Western Development Museum: Saskatoon

By David Suatac

When the British Empire declared war in August 1914, many men from Saskatchewan rushed to enlist. Excited by the prospect of a quick war and stable wages, these men would fill several battalions over the course of the war. Urban and rural areas alike provided men for overseas service. Saskatoon raised the 65th and 96th battalions in 1916. Communities like North Battleford enlisted men in the North Saskatchewan Regiment. One of the most famous provincial regiments, the 196th (Western Universities) Battalion, was recruited among students in Saskatoon and Regina. These men, regardless of the battalion, fought and bled in Europe with their brethren from across the country. Demobilization brought further hardship; Saskatchewan had a high casualty rate, and those who did return faced economic downturn and poor crops.   

But out of this hardship grew an iron will. When war was declared for a second time in a generation, men from Saskatchewan, battered by ten years of economic depression, rushed once again to enlist for overseas duty. Men from North Battleford joined the Regina Rifles, the only unit from the province with battle honours at Vimy and in Normandy. Others from Saskatoon enlisted in the Saskatoon Light Infantry, and disembarked in England with the 1st Canadian Infantry Division under General A.G.L. McNaughton, a Saskatchewan native. Many communities across the province, including Saskatoon and North Battleford, also played an integral role in the British Commonwealth Air Training Program, hosting and training the aircrew who fought over Europe.

Airforce training recruits No. 4 Service Flying Training School undergoing bren gun practice. 

Credit: Virtual Museum, Saskatoon and the Second World War Experience. / 

The Western Development Museum began as the Second World War ended. Citizens in North Battleford began preserving early farm machinery during the war, and in 1946 the provincial Minister of Natural Resources and Industrial Development provided the funds to begin the museum. Airport hangars in North Battleford and Saskatoon, expanded during the war as part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Program, were subsequently transformed into storage depots for the large amount of artefacts donated from across the province.

Sources: 

1. The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan, run by the University of Regina. Entries on the First and Second World Wars.

2. A short history of Saskatoon’s SWW experience

3. Western Development Museums Website, History.

Featured Image: Credit: Virtual Museum, Saskatoon and the Second World War Experience / 

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