunteers. As a result, the western Canadian dioceses relied on money and manpower from the Church of England and its missionary societies. Heavy dependency on overseas help in turn created problems for the Church on the frontier: inadequate funding by far-removed committees, party divisions, the “Englishness” of the Church, a laity not used to voluntary giving, and the failure of the clergy to adjust to frontier conditions all hurt the Anglican cause.
Not content with the existing state of affairs, bishops John McLean of Saskatchewan and Adelbert Anson of Qu’Appelle sought ways for the Church to be more responsive and effective in its ministry. They established theological colleges to train local men and provide a steady supply of regular clergy and catechists. In Saskatchewan, Emmanuel College trained Métis and Natives as catechists and teachers, and prepared others for ordination. Throughout its history, Saskatchewan would work to develop and maintain a strong Native ministry. In Qu’Appelle, where the emphasis was on reaching the newcomer, both English-speaking and non-English-speaking, St. John’s College and later St. Chad’s Theological College served not only as divinity schools, but as centres from which services and pastoral visiting were conducted. Other means of reaching the immigrant, such as hospitals, schools and nursing programs, were established during the early years of the province’s development. Both dioceses experimented with different forms of ministry, particularly in response to the massive influx of immigrants entering the province after the turn of the 20th century. Bishop Anson successfully used the brotherhood system in Qu’Appelle as a means of spiritual renewal and of ministering to a scattered membership. On a grander scale, Bishop Newnham of Saskatchewan trained and deployed sixty catechists at half the cost of regular clergy in the mission field. By far, the most ambitious project was in Qu’Appelle, where the English Church Railway Mission exploited the extensive railway network being constructed throughout southern Saskatchewan. Although relatively short-lived, brotherhoods, the catechist scheme and the Railway Mission permitted the Church to reach its members during the first few years of settlement until such time as they fell under the care of regular clergy.
Financial recession and war put an end to the expansion of the Church on the prairies, as clergy and laity left to join the “colours” or serve in the war effort. Some missions had to be closed. It was not until the mid-1920s that the two dioceses, particularly Saskatchewan, would see their finances improve and expansion occur. Under Bishop Harding of Qu’Appelle and Bishop Lloyd of Saskatchewan, missionary outreach during the 1920s was largely the responsibility of women workers through deaconesses, Bishop’s Messengers, Sunday School by Post, and the Canadian Sunday School Caravan Mission under Eva Hasell and Iris Sayle. In Regina, building on the College and Cathedral site went beyond the theological college, girls’ school, Railway Mission house, and Synod Office to include Bishop’s Court and a hostel for schoolteachers. Re-organization of the Diocese of Saskatchewan seemed to occupy the mind of Bishop Lloyd from the mid-1920s onwards: suggestion of a separate diocese had been discussed ever since Emmanuel College had moved from Prince Albert to Saskatoon in 1909. Despite a worldwide depression, a decision was made in 1932 to create a new diocese and raise an endowment. Controversially, not the original Diocese of Saskatchewan, but the new Diocese of Saskatoon became the continuing and senior diocese.
The ravages of drought brought untold hardship to the agricultural areas of Qu’Appelle, Saskatoon, and eventually Saskatchewan dioceses. Even though the income of the average churchgoer dropped, members made a determined effort through their weekly giving to ensure that churches were kept open and that clergy facing severe financial hardship were supported. As debt mounted and income from all sources dropped, however, consolidation of missions and often closure followed. Despite these pressures, the Diocese of Saskatchewan under Bishop Burd sought to meet the spiritual needs of newcomers migrating from the cities and drought-stricken parts of the province. As the 1930s progressed, all three dioceses embarked upon a program of financial recovery; but such a worthy objective was not to be reached until the mid-1940s. World War II and the post-war years caused different problems for the Church. Men and women left their parishes once again to enlist in the armed forces or to work in factories. There was also a noticeable shift in population during the 1940s from the rural to the urban areas. At the same time, women came to play a more significant and sustained role in the affairs of the Church. The economic recovery of the 1950s led to the leadership in all three dioceses looking at ways of becoming self-supporting and embarking upon a plan of expansion. Rather than managing from one year to the next, long-range planning played a greater role in administrative and religious affairs. As worship attendance grew and membership in time-honoured church organizations such as Women’s Auxiliary and the Anglican Young People’s Association swelled, more clergy were trained and ordained for ministry in rural and urban areas.
The Anglican leadership in the 1960s and 1970s came to the realization that they could not continue to pour money and manpower into rural ministry when the economic base and membership were gradually declining across the province. At the same time, the larger urban centres of Regina and Saskatoon, with a growing Native population, posed different challenges to the Church. With increasingly limited resources at their disposal, even cherished diocesan institutions did not escape scrutiny. In 1964, for reasons of efficiency St. Chad’s Theological College was amalgamated with Emmanuel College in Saskatoon. Six years later, St. Chad’s Girls’ School was closed and the diocesan site sold, which allowed the Diocese of Qu’Appelle to become self-supporting. Ways of co-operating, amalgamating and sharing have been explored and implemented. While issues such as the ordination of women and same-sex blessings have created divisions in recent decades, at the same time there have been just as many issues, such as reaching a just resolution over residential schools and communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Canada, which have brought the three Anglican dioceses in Saskatchewan together to meet the religious needs of their respective members.