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Sunday, July 05, 2015


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Sports and recreation were simple in Saskatchewan's early years: transportation limited individuals to participating on local teams and clubs, with few inter-community competitions. Much of the settlers' recreation and leisure activities originated in the home: hospitality was a main concern, and visits were encouraged among neighbours. At these spontaneous and prearranged visits, baseball games and dances often occurred. When schools were built, they became the home for recreational activities. Annual picnics held at the schools were the biggest event at that time, and sports days-where baseball, wrestling, horseshoes, horse racing, soccer, boxing and foot races occurred-became a staple later in the period.

Lacrosse was the first sport in Saskatchewan and Canada, thanks to the Aboriginal peoples, who introduced settlers to the game. Curling was also a part of Saskatchewan life in the late 1880s. From 1880 to 1904, the Royal Caledonian Curling Club of Scotland's North-West Territories branch controlled Saskatchewan curling. By 1889 Regina featured its first curling club, and soon afterwards Qu'Appelle and Indian Head built their own clubs. It was not until 1904 that a provincial association was formed to managed the various clubs across Saskatchewan. After World War I, curling became a staple for residents, and almost every community held bonspiels throughout the winter.

Favourite summer activities in this period included baseball, football, kites, hide-and-go-seek, horseshoes, and marbles for boys; and hopscotch, skipping rope, and tag for girls. Meanwhile, winter pastimes included skating, sleighing, skiing, and fox-and-hound games. With the onset of World War I in 1914, recreational and sporting activities decreased significantly as residents and communities focused on the war effort.

Communities provided recreational activities such as dances for local army training camps, while park construction and other recreational activities, such as sports days, ceased during the period. One sport organization to stem from the war was the Junior Provincial Hockey League, which was formed by the Saskatchewan Amateur Hockey Association in 1917 to fill in the gap left by senior players who had enlisted as soldiers.


Automobiles, trains, new roads, and buses provided Saskatchewan residents with the opportunity to travel to neighbouring communities for sport and recreation events, including dances and sports competitions. The 1920s featured competent boxing and a professional hockey team, the Regina Capitals. In their first year, the Capitals came within one game of playing in the Stanley Cup finals; unfortunately this success was not long lived, and professional hockey only lasted for a few years. The franchise was sold to Portland, Oregon in 1926.

Boxing was popular and successful in Saskatoon, Moose Jaw and Regina throughout the 1920s. Moose Jaw's Jack Reddick went on to become the Canadian light-heavyweight champion, while Regina's Jackie Lewis was Saskatchewan Boxing Champion and Western Boxing Champion in the same year.

On July 15, 1925, Saskatoon's first pool, the Victoria Park Swimming Pool, opened its doors to local residents. As well, tennis, softball, lawn bowling, baseball, soccer, and golf provided Saskatoon's citizens with plenty of entertainment. In the 1920s, tennis thrived in several communities along the Canadian National Railway (CNR) thanks to O.J. Rowe, the assistant superintendent of the CNR in Biggar, and later superintendent for western Canada; his passion for the game drove him to request the CNR to fund various tennis courts in the communities. George Ward was hired as the first Saskatoon Playgrounds Association's director in May 1930. Ward was responsible for the sports arena in Westfield Park, a football field, the Avenue H Swimming Pool, four knockdown rinks, a cricket pitch, and two softball backstops. His hard work and dedication had a tremendous impact on the recreation field for over thirty-five years.


World War II began in 1939, and once again sport and recreational activities were hampered by dedication to the war effort. Saskatchewan communities continued to provide entertainment in the form of dances for nearby training camps. To commemorate soldier's efforts at the end of the war, several communities constructed parks, rinks, sports fields, libraries, and swimming pools rather than the traditional, unusable monuments.



The 1950s provided further growth in the sport and recreation fields. Prince Albert was home to the first regional library in 1950; Regina's recreational facilities included swimming pools, seventeen playgrounds, sixteen rinks for skating and recreational hockey, three community centres, and more.

Saskatoon hosted the 1951 Canadian Olympic Speed Skating Trials in February, which was a first for Canada. Saskatchewan developed some strong Olympic competitors during this period, such as George Genereaux, a 17-year-old from Saskatoon, who won the gold medal in clay pigeon trapshooting; this was the first Olympic gold medal for Canada since 1936.

The 1955 Saskatchewan Golden Jubilee, celebrating Saskatchewan's 50th anniversary, dramatically increased the level of sports and recreation in Saskatchewan. Grants were distributed by the Saskatchewan Golden Jubilee Committee, which were used to build community halls and recreational facilities. The committee was also successful in attracting major sporting events to the province: the Macdonald Brier Dominion Curling Championships, the Western Canadian Volleyball Championships, and the North American Figure Skating Championships.


As gymnasiums were built in Saskatchewan schools, physical educators were hired to replace volunteers. In rural areas, the gymnasiums were tremendous assets because they provided year-round entertainment and activities for youth.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders defeated the Ottawa Rough Riders 29-14 in the Grey Cup final in 1966; this was the ninth time that Saskatchewan competed in the final, the previous time being in 1951.

Gordie Howe Day took place in Saskatoon on July 22, 1966, to honour the Saskatoon native for his remarkable hockey achievements: nicknamed "Mr. Hockey," he completed 32 professional hockey seasons, won four Stanley Cups, was the National Hockey League's Most Valuable Player six times, and scored 801 goals and 1,049 assists in his career.

The 21st Century

Sport and recreation events contribute large economic rewards to Saskatchewan communities: in 2000, the total economic impact was over $1.1 billion. Visitors spend significant revenue on accommodation, food and drink, souvenirs, travel, entertainment and recreational activities during their stay, which translates into financial contributions to the community and the province's economy. These events also result in job creation: in 2000 over 4,100 jobs were created through sport, and over 6,300 jobs maintained by recreational activities.

Aboriginal Involvement in Sport & Recreation

Throughout the 20th and the beginning of the 21st centuries, Aboriginal sport and recreation has expanded and met with provincial, national and international success. At the North American Indigenous Games, a competition that includes teams from across North America, Saskatchewan won the overall title for four consecutive championships.

The Saskatchewan Indian Summer Games began in 1974. Since then, the games have been a popular aspect of Aboriginal communities: in 1997, approximately 3,000 athletes attended the event. The Saskatchewan Indian Winter Games, introduced in 1980, continue to be a successful annual event for Aboriginal youth. The Aboriginal community was home to several star boxers, including Don Laliberté, who was the Canadian Heavyweight Champion; Weslie Sunshine; Jessie Laframboise, a strong bantam-weight fighter; and Dana Laframboise, a successful lightweight boxer.

Provincial & National Games

The first Canada Games, held in 1967 in Quebec City, had a major impact upon Saskatchewan because each sport had to be registered as a provincial association to compete in the games; this rule prompted various provincial organizations throughout the province. When the Provincial Youth Agency came into existence in 1966, one of its initiatives was to sponsor the first Saskatchewan Summer Games in 1968; their popularity triggered the formation of four more provincial associations and encouraged other provincial organizations to improve for the next event. The next games were not held until 1972, when Moose Jaw hosted the event.

The agency was also involved in the organization of the 1971 Canada Winter Games that were hosted by Saskatoon through $100,000 in federal financial support. The Department of Natural Resources also provided funding, which was mainly used to build Mount Blackstrap for the skiing events. The Western Canada Games, the Canada Games, and the Saskatchewan Games all encouraged sport development and participation in the 1970s. The Western Canada Games, established in 1971, featured athletes, managers, officials and coaches from British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon. In the 21st century, Nunavut was added to the games as an entity separate from the Northwest Territories. In 1988, the first Saskatchewan Senior 55+ Summer Games were held in Melville; held every two years, they involve about 800 participants. North Battleford hosted the first Saskatchewan Winter Games in 1974.

The Saskatchewan Games are held every two years, the summer and winter games occurring one year after another. The events provide athletes with the opportunity to participate at a higher level of competition. Once the games are over, the host community continues to receive benefits from the event, in the form of state-of-the-art facilities and equipment for the area's athletes. Weyburn hosted the 2004 Saskatchewan Summer Games, and the event attracted a large number of athletes, coaches, officials, volunteers and spectators.  In Saskatchewan's centennial year, 2005, Regina hosted a very successful Jeux du Canada Summer Games. 

Related Links
For additional information, see the entry "Sports and Recreation in Saskatchewan - History" in the Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan. 

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