A World We Have Lost: Saskatchewan Be­fore 1905

The Globe and Mail (Prairie Edition) - - BOOKS -

By Bill Waiser Fifth House, 624 pages, $70

What is the world we have lost? As his­to­rian Bill Waiser sug­gests in the epi­logue to his re­cent his­tory, which won the 2016 Gov­er­nor-Gen­eral’s Lit­er­ary Award for Non-fic­tion, when Saskatchewan be­came a prov­ince in 1905, it turned its back on its his­tory. Where for mil­len­ni­ums in­dige­nous peo­ples in­hab­ited di­verse land­scapes, cul­ti­vat­ing the land’s many re­sources and adapt­ing to eco­log­i­cal change, by 1905 the prov­ince had its blink­ers on: mono­cul­ture (wheat) farmed by home­stead­ers (set­tlers) in the grass­land (in the south). For more than two cen­turies, Euro­peans re­lied on in­dige­nous peo­ples for knowl­edge and sur­vival, yet the 1906 cen­sus did not even in­clude Métis as a cat­e­gory – they lit­er­ally did not count. True to his word, Waiser cov­ers the land’s long pre-1905 his­tory – start­ing with the Wis­con­sin glacier 18,000 years ago. The au­thor’s com­mit­ment to this times­pan means the early chap­ters es­pe­cially feel some­what in­tro­duc­tory (the lat­ter half, which cov­ers roughly a cen­tury, is more in-depth). Nev­er­the­less, Waiser’s ef­fort to turn Saskatchewan his­tory on its head is to be ap­plauded.

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