by Katherine Gilks, Projects Coordinator
With Saskatchewan Day having just passed (and I hope everyone had a good weekend), I decided to reflect on the holiday and its ongoing heritage.
I admit that I was surprised to learn that Saskatchewan Day was declared the name of the holiday in the mid 1970s. The Civic Holiday in August has always been to me just that – the “civic holiday in August” or the “August long weekend.” I really only heard of it being called Saskatchewan Day in the early 2000s.
Most Canadians who have the Civic Holiday off simply take advantage of the long weekend. There are very few “Saskatchewan Day” advertising campaigns, if any. I probably paid little attention growing up because we were often travelling that weekend. Since children are out of school, it really does not sink in as a holiday for them. Most of us seem to be more interested in having family reunions, weddings, and camping trips rather than celebrating any type of official provincial holiday.
Saskatchewan was not the only province in the 1970s to declare the first Monday in August to be a provincial statutory holiday. Several other provinces did so, while others declared it a non-statutory holiday. Those that do not observe it at all have other holidays in the summer (and also much stronger provincial identities).
Simply giving people a day off did not seem like a good enough reason in of itself for a holiday, however. They had to name it after something! There had to be something ostensibly commemorative, even if it was just on paper. This feeling is echoed in the more recent drive to create a holiday in February, where much the same thing occurred.
Both Saskatchewan and British Columbia decided to declare that their August provincial holidays were to “honour the early pioneers”. (Many of whom were still alive or had recently died in the 1970s.) Except for New Brunswick and Manitoba, other provinces also declared the day to commemorate their “founders”. Nova Scotia commemorates the founding of Halifax. Cities within Ontario commemorate their cities’ “founding fathers”, such as John Graves Simcoe in Toronto and Colonel John By in Ottawa. (In the same vein, Yukon celebrates the start of the Klondike Gold Rush, albeit on a different weekend.)
In this context, these holidays reinforce the problematic myth that “great men (and women) built a country out of the wilderness”. Contributions of Indigenous peoples and recent generations of immigrants (and their descendants) are ignored.
But what is wrong with commemorating and celebrating our early pioneers?, one might ask.
In of itself, nothing – they are a part of Saskatchewan’s heritage. However, they are not where Saskatchewan’s heritage begins and ends.
Saskatchewan was declared a separate province in 1905 and did not have its own identity prior to joining Confederation. The province itself is just a geographic carving. This has led to a belief that Saskatchewan “began” in 1905. This line of thinking was encouraged for many years – indigenous peoples, the fur trade, the Northwest Resistance, and the near-extinction of the buffalo were swept away. Likewise, the “pioneer” era had ended by the time that Saskatchewan Day was declared in 1976, but much has continued to happen in this province since then.
Thankfully, modern celebrations of Saskatchewan Day focus on the present and present a more holistic view of provincial history as well as the land, animals, and people.
So, in light of the heritage of the holiday that has just passed, what do we think of the Saskatchewan identity? What do we think makes up the Saskatchewan identity?
Is it in the land, lakes, and rivers that we thoroughly enjoy over the Saskatchewan Day long weekend?
Is it in the people that we often reunite with and the ancestral communities that we return to or visit?
Is it in the fellow Saskatchewanians that we make an effort to meet and get to know? The places in this province that we decide to explore for the first time?
Who and what are we celebrating? Are we looking to the past, the present, or the future?
The many peoples that give this province strength are diverse in their outlooks and experiences. Likewise, the landscape is varied. There is no universal Saskatchewan experience.