About the Archives

Keeper of Saskatchewan’s Stories: A Brief History

All Facets of Saskatchewan Life

From the personal to the public: the Provincial Archives collects, preserves and provides access to a rich and diverse collection of primary source documents. These documents are examined by researchers from all walks of life to explore and tell the historical stories of the Province and its people.

Letters, diaries, photographs: personal papers shed light on everyday life, often one of the most overlooked, yet socially and culturally significant, areas of history. Personal papers were the first documents collected in our Province by historically-minded citizens, led by heritage pioneers like the Provincial Archives’ founder, Arthur Silver Morton.

For decades, governments were also encouraged to preserve and provide access to inactive government papers like memoranda, correspondence and meeting minutes. In fact, as far back as 1897, an ordinance for the Department of Territorial Secretary to keep government archives was passed, although an actual archival repository did not materialize. Later, during the Great War, an archives branch of the Legislative Library was funded; however, it did not acquire public records.

Eventually, through the Preservation of Documents Act,1920, the retention and disposal of inactive public records was legislated, allowing for legal disposal of records through Order in Council. However, in the following years, despite dozens of orders issued, only two records were transferred to the archives. It was clear to Morton that an official archival repository was needed to ensure valuable records were preserved for future generations, and his lobbying efforts continued.

Pioneer Records Keeper

Since his 1914 arrival to Saskatchewan, historian Morton had extolled the need for government and citizens to collect and preserve documents. Supported by the Canadian Historical Association and the University of Saskatchewan, Morton proposed in 1937 that the provincial government establish an official repository and appoint an archivist. Later that year, the Historical Public Record Office was established with Morton appointed as Keeper of the Public Record.

In the mid-1940s, Morton called for legislation and secure financial support for the archives, which was approved by the newly elected Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) government. Sadly, Morton did not live to witness the original Archives Act, 1945, come into law. The Act that he had long championed created an arms-length board that represented stakeholders already engaged in documenting Saskatchewan’s heritage.

The Archives Act, 1945: An Expanded Mandate

While the Historical Public Record Office was limited to acquiring public records, the new Provincial Archives had a much broader mandate:

  • to include all forms of records from both public and private sources.
  • to allow provincial archivists to examine all public and private records.
  • to appraise and select those records of historical value for preservation in the archives.
  • to establish a system of accountability for information created and maintained by government that mandated all public records be scheduled, with all records schedules approved by committees comprised of acknowledged officials and elected representatives.

In the decades following The Archives Act, 1945, the Provincial Archives continued to grow its collection. In 1948, it began acquiring, preserving, and making accessible hundreds of thousands of photographs pertaining to the Province’s history, some from as far back as the 1870s. The same year, the Archives established an award-winning historical journal, Saskatchewan History, still published today, with renowned educator Hilda Neatby as its first editor.

Multi-year initiatives to microfilm Saskatchewan homestead files and the newspaper collection made these records more accessible than ever before, while preserving the original documents for future generations.

The Archives’ collection expanded into multimedia, building impressive sound and moving image collections. Initiatives to collect oral histories of First Nations and Métis people, in addition to farmers, soldiers, trappers, activists, politicians and others, were undertaken and resulted in making available valuable resources to generations of researchers. The Archives’ large sound and moving image collection includes the proceedings of the Saskatchewan Legislature since 1974, along with thousands of television news items produced by several local Saskatoon and Regina stations between 1954 and the present.

Throughout the decades, the Archives continued to grow its reputation for reaching out to the community it serves: the people of the Province, who have come to rely on the Archives for expert assistance to celebrate major milestones. History was on everyone’s mind during the Province’s 1955 Golden Jubilee, and 75th anniversary celebrations in 1980, and Centennial in 2005:researchers converged on the Archives to explore and understand the diverse history of our Province, our peoples and our stories.

Modernization to Better Serve the Public

By the 1990s, transformative changes were taking place:

  • usage of new technologies exploded in the workplace, creating far more records than in the past
  • access and privacy legislation was passed requiring detailed knowledge of the location and content of the records in archival custody
  • the Archives’ client base expanded, reflecting increased awareness of the collection
  • new approaches to information and records management were under way in both public and private sectors.

The Provincial Archives also transformed to keep pace with the new workplace. In 2004, a revised Archives Act  was passed, updating the legislative framework and ensuring Saskatchewan’s legislation is in line with that of other Canadian provinces. Modernization is once again underway with the anticipation of proclamation for new Archives’ legislation.

The Provincial Archives continues to provide extraordinary access to millions of primary source records from offices in both Regina and Saskatoon. In addition to its vital documents, including maps, land records, and homestead records, the collection includes fascinating oral history accounts from indigenous people, sound recordings and moving images reflecting the social, cultural and economic expanses of the many communities of our Province.

Digitizing archival records has been a massive long-term project: initiated in 2007, it continues as resources allow. In 2012, the Provincial Archives launched an expanded website with a powerful database, Threshold, capable of providing access to literally tens of thousands of the collection’s archival descriptions and images to researchers around the world. Information and services available on the website continued to grow in 2014-2015.

With the coming into force of The Archives and Public Records Management Act in August 2015, the legislation governing the Provincial Archives has been modernized to effectively manage the technological change that has impacted Archives at every level including record creation, acquisition, preservation, and access. The new Act also provides a new name for the institution as the Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan.