In 1930 the federal government transferred control of natural resources to the government of Saskatchewan. This provided the provincial government with the opportunity to create a provincial parks system in 1931. The majority of the original provincial parks were previously dominion forest reserves established by the federal government in the late 1800s or early 1900s. Cypress Hills, Duck Mountain, Good Spirit Lake, Moose Mountain, Katepwa Point, and Little Manitou were the original provincial parks, and Greenwater Lake was added in 1932. Nipawin Provincial Park (now Narrow Hills) was established in 1934, and Lac la Ronge Provincial Park in 1939. No facilities, however, were developed at these latter two parks until the 1960s, and Little Manitou ceased to be a provincial park in 1956. Economic conditions were a major impetus for establishing the first provincial parks. During the early years of the Great Depression, the provincial government used provincial parks to generate employment and build a tourism industry. The government employed several thousand relief camp workers to build much of the early infrastructure of the provincial parks, including the two artificial lakes in Cypress Hills and stone chalets at Moose Mountain and Little Manitou. The government also promoted tourism by advertising provincial parks in the United States and elsewhere.
By 1933, as economic conditions worsened, the government stopped investing in provincial parks, and during World War II the park system was largely ignored. The provincial government began rebuilding the provincial parks after the war and recognized that population trends would create an increased demand for outdoor recreation opportunities. In 1957, the government hired Bill Baker, a recreational consultant, to analyze Saskatchewan’s future recreational needs. Baker’s reports provided the blueprint for a massive expansion of the park system during the 1960s and early 1970s. He also made recommendations on the development of the recreation potential of Lake Diefenbaker, which was created when Gardiner Dam was built on the South Saskatchewan River. On the basis of Baker’s recommendations, Meadow Lake (1959), The Battlefords, Echo Valley, Pike Lake, Rowan’s Ravine (1960), Buffalo Pound (1963), Danielson (1971), Douglas and Saskatchewan Landing (1973) provincial parks were established. Recreation and public access facilities were developed in Lac la Ronge and Nipawin (now Narrow Hills) provincial parks. In addition, nearly 200 recreation sites were established, and a number of natural and archaeological protected areas were designated. Also, during this period provincial parks started to develop educational programs and interpretive trails.
The 1970s and 1980s were marked by increased emphasis on environmental management of resources. This culminated in the 1990s with the adoption in all provincial parks of the ecosystem-based management system, which requires park management decisions to take into consideration the interrelationships among all elements of the environment. During this period, provincial parks also began to rely increasingly on user fees and private sector partnerships to address funding challenges. In 1986, eleven new provincial parks were established. Four existing recreation sites, Blackstrap, Candle Lake, Crooked Lake and Makwa Lake, were all designated provincial parks. Nine historic parks (Touchwood Hills Post, Cannington Manor, Last Mountain House, Steele Narrows, Wood Mountain Post, Fort Pitt, Fort Carlton, St. Victor Petroglyphs, and Cumberland House, which were established in the 1960s 1970s), were also designated as provincial parks. In 1986, Clearwater River was designated as the first provincial wilderness park, and three others, Athabasca Sand Dunes, Wildcat Hill (1992) and Clarence-Steepbank Lakes (1994) were later designated. These parks are all in remote areas of northern Saskatchewan; their designation as provincial parks was indicative of an increased emphasis on nature-based tourism as well as ecosystem management. Visitors to these parks are encouraged to minimize their impact on the environment, and natural processes such as forest fires and tree diseases are not interfered with, unless they threaten people and resources outside of the park boundaries.
By 2004, Saskatchewan’s provincial Parks covered over 1,148,287 square hectares, containing some of the most beautiful natural and cultural landscapes in the province. These lands include 34 provincial parks, 8 historic sites, 130 recreation sites, and 24 protected areas.
Mike Fedyk, Ken Lozinsky, Bob Herbison