Bill Waiser

Monthly Archives: July 2016

Great War Antiques Road Show

The University of Saskatchewan Great War Commemoration Committee and Parks Canada are co-hosting the Great War Antiques Road Show on Saturday, August 6 at Convocation Hall from 1 to 4 p.m.


Gaps in census mean Canadians are being left out of history

By Ian E. Wilson and Bill Waiser

It’s a Canadian feel-good story.

One government ends the mandatory long-form household census over howls of protest. A newly elected government restores the long form as one of its first acts in office. Canadians rejoice, especially those selected to complete the long form. And the key statistical basis for understanding Canada and ourselves is restored, at least in part.

The story can’t have a happy ending, though, until the “opt-in” question on the census is removed.

Until then, hundreds of thousands of Canadians will be missing from the historical record. The 2016 census, like those of 2006 and 2011, will be a severely flawed historical record.

What’s the reason?

The final question Canadians are asked to complete on the census is whether they consent to having their information available through Library and Archives Canada 92 years from now.

The explanation for this question can be discovered deep on the Statistics Canada website. It is the 16th and last item under “general information” in the FAQs, and comes immediately after the notice that Statistics Canada will be retrieving financial information from income tax returns. Respondents for the census “are instructed to consult with all members of the household” before answering the question about making information available after 92 years.

In 2006, only 56 per cent of the respondents said Yes.

Those who said No, on the other hand, may have been concerned about financial information, chose not to consult with the three-month-old baby or simply did not understand the question.

If left blank, the default was No.

Great-grandchildren and their great-grandchildren of the 22nd and 23rd centuries, trying to understand their heritage, will not find their ancestors. Two of every five Canadians will effectively fade from memory.

Parliament gave serious consideration to this matter in 2005.

Canadians completing the census had never been asked this “opt-in” question before. In fact, prior to 2006, all nominal census information had been made publicly available after a minimum 92-year waiting period – without a single complaint.

But in amending the Statistics Act in 2005, the Canadian government settled on a compromise: test the opt-in question for the 2006 and 2011 censuses and then require a review of the informed-consent question “no later than two years before the taking of the third census of population [2016]… by any committee of [Parliament].”

At the time, historians, archivists, genealogists and other researchers were deeply worried that the opt-in question would compromise the integrity of the national census as an inclusive source of information on Canadians and their lives.
They also pointed out that neither the American (available after only 72 years) nor the British censuses have an opt-in question.

And they warned it is impossible today to know what might be historically important tomorrow, and that future Canadians could be deprived of access to family information that might not be otherwise available.

Statistics Canada countered these genuine concerns by promising a vigorous media campaign to get Canadians to say Yes to the informed consent question. An Industry Canada press release even promised a publicity campaign “to encourage Canadians to allow future access to their census records to preserve Canada’s history for future generations.”

A good Canadian compromise was enacted into law. So, what happened?

No explanation is provided on the 2016 census form about the significance of census records for future genealogical research or for understanding Canadian society. No media campaign. Nothing is said about the consequences of saying No.
Instead, that section begins with the rather ominous warning about the confidentiality of the census and then simply asks respondents whether they want “to make your census information available in 92 years for important historical and genealogical research.”

That is not “informed consent” as required by the act. On the contrary, No has been made the choice by default.

When is Parliament going to hold the legislated review of the opt-in question? Will the major decennial census of 2021 also be compromised?

How can Statistics Canada say it is meeting its mission of “serving Canada with high-quality statistical information that matters”? And why are Canadians being left out of history?

Everyone deserves to be remembered and have a place in the archives of Canada.

Ian E. Wilson is former Librarian and Archivist of Canada.
Bill Waiser is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Saskatchewan.
This op-ed originally appeared in the Toronto Star.

Walter Scott Monument Sask

Driving force behind Legislative Building missed opening

At the May 2016 unveiling of the restored dome atop the Saskatchewan Legislative Building, Premier Brad Wall paid tribute to the province’s first premier, Walter Scott.

It was at Scott’s insistence, Wall observed, “that Saskatchewan should have a legislature that represented the character and ambitions of its people.” And the dome was a physical expression of the “optimism, hope and high expectations that animated Saskatchewan in the early days.”

These heady words could easily be dismissed as political hyperbole. But Premier Scott spoke about the Legislative Building in similarly glowing terms. Nor was Wall exaggerating when he suggested that Scott was the driving force behind the structure.

From his first days as premier in 1905, Scott wanted a Legislative Building that matched the needs of the not-too-distant future when Saskatchewan’s population was expected to top several million.

In June 1906, cabinet approved the purchase of a 168-acre parcel of land, known as the Old Sinton property, south of the Wascana Creek reservoir. It was also decided, on the advice of a landscape architect, that the structure would face north and the surrounding grounds be developed into a public park.

The building design was determined by an architectural competition — won by Edward and W.S. Maxwell of Montreal in December 1907. But the proposed structure still reflected Scott’s vision and influence.

The specifications called for a 125-seat legislative chamber — at a time when there were only 25 members — and provision for enlargement by the adding of two wings if necessary in the future. There was also to be a central dome, so that the building would serve as a kind of landmark, capable of being seen for miles in any direction.

The projected price tag was $1.75 million, twice the original estimate.

In July 1908, P. Lyall and Sons of Montreal began driving the first of more than 3,000 piles for the massive edifice; almost 1,800 would be needed to support the central dome. By the following spring, crews had completed the skeletal framework and were ready to start on the red brick exterior.

But on Premier Scott’s intervention, it was decided to switch to Tyndall stone — a design change that resulted in additional cost and delay, but one that ultimately enhanced the graceful appearance of the structure.

A further slowdown was experienced in the late summer of 1909, when the local men working on the project left for harvest. Construction had reached the point, however, where Scott could confidently proceed with the ceremonial laying of the cornerstone on Monday, Oct. 4, 1909.

That event attracted an estimated 6,000 people who watched as Gov. Gen. Earl Grey took an engraved silver trowel with a special buffalo horn handle and smoothed the mortar before the block was carefully lowered into place.  Not even a sudden, brief downpour, sweeping across the lake, could dampen Premier Scott’s enthusiasm. “Saskatchewan demands a building of no mean dimensions,” he triumphantly declared to the thunderous roar of the crowd.

Almost exactly four years later, on Oct. 12, 1912, another governor general, Prince Arthur (the Duke of Connaught), the third and favourite son of Queen Victoria, officially opened the building.

The ceremony was held in the early evening so that the majestic dome, awash in brilliant light, stood out as a beacon against the night sky.

Premier Scott, though, was nowhere to be seen. Instead, it fell to acting premier Jim Calder to formally welcome the royal party and host the evening’s festivities.

So, where was the man responsible for the grand structure rising from the prairie south of Wascana Creek?

The premier was touring Europe, trying to find a cure for the depression that would haunt him to his final days. The onset of the illness may have started during the winter of 1906-07, when he suffered a bout of pneumonia and thereafter began to flee the province every fall in search of rest in a warmer setting. It might also have been aggravated by the dark secret that he carried with him — that he had been born out of wedlock.

Whatever the cause, Scott was not a well man and was away from the province for at least half his tenure as premier.

That he somehow managed to oversee the completion of the Legislative Building was a testimony to the strength of his faith in Saskatchewan’s destiny.

This article originally appeared in the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. 

Photo: The Walter Scott statue on the Saskatchewan Legislative Building grounds.
Photo Source: Bill Waiser
Questions or comments?

Email Bill at
Follow Bill on Twitter @billwaiser

Bill Waiser’s latest book, A World We Have Lost: Saskatchewan Before 1905, is now available for purchase via McNally Robinson Booksellers.

Waiser in Regina July 19 for book signing of A World We Have Lost

REGINA – Saskatchewan historian Bill Waiser will be in Regina on Tuesday, July 19, 2016 at a book signing for his newly released book, A World We Have Lost: Saskatchewan Before 1905. The book signing will take place at the RCMP Heritage Centre.

A World We Have Lost (Fifth House Publishers, Markham) complements Waiser’s award-winning centennial of the province, Saskatchewan: A New History.  That book received critical acclaim.  One reviewer noted, “Saskatchewan has found its historian.”


DATE: Tuesday, July 19, 2016

TIME: 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

PLACE: Foyer of the RCMP Heritage Centre, 5907 Dewdney Avenue, Regina.

After the signing, visitors can take in the free RCMP Sunset-Retreat Ceremonies at RCMP Academy, “Depot” Division.

The RCMP Heritage Centre’s Gift Shop is the exclusive retailer for the book in Regina. The book can also be purchased online via McNally Robinson Booksellers.

About A World We Have Lost

A World We Have Lost examines the early history of Saskatchewan through an Aboriginal and environmental lens. Indian and mixed–descent peoples played leading roles in the story-as did the land and climate. Despite the growing British and Canadian presence, the Saskatchewan country remained Aboriginal territory. The region’s peoples had their own interests and needs and the fur trade was often peripheral to their lives. Indians and Metis peoples wrangled over territory and resources, especially bison, and were not prepared to let outsiders control their lives, let alone decide their future. Native–newcomer interactions were consequently fraught with misunderstandings, sometimes painful difficulties, if not outright disputes.

By the early nineteenth century, a distinctive western society had emerged in the North–West-one that was challenged and undermined by the takeover of the region by young dominion of Canada. Settlement and development was to be rooted in the best features of Anglo–Canadian civilization, including the white race. By the time Saskatchewan entered confederation as a province in 1905, the world that Kelsey had encountered during his historic walk on the northern prairies had become a world we have lost.

A World We Have Lost also covers the formation of the North-West Mounted Police, the predecessor of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

About Bill Waiser

Author and historian Bill Waiser specializes in western Canadian history. He has published over a dozen books–many of them recognized by various awards, including a shortlist nomination for the 1997 Governor General’s literary award for non-fiction. Bill is a frequent public speaker and contributor to radio, television and print media. Bill retired from his position as a history professor with the University of Saskatchewan after 33 years in 2014. He has also served on a number of national, provincial, and local boards. Bill has been awarded the Saskatchewan Order of Merit, elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, named a distinguished university professor, and granted a D.Litt.

For more information or to set up an interview, please contact:

Jess Paul
Blossom Communications
Cell: 306.529.0566

To learn more about Bill Waiser, please visit his website: You can also follow him on Twitter @billwaiser.

Second Regina riot fatality covered up

On July 1, 1935, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, together with the Regina city police, forcibly raided a peaceful public rally on Regina’s Market Square and arrested the leaders of the On-to-Ottawa Trek.

The joint police operation quickly degenerated into a pitched battle with trekkers and citizens that spilled over into the streets of downtown Regina.

Order was not restored until the early hours of the next day, but only after the Regina police fired their guns directly into a crowd.

The riot resulted in hundreds of injuries, ten of thousands of dollars in damages, and one official death — plainclothes Detective Charles Millar, who died when struck on the head by an unknown assailant on the square.

It was a miracle that no one else was killed. Rumours persist to this day that some of the rioters were secretly buried.

But there was a second riot death that authorities did their best to cover up.

One of the rioters during the Dominion Day melee was 52-year-old Nicklas John (Nick) Schaack, an unemployed farm hand from Watertown, South Dakota, who had lived in Saskatchewan since 1910 and joined the trek in Regina.

Schaack was subdued in a vacant lot and then taken to the RCMP Training Depot guard room.

According to a cellmate, Schaack was in “a very bad way.” Lying on the lower bunk, he had a swollen face, two split lips, and blood oozing from one ear.
Cpl. James Lyons, the provost in charge of the barracks cells, summoned the RCMP surgeon, Dr. Samuel Moore, who diagnosed a mild concussion and recommended the application of cold compresses.

By morning, Schaack had reportedly recovered. “He was not quite right,” Corporal Lyons observed, “but he could get around. He didn’t eat anything, but he had — he had some coffee.”

Schaack made a brief court appearance later that day and was then taken to the Regina jail. He was committed to trial on July 11 — 10 days after the riot.

The only witness at his preliminary hearing was Const. John Timmerman, the Mountie who had made the arrest. The constable testified that he had confronted Schaack, carrying a rock in each hand, and that “he went down almost immediately after I hit him.”

Schaack’s bail hearing was scheduled for July 18, but by that date he was too ill to attend. His fate might have been gone unnoticed if not for the activities of a mothers’ committee, part of the Regina Citizens’ Defence Committee established to help imprisoned trekkers.

During their first trip to the Regina jail on Aug. 14, the women learned that Nick Schaack was seriously ill. He had trouble eating and standing and spent his days confined to his cell bed.

At the urging of the mothers’ committee, Schaack was eventually sent to the General Hospital on Aug. 25 — the same day charges against him were dropped.

Schaack’s condition steadily worsened. He suffered a heart attack and then developed pneumonia. On Oct. 9, the hospital superintendent wrote Schaack’s family in South Dakota that he was unlikely to recover and that if he did, he would be transferred to the Weyburn mental hospital. He died nine days later.

But the story does not end there. Every effort was made to ensure that Schaack was not named a riot fatality.

His attending physician at Regina General Hospital, Dr. E.K. Sauer, had initially regarded Schaack’s case as “purely a mental one,” but then claimed that the trekker had died from pneumonia, precipitated by a heart disorder.

Several months later during the Regina Riot Inquiry Commission hearings, Sauer offered a more convoluted explanation. “He was just getting over a scratch over his forehead,” Sauer remembered, “there was nothing wrong with him.” But when asked for the cause of death, the doctor responded “tumour of the brain,” but insisted that it was not caused by any injury that Schaack had sustained.

The other curious thing about Schaack’s death is that his hospital record is inexplicably wiped clear. All that appears on his card is his name.

Nick Schaack was quietly buried Oct. 21 in the Regina cemetery. His family could not afford to take his body back home to South Dakota for burial.

His grave lies within sight of the headstone of the other riot victim, Detective Charles Millar.

This article originally appeared in the Saskatoon StarPhoenix
Photo: The R.B. Bennett government called on the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to stop the 1935 On-to-Ottawa Trek in Regina.
Photo Source: Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan (R-A21749-2)
Questions or comments?
Email Bill Waiser at
Follow Bill on Twitter @billwaiser

Bill Waiser’s latest book, A World We Have Lost: Saskatchewan Before 1905, is now available for purchase via McNally Robinson Booksellers.