A World We Have Lost: Saskatchewan Before 1905
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.