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When Saskatchewan's population fell back below the 1-million mark

Enough Saskatchewanians had left the province to push its total below the 1-million mark by the time 1989 came to a close.

Many younger people were among the Saskatchewanians seeking opportunities elsewhere in 1989

Saskatchewan drops below the 1M mark

Digital Archives

31 years ago
2:33
In December 1989, Sasa Petricic reports on the factors that had surrounded a population decrease in Saskatchewan that year. 2:33

The population of Saskatchewan fell below the 1-million mark in 1989 and Saša Petricic had a convenient statistic to summarize the situation as the year came to a close.

"This year, Saskatchewan has been losing people at a rate of one every 23 minutes," Petricic told viewers watching The National on Dec. 13, 1989.

What was worse for the province was that the people leaving were mostly younger people.

And they were leaving home just a few years after the province had been celebrating boom times that had built up Saskatchewan's population to a record level.

'There's not a lot there'

Sasa Petricic said Saskatchewan had once had the third-highest population among Canadian provinces — but that was back in the 1930s. (The National/CBC Archives)

Bonnie Fedrau was one of those young ex-Saskatchewanians. She had moved east to Toronto.

"Saskatchewan doesn't really offer a lot to a young, single person," she told CBC News. "There's not a lot there."

Petricic said the ebb and flow of Saskatchewan's population had long been a topic of discussion in the prairie province.

"Back in the 1930s, this province had more people than any other — except Ontario and Quebec," he said.

"It was proudly in third place, and ever since then, population has been used as a convenient yardstick of Saskatchewan's well-being."

After the fanfare

Sasa Petricic pointed out that Saskatchewan had seen prior periods of population decrease, just like it was seeing in 1989 and the province went on to recover from that. (The National/CBC Archives)

That's in part why such a fuss was made when Saskatchewan had topped the 1-million mark six years earlier.

A married couple had actually been anointed as the official residents to carry the province above that total. Premier Grant Devine had presented them with a plaque to mark the population progression.

But Stephen and Lori Dennis didn't stay — they had moved on to Manitoba.

"We left for a better business opportunity," Lori Dennis told CBC News. "I guess I feel a bit bad about that."

Tough times for many

Saskatchewan Premier Grant Devine was well-aware of the challenges his province was facing during his government's second term in power in 1989. (The National/CBC Archives)

Six years after the celebratory times, Devine was still premier and he was fully aware of the challenges Saskatchewanians were then facing — particularly due to drought and poor crop yields.

"I hurt for the towns and villages," said Devine. "The town I grew up in is absolutely abandoned."

Opposition Leader Roy Romanow said any optimism about the future had "seriously waned" under the leadership of Devine's PC government. 

"People are no longer saying: 'Well, next year.' They're now beginning to think to themselves: maybe there isn't a next year," said Romanow, who would lead the NDP to power in the provincial election of 1991.

Petricic ended his report looking to what Saskatchewan's past might say about its future.

"Saskatchewan has lost people before and recovered, but never before has the pace of the exodus been so great," he said.

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