Saskatchewan Western Development Museum: Where Old Saskatchewan Lives On
By Habeeb Salloum
As my daughter and I entered through the doors of the Saskatchewan Western Development Museum we and looked around. The WildWest in all its romance and history seemed to open up before us.
One could imagine cowboys, poker players, saloon girls and middle class snobs seemingly appearing before us in this historic setting. It was as if history was coming alive, a history of Saskatchewan’s pioneering past.
Promoted as one of Saskatchewan’s Greatest Treasures and known as ‘1910 Boomtown Saskatoon’, this theme of heritage and experience keeps the history of Saskatchewan and the West, generally, alive.
The Western Development Museum has branches in several of Saskatchewan’s towns and cities, namely Moose Jaw, North Battleford, Yorkton and Saskatoon. In these museums, the history of how the people lived and the tools they used in their daily lives has again become a reality.
The name Boomtown reflects the era from 1900 to 1914 was when Saskatchewan boomed with economic and agricultural development. The Museum captures the
aura of this period of western Canada’s history with a replica of how the people lived and worked by reproducing their daily activities. Its pioneer theme also includes not only the social life of the early settlers but has a collector’s dream of transportation and agricultural artifacts.
Before us, directly inside the entrance, was the main streetscape of Boomtown, an uncluttered roadway. On both sides of the street, replicas of just over 30 buildings in a western town of the early 20th century stood before us.
A barbershop, a café, a fire hall, a telephone operator’s house, harness shop, livery stable, general store, drug store, blacksmith’s shop, doctor’s office, a school, a church, a Royal Northwest Mounted Police detachment were some of the makeup of Boomtown, All were filled with exhibits that keep visitors intrigued and especially those interested in pioneer life in the Saskatchewan of that era.
In front of these structures and parked along the wooden sidewalks on both sides of the street, was a fire engine, vintage cars of the era, horse-drawn carriages and buggies, and sculpted horses tied to posts between the antique vehicles.
As we turned a corner at the end of the main street, my daughter remarked, “I guess that’s how my grandparents lived when they settled in southwest Saskatchewan.
Within a few minutes, we were amidst old type grain binders, steel-wheeled tractors and steam engines that puffed and huffed as they plowed the land and harvested the grain. Turning to my daughter, I commented, “When I was a tiny tot, these were the machines that many of the farmers used. Steam was the petroleum of the day.”
Back, crossing the main street to the other side, we opened two large doors to enter the Tractor and Farm Machinery Gallery. Before us stood a mass of farm and tractor equipment sprawled in all directions and used during the early 20th century. “Look”, my daughter waved her hand. “A graveyard of machinery.” I explained to her, “It’s like the elephants of East Africa, they all go to one place to die.”
Continuing our self-guided tour, we stopped at the Winning the Prairie Gamble exhibit, where we watched a 5-minute show about the beginnings of a homesteading family as they traveled west in 1905 on a train to Saskatchewan. Mrs. Worthy and her children, as we learn, are on her way to her new home, a sod house, to meet her husband who was already on the homestead.
“You know, when my parents homesteaded, they lived in an adobe home that my father built from straw and clay, much sturdier than the sod homes built by pioneers that were often infested with rodents.
In Syria, where they came from, most homes at that time were built of adobe. Warm in winter and cool in summer, they were much superior to the houses built of sod.
Technology is a two-way street, sometimes it comes from the East”, I remarked to my daughter as we continued our exploration of the museum town.
Returning to the main street, we weaved in and out of the many structures and their exhibits – some including people at work as their ancestors had done generations before. Sterling Hardware Store, the Drugstore, and General Store were especially impressive, packed with authentic early 1900s objects. For visitors, it puts the ‘boom days’ in focus.
Returning back near the entrance, we took a right and entered an adjoining area that I would consider to be a historian of technology’s paradise. Exhibits such as the Cobalt-60 Beam Therapy Unit also called the ‘Cancer Bomb’, installed in 2011 on the 60th anniversary of the first successful treatment of cancer in the province, was created by scientists and machinists from the University of Saskatchewan.
Winds of Change
Winds of Change, an exhibit of wind turbines in Saskatchewan during the 1920s to the 1940s depicting wind as an alternate energy source; Fueled by Innovation, a display of alternate fuel vehicles; the Transportation Gallery, a museum in itself of Saskatchewan’s rural vehicles from horse-drawn carriages to automobiles and commercial and agricultural vehicles; and the Ornithopter gallery, sample designs of aircraft powered by wings.
The interactive displays make the Museum an ideal place for families with children. Not only a learning experience but it is a fun one at that.
It will teach the generations to come about how western Canada was settled and how it developed until our present day. It is an absolutely great representation of pioneer life in the prairies. It’s a trip in the past, worth taking today.
Tips when visiting 1910 Boomtown Western Development Museum:
1. Set aside 2 hours for this fabulous walk-through in early 20th century Saskatchewan.
2.If arriving by car, there is a large parking lot with free parking.
3. The Museum offers a large gift shop and banquet facilities.
4. The Museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
For further information about the Saskatoon Western Development Museum (1910 Boomtown): 2610 Lorne Avenue South, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan S7J 0S6; Telephone: 306-931-1910; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org ; Website: http://www.wdm.ca/stoon.html