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American-Abell steam traction engine with threshing crew of several men
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The Saskatchewan Story green bookWinning the Prairie Gamble 

George Shepherd Library

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About the WDM - History and Timeline

The Western Development Museum had its beginnings in the mid 1940s. At that time, people across Saskatchewan became concerned that the farm machinery of the pioneers was fast disappearing. In 1945, the Saskatchewan Government charged the Minister of Natural Resources and Industrial Development with collecting early historic items. The large number of donations led to the establishment of a number of collection depots, usually surplus aircraft hangars, to store the artifacts. On April 2, 1949 the Saskatchewan Legislature gave royal assent to a bill to create a Western Development Museum.

The hangar in North Battleford opened to the public in 1947, followed by Saskatoon in 1949. In 1951, the federal government requested the return of its hangar at the Saskatoon airport. A surplus hangar was moved from Swift Current and relocated to a site on 11th Street. The hangar in Yorkton was opened to the public in 1951.

The continued growth of the Museum resulted in the need for new facilities. In 1963, the North Battleford branch was moved into another relocated hangar on a new site at the junction of Highways 16 and 40. Three years later, a pioneer village was begun at the North Battleford site. In 1972, modern buildings were built for the branches in Yorkton and Saskatoon and in 1976 a new museum was opened in Moose Jaw. To alleviate the constant need for storage and administration space, the Curatorial Centre building was opened in 1984.


1940 - Interested people, working through the Canadian North West Historical Society in the Battlefords, begin to preserve early farm machinery.

1946 - The provincial Minister of Natural Resources and Industrial Development, Joe Phelps, provides $10,000 for an agricultural museum to the group in the Battlefords.

1947 - Phelps obtains a hangar at the North Battleford airport to store and exhibit the farm machinery collected.

1949 - The WDM opens another collection of farm machinery to the public at a hangar at the Saskatoon airport.

April 2 - The Saskatchewan Legislature passes an act creating the Western Development Museum.

April 21 - The Board of Directors of the WDM holds its first meeting. The directors are Joe Phelps (Chairman), E.R. Potter, Grant MacEwan, Evan Hardy and Frank Swon.

1951 - The Yorkton WDM opens in a hangar at the Yorkton airport.

1952 - The Saskatoon WDM moves to a new site on 11th Street West into a hangar moved from Swift Current. A Threshermen’s Reunion is staged as part of the City of Saskatoon’s 70th Anniversary.

1954 - In October the Saskatoon WDM holds an Old Time Threshermen’s Reunion. This is the beginning of the WDM’s tradition of "shows" and demonstrations. The Saskatoon WDM’s Threshermen’s reunion is dubbed Pion-Era.

1956 - A three-day Threshermen’s Reunion is held in October at the North Battleford WDM. The Board of Directors agree to make a start on a Pioneer Village in North Battleford. The Saskatchewan Tourism advisory council cites the three WDMs as a #1 tourist drawing card in the province.

1957 - Airplane hangars in Weyburn and Swift Current are secured for artifact storage.

1958 - Hist-O-Rama is staged in Yorkton to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Yorkton. CBC chooses Pion-Era in Saskatoon for their historical broadcast in opening their new coast-to-coast microwave system. Prime Minister, the Rt. Honourable John Diefenbaker, makes an address as part of this historical event.

1959 - Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip visit the Saskatoon WDM on July 22.

1960 - The Pioneer Threshermen’s Club in Saskatoon holds its first steam class.

1960 - A start is made on the new site in North Battleford.

1961 - The hangar at the North Battleford airport is dismantled, moved and erected on the new museum site in North Battleford.

1963 - The North Battleford WDM moves to a new site at the junction of Highways #5 (now # 16) and #40 into a hangar moved from Mossbank. The official opening is 25 May 1963 as part of North Battleford’s Jubilee Celebrations. The outdoor village at North Battleford progresses.

1964 - The City of Yorkton makes provision for a new WDM site.

1967 - The ethnic theme is adopted for the Yorkton WDM. The pioneer village theme is adopted for North Battleford.

1967 - George Shepherd, WDM Curator, publishes Brave Heritage.

1967 - WDM shows leadership in the establishment of the Saskatchewan Museums Association.

1972 - The Saskatoon WDM moves to a new site on Lorne Avenue South. The new facility features a 1910 vintage prairie village located indoors to permit all-season viewing. The Yorkton WDM moves to a new site on Highway #16 West.

1973 - The WDM joins CHIN, the Canadian Heritage Information Network for artifact collection management.

1974 - In June, the sod is turned for a 1½ million dollar museum to be built in Moose Jaw. The Board of Directors creates a "core staff" plan to administer the curatorial functions of the museum from a central staff in Saskatoon.

1975 - The first WDM course in wheelwrighting is offered, held at the old shop on the11th Street site in Saskatoon. The first Grade Four Threshing Demonstration is held at the Saskatoon WDM in response from Saskatoon teachers who wanted a harvest demonstration to support heir grade four social studies curriculum.

1976 - June 26 - New Museum is opened in Moose Jaw.

1977 - The WDM reorganizes, creating curatorial staff in Saskatoon to serve all four branches.

1978 - The Museum hires consultant, David Scott, who issues WDM Guidelines For Planning.

1979 - The Board of Directors adopts the WDM Statement of Intent. A pilot project for the WDM Teacher’s Handbooks is organized.

1980 - A major assessment of physical facilities and conservation needs is conducted by the Canadian Conservation Institute.

1982 - The WDM stages a nationally-acclaimed event, Colony Trek, a wagon trek from Moose Jaw to Saskatoon to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Temperance colonists’s trek from the end of the rails to their new townsite. The WDM Teacher’s Handbooks are released.

1984 - Curatorial and administrative staff move into the Provincial Service Centre in Saskatoon. This becomes the WDM’s headquarters, Curatorial Centre and storage for artifacts not on display. An addition to the Yorkton WDM provides administrative, curatorial, storage and shop space.

1986 - North Battleford WDM opens its new exhibit wing.

1987 - The WDM vacates the last off-site Second World War hangar used for artifact storage.

1988 - Renovations to Saskatoon WDM public service areas are completed. Renovations to the Moose Jaw WDM public service areas are completed. The first WDM blacksmithing course is held at the head office in Saskatoon. The WDM hires their first professionally-trained conservator.

1989 - The four Museum branches are recognized by theme and are named:
       Moose Jaw - History of Transportation
       North Battleford - Heritage Farm and Village
       Saskatoon- 1910 Boomtown
       Yorkton - Story of People

The WDM celebrates its 40th Anniversary. The Saskatoon WDM initiates Harvestfest, a September threshing event.

1991- David Klatt is named WDM Executive Director.

1992 - The Snowbirds Gallery opens at the Moose Jaw WDM.

1993 - The Provincial Service Centre is renamed Curatorial Centre. The conservation laboratory is opened in the Curatorial Centre. North Battleford reopens the new exhibit wing and introduces the Discovery Area and theatre. An Exhibits Curator is hired and the development of the Exhibits Master Plan is re-initiated. Exhibit Master Planning Group (Warren Clubb, Rick Dixon, Ruth Bitner, Leslee Newman) asked by David Klatt to produce a WDM Exhibit Master Plan.

1995 - Story Annotation List of the Exhibit Master Plan is produced by the Exhibit Master Planning Group.

1996 - The WDM launched its first website. An Exhibit Master Plan is produced.

1997 - Collections data management is transferred from the Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN) to a WDM in-house computer system.

1998 - Two steel storage sheds are added in North Battleford to provide better storage for tractors and farm equipment. The WDM embarks on the first steam traction engine boiler replacement project.

1999 - The WDM celebrates its 50th anniversary. The first class in buggy seat reconstruction and upholstery is held at the Curatorial Centre.

2001 - 2003 - Planning proceeds for Winning the Prairie Gamble: The Saskatchewan Story, exciting new exhibits planned to celebrate Saskatchewan’s centenary in 2005.

2004 - In partnership with Saskatoon Public Schools, the WDM launches the Celebrating Saskatchewan's Heritage website to bring WDM research and archival material into classrooms for students and teachers. In cooperation with the Saskatchewan Women's Institute, formerly known as the Saskatchewan Homemakers' Clubs, the WDM reprints the 1955 Golden Jubilee cookbook, From Saskatchewan Homemakers' Kitchens, for sale in WDM gift shops for centennial year.

2005 - In celebration of Saskatchewan's centenary, the WDM undertakes a number of initiatives:
- Phase one of the Winning the Prairie Gamble: The Saskatchewan Story centennial exhibits opens at the four WDM exhibit branches.
- A centennial quilt contest was held with 29 entries received from across the province. The four prize-winning quilts became part of the Museum's new centennial exhibits.
- The WDM commissions a play entitled Winning the Prairie Gamble by renowned playwrights Geoffrey Ursell and Barbara Sapergia. Persephone Theatre of Saskatoon tours the play to over 60 schools in the province as part of their youth tour. A number of summer performances are offered in the WDM branch cities.
- In partnership with the Saskatchewan Archives Board, the WDM writes and selects historical photographs to produce a publication called the Saskatchewan History Centennial Timeline.

2009 - The WDM celebrates its 60th Anniversary. Winning the Prairie Gamble: The Saskatchewan Story exhibits opens at all four exhibit locations.

2011 - Joan Champ is named Executive Director.