Local History

In Saskatchewan ordinary citizens, rather than professional writers or historians, have been collecting, researching, writing and publishing their own local history books about churches, clubs, businesses, rural areas, and towns. An estimated 2,000 local history books have been written and published in the province in the last fifty years. The earliest books and local memoirs were hand-written or typed, with a limited number of copies printed. As printing services grew more sophisticated, so did the histories. Today, a typical book filled with photo reproductions and stories is professionally printed and bound; the high costs involved mean books are actively marketed and sold as fundraising ventures for the organizing bodies. Many book projects started in response to provincial and federal anniversaries, such as the Golden Jubilee of 1955, the national Centennial in 1967, and Celebrate Saskatchewan 1980. Throughout the 1980s, in particular, it was fashionable for a town, village, municipality or ad hoc group of school districts to put together a history book; this tradition has continued, as communities prepare to celebrate Saskatchewan’s centennial in 2005.

The style of history books has changed as the province has grown. The earliest histories celebrated the pioneer past. Later, themes such as ethnic and cultural history, Euro-First Nations contact, and regional history have become the norm. Families often contribute their stories, so the books tie local history to genealogy. As communities mature, sequels or updates to past history books are written to include new information or change historical perspectives. Filled with pictures, documents and pertinent artwork, local history books quickly become the community photo album: prized and rare photos of buildings, people, transportation, agriculture, and the natural world are brought together for everyone to own and enjoy, creating a reference archive of the community’s visual memory. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of history book publication is the response of the communities, which includes an outpouring of oral history that picks up where the written history leaves off. For this reason, mundane details and controversial or disturbing stories can be left out of the written history, knowing that the oral memory will fill in the details. Communities can then collect this oral regeneration in newspapers, oral history projects, or in sequel histories, continuing the story as time goes by. These books are valuable resources, chronicling the rise (and in some cases, the decline and demise) of communities, families, churches, and businesses large and small across the province.

Merle Massie