100 Years of Highways
Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure
celebrates its 100-year anniversary in 2017
Saskatchewan’s highways have come a long way over the
past 100 years.
The first roads in this province in the early 1900s were by
way of flattened goat trails on dirt paths. These “earth roads” eventu-ally
gave way to a gravel-based infrastructure. It wasn’t until the late
1940s that Saskatchewan was home to its first blacktop highway.
With advanced technology, machinery and engineering,
Saskatchewan’s expansive highway network blossomed over the
years and the province is now home to the most kilometres of high-way
per capita in Canada.
As Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure cele-brates
its 100-year anniversary in 2017, there’s a lot of history to un-cover,
projects to celebrate and even more to design and build in
“We’ve come a long way in the last 100 years; from building roads
with a horse and scraper, to asphalt pavement, and now to overpass-es
and highways with 25,000 vehicles per day,” said Highways and
Infrastructure Minister, David Marit. “During the past century, we’re
pleased to have had the privilege of employing thousands of pro-fessional
men and women who have had excellent careers working
with the Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure.”
In 1917, The Highways Act came into effect, which ceased the ex-istence
of the Board of Highway Commissioners and gave birth to a
new ministry – the Department of Highways.
Things were different back then – William M. Martin was Premier,
there were horse-drawn buggies on the road, ferry operators were
paid $3 per day and the equipment used to build and maintain high-ways
was much different.
The first roads in Saskatchewan were not established until a
growing number of farmers and communities sought a way to de-liver
their goods to market.
Municipalities paid the wages of a road supervisor, but each per-son
along a road was assessed a road poll tax, which was to be paid
with cash or through labour. That’s how road construction worked
in the early 1900s.
Eventually, the provincial government established a Department
of Highways, which assumed the management of road construction.
The need for a path for exported goods to reach a desired market-place
or consumer hasn’t changed over the past 100 years.
“From Day One, and even going back to the fur trade, transpor-tation
has been critical to the economy of the province,” said Doug
Wakabayashi, executive director of communications for Highways
and Infrastructure. “Even today, pretty much every sector of the
economy has an export orientation – agriculture, oil and gas, min-ing,
manufacturing. Most of everything we produce is destined for
markets. A lot of economic activity occurs in remote areas of the
province, so there’s need to get grain, oil and potash from rural re-mote
Nearly two-thirds of the province’s gross domestic product is de-rived
from exports. Additionally, highways are used to get people
to and from services like health care and education. They’re also a
major part of a flourishing tourism industry.
“Saskatchewan is landlocked and there’s nothing more impor-tant
than the highway transportation system for our economy,” said
Shantel Lipp, president of the Saskatchewan Heavy Construction
Association. “Knowing how far we’ve come to where we are now is
just an incredible feat. These roads have a tremendous impact on
our way of life. People in small-town Saskatchewan need to get to
a hospital and however they get there, they’re able to get there be-cause
of a highway. I think quality highways are something some
of us take for granted.”
Delivering an efficient and safe route to travel throughout the
province is a daunting undertaking. As infrastructure ages, there
becomes a need to renew or replace it. One of the challenges is
modernizing the thousands of kilometres of highways that were
built several decades ago and are stressed to maximum potential.
These thin membrane surface (TMS) highways are built with lo-cal
soils that are graded, with an asphalt seal on top. These roads
were solely designed to provide mud-free and dust-free access to
Traffic on these roads has helped to further deteriorate their
conditions. Saskatchewan’s population has experienced steady
growth since the world wars and peaked at 922,000 in 1931.
It lost population during the Great Depression and war years
and dropped to 830,000 in 1951, then slowly climbed to and has
hovered around one million since 1986.
“These structures served the province quite well for decades,”
said Wakabayashi. “But with some of the changes in the agriculture
sector with consolidation of rail lines and fewer delivery points for
grain, we’re seeing these products trucked longer distances and a
lot of these TMS highways are being subjected to weights and di-mensions
of vehicles they weren’t designed to handle.”
Once beyond the horse and plow, the methods in which
highways are built haven’t experienced dramatic changes –
graded sand and gravel topped with black asphalt is still the
By Craig Slater, Martin-Charlton Communications
34 Think BIG | Quarter 4 2017 | saskheavy.ca