This Week in History


And Then There Were Nine

This story was initially published in 1999

September 1, 1905 changed the map of Canada in a momentous way. From the enormous piece of land between Manitoba and British Columbia were created the new provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Laurier at Alberta Inauguration Ceremony -1905

Laurier at Alberta Inauguration Ceremony -1905
© Provincial Archives of Alberta

The Hudson's Bay Company controlled the Northwest Territories (then called Rupert's Land) after merging with its rival, the North West Company, in 1821. By the mid-1800s, the Canadian Government realized the great potential for agriculture there. It acquired the territory in 1870, creating the province of Manitoba. With the Dominion Lands Act of 1872 and the arrival of the railroad in the 1880s, settlers began to head West to acquire free land.

The more populated part of the territory was divided into four districts in 1882: Athabasca, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Assiniboia (where the capital, Regina, was located). As the immigrant population grew, the settlers demanded political autonomy. In 1888, the first territorial legislature was created and from the beginning it pressured the federal government for more political power. The insistence grew after Sir Frederick G.W. Haultain became premier in 1891.

In 1897, the territory was given responsible government but Haultain wanted more. In 1900, he proposed that the NWT press for provincial status. The assembly agreed and contacted Clifford Sifton, Minister of the Interior. He and Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier decided that settlement was still too sparse. This angered those in the territories leading the Calgary Herald to predict another North West Rebellion!

Front page of the Regina Leader Post September 1, 1905

Front page of the Regina Leader Post
September 1, 1905

Courtesy of Regina Leader Post

The pressure continued and Laurier promised that if the Liberals won the election in 1904, he would grant the territory provincial status. Unfortunately, Haultain not only campaigned for the Tories, but for one huge province, which Laurier felt would be too powerful. These differences complicated the negotiation process. Although the possibility of three provinces was discussed, the final decision was to create two. The legislation became effective September 1.

Alberta was named for the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria and the name Saskatchewan was derived from the Cree word for "swift-flowing river," kisiskatchwanisipi. Both the Creation of Alberta and of Saskatchewan are of National Historic Significance and are plaqued in their respective provincial capitals, Edmonton and Regina. Furthermore, Sirs Frederick G.W. Haultain, Clifford Sifton and Wilfrid Laurier are all Persons of National Historic Significance with plaques in Regina, Brandon, and Laurentides respectively.

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