The Western Development Museum (WDM) began as a grassroots movement to preserve prairie agricultural history: responding to the need to rescue artifacts from a fast-disappearing heritage, the Saskatchewan government passed the Western Development Museum Act in 1949.
The first formal WDM location to admit visitors in 1949 was a refurbished hangar building in North Battleford, followed during the same year by a similar structure in Saskatoon. A third hangar was procured in Yorkton and opened to the public in 1951. It was not until 1976 that the fourth WDM exhibit branch opened in Moose Jaw. This was the first branch to open in a building specifically constructed for the Museum; but by then new facilities had been erected in both Saskatoon and Yorkton, and the North Battleford branch had relocated to another, improved hangar building. This was upgraded in the mid-1980s with the addition of a new, all-season exhibit wing. In 1984, with an ever-growing collection of artifacts and with new exhibits continually being developed, the WDM acquired and renovated a large warehouse in Saskatoon to accommodate centralized services including collections, conservation, research, exhibits, education and public programs, and marketing and administration. The WDM Curatorial Centre, as this facility eventually was renamed, includes a large area of environmentally controlled storage to house the portion of the WDM collection currently not on display in any of the four exhibit branches. The entire collection is comprised of approximately 80,000 artifacts.
Although the WDM mandate, as prescribed in the WDM Act, applies to all locations, each branch has developed its own particular focus. By 1989, the nature of this growth had evolved sufficiently to inspire adoption of individual theme names. The Moose Jaw branch is now referred to as the History of Transportation; the North Battleford branch as the Heritage Farm & Village; Saskatoon as 1910 Boomtown; and Yorkton as the Story of People. Core funding for operation is received from the province of Saskatchewan, and the communities within which the four branches reside offer varying levels of local assistance. The WDM operation is served by permanent and temporary staff as well as a large volunteer contingent. Annual visitation to exhibits and a wide range of public and education programs has exceeded 200,000 for all locations. The Western Development Museum promises to evolve and grow as a major custodian of Saskatchewan's history.