The name Saskatchewan is derived from Cree kisiskâciwanisîpiy, meaning “swift-flowing river.” Saskatchewan became a province of Canada on September 1, 1905. Located between Alberta to the west and Manitoba to the east, its boundaries extend from the US border along the 49th parallel to the border with the Northwest Territories along the 60th parallel. Saskatchewan covers 6.5% of Canada, an area of 651,036 km2. Of this, 591,670 km2 are land and 59,366 km2 are covered by water. The land is divided between the mostly crystalline rocks of the Precambrian Shield in the northern third of the province and the sedimentary rocks of the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin in the south. Mineral resources include world-class deposits of uranium and potash. Four ecozones span the province: prairie, boreal plains, boreal shield, and taiga shield. The climate is continental, characterized by large seasonal temperature ranges and low precipitation.
Humans began to occupy the land as ice retreated at the end of the last glaciation. Distinctive cultures evolved, dependent on the natural resources available in the different ecozones. European contact with Aboriginal peoples occurred during the fur trade era (ca. 1690–1820), and increased when agricultural settlement began in the late 19th century. In the early 20th century, that settlement history produced an ethnically mixed, largely agrarian population concentrated on farms and in communities across the prairie ecozone. A century later, agriculture has declined in relative importance and more people live in urban areas (64.3%) than in the countryside. The 2001 census recorded Saskatchewan’s population at 978,933, while provincial estimates for July 2004 were 995,391. The 2001 median age (36.7yrs) was slightly below the Canadian average. Saskatchewan had the highest proportion (15.1%) of inhabitants over 65 in Canada, but also relatively more people under 20 years of age (29.2% versus 25.9% for Canada). 13.5% of people identified themselves as Aboriginal, an increase of 17% since 1996. Although only 2.9% of the population were self-identified as visible minorities, a total of 94 different ethnic groups were recognized, ranging from 275,060 people claiming German ethnicity to just 10 people identified as Moroccan.
Saskatchewan typically has a lower unemployment rate than the Canadian average (6.3% versus 7.4% in 2001) and a higher proportion of people working (63.5% versus 61.5%); of the latter, 13.9% work in agriculture and 3.3% in other primary industries. A further 11.1% of workers are employed in manufacturing or construction, and 71.1% in service industries. Business and industry make the major contribution to Saskatchewan’s economy, but 20% of workers are employed by the public sector, especially in health and education. In 2003 provincial GDP was $36.519 billion, of which 8.7% was derived from agriculture and 12.3% from other primary industries. 12% came from manufacturing or construction, and 67% from an ever-increasing range of service industries (Figure SK-1). Export trade is important to Saskatchewan; in 2003 the largest single export commodity was crude oil (Figure SK-2): Saskatchewan can no longer be described as the “wheat economy.”