Saskatchewan RiverThe Saskatchewan River, 1939 km long, is formed by the confluence of the North Saskatchewan (1287 km) and the South Saskatchewan (1392 km) rivers about 50 km east of PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. The system of waters has a combined length greater than the St Lawrence River and drains much of the western prairie.
The North Saskatchewan rises in the COLUMBIA ICEFIELD at the foot of Mount Columbia and flows east to ROCKY MOUNTAIN HOUSE, Alta, where it takes in the Clearwater River, on through EDMONTON, Alta, where much of its valley has been preserved as parkland, and then into Saskatchewan past North Battleford and Prince Albert. The river cuts a deep, wide valley in the prairie and like all prairie streams carries a heavy load of silt.
The South Saskatchewan is formed in southern Alberta by the junction of the BOW and OLDMAN rivers. It flows east past MEDICINE HAT, Alta, then northeast into Saskatchewan, past SASKATOON, and continues a course roughly parallel to the North Saskatchewan to the confluence some 130 km downstream.
The South Saskatchewan has been dammed about 100 km south of Saskatoon, creating a long broad reservoir, called LAKE DIEFENBAKER, which provides hydroelectric power and irrigation for southwestern Saskatchewan. From the confluence, the river continues nearly 600 km eastward through Tobin Lake and Cumberland Lake, Sask, into Manitoba, where it trends southeast past THE PAS and into CEDAR LAKE. The waters of the Saskatchewan enter Lake WINNIPEG at Grand Rapids and are carried to Hudson Bay by the NELSON RIVER.
Called Kisiskatchewani Sipi, "swift-flowing river," by the Cree, Henry KELSEY (1690) and the LA VÉRENDRYE family (circa 1739) were the first Europeans to see it. The modern rendering of the name was adopted in 1882 when part of the present-day province was made a district of the North-West Territories.
The section between Grand Rapids and CUMBERLAND HOUSE (built in 1774 by Samuel HEARNE) was hotly contested by the Hudson's Bay Company and North West Company. From Cumberland House to Edmonton, there are no rapids that could not be lined up or run down, although shifting gravel bars were a menace. This was a much-travelled route of the HBC traders and made Edmonton an early focal point of trade. The southern branch carried traders southwest to Wyoming and into the Rocky Mountains by Bow Pass.
In years when the sovereignty of the North-West was in question, the Saskatchewan made possible an east-west highway tying the area to English commercial enterprise on Hudson Bay and, via the Great Lakes, to Canadian interests centered in Montréal.