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At the edge : the north Prince Albert region of the Saskatchewan forest fringe to 1940



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Canadians have developed a vocabulary of regionalism, a cultural shorthand that divides Canada into easily-described spaces: the Arctic, the Prairies, the Maritimes, and Central Canada, for example. But these artificial divisions obscure the history of edge places whose identity is drawn from more than one region. The region north of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, is a place on the edge of the boreal forest whose self-representations, local history, and memorials draw heavily on a non-prairie identity. There, the past is associated with the forest in contrast to most Canadians' understanding of Saskatchewan as flat, treeless prairie. This dissertation presents the history of the north Prince Albert region within a framework that challenges common Saskatchewan and Canadian stereotypes. Through deep-time place history, layers of historical occupation in the study region can be compared and contrasted to show both change and continuity. Historical interpretations have consistently separated the history of Saskatchewan’s boreal north and prairie south, as if the two have no history of interchange and connection. Using edge theory, this dissertation argues that historical human occupation in the western interior found success in the combination of prairie and boreal lifeways. First Nations groups from both boreal forest and open plain used the forest edge as a refuge, and to enhance resilience through access to resources from the other ecosystem. Newcomer use of the prairie landscape rebranded the boreal north as a place of natural resources to serve the burgeoning prairie market. The prairies could not be settled if there was not also a nearby and extensive source for what the prairies lacked: timber and fuel. Extensive timber harvesting led to deforestation and the rise of agriculture built on the rhetoric of mixed farming, not King Wheat. The mixed farming movement – tied to landscape – underscored the massive internal migrations from the open prairies to the parkland and forest edge. Soldier settlement, long viewed as a failure, experienced success in the north Prince Albert region and gave a model for future extensive government-supported land settlement schemes. South-to-north migration during the 1920s was based on a combination of push and pull factors: drought in the Palliser Triangle; and a strengthening northern economy built on cordwood, commercial fishing, freighting, prospecting and fur harvesting, as well as mixed farming. The economy at the forest edge supported occupational pluralism, drawing subsistence from both farm and forest, reflecting the First Nations model. As tourism grew to prominence, the Saskatchewan dual identity of prairie/forest led to the re-creation of the north Prince Albert region as a new vacationland, the ‘Playground of the Prairies.’ The northern forest edge drew thousands of migrants during the Great Depression. Historical analysis has consistently interpreted this movement as frantic, a reactionary idea without precedent. Through a deep-time analysis, the Depression migrations are viewed through a new lens. The forest edge was a historic place of both economic and cultural refuge and resilience predicated on the Saskatchewan contrast of north and south.



depression settlement, soldier settlement, freighting, mixed farming, western Canadian history, forestry in Canada, forest fringe, resilience, forest edge, refuge, north Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, environmental history, local history, deep time history, edge theory, The Great Trek, Canadian regions, Saskatchewan First Nations, northern history, Lakeland, Prince Albert National Park



Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)






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