Saskatchewan Soil Survey

The Saskatchewan Soil Survey was established on recommendations of a Royal Commission appointed as a result of a Better Farming Conference held in Swift Current in 1920. In its report the Royal Commission specifically recommended that a reconnaissance soil survey be undertaken to outline the various soil areas and to classify them as to their suitability for grain growing and stock raising. It also recommended that the reconnaissance survey be followed by a more complete agricultural survey in order to render the investigational work of the College of Agriculture and the Experimental Farms more effective. Although the broad open prairie, parkland and forest regions were recognized as far back as the Palliser Expedition of the late 1850s, apart from sketchy notes of the Dominion Land Surveyors little information was available on the soils, landscape features, climate, native vegetation, and geology of the province. The first soil survey, covering a block of four rural municipalities near Moose Jaw, was started in 1921 under the direction of Professor R. Hansen, head of the Soils Department at the University of Saskatchewan. As noted in that report, the party worked from a car, examining the soils in the fields. When the field map was completed, several samples of each soil type were collected and subjected to physical and chemical analysis in the laboratory.

Over the next decade, under the direction of A.H. Joel and F.H. Edmunds, a geologist from Liverpool University, soil surveys were carried out throughout southern Saskatchewan. Work was halted early in the 1930s as financial support from both the federal and provincial governments was withdrawn, but in 1935 the soil survey was resumed under the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Act. With the publication of Soil Survey Report No.12 in 1944 and Soil Survey Report No.13 in 1950, by J. Mitchell, H.C. Moss and J.S. Clayton, the preliminary soil survey of the agricultural area of the province - covering some sixty-eight million acres or nearly half of the agricultural area in Canada - was complete.

In the late 1950s the soil survey, under the leadership of J.G. Ellis and D.F. Acton, embarked upon an ambitious project to remap the agricultural areas of the province in more detail, utilizing newly available aerial photographs and a new system of soil classification. It was a task that would become the focus of the survey for next forty years. Along the way the soil survey completed the South Saskatchewan Irrigation project, which documented the irrigation potential of lands in the vicinity of Lake Diefenbaker; conducted soil surveys for First Nation reserves; compiled a detailed biophysical inventory of the Prince Albert National Park; and extended soil inventories into the Northern Provincial Forest regions as part of the Agricultural Rehabilitation and Development Act (ARDA) program to evaluate the agricultural capability of Saskatchewan's land resources. Since the completion of the survey in 1998, the focus has been to transform the soil inventory information into digital form for use with modern Geographical Information Systems (GIS).

Glenn Padbury

Further Reading

Ellis, J.G. 1987. History of Soil Science Department and Soil Survey 1949-1985. Saskatoon: Saskatchewan Institute of Pedology; Moss, H.C. 1983. History of the Saskatchewan Soil Survey 1921-1959. Saskatoon: Saskatchewan Institute of Pedology.