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Interest in preserving Saskatchewan’s documentary heritage began soon after the first settlers arrived in the North-West Territories and gathered momentum after provincial status was achieved. Members of the early heritage movement such as Dr. E.H. Oliver, Arthur Silver Morton and Z.M. Hamilton were instrumental in establishing societies to collect historical records, build up library collections, and mark Historic Sites. While citizens were engaged in preserving heritage, successive governments were much slower to act in ensuring that public records were properly preserved. In 1897, an ordinance was passed establishing the Department of Territorial Secretary to keep the archives of the government, but it never really became an archival repository. During World War I, provision was made for an archives branch of the Legislative Library, but public records were never acquired. 

The first piece of legislation to deal with the retention and disposal of inactive public records, the Preservation of Documents Act, was passed in 1920. Essentially, the Act allowed for the legal destruction of large quantities of records by Order-in-Council. During the period 1920-45, a total of seventy-eight orders were issued, but only two directed the transfer of records to the “archives of the province”: without an official repository, valuable records were invariably lost. It was largely due to the tireless efforts of Dr. A.S. Morton of the University of Saskatchewan that the need for the province to preserve its records was brought to the fore. With the support of the Canadian Historical Association, Morton pushed for the creation of provincial archives under the control of an archivist. The University’s offer to provide space, to appoint an archivist and to cover operational costs met with a favourable response from a cash-strapped provincial government. In 1937 a Historical Public Records Office was established at the University, with Morton assuming the title and responsibility as Keeper of the Public Record.

By the early 1940s Morton realized that a more formal and stable funding arrangement was required. His call for legislation met with approval from the newly elected CCF government, which was interested in establishing a public records policy. In 1945, an Act Establishing the Archives of Saskatchewan was passed. As well as formalizing the spirit of co-operation between the government of Saskatchewan and the University of Saskatchewan, the legislation broadened the mandate of the new archives to include all types of archival records from both public and private sources.

For its time, Saskatchewan’s archival legislation was on the leading edge. It established a system of accountability whereby all public records were scheduled before they could be discarded. It called for a professional archivist to select those records of historical value for permanent preservation. For several decades, Saskatchewan’s archives legislation stood the test of time and occasionally served as a model for other jurisdictions. By the 1990s, new technology was being used in the workplace, more and more records were being created, access and privacy legislation was coming into force, a different and expanded client base used archival resources, and new approaches to information and records management were being introduced. In the spring of 2004, a new Act was passed updating the legislative framework under which the Saskatchewan Archives had been operating, and bringing Saskatchewan’s legislation in line with that of other Canadian jurisdictions.

While the Saskatchewan Archives spearheaded the preservation of public and private records in this province, more specialized repositories have been created over the past four decades. Some archival programs such as those of the University of Saskatchewan and the cities of Regina and Saskatoon were originally created in partnership with the Saskatchewan Archives and later became independent, with paid staff; others such as archives of churches, municipalities and associations were created by their parent body and staffed by volunteers. Most of these local archives focus on collecting and preserving the records of their institutions or organizations as well as those of individuals closely associated with them. At this time, there are approximately forty archives across the province.

In the late 1980s, the Saskatchewan Council of Archives was created as part of a national archival network. Through the channeling of grants and contributions from the Canadian Council of Archives, the provincial council is responsible for directing federal funds to member institutions for control of archival holdings, preservation management, and professional development and training. As well as distributing grants, the Council has conducted needs assessments, established provincial priorities, and sponsored workshops and seminars. It has also managed programs such as archival Conservation and outreach services, which member archives could not have offered or afforded on their own. Over the past fifteen years, the Saskatchewan archival community has benefited greatly from being part of the Canadian archival system—as the growth of smaller archives, the increasing professionalism of members, and the strength of archival programs, both large and small, attest.

Trevor Powell

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Further Reading

Champ, J. 1991. “Arthur Silver Morton and His Role in Founding the Saskatchewan Archives Board,” Archivaria 32: 101.
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University of Regina Government of Canada Government of Saskatchewan Canadian Plains Research Center
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