The Centre for Community Studies was established at the University of Saskatchewan in 1957 following a recommendation of the Saskatchewan Royal Commission on Agriculture and Rural Life. Governance was invested in a Board appointed by the Minister of Education and the President of the University. William B. Baker, who had directed the Royal Commission, was appointed the Centre's director.
The primary work of the Centre was to accumulate and communicate tested knowledge about community phenomena, in order that the effectiveness of rural communities as contributors to social and economic development might be increased. The Centre was organized into research, consulting, and training units, each one complementing the others. The Consulting Division was to establish contacts with selected communities and to open up opportunities for training and research. In 1957, communities in the province were invited to apply for partnership with the Centre, and in 1958 six co-operating or demonstration communities, differing in history and nature, were selected. They included Hudson Bay, Rose Valley, Beechy, Cabri, Esterhazy and Wawota. Each community established a “Community Development Council” made up of representatives of community organizations. A community consultant from the Centre, who would visit the community for one week each month, was assigned to each of these communities. One result of this consulting was the publication of a series of practical pamphlets entitled “Key to Community.” Later, this series was distributed widely throughout North America.
The Centre's Training Division focused on leadership roles including helping professional and community leaders to work more effectively on the development of their communities, and helping field workers in government and voluntary agencies improve their understanding of the process of supporting community efforts. Workshops and seminars were held on such topics as “The Role of the Social Sciences in Rural Development,” “The Role of the Rural Church,” and “Learning and Behavioural Change.” The Centre's Research Division projects, such as a major study of the establishment of a potash mine in Esterhazy, were undertaken within the co-operating communities. Other studies focused on topics of more general interest to communities: voluntary associations, leadership, the role of extension agencies, population migration, declining communities, the farmers' movement, citizen education in member-controlled organizations, and settlement policy as a factor in economic development.
In spite of what many considered to be much good work completed by the Centre, its history was greatly changed by the politics of the time. The Liberal opposition questioned the purpose and nature of the Centre's work, arguing potential interference in the lives of those asked to provide information. Supporters of the Centre countered that social research was being confused with socialism. Conflict also arose in the University between the role of the Centre and the newly formed Department of Sociology. The Centre's core budget of between $150,000 and $200,000, provided by the government under the university/government partnership, was annually under threat. A responding strategy of the Centre's administration and Board was to focus more on contract research as a means of gaining financial independence.
Structural arrangements that would ensure a long-term future for the Centre for Community Studies did not materialize. In 1966, it was incorporated as a national non-profit corporation with a central office in Ottawa; Bill Baker moved there as the president of the National Centre. The Saskatoon office remained open for work in the western region. There was promise of federal contracts, but sufficient work did not materialize. Then Baker suffered ill health and had to give up his leadership role, and in 1968 the Centre closed and its assets were liquidated. Much has been said about the contribution of the Centre to Saskatchewan and beyond. Aside from research reports, many of its contributions consisted of extensive and creative adult education activities. Continuing support came from local community leaders and from the agency staff members who received training from it. Some have argued that the Centre, as a social experiment in community development, had been ahead of its time.
Harold R. Baker