The Western Development Museum (WDM), was established in 1949, and has been in its present location since 1972. There are technically four WDM’s, located at Moose Jaw, North Battleford, Yorkton, and Saskatoon, but the area of focus is Saskatoon. The Saskatoon one is called 1910 Boomtown, and focuses on the boomtown era of 1910’s, as well as features vintage automobiles, trains, farm equipment, and other memorabilia.
When you enter the museum you’re presented with an indoor representation of a typical Saskatchewan town. There’s a long wide street with buildings on either side. I’ll go through every building and highlight a bit of history about them, before venturing on to different technologies that were developed in the 1900’s that made vast improvements into people’s quality of life; from farming techniques, automobile development, home improvements, electricity, running water, etc.
Telephone Operator’s House
Telephones were in place in many parts of Saskatchewan by 1910. The main switchboard in most small towns were typically located in the operator’s home. Shown below is what a typical telephone operator’s house would have looked like.
Harness shops are some of the busiest shops in the small towns of Saskatchewan during the early 1910’s, since animals were the main workhorse, rather than vehicles. The shop keeper was often the town cobbler, and leather worker as well. Shown below is what a typical harness shop would have looked like.
Livery Stables were used to provide house and feed for horses, which were the main workhorse of transportation in the early 1910’s. Horses were used to pull buggies, wagons, and farm equipment.
Blacksmiths had a wide variety of jobs ranging from the sharpening of slows, replacing horseshoes, repairing wheels, shaping iron into tools, and manufacturing replacement parts. Metal is heated in a forge, where bellows forced air through the fire to heat the iron. The iron is then held with tongs against an anvil and then shaped into the desired shape with a sledgehammer, before being plunged into water to harden it. Shown below is what a typical blacksmith shop would have looked like.
General stores are where the citizens could send or receive mail, buy foods, have a coffee, etc. Most items were loose, weighed and bagged, similar to how the modern day Bulk Barn does things. Shown below is what a typical general store would have looked like.
Real Estate Office and Law Office
The homestead system was based on the Dominion Land Survey (DLS). The Dominion Lands Act of 1872 offered up homesteads of 160 acres for $10 if the settler lived on the homestead for a minimum of six months every year for three years, as well as built a suitable home, broke at least 30 acres of land, and seeded at least 20 acres of land. These new homesteads were keeping the Real Estate / Law Offices in these small towns quite busy.
In the early 1900’s dental services were usually performed by general practice doctor, and a dental office was only established after a community had developed to a considerable size to merit a specialist. A dentist usually began his practice with only a manually operated dental chair, and some basic equipment.
Small town doctors were general practioners that faced a wide variety of medical situations ranging from pulling teerh, broken bones, delivering babies, as well as diagnosing and treating illnesses. Occasionally the illness or accident would be severe enough that the doctor would be required to visit that patient in their home, sometimes travelling many kilometres on poor roads.
Drug stores in the early 1910’s did more than count out pills prescribed by doctors. The usually had to mix out their own medications from raw materials. Mortar and pestle’s, scales, beakers, and a compression device were a common staple tool that allowed chemists to manufacture the pills prescribed by the doctor. Drug stores also carried specialty items such as photography equipment, grooming and hygiene supplies.
Royal North West Mounted Police (RNWMP) Detachment
Shown below is an example of what the RNWMP detachment in Watson, Saskatchewan looked like. The detachment had two police officers who lived and worked in the building.
Churches are an important part of a community, and most small towns had a church.
Most schools in small towns were just a one-room schoolhouse. Most schools were poorly lit, and quite chilly.
Wing Lee Laundry
Many early laundries were operated by Chinese settlers who originally came to Canada to work on the Canadian Pacific Railway’s western section. The laundromats were usually the home and business of these settlers, with the sleeping quarters typically located in the back.
Sterling Hardware Store
Hardware stores offered a wide variety of items ranging from nails to lamps and tools.
Arctic Ice Company
Before electric fridges arrived to the scene food was kept in insulated ice boxes, and were cooled by a block of ice. In the winter months ice blocks were cut from nearby rivers and lakes. The Arctic Ice Company wagon delivered ice door-to-door for home ice boxes. While the electric fridge was invented in 1913, they were not common-place in homes until the 1930’s when they became more affordable, and safer refrigerants such as Freon were invented. Early electric fridges used ammonia, which wasn’t safe for home use because they often leaked.
Railways were critical to the existence of prairie towns. They brought settlers and supplies, and hauled away produce to other markets. Sometimes towns would relocate to be on a rail line so that they could survive.
There was a tremendous amount of farming equipment ranging from steam powered equipment, to gas, diesel and oil powered equipment.
Sod houses were common place, especially towards the end of the 1800’s, start of the 1900’s. They were chepa to build, warm in the winter, and cool in the summer. This was the first home for many immigrants.
In the 1930’s, during the Great Depression era, money for gasoline had dried up, so people improvised by repurposing gasoline powered vehicles into horse-drawn vehicles. The engines were usually removed, and straps were attached that could be pulled by a horse.
The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression that occured from 1929 until the late 1930’s. It was the longest and deepest depression in the 20th censure. It started in the United States after a major fall in stock prices that began on September 4th 1929, and was worldwide news by October 19th 1929. This was also known as Black Tuesday. Between 1929 and 1932 the world economy shrank by 15%. By comparison, the Great Recession of 2008-2009 the world economy only shrank by 1%. Unemployment also rose to nearly 23%! Unfortunately also during these times the Canadian and USA prairies were also pummeled with severe wind storms which would pile dust against the side of peoples homes, sometimes up to the roof. Dust would even make its way inside the home and cover everything. An example of a depression-era home is shown below.
In the 1920’s homes were introduced to the magic of electricity, with the 32 Volt home electricity “Light Plant”. Light plants consisted of a gas engine (sometimes a wind turbine), an electric generator (also known as a dynamo), and a storage battery. The storage batteries consisted of sixteen 2 Volt gas storage batteries, usually split into two rows of eight to save on space. Farm light plants were typically stored in the basement and were installed on a concrete foundation to minimize vibration. The light plants could run small 32-volt appliances such as butter churns, washing machines, tools, and lights. Light plants provided electricity for many rural homes until the 1950’s, when the last of Saskatchewan’s rural farms were finally connected to the power grid.
Implement dealers were placed close to railway stations in order to take easily delivery of shipments of steam engines, gas tractors, and other agricultural machinery that was purchased by the citizens in the town for use on their homesteads.
In the early years of banking, each bank company issued it’s own currency. Banks in this era were built to give the impression of a solid and trustworthy image. Architecture during the 1910’s featured false columns on the front of banks, sturdy dark wood furniture, and wrought iron teller windows.
Craft Parlours provided women with craft supplies to make clothing, rugs, quilts, etc.
Between the 1910’s and 1920’s cars were often sold by farm implement dealers who often knew very little about them. This often led to the need for a service industry to provide repairs and accessories for them, which spun the need for independent garages.
Boomtown Photo Studio
Photography equipment was not owned by the average citizen so if a professional portrait was required a visit to a city photo city was a necessity. City photo studies typically held a studio camera, a room with interchangeable backdrops, and a dedicated dark room to develop the film.
Many Canadian homes are built of wood, and are susceptible to house fires. Making matters worse was older homes typically contained electrical wiring that didn’t have electrical grounding, and exposed wires (think rod and spoke inside walls with newspaper as insulation). Fire Halls were as much a necessity as they are now. Firefighting equipment – hand, steam, or compressed gas – stored in small wooden firehalls were operated by volunteer firefighters.
Town halls were the centre of business and handled all local administration, and date back to early roman times.
Clock shops in the early 1900’s were more than a place where people could buy clocks. The jeweler sold and repaired watches and clocks, handled china and silver, and acted as the local optometrist. Keeping time was a lot harder in the early 1900’s than our internet connected devices of today.
Electrical refrigeration didn’t exist in the early 1910’s. Food was preserved with ice and kept fresh in ice boxes. Butchers were an essential retailer as many families didn’t even have access to ice block service.
Today we can just look at our iPhones, or turn on our televisions to get the news, however at the turn of the 1900’s news travelled much slower. Newspapers were printed on a daily or weekly basis and delivered door to door. International news sometimes took as long as 1-3 months to reach Canada.
Barber Shop and Pool Hall
Barber Shops at the turn of the 1900’s often contained a public bath area where a person sat on the surrounding rim with his feet in the basin. Water drained through a small hole under the seat. Pictured below is a historic barber chair.
The museum featured a transportation gallery that encompassed all sorts of vehicles from the early 1900’s through to modern times. There were even some electric vehicles and renewable fuel vehicles at the turn of the 1900’s that were quite interesting.
Believe it or not but electric cars have been around since the 1880’s. The very first electric car was developed by Gustave Trouve from Paris, France. Electric cars were widely used between 1881 and 1912, even more popular than gasoline / diesel powered cars. In fact six electric cars held the land speed record in the 19th century, with one of them reaching 106 kph in 1899, which was unheard of during those days. The internal combustion engine took over as the main engine of choice, until roughly the late 1970’s, when the fuel crisis hit. Electric vehicles eventaully started to gain traction again, including this weird looking vehicle called the ElecTrek pictured below. The ElecTrek was developed by Unique Mobility from Denver, Colorado. When it went on sale in 1982 it could reach highway speeds, however could only got 132 km (82 miles) on a charge, and ran on 16 heavy lead-acid batteries, which posed an issue with limited charge cycles and recyclability. The electric vehicle wasn’t quite ready for mass-production again. General Motors (GM)came close in 1996 with the EV1. The vehicle was highly favoured by its owners, however they lived a short life because in 1999 GMended production. There was also another catch because GM never let you purchase them, rather lease them for a 3 year period. Once the lease period was over GM crushed most of the vehicles, and distributed a few to museums. This was a huge blow to the electric vehicle scene. The 2000’s sat quiet, until Tesla came to the picture in 2003 and has since produced over 1 million electric vehicles. I myself own a Toyota Prius PRIME plug-in-hybrid, of which only 50,000 per year are produced. I love my car, and honestly don’t see myself driving a non electric vehicle here-on-in.
What do we have here? Pictured below is a McLaughlin Motors Model E35 powered by straw gas. Basically it was a regular vehicle that could burn straw gas. A gas bag was fitted to the car’s frame, with a hose to pipe the gas into the carburetor, and a valve that could be opened or closed depending on whether the car was run on straw gas or gasoline. The issue with running a car on straw gas was that the 300 cubic feet of gas had less stored capacity than 1 gallon (3.78 litres) of gasoline, so it could only go for an extremely short distance. This was one of the first “renewable fuel” vehicles ever produced.
Steam powered cars were prevalent until the end of the 1920’s In the early 1900’s automotive propulsion technology was highly experimental with gasoline, electric, and steam all contending to be the dominant technology of choice. Steam power was somewhat preferred during the late 1910’s to the early 1920’s because of its simplicity of operation, maintenance, and smooth / quiet ride. By the 1920’s steam was on its way out as gasoline alternatives were becoming significantly cheaper and faster. The vehicle pictured below is a 1926 Brooks steam car, of which only 18 were built. The car had only 38 moving parts, and featured unique technologies such as a flash boiler wrapped in 5 km of piano wire, and a body made of a light-weight composite fabric called Meritas.
Cobalt-60 Beam Therapy Unit
The original Cobalt-60 Beam Therapy Unit was an innovation in healthcare that had a worldwide impact in cancer treatment. Saskatchewan had a very high cancer rate developing between 1924 and 1941, and the government decided they would offer free cancer treatment to everyone living in Saskatchewan, and gave the green light to the University of Saskatchewan to develop the “Cobalt Bomb”. In 1951 the “Cobalt Bomb” was finalized to treat cancer. The very unit on display in this museum treated 6728 patients until it was replaced in 1972. Canada is a world leader in cancer treatment innovation for a terrible disease that kills 83,000 Canadians annually, and 9.8 million people worldwide.
I hope you enjoyed reading about all these fascinating facts as much as I did. If you visit Saskatoon I highly recommend visiting this museum. Be sure to check back soon as I continue my summer hiking adventures, and I also have an upcoming trip to Kelowna at the end of June. It’s also looking fairly promising for me to look again at doing my Eastern Europe road trip in the fall.
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